Imagining Sound in the Early Nineteenth Century

Sponsored by the Central New York Humanities Corridor from an award by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Music Department, Cornell University, 5-6 April 2013.

The present conference seeks to think creatively about how traces of the nineteenth-century sonic imagination might be sought and in turn provide an opportunity to reassess our relationships to the repertoire of that period. The nineteenth century exhibited a particular fascination with sound and its powers of suggestion. Even as composers were guided by the possibilities afforded by their instruments—the piano in particular—they in turn expanded and redefined the sonic palettes that were available to them, spurred by their inner hearing to explode the limits of orchestration and virtuosity. At times, this inner sound-world swelled past the boundaries of physical and instrumental reality so that it could only be realized in the imagination. For many nineteenth-century musicians and audiences, there existed a tacit understanding that their respective musical activities might lead them to a destination beyond the audible, an attitude that was shared and shaped by literary writers and visual artists who probed musical sound through their own media.

Keynote addresses will be delivered by:

· Scott Burnham (Princeton University): “Beethoven, Schubert, and the Movement of Phenomena”
· Thomas Grey (Stanford University): “On Wings of Song: Representing Music as Agency in Nineteenth-Century Culture”
· Roberto Poli (New England Conservatory): “Chopin’s Bach”
· John Hamilton (Harvard University): “The Unheard Masterpiece: Noetic Aesthetics and Political Rejuvenation in Balzac’s Gambara”