The ‘Science of Reality’ of Music History: on the Historical Background to Max Weber’s Study of Music

  • Christoph Braun


‘He has never, we said afterwards, done anything more incredible. We were all completely dazed and dumbfounded.’ Bewilderment clouds the admiration with which the Heidelberg theologian Hans von Schubert comments, presumably in late 1912, on a lecture by Max Weber on the ‘sociology of music’ given in his Heidelberg home on Ziegelhäuser Landstrasse.1 It shows the difficulty Weber’s contemporaries faced in fitting his widely diverse interests within the canon of academic disciplines. How did the trained jurist, economist, historian and cultural analyst come to be directing his enquiries towards fields so foreign to his subject as music? A few motifs taken from the history of Weber’s works as a whole and from his biography, described below, should provide an insight into this and demonstrate the nature of the theoretical musical analyses as well as their connection with the general interests of the social and cultural scientist.


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  1. 1.
    Recorded by Eduard Baumgarten, in Baumgarten, ed., Max Weber: Werk und Person, Dokumente, ausgewählt und kommentiert (Tübingen: Mohr, 1964)Google Scholar
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    Cf. the contemporary critiques of the Protestant Ethic and Weber’s ‘anticritiques’, edited by Johannes Winckelmann (Gütersloh; Siebenstern 1978, 3rd impression); and also Helmut Fogt’s survey, ‘Max Weber und die deutsche Soziologie der Weimarer Republik: Aussenseiter oder Gründervater?’, in Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, Sonderheft 23 (1981), pp. 245–72.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Ingrid Gilcher-Holtey, ‘Max Weber und die Frauen’, in: Christian Gneuss and Jürgen Kocka, eds, Max Weber. Ein Symposion (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch 1988), p. 151.Google Scholar
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    MSS, pp. 80–1. Cf. also Lawrence A. Scaff, ‘Max Webers Begriff der Kultur’, in Gerhard Wagner and Heinz Zipprian, eds, Max Webers Wissenschaftslehre. Interpretation und Kritik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1994), pp. 678–700.Google Scholar
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    Weber’s admiration for Wagner’s Tristan and Mastersingers is the musical equivalent of that ‘genuine pathos’ of’ self-abandon’ which belongs to what is ‘most inwardly genuine and real in life’; cf. the ‘value-freedom’ essay, MSS, pp. 2–3, 16. Those two works, as also the second act of the Valkyrie mentioned in his ‘Protestantism’ essay (PESC, pp. 107–8), Weber counts among the ‘truly “eternal” works that Wagner has created’. Tristan in particular is to Weber ‘the kind of great experience that one very seldom has, a work of great human truthfulness and unparalleled musical beauty. The extrahuman and superhuman additions are simply not there’ [in contrast to Parsifal, which Weber, like Nietzsche, finds a game, ‘empty sweetness’; C.B.]. The companions were ‘completely carried away by its ecstasy and experienced this work of art as the highest transfiguration of the earthly’: Marianne Weber, Max Weber. A Biography (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transactions, 1988), pp. 501–3Google Scholar
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    MUS, p. 12. Examples of other analyses of elective affinities in music: ‘Chromaticism is antipathetic to the early church just as to e.g. the ancient Hellenic tragedians and the bourgeois Confucian musical teaching’ (MUS, p. 12). For the concepts of ‘ethos’, ‘conduct of life’ and ‘elective affinity’, cf. Klaus Lichtblau and Johannes Weiss, ‘Einleitung’, in: Lichtblau and Weiss, eds, Max Weber: Die Protestantische Ethik und der ‘Geist’ des Kapitalismus. Textausgabe auf der Grundlage der ersten Fassung von 1904/5 mit einem Verzeichnis der wichtigsten Zusätze und Veränderungen aus der zweiten Fassung von 1920, (Bodenheim: Hainstein 1993), p. viiGoogle Scholar
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    Cf. also Wolfgang Schluchter, Religion und Lebensführung (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1988), vol. I, p. 53ff. and Hubert Treiber, ‘Zur Genealogie einer “science positive de la morale en Allemagne”. Die Geburt der “r(e)ealistischen Moralwissenschaft” aus der Idee einer monistischen Naturkonzeption’, in: Nietzsche-Studien 22 (1993), p. 192.Google Scholar
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    MUS, p. 25. From the wealth of ethnomusicological monographs evaluated by Weber, see: Hornbostel, ‘Studien über das Tonsystem und die Musik der Japaner’, in Sammelbände der Internationalen Musikgesellschaft 4 (1902/3), p. 302ff.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Christoph Braun

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