“What are we thinking about when we think about music in non-naturalistic terms?” asks Benjamin Steege—Associate Professor of Music Theory, Columbia University—in his new book An Unnatural Attitude: Phenomenology in Weimar Musical Thought (University of Chicago Press, 2021). This deceptively subtle question exercised the minds of some of Europe's most delicate musical thinkers at a time of great social and political upheaval, and continues to be of interest to musicologists today. Putting a little-discussed set of German-language primary sources into historical context (among others, the writing of Günther Anders (né Stern), Gustav Güldenstein, and Herbert Eimert) and expertly introducing them to an Anglophone audience, Steege explains the shared interests of a post–World War I constellation of musical thinkers whose disinterest in psychological and music-historical orthodoxy coalesces into a vital, if not entirely homogeneous, program for the phenomenology of music. Enriched by convincing music-analytical examples, careful handling of philosophical terms of art, and an ethical sensitivity not unlike that of its historical interlocutors, Steege's book—and the writers whose work it examines—is sure to draw attention from music historians and historians of philosophy alike, who will question the relative unfamiliarity of its subject matter and set out to reach out across this gap to explore the models of historical listening it offers.
Eamonn Bell (@_eamonnbell) is a postdoctoral Research Fellow at Trinity College Dublin in the Department of Music. His current research project examines the story of the compact disc from a viewpoint between musicology and media studies.