Since Antiquity, Architecture and Music have been linked through the concept of harmony. In fin-de-siècle Vienna, this bond became further complicated through the work of urban planners, architects and composers, taking on new political and cultural implications. Ross Lipton explores the relationship between architectural and musical practices at the turn of the 20th century and how their approach to unity in form are both reflections and critiques of the conditions of urban modernity.
In the 1850s, Vienna’s urban fabric was transformed when Emperor Franz Joseph razed the city’s ancient walls. Lipton’s research centers on this period of Vienna’s spatial metamorphosis. He examines how the city’s expansion and modernization conjured up a critical reevaluation of the normalizing value of harmony, as it originated in both Hellenistic thought (Plato/Pythagoras) and in musical and architectural practices. After a brief exploration into the discursive roots of the concept of harmony, this talk will examine the contrasting urban interventions for Vienna drawn up by Otto Wagner and Camillo Sitte. Their opposing visions stemmed from constrasting interpretations of harmony as a concept. These idealogical differences are emphasized by their two different understandings of ideal civic design: as a gradual unraveling of disparate sensations (Sitte) or as a fully integrated total system or "Stadtphysiogomie"(Wagner). This bifurcated understanding of harmony will then be distilled through a study of the correspondences between two thinkers, Adolf Loos and Arnold Schönberg. Together, the spatial practices of Adolf Loos’s “Raumplan” and the compositional methods employed in Arnold Schönberg’s atonal and dodecaphonic music express this tense interplay between the utopic yearning for harmony as totality and harmony as the acceptance of dissonance/disparity within the modern urban landscape.
Ross Lipton is a doctoral candidate in Comparative Literature at SUNY Binghamton. He earned his Master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania. His most recent publication is an article for Footprint: Delft Architecture Theory Journal on Walter Benjamin and architectural “translatability.“ He has taught classes on European modernism, the history of sexuality, Jewish studies, cinema studies, and philosophy. He has presented papers on W. G. Sebald and memory at the 2014 ACLA conference and on Irmgard Keun’s Kind aller Länder at the University of Washington’s Conference of Interdisciplinary Humanities. In 2014 he was invited to speak on translation and architecture at the Annual Conference of the Centro de Estudos Comparatistas at the University of Lisbon. Ross Lipton is also a pianist and composer and served as the musical director for the Nighthawks Theater Company in Philadelphia from 2013 to 2015. Currently he is Fulbright/IFK_Junior Fellow.