'Strange and dead the ghosts appear': Mythic absence in Hölderlin, Adorno and Kurtág

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Much late twentieth-century music is concerned with the way in which remembered sounds, events and streams of thought can create connections across time. A number of composers have used the work of the Romantic poet Friedrich Hölderlin (1770–1843) as a basis for these explorations, because of its unique approach towards issues of memory, absence, and longing. Hölderlin’s writing, although fixed within the historical context of German Romanticism, is rooted in a yearning for another age; his poetry continually invokes the names and places of classical mythology as the empty signs, ‘strange and dead’, of a sense of integration in life and culture which has long been lost. Theodor Adorno’s influential essay on the late poems carries suggestive parallels with his own musical historiography, which like Hölderlin’s revolves around the idea of a lost ‘golden age’ towards which the artist looks back hopelessly. This chapter traces a path from Hölderlin, through Adorno, to György Kurtág’s orchestral work ΣΤΗΛΗ (1994): here, quotations from Beethoven and Bruckner stand as empty signs of their own, amid lament figures drawn from vocal works based on Hölderlin’s texts. As such, this chapter argues that Kurtág’s intertextual web captures the heart of Hölderlin’s aesthetics of loss.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationIntertextuality in Music
Subtitle of host publicationDialogic Composition
EditorsVioletta Kostka, Paulo F. de Castro, William A. Everett
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9780367552909
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2021

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