August Halm's Von zwei Kulturen der Musik : a translation and introductory essay



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August Halm (1869-1929) was a composer and theorist whose writings on music, especially his Harmonielehre (1900) and Von zwei Kulturen der Musik (1913), were widely known and highly respected in the early 20th century, particularly in Germany. In Von zwei Kulturen der Musik, Halm describes two historical cultures of music, opposes them dialectically, and identifies their synthesis. His first culture--melody--is exemplified by Bach’s fugues. The second culture--harmony--is exemplified by Beethoven’s works in sonata form. Halm believed a third culture that united the previous two had arisen in Bruckner's symphonies, the subject of his next book, Die Symphonie Anton Bruckners (1914). In Von zwei Kulturen, Halm demonstrates the way that these two cultures are different manifestations of dynamic forces in music. To Halm, a well-written fugal subject contains the seed from which the entire piece is generated. A fugue will only be as good as its subject, for its listener must be able to immediately apprehend the dynamic course of the piece. In contrast, the sonata form is the form of opposition that gains its energy from the working out of its two primary key areas. His idea of the organic nature of form is clear in his description of the fugue as the "formula of individuality" and the sonata as the "formula of the collective activity of many individuals,” that is, an “organism in the large.” Halm’s Von zwei Kulturen also provides us with valuable commentary on analytical practices of the time, as Halm criticizes the hermeneutic approaches taken by theorists such as Hermann Kretzschmar (1848-1924) and the narrative approach taken by critics like Paul Bekker (1882-1937). Halm believed that analysis or criticism that relied upon hermeneutic description or imposed narratives not only failed to educate one on the merits of good music and musical form, but also encouraged one to evaluate music according to the inventiveness of the analyst or critic. It is my hope that the English version presented here will introduce many readers to Halm’s unique perspective on music and criticism.