Gebrauchsmusik (Ger.: ‘music for use’, ‘utility music’)
- Stephen Hinton
(Ger.: ‘music for use’, ‘utility music’)
A term adopted in Germany in the early 1920s, first in musicological circles and then in music criticism. Within a decade it had become a slogan with international currency, causing some of those who had initially contributed to its prominence either to distance themselves from it or to abandon it altogether.
The term arose from attempts to challenge, or at least to relativize, its conceptual antonym – musical autonomy. Invariably its use implies, if not actually involves, an opposite term as part of a dualistic system of thought. One of the first writers to employ Gebrauchsmusik systematically as one half of a binarism was the musicologist Paul Nettl. In his study of 17th-century dance music he distinguished between Gebrauchsmusik and Vortragsmusik (1921–2, p.258). By the former term Nettl referred to ‘dance pieces that were really danced to’, by the latter to ‘music without any secondary purpose’. With historical developments in mind, Nettl observed an ‘increasing stylization’ that attended dance music’s emancipation in the cyclical suite of mixed dance forms, a stylization that involved a ‘certain removal from popular primordiality [...