(Note: This post has been updated (1) as of 12:18 AM Eastern on 24 Sep. See below)
ACD says that it is okay to talk about the nuts and bolts of music-drama, as it has a drama to affect audiences that absolute music does not. The problem with this claim is that there is no basis to it. ACD does not supply any reasons why technical aspects of music can affect its reception only when it is wedded to drama.
That's not quite what I said, but, in fairness to Scott, the imprecise wording of the close of my statement, and the starkness of its closing sentence, are partly responsible for his misreading / misunderstanding. What I wrote was (and only the latter half of which was quoted by Scott):
[I]n my speaking in one installment of my series on Wagner's Ring of some technical aspects of the Rheingold prelude, I was not discussing music, but music-drama. That technical description was an opening to a discussion to be pursued in some little detail in the next installment of the series as to how music functions in Wagnerian music-drama to carry, shape, and determine the drama itself. I wouldn't for an instant even think of discussing, say, a symphony of Mozart's or Beethoven's in such technical terms as, outside a specialist's interest, that sort of technical talk means diddly in terms of explaining how such so-called "absolute" music works to affect a receiver. One can, however, profitably use words to explain how a drama works to affect a receiver. Words are helpless to do the same for absolute music. In such a case, only the music itself will do, and it either works or it doesn't.
Within their immediate context, I would have thought those closing two sentences clear and unambiguous, but apparently they're not. More precisely worded, these would have read,
One can, however, profitably use technical language to explain how a drama works to affect a receiver. Technical language is helpless to do the same for absolute music. In such a case, technical language is useless. Only the music itself will do, and it either works or it doesn't.
Note also that I did not say, as Scott seems to imagine I did, that "[the] technical aspects of music can affect its reception only when it is wedded to drama." What I wrote was, "One can ... profitably use words [i.e., technical language] to explain how a drama works to affect a receiver [italics added]."
That's not at all the same thing.
I've no problem whatsoever with Scott's,
Does the discussion of the programmatic elements in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique affect aesthetic response? How about the programmatic elements in Beethoven's Sixth Symphony? Or his Seventh Symphony? (Many commentators from Beethoven's time attached the story of a rustic wedding to this work.) And what about Charles Ives' Concord Sonata? This is absolute music, in that there is not a specific story or any text attached to the work. But Ives did use extensive use of musical quotes, as he did in the majority of his works. These quotes were from Beethoven, Scottish folk music, and from other pieces by Ives. Ives provided a description of images for each movement, such as the family home of the Alcott's. A listener who does not know about any of these facts would have one type of response to the music. A listener who does know some of these facts would have a different response to the music.
Plain language descriptive comment by historical anecdote, metaphor, or otherwise is just dandy, and when used with circumspection by the skilled (Bernstein would be the paradigmatic example) can be illuminating and most useful. I'm in the habit of employing such myself. But such descriptive comment hardly qualifies as technical language or comment, and it's technical language or comment I deem useless (except for specialists, as I originally noted) in explaining how the music works to affect a receiver in the case of absolute music.
As to Scott's,
As a second comment, ACD directly contradicts himself. In justifying why he talks about Wagner's biography and compositional process, ACD says that it was necessary to counter misinformation about those subjects. If ACD is concerned that misinformation about biography and compositional influences will affect the listener's response, then any information about composers' biographies or influences will have an affect, whether positive or negative.
But I wasn't at all "concerned that misinformation about biography and compositional influences will affect the listener's response." What I wrote was that I'd included biographical information and information concerning the composition (not "compositional influences") of the Ring simply because I was
not only discussing an immortal work written by a music immortal, but by a composer about whom so much malicious misinformation is the lingua franca of discussion concerning him and that immortal work that I felt it intellectually incumbent upon me to provide within the context of my series some Ring-pertinent real-deal historical and biographical information.
And finally, as to Scott's,
I challenge A.C. Douglas to define what he means by "aesthetic value" and to clarify what the boundaries are of "the artwork." Where does Mozart's 40th Symphony exist? How do you define it, what is its aesthetic value, and how is it separate from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart?
Well, generally speaking, the aesthetic value and boundaries of any artwork refer to everything an artwork has to say of itself, by itself, for itself in its final form, and that's just as true of a velvet Elvis as of a "Last Supper"; of a Stephen King potboiler as of a Ulysses; of a TV sitcom as of a "Hamlet"; of a Johnny Cash song as of a "Der Tod und das Mädchen" or of a Mozart symphony.
I trust this time I've made myself more clear on the matter.
Update (12:18 AM Eastern on 24 Sep): Scott responds to the above post in an update to this post of his, in which update he declares he sees nothing in what I wrote "that effectively continued the discussion." With all due respect to Scott, I might suggest that it's difficult, not to say impossible, to continue the discussion when so much of what I've already written has been so misread, misconstrued, or misunderstood by Scott that it required an entire post (my above post) just to attempt to set past matters straight; an attempt that, judging from Scott's latest response, has been a clear and comprehensive failure.
Centrally, Scott seems determined to make the consideration of the lives and struggles of the creator of an artwork an integral part of the determination of that artwork's aesthetic value (a term introduced into this discussion without definition by Scott, but one he repeatedly calls on me to define) when clearly all it's capable of doing is to work to distort that determination, and render it instantly suspect. Scott's argument for the importance, even necessity, of that consideration (viz., "The beauty of any work of art is the fact that it was created by a human being. [...] So if the value of art lies in its creation by a person, surely the story of that person, especially the story of that person's struggle to create the artwork, contributes to the aesthetic value of that art.") is, to be blunt about it, so palpably specious, and so palpably a petitio principii fallacy, that I'm astonished he was reckless enough to set it down in print. I think at this point in the argument, Scott and I will simply have to agree to disagree on the matter, as well as on matters cognate and ancillary.