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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019 R. Staneviˇci¯ut˙e et al. (eds.),
Of Essence and Context, Between Music and Philosophy
Humanities - Arts and Humanities in Progress 7, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-14471-5_15
Where Is the Essence of a Musical Work?
The essence of music engages the human ability to create symbolic meanings
from any impression. In our search for this essence, we must first followthe communicative
path of a musical performance. The double ontological status of music as
both cognitive activity and observable object makes any transition from cognition to
object a reduction from thick to thin entity, and any transition from notated/sounded
work to interpretation/musical experience a thickening of the music's properties.
The process of elaborating upon the epistemological elements in this communicative
chain positions the essence of the musical work as a discourse on relational
dimensions that are culturally contextualized by the idea of a musical work.
Humans are able to derive a coherent world of symbols, meanings, and ideas from
a single impression. Daniel Kahneman uses the term "System I" in his description
of this prediction code theory in Thinking Fast and Slow (Kahneman 2012: 19-38).
When we need to think about what kind of impression we have just processed, it is
the slow "System II" that is at work. Focusing on the epistemological dimension, I
view most musical experiences as a combination of these two cognitive processes.
System II, that is, involves the search for the ontological entities and concepts that
are structuring our impressions. System I describes a musical experience whereby
symbols, meanings, and ideas come together based upon a single impression; this
is possible because previous impressions are stored in our memories and available
at the moment of the next impression. There are many potential conditions to this
particular prerequisite, but one stands out here: when we store impressions in our
memory, they are not unique and rigorous units but rather groupings differentiated
according to what is often referred to as one's "horizon of understanding". This
aggregation generates concepts that in turn facilitate the System I process. It is vital
to note, as well, that these concepts need not be only linguistic but can also be
musical, such as, for example, Tönend bewegte Formen sind einzig und allein Inhalt
und Gegenstand der Musik, as Hanslick wrote (Hanslick 1854/1973).
The double ontological status of a musical work as both a physical event (the
sounding music) and an impression of a phenomenon has blurred many of the discourses
about the musical work and its essence. Stephen Davies points out that even
the most detailed score is (ontologically) "thinner" than any performance of it (Davies
2001: 211). The musician will read the score as a collection of imperative symbols
(Ingarden et al. 1986) and thereby add more properties to the music. As a result, the
"musical work" becomes a social construct encompassing more properties than those
that are written in the score. The listener will refer to his/her concept of music when
appreciating the musical work, activating a social construction of reality (Berger
and Luckmann 1966) that relies upon his/her musical knowledge and affinities to
combine the impressions of the sounding music with its social setting.
15.2 Discourses of the MusicalWork
Communication is bound up in human activity. The traditional way of thinking about
musical communication involves three (human) figures arranged in a sequence from
the composer via the performer to the listener. This model has been paradigmatic to
nearly all discourses in music history and music theory, often without the benefit of
any distinction among the ideas of music that might accompany or even characterize
these three figures. Communication as an exchange of ideas has dominated the discourse
about the musical experience, but music's double ontological status demands
that we include the most important non-human elements (or objects) in musical life
as well. In classical music, these would be the notation, the sound of a performance,
and the discourse about the music. The model, then, will look like this (Fig. 15.1).
Fig. 15.1 The communicative chain
Based on this model, we might then want to link Davies' distinction between
thick and thin works to ideas and objects, respectively, making the transformation
from idea to object into a reduction from a thick to a thin entity. The composer's
idea of the musical work is developed during the process of composing the work,
and what ends up in the work's score is limited by the actual notation practice. The
notated musical work is the thin element and needs to be interpreted-that is, given
(musical) meaning through the addition of properties that consequently open up for
meanings other than those intended by the composer. The performer's reading of the
notation generates an interpretation based on the performer's horizon of knowledge
(which is not restricted to music/sound/notation) and his/her performance skills. The
performance as a sounded musical work, though, is thinner (has fewer properties)
than the performer's concept of the interpreted musical work. The listener will then
interpret the performance in accordance with his/her expectations and horizon of
knowledge (which is not restricted to music at all). The utterances in a discourse of
music are thinner than the musical experience that prompted them. Note that it is
not possible to trace this model backward, both because of the lack of a consistent
linearity to the communicative process (which involves three different people with
unique ways of structuring musical knowledge) and because of the information lost
in the process of comparing objects and ideas at each stage.
