Composing Time: Zeno’s Arrow, Hindemith’s Erinnerung, and Satie’s Instantanéisme

David J Trippett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


"The concept of linear time as an irreversible succession of events dates back to the late 18th century. Though fundamental to the experience of music written thereafter, time's pure linearity was dented by technologies of mechanical reproduction during the early 20th century. Imagining possible temporal zigzags provided modernists such as Paul Hindemith and René Clair with mechanical paradigms through which to explore the manipulation of time and motion—as infinitely divisible properties—in the decade that witnessed Lindbergh's transatlantic flight, the first radio broadcasts, and an increasing addiction to Edison's Duplex Telegraph wire. Apart from the modernism that exists on the historical timeline, this essay looks for a structural homology between historical and musical events in attempting to establish a distinct “modernism of time” for the 1920s; it argues that differing concepts of time were reflected in certain pieces from the early 20th century.

Hindemith's one-act operatic epigram Hin und Zurück (1927) plays with conceptions of time as a narrative of reversal from domestic disaster to “happy beginning.” The music, running forward and backward, evokes different processes of memory to illustrate this “Time Axis Manipulation” as it is intuitively lived by the stage characters. Clair's contrasting Dadaeque film Entr'acte (1924), set to Satie's music, is an illogical picture sequence that also embodies a construction of time, Instantanéisme, but denies that it can be understood. Both works were conceived as proportional, imperfect mirror forms, indicating an implicit temporal reversal, though from antithetical perspectives. Drawing on the master paradigm of Zeno's arrow, this enquiry explores qualities of musical and visual time as both construction and manipulation of the modernist imagination."
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-80
Number of pages58
JournalJournal of Musicology
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Time
  • memory
  • Paul Hindemith
  • Eric Satie
  • palindrome
  • temporality


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