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Musical MeaningToward a Critical History$
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Lawrence Kramer

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780520228245

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520228245.001.0001

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Long Ride in a Slow Machine

Long Ride in a Slow Machine

The Alienation Effect from Weill to Shostakovich

(p.216) 10 Long Ride in a Slow Machine
Musical Meaning

Lawrence Kramer

University of California Press

This chapter explores the potential of music to produce an alienation effect. Because the alienation effect is primarily a modernist phenomenon, the question should primarily be addressed to modernist music. The results hope to show that modernist music does produce a type of alienation effect, and one with a definite character, both musical and social. The alienation effect consists precisely in one's alienation from an effect. At a hermeneutic level, the existence of both theatrical and musical alienation effects can be taken to point to a wider phenomenon. Brecht's alienation effect can be put into a “genealogical” relationship on the modernist time line with similar effects in various media. Brecht's technique consists simply of “detaching the sign from its effect.” The three qualities of reflectiveness, hollowing out, and damage form the profile of what is called the general modernist trope of estrangement. If to these three is added a seemingly innate oscillation between the possibilities of alienation and emotive expression, the profile becomes that of the musical alienation effect. To explore this idea, compositions by Schoenberg, Bartók, and Shostakovich are turned to. For Weill, music in “the new operatic theater” works precisely by laying bare the devices that support the illusion of private ideas and emotions. The Mesto segments are slow, uniform, emotional, and unusual; the independent movements are fast, varied, vigorous, and conventional. Estrangement postulates an independent self that can both produce and undo a critical detachment from social deformation. With Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet, alienation as estrangement passes over into alienation as dispossession.

Keywords:   alienation effect, hermeneutic level, Brecht's technique, Mesto segments, trope of estrangement

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