Nos­tal­gic Poten­tial­ity in West­ern Art Music Dis­course: From Wagner to the Spectralists

There is surprisingly little musicological literature devoted to the subject of nostalgia, especially considering how widely it is used by musicologists in their writing. In this paper, I deal with the question of nostalgia as a discursive tool, and especially with the ways that it can be used as a literary authority.

The discussion opens with an examination of the problematic term “nostalgia”. I eventually settle on a more open-ended term that is better suited to my project: nostalgic potentiality. From there, I look at varying degrees of nostalgic potentiality as it is used by a wide range of authors; from Wagner to Berio to Kaija Saariaho, to name a few. The two main categories of examples that I draw from are: (1) nostalgic potentiality used to justify progress or a forward-looking attitude; and (2) nostalgic potentiality as it is used to support anti-nostalgic sentiments. I close the discussion by suggesting other areas that a study of nostalgic potentiality could be usefully applied to, and then comment on the value of being aware of the use of nostalgic potentiality in our writing and that of others.

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