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Musical Functionalism

Magnar Breivik

417 pp.

3 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1576471708

Paperback 6x9 $42.00

Purchase on Boydell & Brewer


In this book the concept of functionalism, well-known in 20th-century architecture and design, is used to investigate the musical thoughts of two of the leading composers at the time of the Bauhaus, the time of Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier. Functionalism may be characterized by the functional treatment of the chosen material, by functional design, and by a focus on the work�s intended function. This tripartite requirement also defines the concept of musical functionalism as developed in this study, and it serves as the foundation for a presentation of Schoenberg�s and Hindemith�s thoughts on the subject. Examined through the lens of musical functionalism, common traits between the two composers become evident, despite all their individual characteristics as artists of noticeable integrity. Discussions of the musical material, of musical form, and of the function of music allow the author to reveal a shared epistemological base underlying the external dissimilarities of the two composers' style and language.


Magnar Breivik:

A professor of musicology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. His particularly engaged field of interest is the music and aesthetics of the first half of the 20th century, with an emphasis on the interrelationship between music and the other arts. In addition to his extensive work on Schoenberg and Hindemith, he has published articles on such composers as Mahler and Berg, Krenek and Weill.


March 1, 2014

At first glance, it may seem that Arnold Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith would make an odd couple for a shared study. They represented widely divergent schools of thought within twentieth-century music in terms of their compositional techniques and theoretical writings. Schoenberg today enjoys a lasting legacy through the continued work of serialist composers, while Hindemith�s legacy is mainly historical. Magnar Breivik skillfully links these two composers within the school of musical functionalism in the study presented in this volume. For the first time in English, Breivik builds on work he presented in the article �Arnold Sch�nberg og Paul Hindemith: Individualister p� funksjonalistisk grunn� (Svensk tidskrift f�r musikforskning 78 [1996]: 11�24), and his dissertation, �Musikalsk funksjonalisme: En studie i Arnold Sch�nbergs og Paul Hindemiths musikktenkning� (Ph.D. diss., Norges Teknisk-Naturvitenskapelige Universitet, 1998). Though Breivik�s application of musical functionalism to Schoenberg and Hindemith together is novel, his study is not the first to treat the two composers: another important study is found in David Neumeyer and Giselher Schubert�s article, �Arnold Schoenberg and Paul Hindemith� ( Journal of the Arnold Schoenberg Institute 13, no. 1 [ June 1990]: 3�46), which Breivik cites in his discussion of the relationship between the two.

Breivik begins the first part of his study, �Musical Functionalism: Perspectives in Early 20th-Century Art� (pp. 1�72) by introducing the reader to �the concept of functionalism� (p. 1), through the examination of architectural trends in the German-speaking world in the first decades of the twentieth century. In the introduction and throughout the book, Breivik links function to form, in music as well as architecture.

Breivik identifies another central aspect of functionalism in the choice and use of material: �Any artistic material is defined by certain possibilities and limitations, a fact that has led to speculations that materials may have an inherent �will� unique to each substance, with which an artist�s will has to co-operate� (p. 12). According to Breivik, artists of all sorts must work within the limitations of their chosen materials. He asserts that Schoenberg and Hindemith both understood the boundaries of their chosen materials (p. 22). Other important aspects of functionalist thought, according to Breivik, are that art works are created by craftsmen and not mass-produced (p. 23), functionalism eschews ornamentation (pp. 32�41), and that the Neue Sachlichkeit movement stressed objectivism in design (pp. 58�65).

Breivik discusses functionalism as a backdrop for his study in �The Concept of Musical Functionalism,� beginning on page 65. His opening paragraphs tie art to function, and stress that while the goal is to produce art serving a function, functionalism is not synonymous with style. On page 66, Breivik attributes the phrase �musical functionalism� to Carl Dahlhaus (see �Musikalischer Funktionalismus,� in Sch�nberg und Andere: Gesammelte Aufs�tze zur neuen Musik [Mainz: Schott, 1978], 63). Breivik ties musical functionalism with the older concept of functional music, which �covered a musico-sociological category that included music created for certain purposes, whether economic or civic� and also served as a �less negatively loaded synonym for Gebrauchsmusik� (p. 68). Breivik closes the first part of the book with his three-part definition of musical functionalism, which outlines the structure for the rest of the study: (1) functional treatment of the chosen material; (2) functional design; and (3) focus on the work�s intended function (p. 72).

The second part of the study, �The Musical Material,� (pp. 73�191) begins with a discussion of the breakdown of traditional tonality. He identifies sound as �the basic ingredient in musical material� (p. 73). Breivik discusses Theodor Adorno�s role in twentieth-century music scholarship extensively. On pages 89�93, Breivik considers Adorno�s series of essays on Hindemith, �Ad vocem Hindemith: Eine Dokumentation,� (Theodor Adorno, �Impromptus,� in Musikalische Schriften IV (His Gesammelte Schriften, bd. 17) [Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1982], 210�46) in which Adorno presents an initially positive but increasingly negative view of Hindemith over the years from 1922 to 1968.

