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About Daniel Albright
I teach in the Music Department as well as the English and Comparative Literature Departments of Harvard University. I'm particularly interested in the ways in which artistic media-poetry, music, painting-interact with one another; in 2000, my book Untwisting the Serpent: Music, Literature, and the Visual Arts won the Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship. At Harvard I teach two Core Curriculum courses: the first called Putting Modernism Together, which studies (for example) Impressionism through works by Monet, Debussy, and Joseph Conrad, or Surrealism through works by Apollinaire, Stravinsky, and Magritte; the second is The History of the English Language. I also teach courses on opera, drama, Victorian and Modernist poetry and fiction, and the relation of physics to literature.
I enjoy scuba diving and cooking simple French recipes, though not at the same time. I love travel, and on my recent sabbatical year (2012-2013), in addition to being a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, I managed to chalk up travels to 19 different countries, giving a lecture series in Shanghai, and talks in Seoul, Berlin, Heidelberg, as well as on a ship full of Harvard Alumni somewhere off the coast of Scotland!
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Titles By Daniel Albright
How do you rationally connect the diverse literature, music, and painting of an age? Throughout the modernist era—which began roughly in 1872 with the Franco-Prussian War, climaxed with the Great War, and ended with a third catastrophe, the Great Depression—there was a special belligerence to this question. It was a cultural period that envisioned many different models of itself: to the Cubists, it looked like a vast jigsaw puzzle; to the Expressionists, it resembled a convulsive body; to the Dadaists, it brought to mind a heap of junk following an explosion. In Putting Modernism Together, Daniel Albright searches for the center of the modernist movement by assessing these various artistic models, exploring how they generated a stunning range of creative work that was nonetheless wound together aesthetically, and sorting out the cultural assumptions that made each philosophical system attractive. Emerging from Albright’s lectures for a popular Harvard University course of the same name, the book investigates different methodologies for comparing the evolution and congruence of artistic movements by studying simultaneous developments that occurred during particularly key modernist years. What does it mean, Albright asks, that Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, published in 1899, appeared at the same time as Claude Debussy’s Nocturnes—beyond the fact that the word "Impressionist" has been used to describe each work? Why, in 1912, did the composer Arnold Schoenberg and the painter Vassily Kandinsky feel such striking artistic kinship? And how can we make sense of a movement, fragmented by isms, that looked for value in all sorts of under- or ill-valued places, including evil (Baudelaire), dung heaps (Chekhov), noise (Russolo), obscenity (Lawrence), and triviality (Satie)?
Throughout Putting Modernism Together, Albright argues that human culture can best be understood as a growth-pattern or ramifying of artistic, intellectual, and political action. Going beyond merely explaining how the artists in these genres achieved their peculiar effects, he presents challenging new analyses of telling craft details which help students and scholars come to know more fully this bold age of aesthetic extremism.
Daniel Albright was one of the preeminent scholars of musical and literary modernism, leaving behind a rich body of work before his untimely passing. In Music’s Monisms, he shows how musical and literary phenomena alike can be fruitfully investigated through the lens of monism, a philosophical conviction that does away with the binary structures we use to make sense of reality. Albright shows that despite music’s many binaries—diatonic vs. chromatic, major vs. minor, tonal vs. atonal—there is always a larger system at work that aims to reconcile tension and resolve conflict.
Albright identifies a “radical monism” in the work of modernist poets such as T. S. Eliot and musical works by Wagner, Debussy, Britten, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky. Radical monism insists on the interchangeability, even the sameness, of the basic dichotomies that govern our thinking and modes of organizing the universe. Through a series of close readings of musical and literary works, Albright advances powerful philosophical arguments that not only shed light on these specific figures but also on aesthetic experience in general. Music’s Monisms is a revelatory work by one of modernist studies’ most distinguished figures.
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.
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 AristotleÆsáPoetics to the present day, he illuminates the understudied discipline of comparative arts and urges new attention to its riches.