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Review of Riley, Matthew. 2004. Musical Listening in the German Enlightenment: Attention, Wonder and Astonishment. Aldershot, UK and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing.

Head, Matthew

Matthew Riley's impressive contribution to the history of music theory and
psychology explores an Enlightenment ideal of listener "attentiveness." This
ideal was discussed, or more often simply referenced, by German theorists
of the last three decades of the eighteenth century. Attentiveness
(Aufmerksamkeit) concerned neither reverent communion with music nor
rapt attention and silent contemplation; it was neither a description of social
conduct nor a presentiment of Romantic and modernist listening. Rather,
it described a psychological state in which the attention, as a faculty of the
mind, was voluntarily exercised. Attentiveness was rarely a goal in itself;
most often, it was a means to listeners' engagement with the ruling sentiment
of the piece as it unfolded through time and was subject to changes in
intensity, or gave way temporarily to subsidiary sentiments. Riley traces such
visions of listening to Jean-Jacques Rousseau (chapter 2), whose concepts
of melodic unity and natural simplicity provided compositional-stylistic
cues for audience attentiveness. At the same time, Riley notes in passing
that such ideas of unity and their relationship to the listeners' undivided
attention were already present in Germany in the 1730s in the writings of
Johann Mattheson.
Riley sets himself the painstaking task of elucidating what the authors
of his primary sources sought to communicate in their jargon-filled and
often abstract texts. Riley's readings stay close to the terms employed by
contemporary authors, giving his book the character of a foundational study
rather than one that explores less immediately apparent aspects of music-theoretical
discourse. Given that the sources are complex and contradictory,
and that the terminology and conceptual background often unclear to
modern readers, this is an appropriate and difficult task which Riley executes
extremely well.



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Columbia University
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November 5, 2014