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CHAPTER 13 Musical Autonomy Revisited DAVID CLARKE ‘Attempts to annul what is contradictory inthe development of art, by playing off a “moralizing” against an “autonomous! art, miss the ppoint because they overlook what is liberating in autonomous and what is egresive in moralzing at, nl lage ition ‘The concept of musical autonomy has been having a hard time of it lately. Be ic from quarters sociological, new-historicist, or feminist (the list goes ‘on, but this gives the gist), the word is out that to construe music purely aan art for its own sake is to perpetuate a discredited ideology. Charges against che autonomy concept are several. It is bourgeois and hegemonic: it wants to present its socially and historically specific paradigm as univer- ‘al and as the measure against which all other musics are evaluated (so dis- ‘torting our reception of popular, vernacular, and non-Western musics). It ‘Sreifying and atrophying: its promotion of music as meaningful purely in its own terms, allegedly floating free from historical and social contingen- underwrites a canon of putatively timeless masterworks—the fos- museum culture of classical music. It is patriarchal and sexist: until itly this canon has deflected both feminist critique and female parti tion because, on the one hand, its music, putatively formed only out of | ‘own stuff, denies the influence of anything so worldly as gender 159 David Clarke (McClary 1991, 55), while, on the other hand, in the record of a social practice, the principal genres of autonomous music—symphon sonata, string quartet—and their associated aesthetic of greatness been the prerogative of male composers (Scott 1994). Carrying the b dden of so many sins, then, itis only to be expected that the autonoma ‘music has found it necessary ro comnic suicide (Chua 2000, 221-1 266-75), only to find itself “as dead as Elvis,” surviving like the inert ders ofa formerly living practice (Kramer 1995). Look around you, though, and these critical generalities get mudd in the complex particulars of empirical life. Consider, for example, for a season in parts of Britain free instrumental lessons in schools an flourishing culture of local youth orchestras held out the possibility breaking the middle-class monopoly on access to the practice of clash ‘music (and its associated autonomist aesthetic). Consider too the ga of cultural negotiation required of a schoolkid learning, say, the vio under this initiative, who has to juxtapose a classical musical p with its connotations of effeminacy—alongside a youth culture inf by conspicuous mass musical consumption. From this perspective, is hegemonic and what is emancipatory, what is atrophied and wl vital, may look a little different. Readers will have probably suspected autobiographical clement at work here; but the intention is not (0 ‘anecdotal. Rather I want to suggest that the social and cultural tions acquired by autonomous classical music in the grand history may be open to redefinition and revaluation, and that this po bility may be prompted by, among other things, personal and local his rics that dont entirely square with the characterizations of autonom recent critical accounts. f In advancing the possiblity of other critical positions, however, I ‘wish to institutionalize a simplistic for-or-against model of argume allegiance. It seems to me to be as futile ro deny that autonomous 1 cal practices are ideologically problematic as itis to claim that langer have valuable cultural work to do, Iam more inclined to for bringing these contradictions to a fuller consciousness and co ing how they can be worked through within our contemporary ¢ situation. This is a position broadly analogous with Frederic Jam refusal to come down squarely on one side or the other of the postmodernism debate, citing instead the idea of a “historical and d tic analysis” which “cannot afford the impoverished luxury of ‘moralizing judgements: the dialectic is ‘beyond good and evil’ in the of some easy taking of sides” (1988, 381). Pare of thac dialectical Musical Autonomy Revisited sciousness certainly involves heeding Lydia Goeh’s cal for a revaluation of the autonomous artwork’ alleged “universal and absolute validity” (1992, 273)—in other words putting che autonomy aesthetic in its place, as one musical species among many. But I want to argue for a more dynamic, frictional view of musical autonomy within this pluralis situa- tion: as a modern concept that may still have important critical currency ‘within postmodern cultural landscape. In this sense, then, Jameson's framework is indeed relevant (and I mention it again below), as is his call fora historically informed understanding of the situation. Development ‘The historiography of autonomous music—music emancipated from ritual or ceremonial function; music whose meaning is not dependent on an accompanying (eat oF inmayery—is ivsell a site of polemic, not least regarding dating (cf. Strohm 2000; Gochr 2000). These differences nor- withstanding, I pursue below one of the dominant narratives of autono- ‘mous music, which locates its emergence around 1800. This situates - aesthetic autonomy within the wider conditions of modernity in which— following the Enlightenment’ cultivation of Reason—rationality, moral- ity, and sensuality separate into radically independent modalities of knowledge (Bernstein 1992, 5-6). There is space here only to sketch some of the key points ofthis history, but more detailed accounts may be found in writings referenced in the process. _ Whar also needs stressing—something implicie in this account so far— is the potential for slippage between the idea of autonomy and other con- ‘pts that while not synonymous nevertheless averlap semantically. Start talking about such autonomous forms as the symphony and sonata, for fxample, and the concept of a musical work (as opposed to the n-dozenth ‘icce exemplifying a genre) lurks not far behind; and this notion in turn is ‘Something peculiar to, though not a sole defining criterion of, Western vical music (Horn 2000). On a broader canvas stil, the idea of auton- My is difficult to unhitch from the idea of the aesthetic as such—that g concept of art (Art with a capital A) chat differentiates it from ly functional practices. And then there is the concept of te music (and its associated notion of formalism), often treated as gcable with the idea of autonomous instrumental music, but in like all the other terms mentioned, arising within its own historically. culturally specific discourse. In one way or another all these terms tute to a constellation around the musical auronomy idea. Indeed it 161