After Debussy: Music, Language, and the Margins of Philosophy

ISBN : 9780190066826

Julian Johnson
400 Pages
156 x 156 mm
Pub date
Jan 2020
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Classical music shows a close relationship to language, and both musicology and philosophy have tended to approach music from that angle, exploring it in terms of expression, representation, and discourse. This book turns that idea on its head. Focusing on the music of Debussy and its legacy in the century since his death, After Debussy offers a groundbreaking new perspective on twentieth-century music that foregrounds a sensory logic of sound over quasi-linguistic ideas of structure or meaning. Author Julian Johnson argues that Debussy's music exemplifies this idea, influencing the music of successive composers who took up the mantle of emphasizing sound over syntax, sense over signification. In doing so, this music not only anticipates a central problem of contemporary thought-the gap between language and our embodied relation to the world-but also offers a solution. With a readable narrative structure grounded in an impressive body of literature, After Debussy ranges widely across French music, demonstrating the impact of Debussy's music on composers from Faure and Ravel to Dutilleux, Boulez, Grisey, Murail and Saariaho. It ranges similarly through a set of French writers and philosophers, from Mallarme and Proust to Merleau-Ponty, Jankelevitch, Derrida, Lyotard and Nancy, and even draws from the visual arts to help embody key ideas. In accessibly tackling substantial ideas of both musicology and philosophy, this book not only presents bold new ways of understanding each discipline but also lays the groundwork for exciting new discourse between them.


Prologue: Music and Language
Music, Logos, Musicology
After Debussy
The margins of philosophy
Part I: Saying Nothing
1. Sirenes
Wordless voices
Shipwreck and abyss
2. Melisande and the silence of music
Framing nothing
Orchestral voices
Being mute
3. Mallarme and the edge of language
Fold upon fold
Empty words
Part II: Appearing
4. Coming to presence
Present absence
5. Mirrors
6. Taking place
Listening to landscape
Le jardin clos: dwelling in music
Landscapes without figures
Part III: Touching
7. The art of touch
Debussy at the piano
Towards an erotics of music
8. Writing the body
L'ecriture musicale
Imaginary bodies
The philosopher's body
9. Thinking in sound
The play of the sensible
The grammar of dreams
Music as knowing
Epilogue: Being musical
After words
Before words
The margins of music
Guide to discussion of individual works

About the author: 

Julian Johnson is Regius Professor of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London, having earlier been a Reader at the University of Oxford and Lecturer at the University of Sussex. He was for many years an active composer, receiving professional performances and broadcasts in Europe, the USA and Japan, a background that continues to shape his musicological work. He has published widely on music and musical aesthetics from the late 18th century to the present, with a particular focus on the cultural and historical significance of musical modernism. His work is always shaped by questions of musical meaning and value, evident in an engagement with the philosophy of music, ideas of nature and landscape, and the relation of music to literature and visual art. In addition to being a regular invited speaker at international academic conferences, Julian is committed to fostering a wider public understanding of music. For the last 25 years he has been a frequent guest on BBC Radio and given numerous; public talks for leading orchestras and opera companies. In 2005 he was awarded the Dent Medal of the Royal Musical Association and, in 2013, became the first holder of the Regius Chair of Music at Royal Holloway. In 2017 he was elected to a Fellowship of the British Academy.

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