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Mark Evan Bonds
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, NC 27599-1350)

Fellowships for University Teachers
Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
7/1/2010 – 6/30/2011

The Myth of Absolute Music

What does music mean? And how does it reflect the social contexts in which it is produced and consumed? One of the key concepts in these perennial debates has been the idea of "absolute music," which holds that music is a purely self-referential art, freed from all strictures of representation. The goal of my project is to complete work on a monograph that traces the origins and changing fortunes of this idea from the eighteenth century to the present. My account frames absolute music as a myth, an explanatory narrative developed to rationalize (and therefore control) the otherwise inexplicable ability of purely instrumental music to move the passions of individuals and thus collectively to effect political and social change. My study traces the origins and history of this myth through a close reading of primary sources, examining texts not only from the field of music but also from philosophy, aesthetics, art history, and literary theory.