So, we might ask: Where is the essence of a musical work? Is it a quality raised
in the discourse about music? Is it something in the listener's mind, a quality of the
sounded musical work, a phenomenon governing the performer's interpretation, or
something we can identify in the score? Is it an exclusive quality only accessible
through the composer? We must remember, as well, that often when composers perform
their own music, there is a significant discrepancy between the score and the
performance or between different recordings of the same piece that were conducted
by the composer (Cook 2003: 176-191). To respond to any of these questions, it
seems we need another model-one that serves to illuminate the semiotic and communicative
aspect of music as a performative practice. First, however, I will present
three perspectives on knowledge acquisition in music that could be illustrated with
Performance practice studies often focus on the first two figures (composer and
performer) in the communicative chain and shed light on the transition from the
composer's idea to the score/notation practice, and on how this insight might guide
interpretation (Butt 2002). In an HIP (Historically Informed Performance) project,
the position of music in a given society, the aesthetics of music in a given historical
period, and the geographical area itself all supply relevant perspectives on the notation
(and then the performance). Yet all of this information only provides a secondhand
description of how the music should sound, and the performer still needs to develop
his/her interpretation in linewith expectations regarding howthemusic should sound
in the present as well. The overall goal of the performer is to communicate with the
audience in such a way that the signs and symbols that supplymeaning to themusical
work are accessible to the listener. The performer needs to develop and use his/her
practitioner knowledge to complement his/her background knowledge, and this is
the second perspective on knowledge acquisition in music.
The performer must incorporate constructing (building up) the interpretation
(thickening the score), and, in his/her performance, must be able to react to the
responses from the intersubjective contexts of audiences and venues (acoustics and
fellow musicians). Awareness of the actual intersubjective context is part of the
practitioner's knowledge and will always include non-conceptual, non-propositional
knowledge, in addition to the propositional knowledge of cultural and historical
studies. The practitioner's knowledge will further include the performer's assessment
of the possibilities for answering the composer's intended interpretation,
given the performer's skills, the condition of the instrument, the venue, and one's
fellow musicians. This knowledge is part of the thinning process by the performer
in the communicative chain model. The performer's interpretation must be both reliable
and valid. It is reliable when the performance/action is based on signs within
a relevant ideology (HIP knowledge). It is valid when the musician adjusts his/her
performance using expressions that are adaptable to the context/venue (audience
and acoustics, respectively). The challenge for the performer is to put a contextual
knowledge of signs and the musical work's expressions into the melting pot of his/her
horizon of understanding, giving the product an identity and making it meaningful
to the audience.
It is possible to regard a musical work as an objective entity-an accumulation
of actions and signs within an ideology to be manifested as a sum of expressions
in a given context. Such an approach is standard in teaching situations and used by
many performers. This perspective permits analysis of the work outside of exclusive
reference to the originator/composer's intentions, along the lines of Roland Barthes'
theories about the reader constructing the text (Barthes and Heath 1977). References
to the historical background of the work will implicitly draw upon terminologies of
style and genre and thereby give some hints about the composer's intentions for interpretation
of the music/score. However, in trying to locate the essence of a musical
work, we would be best advised to focus on the musical expressions in a performance,
and they depend upon the performer's capacity to create valid and reliable symbols
and signs. In this way, the embodied knowledge, skills, and horizon of understanding
that are necessary to the epistemological process will support the ontological
perspective of the musical work as an objective entity. From the performer's perspective,
the challenge is to see what connections exist between sign/symbol and
ideology (in classical music, that is, the theory of music and its history, styles, and
genres), and what connections the chosen expression, as a sign/symbol, can manifest
in a performance today. The artistic expression's functionality depends on references
to certain accepted musical gestures and topoi to communicate with a public (Hatten
2004). In the absence of such references, there is no possibility of meaning construction.
