This article surveys Hanslick’s statements about the purpose and practice of criticism to argue that he viewed music criticism as a medium with the potential to effect political and social change, and not as a practical application of aesthetic principles. Hanslick took up the Enlightenment model of criticism—–which stressed the critic’s role in fostering the public’s independence of judgment through the exercise of reason—–and adapted it to the historical circumstances of post-1848 Vienna. The Enlightenment model had originated from an impetus to emancipate a civil public from top-down, absolute forms of authority. It resonated powerfully with Hanslick because he believed that artistic, social, and political life in Vienna after 1848 was gradually liberating itself from the paralyzing, passive, and repressive ethos of Vormärz, and that the critic could contribute to this historical emancipation. Hanslick thus broke his earlier identification with the Left Hegelian “philosophical” model of criticism, which did not share the Enlightenment’s optimistic conception of the public sphere. His commitment to the critic's public mission manifested as an effort to position his voice as the “silent” inner conscience of the average educated listener. His self-consciousness about aligning his voice with that of the public came to the surface in reviews where his opinion did not match the audience response. Many of Hanslick’s criteria for musical judgment were aimed at defending the listener’s freedom from the interference of external critical authorities as well as from composers and whose musical ideas were turgid or unclear. In service to these freedoms he was willing to criticize composers such as Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms, as well as conservative classicists and music historians.
- © 2011 by the Regents of the University of California