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‘Strange and dead the ghosts appear’: Mythic absence in Hölderlin, Adorno and Kurtág

Hutchinson, Mark ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2026-2871 (2021) ‘Strange and dead the ghosts appear’: Mythic absence in Hölderlin, Adorno and Kurtág. In: Kostka, Violetta, de Castro, Paulo F. and Everett, William A., (eds.) Intertextuality in Music since 1900. Routledge, pp. 185-201

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Much late twentieth-century music is concerned with the way in which remembered sounds, events and streams of thought can create connections across time – even into the distant past. Intertextuality thus provides the basis for explorations of the nature of history, and in particular of the tension between nostalgia and the desire for constant innovation. A number of composers have used the work of the Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) as a basis for these explorations, because of its unique approach towards issues of memory, absence, and longing. Hölderlin’s writing, although fixed within the historical context of German Romanticism, is rooted in a yearning for another age; his novel Hyperion and his later poetry continually invoke the names and places of Classical mythology as the empty signs, ‘strange and dead’, of a sense of integration in life and culture which has long been lost.

The ‘mythic absence’ which thus underpins much of Hölderlin’s poetry resonates closely with a central issue of musical composition in the late twentieth century: as Frederic Jameson has noted, the myth of an irrevocably lost ‘moment of plenitude’ of wholly integrated tonality, located above all in the music of Beethoven, stands at the core of the historiography of the post-war avant-garde. This is particularly evident within the writings of Adorno, where the parallels with his influential essay upon Hölderlin’s late poetry are certainly suggestive. This paper traces the intertextual migration of this concept of mythic absence from Hölderlin, and Adorno’s readings of him, through to György Kurtág’s orchestral work ΣΤΗΛΗ (1994), where quotations from Beethoven and Bruckner stand as empty signs of their own amid lament figures drawn from vocal works based on Hölderlin’s texts.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
M Music and Books on Music > M Music
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
P Language and Literature > PD Germanic languages
P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
School/Department: School of the Arts
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/3458

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