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Tue November 15, 2011
Dr. Alex Rehding, Harvard University - Monumental Music
Albany, NY – In today's Academic Minute, Dr. Alex Rehding of Harvard University explains that monuments made of music can be just as durable as those built of marble.
Alex Rehding is Fanny Peabody Professor of Music, Graduate Advisor in Theory, and Chair of the Music Department at Harvard University. His research interests are located at the intersection of theory and history, and cover a wide spectrum from Ancient Greek music to the Eurovision Song Contest. He is interested in the history of music theory, paleo- and neo-Riemannian theory, music-aesthetic questions, and issues of sound and media.
Dr. Alex Rehding - Monumental Music
Can music be monumental? We usually think of monuments as statues of great historical figures we look up to literally and figuratively. These awe-inspiring statues serve to remind us of the past and inspire us to strive for similar greatness in the future. Oftentimes, this double task is made manifest in overwhelming size and sublime grandeur. In such statues we see that monumentality serves both a commemorative and an aesthetic purpose.
If music strives to be monumental, it faces a problem because it only exists in the moment; it lacks the longevity of marble and bronze. But music can achieve monumental effects instead by accessing the psychological forces that underlie our experience of the sublime. We all know this power of music from film scores, which can generate powerful emotional effects.
Music's monumental power has much to do with its sound, with loudness and instrumentation. Take this example: In 1845 the musician Franz Liszt was given the difficult task of composing a festival cantata for the unveiling of a statue of Beethoven. Writing a composition in honor of the great composer was risky Liszt knew his composition was inevitably going to be compared with the dead master. He came up with an ingenious plan: he took a quotation from Beethoven's Archduke trio and scored it for grand orchestra and chorus, to the thundering words "Hail, Hail, Beethoven." The message of this musical monument is loud and clear: Liszt had used Beethoven's music to create a musical monument of Beethoven himself.
Understanding musical monumentality alerts us to the power of music to move us and persuade us, to highlight an event as historical, and to preserve it in our collective memory. It's worth considering this the next time a President is inaugurated.