Post-war serialist composers, such as Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luigi Nono, Henri Pousseur and Karel Goeyvaerts, are generally known as representatives of a compositional movement that rejected the subjectivist individualism of the romantic era. These composers aimed to make music which could be objectively improved along the lines of science.

My MA-thesis, written in 1997 at Utrecht University under the supervision of dr. Paul van Emmerik, aims to prove – contrary to common opinion – that the aesthetics of post-war serialism have their roots in the early romantic era, since they bear some striking resemblances to the drastically changing aesthetics around 1800. This turn was initiated by a number of German poets, writers and philosophers (called the Frühromantiker), among others Ludwig Tieck, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Arthur Schopenhauer.

In order to outline these resemblances, as well as the rootedness of post-war serialist aesthetics in nineteenth-century romantic thought, Eduard Hanslick’s influential treatise Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (1854) is used as a key in the argument, laying the fundaments for the notion of ‘absolute music’ that informed many modernist musical endeavours of the twentieth century. By stressing the importance of originality, abstraction and autonomy in music, post-war serialist composers unwittingly nurtured and continued the German romantic musical tradition, despite their rhetoric to the contrary.

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