Absolute Music and Ideal Content: Autonomy, Sensation and Experience in Arthur Symon's "Theory of Musical Aesthetics"

Sarah Collins


I seek not only to discern the content of Arthur Symons’s “musical aesthetics,” such as it is, and to situate it within contemporaneous musical discussions, but also to show how his perspective provides a crucial illumination of the interaction between literary and musical models of autonomy at the turn of the twentieth century. Symons can certainly be seen as distinctive in his facilitation of this interaction because he was the only aesthetic critic to engage directly with the musical repertory, as opposed to an abstracted concept of music—or, following Pater, the “condition” thereof. But further, I will argue that Symons’s transplantation into a musical context of a notion of literary autonomy that was shaped by his symbolist sympathies generated a range of conceptual paradoxes that can inform current attempts to revise our understanding of how the concept has functioned historically.


Arthur Symons; musical aesthetics

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