Music has no denotative power (only some onomatopoetic features)-it is all
based on connotations (that is, the listener's meaning construction). Being inherently
symbolic, the artistic expressions in music can only contribute meaning when it is
possible to relate new impressions to existing references.
From the listener's perspective, a performance that is both reliable and valid will
release the essence of music through artistic expression as a personal reflection (that
is, using System II), based on the cultural context (manifested in System I). For the
listener, the essence of music no longer implies a search for ontological entities in
the performance but instead implies an acceptance of the epistemological process of
an impression residing in the category of music. The traditional discourse in music
analysis, however, seems to skip the performer and jump directly from the listener's
position to the score, searching for the composer's intentions as though they contain
the essence of the musical work. Using the score as an objective representation of the
musical work, the theorist can reveal a great deal about the syntactical structure of the
work, the way in which it was composed, some characteristic elements of its style,
and the reasons the composer chose that kind of notation. In the extensive literature
on composers' lives and music, though, many theorists have gone a step further and
incorporated (literate) information about the composer's social context in a semantic
fashion, attaching meaning to the composition's syntactical structure and reflecting
upon the composer's intentions and, in turn, the essence of the musical work. There
are some serious methodological problems with this practice, however. As my model
illustrates, moving from the object (the composer's notated work) to the composer's
idea of a musical work entails a reversal of the thinning process. Using the objective
facts, we purport to see into cognitive processes in the composer's mind, but our lack
of access to the composer's entire horizon of understanding will make any logical
inference invalid. Living in a time and space other than those of the composer, the
theorist's understanding is incommensurate with the composer's horizon of understanding
(Kuhn 1962). The amount of information available about some composers
(including their own autobiographies) allows some insight, but any logical inference
concerning performance and the essence of the work will be invalid.1 Nevertheless,
it is the lack of logical inference that makes different interpretations of the "same"
musical work is both possible and enjoyable.
15.3 The Triangulation of the MusicalWork
In their search for the essence of music, many books and theories have presented an
ontological approach, and all have failed to provide a final answer. It is impossible
to establish a discourse on the essence of music without involving knowledge about
the cognitive processes in the human mind as an epistemological dimension that is
fundamental to all musical contexts. Therefore, I will propose a semiotic model to
sort out some central concepts and relations in establishing the musical work and its
In this model, there is a triangular relation between the person (performer/
receiver), the performance (action), and the product.2 First, I will present
an everyday situation as an illustration:
• A person (A1) approaches another person (A2), and A1 lifts his right hand to greet
the person he approaches. When the approaching person has identified this act as
part of a greeting ritual, the person in question (A2) will (likely) lift her right hand
to return the greeting.
I will describe this situation with terminology that includes three levels.
1 This view is in contrast to the fusion of horizons (Gadamer 1960) and more in line with accepting
the "inductive cliff".
2 Some consequences of this model for artistic research are elaborated by Dahl (2017).
Level 1: PersonA1 has an intention to greet personA2 and acts by raising his right
hand (element B). A2 identifies the act (B) as a product in the context of greeting
rituals (element C) and lifts her right hand. To identify a sign is to categorize a segment
of reality (the act) as a single element (the product) that is classifiable according to
a pre-existing category (the context). Insofar as both people perceive the greeting
the same way-that is, relate it to the same familiar context of greeting rituals-a
meaning transfer of A1's intention to A2 is possible. A2 has interpreted A1's action.
This can result in a joint action (they greet one another), given that it is appropriate
to shake hands in this situation. If a shared understanding is absent, the sign or
gesture can still be identified, but its result will depend on the interpretation that A2
attaches to it. This demonstrates that interpretation is more than the identification
of signs. It also involves situating sign identification within the interpreter's mode
of expectation (A2's intention). In addition to the identification of the sign and its
contexts, A2's appraisal of the consequences-that is, the possible contexts-and
the sign's potential comes into play. Without this appraisal of consequences, we could
say, preliminarily, that A2 had no contact with the essence of this action (the greeting
ritual): she simply identified it.
At level 2, this simple situation can be described as follows: a person has a belief
(the personal meaning) (A) that is shown through the signs used (B) to express the
action (C). The beliefs of the person can be articulated as intentional explanations.
