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Panaesthetics: On the Unity and Diversity of the Arts

Yale, 2014panaesthetics

While comparative literature is a well-recognized field of study, the notion of comparative arts remains unfamiliar to many. In this fascinating book, Daniel Albright addresses the fundamental question of comparative arts: Are there many different arts, or is there one art which takes different forms? He considers various artistic media, especially literature, music, and painting, to discover which aspects of each medium are unique and which can be “translated” from one to another. Can a poem turn into a symphony, or a symphony into a painting?

Albright explores how different media interact, as in a drama, when speech, stage decor, and music are co-present, or in a musical composition that employs the collage method of the visual arts. Tracing arguments and questions about the relations among the arts from Aristotle’s Poetics to the present day, he illuminates the understudied discipline of comparative arts and urges new attention to its riches.

Great Shakespeareans: Berlioz, Verdi, Wagner, Britten

Continuum, 2012

Great Shakespeareans offers a systematic account of those figures who have had the greatest influence on the interpretation, understanding and cultural reception of Shakespeare, both nationally and internationally.  

In this volume, leading scholars assess the contribution of Berlioz, Verdi, Wagner and Britten to the afterlife and reception of Shakespeare and his plays.  Each substantial contribution assesses the double impact of Shakespeare on the figure covered and of the figure on the understanding, interpretation and appreciation of Shakespeare, provide a sketch of their subject’s intellectual and professional biography and an account of the wider cultural context, including comparison with other figures or works within the same field.



The American University of Paris and Sylph Editions, 2011

Daniel Albright gathers parables, poems, dreams, translations, written during a three-year period following the death of  his father. Together, these form a moving record of a time of trouble, a tribute to people and objects lost, as well as offering a way of deflecting or evading even greater and less knowable harm. Accompanied by artwork by the poet and artist Peter Sacks, the cahier is an attempt to translate private experiences into something with public meaning.

MusicSpeaksMusic Speaks: On Opera, Dance, and Song

University of Rochester Press, 2009

From Daniel Albright, author of Musicking Shakespeare and Berlioz’s Semi-Operas, comes a collection of essays on music and on dance, probing the problems of articulating the meaning(s) of music; the larger question of how music and language interact; how text-setting highlights certain areas of meter, theme, or ironic undertone, and leaves others in darkness; how a musical composition can behave as a critique of a previous composition; and how one might rehabilitate certain underappreciated or much-scorned figures, such as Meyerbeer, by showing that the very terms of invective used against them can be seen, from another angle, as an indication of what is exciting in their work. Albright shows that music history has an aesthetic of its own, and how music history interacts with intellectual history (from Rousseau to Paul de Man). By abutting music against literature and painting, and by juxtaposing the musics of different centuries, Albright frames a particular work, isolating what is arresting and important in it. The essays range widely, but they rarely stray far from opera, for the opera house is the venue where the performances speak the most intricate and significant language invented by our culture–a language that speaks in music, words, pictures, and light.

Musicking Shakespeare

Musicking Shakespeare: A Conflict of Theatres 

University of Rochester Press, 2007

In this book, Daniel Albright, one of today’s most intrepid and vividly communicative explorers of the border territory between literature and music, offers insights into how composers of genius can help us to understand Shakespeare. Musicking Shakespeare demonstrates how four composers — Purcell, Berlioz, Verdi, and Britten — respond to the distinctive features of Shakespeare’s plays: their unwieldiness, their refusal to fit into interpretive boxes, their ranting quality, their arbitrary bursts of gorgeousness. The four composers break the normal forms of opera — of music altogether — in order to come to terms with the challenges that Shakespeare presents to the music dramatist. Musicking Shakespeare begins with an analysis of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest as an imaginary Jacobean opera and as a real Restoration opera. It then discusses works that respond with wit and sophistication to Shakespeare’s irony, obscurity, contortion, and heft: Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, Verdi’s Macbeth, Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These works are problematic in the ways that Shakespeare’s plays are problematic. Shakespeare’s favorite dramatic device is to juxtapose two kinds of theatres within a single play, such as the formal masque and the loose Elizabethan stage. The four composers studied here respond to this aspect of Shakespeare’s art by going beyond the comfort zone of the operatic medium. The music dramas they devise call opera into question. 

Modernism and MusicModernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources

University of Chicago Press, 2004

If in earlier eras music may have seemed slow to respond to advances in other artistic media, during the modernist age it asserted itself in the vanguard. Modernism and Music provides a rich selection of texts on this moment, some translated into English for the first time. It offers not only important statements by composers and critics, but also musical speculations by poets, novelists, philosophers, and others–all of which combine with Daniel Albright’s extensive, interlinked commentary to place modernist music in the full context of intellectual and cultural history.

