Organic-mechanical metaphors in the musical discussion between the two World Wars


The discussion on music’s mechanization exploded in German print journalism between the two World Wars, when a series of technological innovations (radio, phonograph, cinematograph and sound cinema) caught the attention of the public and swept through the music world, shaking its very foundations.

In this sharply polemical debate, the metaphorical antithesis “organism-mechanism” reflected the contraposition between different thought systems and structured a generational opposition.

In other words, “organic music” was the music of the Nineteenth Century and that of the followers of the Classical-Romantic tradition; by contrast, “mechanical music” was the music of radiophonic, electro-acoustic and cinematic experiments, carried out by the new generation of composers at the Baden-Baden Festival.

In the framework of this ideological debate, the organic-mechanical metaphors constitute the point of connection between compositional structures, music analytical categories, and exegetical processes. Metaphors represent the hinge, the element of mediation between the categorization of the compositional structures and the hermeneutic processes that forge the aesthetic discourse. They mediate between the territories of poetics and aesthetics, where the verbal discourse has the central role, and the immanent structures.

Francesco Finocchiaro, “Musica organica versus musica meccanica”. Un’antitesi metaforica nel dibattito musicale fra le due guerre, in Musica e metafora: storia analisi ermeneutica, edited by F. Finocchiaro and M. Giani, Torino, Accademia University Press, 2016, pp. 117-154 (Biblioteca di Athena Musica, 1) (Read it on