The identification of the sign is indicated through operational explanation (the operationalization
of the sign), and the understanding of what it expresses can be explained
through causal explanation (a discovery of the causal connections obtained between
the expression and the perceivers of the expression). While the person, action, and
product (all at level 1) are observable to others, only the sign is directly observable
at level 2.
This elementary situation can also be described on a level 3 as follows: a person
has a horizon of understanding (the representational world) (A) that is evident in
his/her choice of ideological statements (B) in given contexts (C). In our case, this
means that the person has a conception of the elements of a greeting ritual and of
situations in which those elements are typically used. Implicitly, the elements are
culturally conditioned: what counts as belonging to a greeting ritual varies from
culture to culture. These differences might be described as alternative ideological
superstructures that set up the framework for the development of the cognitive structures
in greeting rituals. Within each cultural context, an intersubjective agreement
(an understanding) exists about which expressions (ways of understanding sign elements)
are presupposed for the signs to be understood as a greeting. In our culture,
the right rather than the left hand is the one used for a greeting. This kind of understanding
presupposes an imaginary organization of the elements or signs in relation
to the ideological frames constituting the cultural context. This structure can be
called a pre-judgment, in Gadamer's sense, insofar as it is not the conscious act of
an individual but rather belongs to his/her way of being (Gadamer 1960) (Fig. 15.2).
What makes this an interesting communication model is its insistence on the
necessity of reflecting upon the difference between sign and expression-on the sign
as an observable element in the performance and the expression as an element in the
intersubjective context of understanding the performance. The performer's intentions
generate the signs used in the performance, but it is only when the receiver
accepts those signs as expressions in the receiver's intersubjective context that a
communication of musical content has taken place. The model shows that
the significance/meaning of music for the public depends on the actions/signs and
ideological superstructures that are discoverable in the work and also that these elements
must be operationalized according to the context and expressions in which
the sound product appears. This intersubjective context of operationalization forms
the basis for the establishment of code recognition (Eco 1976: 48-151), interpretive
communities (Fish 1976: 191), and good taste (Hume 1995; Kant and Weischedel
1790/1974). Music's ability to shape real-time social interaction facilitates the construction
and negotiation of personal and collective identities, or what Bourriaud
(2002: 18-20) called "relational aesthetics".3 Moreover, it is in this intersubjective
context that the personal legitimacy of a musical experience is transmuted into public
legitimacy through the application of a pre-existing (standard) discourse. This act
does not undermine the ontological basis of music, but, in this situation, I would say
that the listener's value-driven statements are more dependent on the communicative
context and its epistemological potential than on the ontological chain of elements
in music. Based on the elements in the discourse, we could differentiate between
Kenner (using more technical terms) and Liebhaber (using their appreciation of the
music). However, this should not be taken as evidence of the possibility of different
musical experiences. It is only that the transformation of the personal experience to
a public statement has different traces and will establish different (social) contexts
for the utterances.
3 There are no references to music in Bourriaud's book, however.
15.4 The Essence of a MusicalWork
Given a pointed focus on the performer, the relation between essence and effect in
music becomes crucial to the search for the former. In Absolute Music (Bonds 2014),
Mark Evan Bonds devotes part 1 to the period from antiquity through the middle of
the sixteenth century, an era when music's essence was understood to be the direct
cause of its effect. According to my model, this would mean that the effect that the
sounding musical material in a performance had on the listener could be taken to be
the essence of the work. It would then follow that a search for the essence of a musical
work would focus on its sounding elements (the doctrine of ethos)-scales, modes,
and so on. In the period between roughly 1550 and 1850, the most important of
qualities used to explain the connection between the nature (the sounding object) and
the power (the effect on the mind) of music were expression, form, beauty, autonomy,
and disclosiveness, that last of which valued music as an organon of knowledge-a
means by which to gain access to truth.
