Absolute music and the death of desire: Beethoven, Schopenhauer, Wagner and Eliot's Four Quartets


Abstract
The influence of Beethoven on Eliot's Four Quartets is mediated by Wagner and Schopenhauer and relates fundamentally to the philosopher's understanding of instrumental music as expressing a universalised and abstract emotion. Schopenhauer's aesthetics are intimately connected with Wagner's treatment of the idea of absolute music – a discussion that begins in his early prose writings and culminates in his essay 'Beethoven'. At the origin of Wagner's thinking about absolute music is a striking metaphor: that of Beethoven as Columbus, exploring the sea of absolute music. This metaphor is found at the heart of Four Quartets, powerfully connecting the poem with Beethoven's music, and with a Schopenhauerian aesthetics that understands this music as inhabiting a realm beyond human affect and desire.
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