Musical VitalitiesVentures in a Biotic Aesthetics of Music

Musical VitalitiesVentures in a Biotic Aesthetics of Music

Holly Watkins

Print publication date: 2019

ISBN: 9780226594705

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Musical Vitalities charts a new path for music studies by blending the study of musical works with perspectives drawn from the life sciences. In opposition to humanist approaches that insist on a separation between culture and nature—approaches that appear increasingly untenable in an era defined by human-generated climate change—Musical Vitalities treats music as one example of the cultural practices and biotic arts of the animal kingdom rather than as categorically distinct from nonhuman forms of sonic expression. The book challenges the human exceptionalism that has allowed musicologists to overlook music’s structural resemblances to the songs of nonhuman species, the intricacies of music’s physiological impact on listeners, and the many analogues between music’s formal processes and those of the dynamic natural world. Through close readings of music and aesthetics that suggest wide-ranging analogies between music and nature, Musical Vitalities seeks to both rekindle the critical potential of nineteenth-century music and rejoin the humans at the center of the humanities with the nonhumans whose evolutionary endowments and planetary fates they share. In its discussion of organicism, formalism, critical plant studies, biosemiotics, and systems theory, the book puts canonical publications by figures such as Immanuel Kant, Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Eduard Hanslick in conversation with more recent thinkers including Elizabeth Grosz, Michael Marder, Donna Haraway, and Eduardo Kohn. The piano music of Robert Schumann occupies a special place in the book, which features interpretations and analyses of the Arabesque, op. 18, Blumenstück, op. 19, and Waldszenen, op. 82.