Eduard Hanslick’s Criticism between Aesthetics, Journalism, and Scholarship

This research project examines the writings of Eduard Hanslick (1825–1904), whose "Vom Musikalisch-Schönen" ("On the Musically Beautiful," 1854) arguably presents one of the – if not the – most central aesthetic treatises of the nineteenth century. In virtue of this text, Hanslick was appointed lecturer in the History and Aesthetics of Music—the eventual discipline of "musicology"—in 1856, the earliest position of this kind in Vienna and German-language academia more generally. Hanslick, however, is remembered primarily as probably the most important music critic of his era, whose essays, reports, and reviews were read even in America and which he himself edited and published in several volumes (12 volumes, 1870–1900).

While scholarship has so far chiefly focused on examining, interpreting, and contextualizing Hanslick’s aesthetics historically, the current project explores the relations between the different categories of Hanslick’s writings, which remain unclear. If, for example, the causal relation between emotion and music is contested in principle in "Vom Musikalisch-Schönen," Hanslick’s criticism is interspersed with expressive metaphors that at first glance come into conflict with the central tenets of his famous treatise. These and additional (supposed) inconsistencies might derive from the fact that Hanslick’s activity as a critic spans some sixty years (1844–1904) and developed dynamically over time, while his aesthetic treatise—which he typically modified only slightly in later revised editions—remained relatively static.

The project explores the dynamics of these complex relations and analyzes to what extent Hanslick’s critical writings are compatible with "Vom Musikalisch-Schönen," whether this text contradicts his criticism, or whether later texts could even be considered refinements of his aesthetics, which fails to properly theorize pivotal issues such as the performativity of music. To this very end, the project will also analyze Hanslick’s criteria for picking out and editing articles for the (more often than not heavily altered) versions of these texts in his numerous anthologies and ask what his revision process tells us about shifts in Hanslick’s positions. As he conceived of these collected volumes as a living history of the (Viennese) music scene, they will also be compared critically with Hanslick’s conception of scholarship.

Finally, this approach will also be extended to Hanslick’s language and his use of expressions, illustrations, metaphors, etc., which opens the project to an analysis of cultural, political, and general historical contexts that will become the focal point of investigation in a planned follow-up project. At present, the textual analysis is based on a digital edition of "Vom Musikalisch-Schönen" as well as the transcription and TEI annotation of Hanslick’s writings for "Neue Freie Presse" (1864–1904) and his 12 anthologies, which is to go online as part of a rolling process starting in early 2023.