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On-line version ISSN 2304-8557
Print version ISSN 0023-270X

Koers (Online) vol.74 n.1-2 Pretoria  2009




The desire for the ineffable: On the myth of music as absolute


Die soeke na die onsegbare: Oor die mite van musiek as die absolute



W. Froneman

School of Music, Potchefstroom Campus, North-West University, Potchefstroom. E-mail:




This article proposes to establish and critique connections between religious and musico-aesthetic conceptions of in-effability by exploring the link between neoplatonic thought and romantic aesthetics. The central thesis is that recourse to the ineffable is often made by resorting to theological tenets and, consequently, that romantic aesthetics, although desperately trying to disengage itself from theological thinking, can in fact be interpreted as being inextricably bound up with it. Taking Plotinus' conception of the relationship between the "One" and "Intellect" as model, the romantic conception of the absolute is revealed to be a fallacy. It is shown that claims of the ineffability of music not only locate music as a false absolute, but also confer on music a quasi-religious authority. This results in an ungrounded secular faith in the power of music and the mastery of its composer-god to lead mankind to the truth. Untangling the myths of ineffability leads the way to a detranscendentalised conception of music with performance at its centre.

Key concepts: absolute music; ineffability; Plotinus; romanticism


Hierdie artikel poog om konneksies tussen religieuse en musiek-estetiese beskouings oor die onsegbare uit te wys en te kritiseer, deur die gebruik van die term in onderskeidelik neo-platoniese en romantiese denke te ondersoek. Die sentrale hipotese is dat 'n diskoers rondom die onuitspreeklike dikwels op teologiese uitgangspunte moet steun en gevolglik, dat die romantiese estetika geïnterpreteer kan word in 'n nóú verbintenis met teologiese denke, ten spyte van 'n amper desperate poging tot die teendeel. Met Plotinus se beskouing oor die verhouding tussen die "Een" en die "Intellek" as model, word aangetoon dat die romantiese beskouing van die absolute 'n mistasting is. Daar word daarop gewys dat bewerings oor die onsegbaarheid van musiek nie alleen musiek as die absolute daarstel nie, maar dat 'n kwasi-religieuse gesag daardeur aan musiek verleen word. Gevolglik het 'n onbegronde sekulêre geloof in die krag van musiek ontstaan en in die vermoë van die komponis-god om die mensdom na die waarheid te lei. Deur die mites rondom die onsegbaarheid van musiek uit te wys, word die weg gebaan vir 'n gedetransendentaliseerde beskouing van musiek met uitvoering as die primêre fokus.

Kernbegrippe: absolute musiek; onsegbare; Plotinus; romantiek



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