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There Is No Such Thing as the Composer’s Voice

There Is No Such Thing as the Composer’s Voice

(p.227) 11 There Is No Such Thing as the Composer’s Voice
The Voice as Something More
Seth Brodsky
University of Chicago Press

This chapter revisits a venerable trope in music studies—“the composer’s voice” as coined by Edward T. Cone in 1974—from the perspective of a “long modernism” that stretches back to the early 19th century. The chapter unfolds as a series of scenes and digression, exploring “vocal moments” in four string quartets by Helmut Lachenmann, Luigi Nono, Alban Berg, and Ludwig van Beethoven. It engages its themes on three distinct registers. On a conceptual register, it postulates the composer’s voice as a fantasmatic web of sound, sense, time, and event whose conjuring power renders a structural absence—the singing composer—into an ineluctable presence. On a second, more historical register, the chapter proposes that this scenario is inseparable from a long musical modernism beginning with late Beethoven, if not in the works themselves, then with their increasingly complex reception and gradual transfor­mation into an ethics of musical composition. On a third, “generic” register, the chapter claims that this composer’s voice is fundamentally theat­rical, even operatic. But this “operaticness” is paradoxical: it stages the impossibility of making something manifest. It is a the­ater of truancy, an endeavor not simply to make nonappearance appear, but to make it sing.

Keywords:   composer’s voice, string quartet, modernsim, Helmut Lachenmann, Luigi Nono, Alban Berg, Ludwig van Beethoven, operaticness, fantasy

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