The frozen music of architecture

U 7.768: that stony effigy in frozen music

At the very end of the list of forty-five rhetorical figures which Joyce collected in the NLI.3-notebook for the Aeolus episode in the autumn of 1917, and only added to the text of Ulysses in August/September 1921, we find:

Catachresis — “architecture — frozen music”

If we look for this example in rhetorical handbooks of the time, such as John Duncan Quackenbos’s Practical Rhetoric we find that Madame de Staël was regarded as the originator of the expression. As Joyce had a copy of Practical Rhetoric in his so-called Trieste Library we can assume with some justification that he would have thought so, too, and that we can clearly rule out Seymour Bushe as its inventor, as J. J. O’Molloy seems to suggest in his announcement: “- One of the most polished periods I think I ever listened to in my life fell from the lips of Seymour Bushe.”1 In any case, his closing argument in the famous Childs murder case of 23 October 1899 does not contain the “polished period”.

Schelling (Wikipedia - public domain)

Finding the original source of this metaphor turns out to be far from straightforward. Joyce commentators have named Schelling as its originator, and Goethe’s use of the phrase as the source of its currency in the nineteenth century. But the story is more complicated than that. Schelling’s published works only contained the provocative equation that architecture is frozen music (“erstarrte Musik”) when his son published his lectures in 1859, twenty-seven years after Goethe’s death in 1832. Byron, however, made fun of its creator calling him a “Macoronico Tedescho” [sic] in a letter of late November 1813 and mentions Madame de Staël as his source for the aperçu. Goethe’s reference to “erstarrte Musik” in his Sprüche in Prosa was only published posthumously.

Recent editorial research at the Schelling-Forum in Munich has discovered that Schelling used the phrase for the first time in his Jena lectures of 1801/02. As early as late 1802, surprisingly, the French Journal de Chimie contained a review of a work by Christian Oersted which translates it as “L'architecture est une musique gelée".

As the young professor of philosophy was quite famous already there were a number of people who took lecture notes, among them probably Oersted and surely the Englishman Henry Crabb Robinson, who while staying at Weimar in 1804 (where he met Goethe) familiarised Madame de Staël with it, who was at that time on a visit to Germany. Her successful, widely read novel Corinne ou L'Italie of 1807 associates St. Peter’s Dome in Rome with “une musique continuelle et fixée”. Lady Charlotte Blennerhassett documented this meeting in her Madame de Staël: Her Friends, and Her Influence in Politics of 1889.

When Schelling coined his paradoxical “Aber die architectur [sic] ist erstarrte musik” in his Vorlesungen über die Ästhetick [sic] he certainly hit a nerve in philosophical and literary circles, which made sure by word of mouth that it was widely quoted and discussed within just a few years.

Harald Beck


1 As Quakenbos's book is stamped J.J. Joyce bought it in Zurich not long before he created the notebook in question.