Saturday 25 April 2015

Alfred Schutz and Music

I found a wonderful introduction to a paper about Schutz and Music with reference to Leonardo's Paragone by Emanuel Winternitz (see "The Role of Music in Leonardo's Paragone"). I've written about Schutz's "Making Music Together" (1975) before (see - it is, I think, the finest paper on the experience of music I have ever come across. But more importantly, it serves to highlight the fundamental importance of a musical intelligence in Schutz's social theorising more generally. I didn't know about Schutz's musicianship until reading this. At the moment I am re-writing the chapter of my book on phenomenology (it came out rather garbled the first time), and I find myself making much more use of Schutz: he's such an important figure because he straddles the phenomenological world of Husserl with the sociological world of Weber.

The question I'm dealing with is about the experience of education and the experience of learning. Schutz's interest in face-to-face communication vs remote communication (what he calls "indirect social relationships") and the importance of what he calls 'polythetic understanding' - which is central to his music theory - is also of fundamental significance in learning - and particularly learning technology. Video, for example, provides us with a medium where there remains a polythetic aspect of experience similar to musical experience. I often video my supervision sessions with PhD students, screen-capturing doodles, notes, corrections, etc. I know that this technique is of great value to them because to replay something like this is to replay the flow of time in the relationship. It is a capture of polythetic understanding.

Introduction to The Role of Music in Leonardo's Paragone by Emanuel Winternitz
Alfred Schutz was profoundly musical, and a study such as the present one on Leonardo's Paragone would, no doubt, have led to one of those long, nocturnal discussions which we used to have through forty years in Vienna and then in New York. We first met as students of law at the University of Vienna in 1918, but it was music which really brought us together. We ran into each other on the steps leading to the standing room section high up under the roof of the Vienna Opera House, both of us duly equipped with the score of the "Entführung aus dem Serail"
Schutz had a broad and intense knowledge of German and French literature, and he had his favorites among painters: he could become ecstatic before a Giovanni Bellini "Pieta" or Rembrandt's "Jewish Bride", but his beloved art was music. Even in his student days, his knowledge of the theory and history of music would have done honor to any musicologist. His interests and his tastes were catholic, and reached from Pachelbel and Heinrich Schütz to Alban Berg's "Wozzeck". He knew by heart J.S. Bach's Passions, most of his Cantatas and the Goldberg Variations; he was equally at home with Mozart's Masses and operas and the chamber music of Brahms. One of his special idols was Gluck; he knew every page of the standard treatises by Spitta, Schweizer, Chrysander, Jahn-Albert and Thayer. He played the piano with little technique, but the form and emotional content were magically conjured up by his enthusiasm., We played four-hand music throughout all the years of our friendship, and though we often squabbled over Brahm's triplets or Bruckner's hemioles, his shining face and radiant pleasure and our ensuring arguments belong to my dearest memories. We often discussed the experience provided by music and analysed the nature of flow, succession and time and their relation to Bergsons's duree, and the musical structure as a model of the role and function of memory as creator of form and flux.
Alfred Schutz's concern with the phenomenon of music deeply influenced his philosophy. It will be a task for his philosopher friends to explore the connection and to continue his work.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful stuff Mark - as you know I have always found music to have a very complex relationship to consciousness - and consciousness provides another complexity involved in understanding learning.


Mark Johnson said...

Hi Jim!

I was thinking of our discussions as I was digging into this. You're right - it is SO important. I don't have your email, but if you email me, I'll send you Schutz's paper if you fancy having a look...