Amidst the babble of conflicting discourses concerning the essence of music in
the mid-nineteenth century, Bonds suggests that Hanslick's book Vom Musikalisch
Schönen (1854) and various Wagnerian polemics in the 1850s were the watersheds
for the idea of absolute music. Nevertheless, in my search for the essence of music,
I would point to four other developments in the period 1750-1800. First, there was
the establishment of aesthetics as a distinctive discipline of philosophy in the works
of Baumgarten (1961) in the 1750s. Second, literature on music began to emphasize
the performer's responsibility for making music more than just a sensuous sound
experience in the first textbooks on playing instruments: the flute in 1752 (Quantz
1956), the clavier in 1753 (Bach and Schwickert 1780), and the violin in 1756 (Mozart
1956). This shift was part of the gradual division of the composer/performer role into
two distinct pursuits; along the way, it loosened the composer's control over music
performances and allowed for different interpretations of the same composition. To
the growing bourgeoisie, this articulation of several market participants represented
access to a new kind of knowledge that became part of their new identity. Third,
and in tandem with music's disclosiveness, these two developments (aesthetics as
a discipline and the division of labour/new identity for composer versus performer)
generated the concept of the musical "work of art" by the end of the eighteenth
century-a concept that would become fundamental to the appreciation of music in
Western culture for the next two hundred years (Goehr 2007). It was materialized
via the beginnings of modern music publishing, and Beethoven could be considered
the first composer to benefit from this paradigmatic shift. Fourth, the listener's perspective
became important in philosophical works. In his widely read System des
transzendentalen Idealismus (Schelling and Brandt 1992: 299), Friedrich Wilhelm
Joseph Schelling declared that art "constantly makes known that which philosophy
cannot present externally, namely, the primordial unity of the conscious and the
unconscious". And one important premise of Kalligone (Herder 1800: 811-812) is
the idea of listening with the entire body.We see, then, that the act of listening comes
to unite the sense of hearing and the mind at the deepest possible level, as the mind
simultaneously analyzes the structure of what it hears. The move from searching
for ontological entities in the sound of music to an epistemological perspective now
became very important to defining the essence of music.
Small (1998: 218) is quick to note that the performance came first, whether historically
(the musical history of the human race), ontogenetically (musicking in the life
of the individual human being), or aesthetically (the critical evaluation of the experienced
impression). The aesthetic dimension is what I would further characterize as
conceptualizing the symbolic potential of musical expressions. As such, Small's aesthetics
is in fact, a continuation of the disclosiveness of music- its means of gaining
access to truth. In artistic research, the primacy of performance in music (and especially
the practitioner's knowledge) is an important point of departure for seeking
knowledge acquisition in music, which implies more focus on musical elements and
less on extramusical knowledge and truth. However, the communicative potential in
music seems also to be part of the universal/genetic constitution of the human race.
Music is performed and appreciated in all human cultures, and this appreciation is not
restricted to cultural expressions that are part of one's own identity. This apparently
borderless acceptance of musical expressions as potential meaning constructions
(aesthetic experiences) represents a challenge to certain theories in philosophy (Is there a universal essence in music?) and cognition (is there a generative element
in all music?). The main question, however, is this: How can musical expressions, that
is, symbolic/ideological content- be transferred via the sonic objects from the
performer to the listener or from one subject to another subject?
According to Niklas Luhmann, communication is constituted by three elements:
"information", "utterance", and "understanding". Luhmann explains:
Communication succeeds and is experienced as successful when three selections (information/
utterance/understanding) form a unity to which further communication can connect.
Participation in this occurrence-whether as a source of information, as an utterer, or as
someone who understands the utterance in relation to information-is the basis of all socialization.
(Luhmann 1995: 243)
In Luhmann's theory, information is not restricted to propositions or linguistic
utterances, as it is in most theories of communication. A "bit" of information is
defined as a difference that makes a difference.4 While human perception stands
ready to scan a familiar world for information without requiring a special commitment
to do so, works of art, by contrast, employ their perceptions exclusively for
the purpose of letting the observer participate in the communication of the invented
artistic expressions. From the perspective of consciousness, that is, perception frames
all communication. The music intensifies the awareness of communication; in turn,
as our consciousness becomes aware of being directed and captivated by communication,
experiencing the discrepancy between external control and our unlimited
4Luhmann uses the same concept of information as Bateson in his Steps to an Ecology of Mind
(Bateson 1972) and reveals an interesting affiliation to Derrida's différance.
