Apollinaire's Music

Peter Dayan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

There is a peculiar paradox in Apollinaire's attitude to music. On the one hand, he took little apparent interest in the music of his (or any) time; he clearly did not appreciate it much, and his enjoyment of concerts was at best ambiguous. On the other hand, music as an abstract concept (including what he calls, in his poems, "le chant") stands, in his writing, for the very essence of art: there is no higher praise for a poem or a painting, in Apollinaire's vocabulary, than to say it is, or is analogous to, music. This essay seeks to explain why actual works of music, of specific audible music, have such a low position in Apollinaire's value system, while the concept of music has such a dominant one. The answer is to be found in the relationship between art and the dynamics of representation, as Apollinaire understood them. Works of art, for him, are born of a struggle between reality and creativity. In that struggle, music, which never represents reality, stands for the purely creative pole; hence, it figures the goal of all truly modern art, which refuses simply to imitate what exists. However, actual successful works of music are difficult for Apollinaire to imagine, precisely because the struggle with reality seems to him absent from music. The result is an aesthetic system in which the highest value can never be realised in a work, and a poetics in which unrealistic ambition is as essential as frustration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-48
Number of pages13
JournalForum for Modern Language Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011


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