Abstracts of issue 10-11 (1998)
Book Review

Clemens Kühn
Formenlehre der Musik, Bärenreiter, Kassel 1987.
Review: Markos Tsetsos
Clemens Kuehn, Formenlehre der MusikThe traditional handbooks of musical morphology suffer from deficiencies that hardly ever become an object of discussion, especially among professionals that are directly interested in this issue, namely music teachers. Thus, the uncritical acceptance of these handbooks results in the preservation of a narrow-minded and biased notion about this object. Furthermore, this kind of acceptance converts this notion into a dogma, thus reproducing teaching methods that are rather mechanistic and lack the potentiality to approach methodologically the problem about musical forms. A prerequisite and starting point for a broader consideration of musical forms is questioning about their usucapted and self-evident ontology:
  1. How can the fossilized schemes of the traditional morphology cope with the morphological specification, the morphological identity of a Gregorian chant, a Palestrinas polyphonic motet, a fantasy for lute, or even with a cantata created by Webern or a composition created by Ligeti or Boulez?
  2. How can we have a satisfactory understanding for at least one Beethovens late quartet, adapting it in a gross manner to the suffocative and abstract models of a theory of forms, the foundations of which are – funnily enough – associated with a certain period in his own creative course?
As the author himself says, the scheme in itself does not constitute knowledge yet: it makes knowledge possible. A morphological scheme is an abstraction; something general that helps by necessity and must help for the particular and singular to be identified. It is precisely towards the particular and the singular that knowledge is oriented. And it is precisely the particular and the singular that musicology tries to scrutinize and understand.
The traditional handbooks of morphology are constrained perforce in a period that does not extend beyond two certain centuries, leaving in the dark the fundamental principles that govern the forms from the Gregorian chants until the baroque era and almost all contemporary music. It is well known that the paradigm in contemporary music is autonomy of form, the morphological self-definition of almost every single work that entails the difficulty to formulate a uniform morphology of the 20th century music.
Kühn introduces his primary methodological target: the study and typology of the main principles for molding musical forms. Fundamental concepts that compose musical form in general – like repetition, variation, and contrast – are examined in their concrete historical manifestations and their evolution is monitored.
The review reports the most important issues approached in this book and demonstrates the way this original work broadens the historical and methodological horizon of morphology, a field that is so important for musical education.

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