Breivik devotes pages 94�140 to the section, �Schoenberg: The Motive as Musical Material.� He introduces Schoenberg�s idea of Materialgerechtigkeit, or the assertion that �his music . . . [comes] out of a unique material different than that of many others� (p. 99). Of note, Breivik highlights Schoenberg�s rejection of the concept of atonality (pp. 103�4), and his key concepts for musical material: �musical prose� (pp. 107�9), �Der musikalische Gedanke��musical thought or idea (pp. 110�20), and �musical logic� (pp. 112�15). Breivik writes, �In his [Schoenberg�s] comprehensive understanding of material, the component that really carries the material�s Treibkraft (compulsion or will) is the musical motive� (p. 116). He demonstrates Schoenberg�s use of motive as material for melodic and harmonic variation in his analysis of the first of the Sechs kleine Klavierst�cke, op. 19 (pp. 118�35). �Hindemith: The Interval as Musical Material� comprises pages 141�91. Breivik underscores Hindemith�s self-identification as a musician, rather than a non-performing composer. He also emphasizes that as a young man, Hindemith was involved in the performance of works of the Second Viennese School, and was not as conservative as his reception would suggest. Breivik asserts that, like Schoenberg, the concept of Materialgerechtigkeit is crucial to Hindemith; however, he understood this differently than Schoenberg. On pages 175�91, Breivik analyzes the ninth Interludium from Hindemith�s Ludus Tonalis, which he points out, �is often referred to as a 20th-century Well-Tempered Clavier� (p. 176). Ludus Tonalis consists of a series of fugues (Fugas) in the respective keys of each successive pitch of Hindemith�s Book 1 from The Craft of Musical Composition (Theory [trans. Arthur Mendel; London: Schott, 1942]), with interludes in between. Breivik demonstrates that Hindemith used the intervals and chords outlined in Craft as a tonal plan to modulate from B♭ (the key of the ninth Fuga) to G ♭ in the Interludium, setting up the D ♭ tonality in the tenth Fuga (p. 186). Breivik concludes this part of the book by linking Hindemith to Johannes Kepler and Boethius, as they provided inspiration for Hindemith�s late opera Die Harmonie der Welt (pp. 190�91).

Breivik prefaces his third part, �Musical Form� (pp. 193�307), with a discussion of the concept, noting the increasing prevalence of older musical forms in twentieth-century music. In the section �Schoenberg: From Gedanke to Form� (pp. 200�59), Breivik makes one point prominently: that form must be comprehensible (see pp. 215�27). He concludes the section with an analysis of the Gavotte from the Suite for piano, op. 25 (pp. 239�58), in which he argues that the movement is composed of motivic materials that form Gestalten and Figuren (Schoenbergian elements of musical construction), and that it adheres to the basic form of the gavotte enough to be considered as such.

In �Hindemith: From Vision to Form,� (pp. 260�307) Breivik characterizes Hindemith�s view of the artistic creator: �The genuine creator not only has the ability to receive a vision of the complete musical form, he also has the qualities needed to realize it� (p. 266). He adds Hindemith�s concept of Einfall to the discussion: �With the amateur the Einfall usually dies away in its early childhood, while the creative musician knows how to grasp it and adequately make use of it� (p. 267). On pages 284�306, Breivik presents his analysis of the Shimmy from Hindemith�s Suite for Piano (1922). In this analysis, Breivik shows that the Shimmy follows contemporary dance music conventions with regard to form, but not in terms of tonality or harmony.

The fourth part, �Musical Function,� comprises pages 309�88. With the increased emphasis on functional music, Breivik notes that concertizing activities were valued less by composers in the 1920s, in favor of non-traditional outlets for musical expression. He writes, �The point was to activate music�s potential through purposeful communication and actual use. For all this, the term most frequently used came to be Gebrauchsmusik� (p. 318). Breivik also cites Ferdinand T�nnies�s concept of Gemeinschaft: �In the concept of Gemeinschaft, human co-existence is of great significance, a fact that undoubtedly contributed strongly to the concept becoming one of the magical words of the Weimar Republic� (p. 320). Breivik further illustrates the realization of the Gemeinschaft concept in his discussion of Schoenberg�s public music-making activities, particularly his open rehearsals of his First Chamber Symphony, op. 9, in June of 1918, and the performances of Der Verein f�r Musikalische Privatauff�hrungen, from 1918�1921, which provided a closed community for the experience of modern music (pp. 336�48). Hindemith also established such a community for musical performances in 1922, called the Gemeinschaft f�r Musik. After the organization failed for economic reasons, Hindemith advocated various amateur music endeavors, encouraging people to experience music through performance (pp. 350�88).

Breivik�s volume is a very thorough and well-organized work of scholarship on these two composers, and it presents a new way of understanding how they operated within twentieth-century music on the common plane of musical functionalism. The volume suffers from occasional editorial oversights, including typographical errors. For example, on page 338, �appreciation� is misspelled as �appreciatin,� and �no� should be used instead of �non� in the following passage on the same page: �Von Kralik in non way . . .�. These oversights are not frequent enough to significantly detract from the work�s merit, however. This study would find a welcome place in any academic collection specializing in twentieth-century music.

Michael J. Duffy IV, Northern Illinois University
“Book Reviews”
Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association

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