In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Eduard Hanslick

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Recent Editions and Resources
  • English Translations of Hanslick’s Writings
  • Hanslick’s Prague
  • Hanslick and Other Viennese Music Critics
  • Absolute Music
  • Formalism
  • Idealism, Metaphysics, and Expression
  • Hanslick and Modes of Listening
  • Hanslick’s Role as Critic
  • Hanslick and the Austro-German Philosophical Tradition(s)
  • Hanslick and Literature
  • Hanslick as Autobiographer
  • The Role of Gender in Hanslick’s Criticism
  • The Emergence of Musicology as a Discipline
  • Judaism and Anti-Semitism

Music Eduard Hanslick
Nicole Grimes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0014


Eduard Hanslick (b. 1825–d. 1904) was one of the most influential music critics and musical thinkers of the 19th century. Born in Prague, he was educated privately at Prague University, and later attended the University of Vienna. He began writing music criticism (as “Ed-d”) for the Beiblätter zu Ost und West in 1844, continuing to write for the Wiener Zeitung, the Sonntagsblätter, and ultimately securing a post as permanent music critic for Vienna’s liberal daily paper, Neue Freie Presse (writing under the initials “Ed. H.”) in 1864. He retained this position, along with a professorship of the history and aesthetics of music at the University of Vienna (from 1870) until his death.

Hanslick is perhaps best known for his 1854 monograph on aesthetics, Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: Ein Beitrag zur Revision der Ästhetik der Tonkunst. This contentious yet popular book saw ten editions published throughout the author’s lifetime. Espousing both a negative thesis (that the purpose of music is not to express emotion) and a positive thesis (that the beauty of music is to be found in its “tonally moving forms,” or “sounding mobile forms”—“tönend bewegte Formen”), Hanslick laid the groundwork for an aesthetics of music as the objective basis for the practice of criticism. His aesthetic writings helped to define the fields of musicology and music analysis. He never wrote a full aesthetics of music, however, but instead turned to publishing his collected criticism as a living history of music in Vienna. His two-volume book about concert life in Vienna, Geschichte des Concertwesens in Wien, remains a compelling and vivid history of Viennese musical life.

Hanslick wrote about practically every composer whose music he encountered, so that the range of composers, genres, styles, and historical periods covered in his critical output is vast. His critical writings provide a richly textured and multifaceted record of musical life in Vienna (and the many European cities to which he travelled as a correspondent) that document the cultural context in which music was composed, performed, and received in the second half of the 19th century.

For many years, studies on Hanslick have been positioned around a number of binary oppositions: form/content, absolute/program music, formalism/expression, formalist criticism/hermeneutic criticism. These tensions are reflected in the various sections within this article. The sources outlined in this article address Hanslick’s music criticism, literary style, the cultural context of late-19th-century Vienna, and the impact of Hanslick’s critical and aesthetic thought on subsequent generations of musicians and thinkers.

General Overviews

Abegg 2002 and Grey 1995 are reliable go-to sources for those seeking a comprehensive, if concise, introduction to all aspects of Hanslick’s writings and Hanslick studies in the German and English languages, respectively. Bujić 1988 is a useful guide for undergraduate students encountering Vom Musikalisch-Schönen for the first time. Payzant 2002 is essential reading for both undergraduate and graduate students wishing to gain deeper insights into Hanslick’s thinking. Grey 1995 discusses Hanslick’s writings within the context of mid-century politics and Wagner’s output. Antonicek, et al. 2010 and Grimes, et al. 2013 each provide a more in-depth study of many aspects of Hanslick’s output in the German and English languages, respectively. Cooper 2013 gives a concise overview of Hanslick’s career while challenging a number of received views.

  • Abegg, Werner. “Hanslick, Eduard.” In Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Personenteil. Vol. 8. 2d rev. ed. Edited by Ludwig Finscher, cols. 667–672. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2002.

    NNNA very useful and informative introduction. The first half covers the period from Hanslick’s youth to the publication of Vom Musikalisch-Schönen. Second half gives detailed consideration to this monograph and its contemporary reception, discussing mid-century musical wars, particularly Hanslick’s opposition to Wagner and Liszt. Followed by a detailed bibliography.

  • Antonicek, Theophil, Gernot Gruber, and Christoph Landerer, eds. Eduard Hanslick zum Gedenken: Bericht des Symposiums zum Anlass seines 100. Todestages. Proceedings of the Hanslick Symposium held in Vienna, 9–10 October 2004. Tutzing, Germany: Hans Schneider, 2010.

    NNNA highly informative collection of essays stemming from the 2004 Hanslick Symposium in Vienna. The book is divided into three sections: Hanslick in an intellectual context—aesthetics and musicology; Biography and activity; and Hanslick as critic and writer. Highly recommended for its empirical investigation and abundance of source material.

  • Bujić, Bojan, ed. Music in European Thought: 1851–1912. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    NNNChapter 1, “Music as an Autonomous Being” (pp. 7–39), contains a brief introduction to Hanslick that will be useful for students who are becoming familiar with his thinking and writings for the first time. This is followed by excerpts in English translation of Vom Musikalisch-Schönen.

  • Cooper, John Michael. “Hanslick, Eduard (1825–1904).” In Historical Dictionary of Romantic Music. Edited by John Michael Cooper, 263–265. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2013.

    NNNA concise and informative overview of the various aspects of Hanslick’s biography, career, and output, from his journalistic writings to his aesthetic monograph and critical writings. Particularly notable for challenging the view of Hanslick as a single-minded champion of absolute music and an opponent of program music.

  • Grey, Thomas. Wagner’s Musical Prose: Texts and Contexts. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511470301

    NNNAlthough not the principal subject of this book, Hanslick’s presence nonetheless pervades it, with Grey engagingly addressing Hanslick’s theories of listening, the question of the autonomy of music, and the issue of “absolute music” in relation to Wagner’s pronouncements on this matter.

  • Grey, Thomas. “Hanslick, Eduard.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    NNNAn informative and balanced overview of Hanslick’s life and output. Divided into three sections: (1) Life, (2) Aesthetics, and (3) Criticism. Includes a detailed bibliography. Available online by subscription.

  • Grimes, Nicole, Siobhán Donovan, and Wolfgang Marx, eds. Rethinking Hanslick: Music, Formalism, and Expression. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2013.

    NNNThis is the first, extensive English-language study devoted to Hanslick. It examines Hanslick’s contribution to the aesthetics and philosophy of music and to music criticism as well as reappraises his literary interests. It goes beyond the polarities that have long marked discussion of Hanslick’s work. It also contains an introduction and chronology.

  • Payzant, Geoffrey. Hanslick on the Musically Beautiful: Sixteen Lectures on the Musical Aesthetics of Eduard Hanslick. Christchurch, New Zealand: Cyber Editions, 2002.

    NNNA lucid and engaging introduction to all facets of Hanslick’s writings. It is written with an authority and accessibility that clearly elucidates Hanslick’s ideas for those approaching his work for the first time, while also engaging with a selection of secondary source writings.

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