Belief without Theology: The Music Criticism of Kenneth Burke

Kenneth Burke served two stints as a music critic. From 1927 to 1929, he wrote fifteen “Musical Chronicles” for The Dial; then, from 1933 to 1936, he wrote eleven pieces of music criticism for The Nation. While these music reviews remain difficult to find, this project collects edited and annotated versions of all twenty-six reviews while providing a critical introduction for Burke scholars as well as musicologists interested in modernist music. The reviews, I will argue in the introduction to this volume, provide an important window into the context that shaped Burke’s theoretical ideas in the 1930s.

Overall, this edited collection seeks to answer a few important questions for Burkean studies. For one, what does Burke’s music reviews reveal about his shift from advocating the modernist ideas in his first theoretical work Counter-statement (1931) to the more practical socialist ideas in Permanence and Change (1935) and Attitudes toward History (1937)? In particular, Counter-statement stands as an enigma in Burke’s catalog of theoretical books as he is much more concerned with issues of form and non-discursive symbols like sound and music. This project seeks to understand if the reviews can provide any answer as to why Burke shifted his approach. Another guiding question involves the relationship between music and Burke’s later works A Rhetoric of Motives (1945) and the recently-unearthed and published manuscript War of Words (2018). Though written and published well after Burke wrote the music reviews, they stand as the most quoted and most recently-published works by Kenneth Burke, and this project will make connections in some form or another. This book project is currently under contract with Parlor Press, and a rough draft of the manuscript is due November 2020.