Beckett and AestheticsBeckett and Aesthetics

Cambridge University Press, 2003

As a young man, Samuel Beckett (1906-89) hoped that writing could provide psychic authenticity and true representation of the physical world. Instead, he found himself immersed in artificialities and self-enclosed word games. Daniel Albright argues that Beckett sought escape through allegories of artistic frustration and the art of non-representation and estrangement. Albright depicts Beckett experimenting with the concept that an artistic medium might be made to speak. Engaging with radio, film, television, prose and drama, Albright’s Beckett becomes a sophisticated theorist of the very notion of the aesthetic.

Berlioz Semi-OperasBerlioz’s Semi-Operas: Roméo et Juliette and La damnation de Faust 

University of Rochester Press, 2001

This work studies two works that are among the most challenging of the entire Romantic Movement, not least because they assault the notion of genre: they take place in a sort of limbo between symphony and opera, and try to fulfill the highest goals of each simultaneously. Berlioz was a composer who strenuously resisted any impediments that stood in the way of complete compositional freedom. Most of his large-scale works nevertheless obey the strictures of some preexistent form, whether opera or symphony or mass or cantata; it is chiefly in these two experiments that Berlioz allowed himself to be Berlioz. One of the central characteristics of Romanticism is the belief that all arts are one, that literature, painting, and music have a common origin and a common goal; and this book tries to show that Berlioz achieved a Gesamtkunstwerk, a fusion of arts, in a manner even more impressive (in certain respects) than that of Wagner, in that Berlioz implicated into his total-art-work texts by two of the greatest poets of Western literature, Shakespeare and Goethe. The method of this book is unusual in that it pays equally close attention to the original text (Romeo and Juliet and Faust) as well as to the musical adaptation; furthermore, it suggests many analogues in the operatic world which Berlioz knew — the world of Gluck, Mozart, Méhul, Spontini, Cherubini — in order to show exactly how Berlioz followed or flouted the dramatic conventions of his age. This book aims to contribute to Berlioz studies, to studies of the Romantic Movement, and to the rapidly growing field of comparative arts.

Untwisting the SerpentUntwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and the Visual Arts 

University of Chicago Press, 2000

From its dissonant musics to its surrealist spectacles (the urinal is a violin!), Modernist art often seems to give more frustration than pleasure to its audience. In Untwisting the Serpent, Daniel Albright shows that this perception arises partly because we usually consider each art form in isolation, even though many of the most important artistic experiments of the Modernists were collaborations involving several media—Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is a ballet, Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts is an opera, and Pablo Picasso turned his cubist paintings into costumes for Parade.

Focusing on collaborations with a musical component, Albright views these works as either figures of dissonance that try to retain the distinctness of their various media (e.g. Guillaume Apollinaire’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias) or figures of consonance that try to lose themselves in some total effect (e.g. Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung). In so doing he offers a fresh picture of Modernism, and provides a compelling model for the analysis of all artistic collaborations.

Untwisting the Serpent is the recipient of the 2001 Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship of the Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M University.

9780521035330-template.inddQuantum Poetics: Yeats, Pound, Eliot, and the Science of Modernism

Cambridge University Press, 1997; Paperback edition, 2006

Quantum Poetics examines the Modernist appropriation of scientific metaphors as part of a general search for the preverbal origins of poetry. The poetic possibilities offered by developments in scientific discourse intrigued Yeats, Eliot and Pound, writers intent on remapping the general theory of poetry. Using models supplied by physicists, Yeats sought for the basic units of poetic force, both through his sequence A Vision and through his belief in, and defense of, the purity of symbols. Daniel Albright demonstrates how Modernists created a whole new way of thinking about poetry and science as two different aspects of the same quest.

YeatsW. B. Yeats: The Poems (Editor)

J. M. Dent and Sons, 1990. Revised third printing, 1994

Edited with a view to presenting a close approximation to the “sacred book” Yeats hoped to bequeath to the world, his poems are accompanied here by detailed explanatory notes and a long introductory essay.

Stravinsky: The Music-Box and the Nightingale

Gordon and Breach, 1989

Tennyson: The Muses’ Tug-of-War 

University Press of Virginia, 1986

Lyricality in English Literature 

University of Nebraska Press, 1985

Representation and the Imagination: Beckett, Kafka, Nabokov, and Schoenberg

University of Chicago, 1981

Personality and Impersonality: Lawrence, Woolf, Mann

University of Chicago Press, 1978

The Myth against Myth: A Study of Yeats’s Imagination in Old Age

Oxford University Press, 1972

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