Genetic criticism as an integrating focus for musicology and music analysis

William Kinderman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The approach of genetic crilicism or critique génétique offers a valuable means of healing disciplinary wounds inflicted by the arbitrary severing of topics that properly belong together in the same body of knowledge. In his séminal text on "Genetic Criticism: Origins and Perspectives" of 1979, Louis Hay wrote that "Of all the fairy godmothers present at the birth of genetic studies, no doubt the most powerful is the one we shall encounter at every turn, the spirit of paradox. " The capacity of genetic studies to fruitfully embrace the complexities of musical creativity can be demonstrated through comparative study of sources pertaining to major composers from the eighteenth century to the present, from Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to Bartók and György Kurtág. These examples illustrate the diversity of sources, rejected passages and movements, and unsuspected connections as well as those inspired after-thoughts that often have enriched works of art. As these case studies show, an uneasy tension between inspiration and calculation-organicism and constructivism-belongs to that "spirit of paradox" cited by Hay, whose elucidation remains a basic task of critique génétique. In turn, the blending of historical and analytical methodology to this end signals the potential of creative process studies as a means of counteracting the increased compartmentalization and fragmentation of music scholarship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)15-42
Number of pages28
JournalRevue de Musicologie
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Music


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