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    何為壯美? Sublimity and Beauty in the19th Century Romanticism

    前言: 當我們談到十九世紀的歐洲浪漫主義,總不免說到這時期的藝術作品的宏偉與壯麗。查實,浪漫主義,也跟各類藝術發展起來的美學觀點有著千絲萬縷的關係。其中一種美學感受,就是 sublimity,我現在翻為壯美。但凡壯美的作品,必定是宏偉與龐大的。可予人一種然生畏的感覺,就如你看著波濤洶湧的海浪,翻騰不息,那種感覺經驗,就是壯美了。


                                                           The “Sublime” and “Beauty” 

    When E.T.A. Hoffmann’s imaginative criticism of Beethoven’s symphony no. 5 was published in the 19th century, the concept of “musical sublimity” was also come across as a novel way of understanding of pure instrumental music, and symphony in particular. As Hoffmann suggests in his writing, Beethoven’s music has a power of transporting listeners to the realms of the monstrous and the unfathomable, which is different from that of Haydn’s sensational delight and Mozart’s emotional touching. Indeed this listening experience of transporting audiences to a new “realm” is somewhat similar to Fetis’s concept of aesthetic experience. For Fetis, music can present two levels of aesthetic experience to the listeners. One is commonly described as the experience of beauty, and the other, the experience of the sublime. He declared: “We listen to a piece of music……It disturbs us; it carries us away…… how beautiful, we exclaim, how great, how sublime!”
    According to Elaine Sisman, a (present day) contemporary musicologist, the sublime is regarded as an aesthetic category that usually appears as a component of the elevated or grand style of rhetoric. The rhetorical modes of thought which operated in 18th century instrumental music was a mind-set-like theory affecting the structure and design of a work, as well as the audience’s understandings of that work. But the concept of sublime has gone beyond a kind of figurative mode of speech and has been elevated to a form of aesthetic state akin to an echo of a noble mind, a grand conception and a sense of beauty. To use the term “sublime” to describe the expressive power of music shows a change of emphasis from expression as a mirror of the human emotions of Classical aesthetics to expression as the revelation of the ineffable of Romantic aesthetics. Edmund Burke further argues that sublime objects are vast in their dimensions and this “sublime” ought to be dark and gloomy, being beyond any comprehension and presenting an overwhelming but irrational experience to the listeners. The concept of vast sublimity undoubtedly leads to the notions of “sublime terror” and “monumental simplicity” that sheds a new light on understanding the music of late Mozart, Beethoven and even many Romantic musical giants afterward. As such, when the concept of sublimity was applied to instrumental music, in order to manifest the notion of “grand, monumental and terrifying design”, the simple songs were no longer appropriate to such ideal. It was the symphony, a genre which as Haydn had demonstrated, was capable of creating a form spanning hundreds of measures using mainly the logic of harmony and theme without recourse to text, was generally considered as the highest form of all arts. And the metaphysical aesthetic of 19th century Romanticism was then fully developed under the aegis of this concept of musical sublimity and the rising importance of the musical genre — symphony.
    David Leung (theorydavid)
    2011-03-29 (published)
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