The self-awareness induced by art is always the experience of a difference. (Luhmann 2000:
21) Elsewhere, he notes:
Communication can no longer be understood as a 'transmission' of information from an
(operatively closed) living being or conscious system to any other such system. (Ibid. 9)
Communication emerges only if the difference between information and utterance
is observed, expected, understood, and used as the basis for connecting further
behaviour. When I underlined the difference between signal/symbol and expression, it
was primarily from the performer's perspective. Translated according to Luhmann's
thinking and taking the receiver's perspective, we might say that signal/symbol would
be the information, and expression would be the utterance in the receiver's understanding.
Communication is a self-determining process, and whatever is established as communication
is established by communication. Vagueness, incompletion, ambiguity,
irony, and so forth are part of the realm of communication and can introduce uncertainty
in ways that secure a certain usage. This deliberate vagueness (like the musical
expectations) plays a significant role in communication, especially in the artistically
mediated variety. This freedom is especially relevant in classical music, where
we are confronted with the apparently infinite interpretability of "finished" canonical
works. It is important to remember that the distinction between determinacy and
indeterminacy is an internal variable of the communication system and not a quality
of the external work. From the performer's perspective, uncovering the ontological
entities (the qualities of the external work) is but the first part of the process of developing
the performance. The communicative elements also have to be integrated into
the interpretation to make the performance both reliable and valid.
An artistic expression is an external event that we take in as an impression and
compare to an existing horizon of understanding. To be expressive, the given impression
must contain more information/knowledge than a comparable impression. In any
process of knowledge acquisition, the establishment of the primary interpretative elements
becomes the fundamental source of knowledge. These interpretative elements,
developed via differentiation, can be non-conceptual and non-linguistic as long as
they can be differentiated. This differentiation is based on our previous knowledge
and is a result of cognitive automaticity, in contrast to more reflective awareness (Systems
I and II). As such, this process is fundamental also to identifying an impression
as an artistic expression, even though this identification might be non-conceptual.
This is in line with Derrida's idea of différance:
Différance should function not as a concept, not a word whose meaning should be finally
'booked into the present', but as one set of marks in a signifying chain which exceeds and
disturbs the classical economy of language and representation. (Norris 1987: 15)
As listeners, we can identify an impression as an artistic expression in music
without any identifiable property (ontological element) in our awareness of the aural
sound. This is unique to the performing arts, as opposed to fine art, and particularly
to music, which is abstract and has only the potential of connotative meaning. From
the performer's perspective, the interpretative elements represent a set of marks in
a signifying chain that exceeds and disturbs the tight bonds between language and
representation. Artistic expressions might, therefore, introduce new perspectives to
already existing knowledge and challenge propositional knowledge.
In an artistic expression, the set of marks (the aural elements of the performance)
can be distinguished from other objectivations by their intention to serve as a pointer
to or indicator of meaning. Musical signs are explicitly intentional and formed with
the purpose of referring to something meaningful beyond the actual acoustic soundscape.
It is important to remember that not all elements in a performance are necessarily
part of the same meaning construction. Listeners seldom completely agree
on details in the performance, even if their overall judgment is congruent. However,
combined with the multitude of cognitive processes, the possibility of establishing
meaning-bearing signs in music arises among differentiated elements. The processes
of meaning construction, therefore, take different paths for a musician and a listener.
This complicates the search for the essence of a musical work unless one denies the
primacy of ontological definitions and accepts the relational dimensions and contexts
of the musical work.
To answer the old question of how aesthetic communication achieves its goal, Luhmann
goes a step further:
Communication is made possible, so to speak, from behind, contrary to the temporal course
of the process. (Luhmann 1995: 143)5
Positioning communication as ultimately perfected in the addressee makes it possible
for our "understanding" to construe a communicative event where there was
none intended, or where it was intended as an entirely different thing. The listener
might decide to experience any sound aesthetically in the same way that he/she
experiences music. This freedom is restricted to the intersubjective social/cultural
systems founded in the difference between actuality and potentiality, with actuality
presented by the performer (A-B in my model) and potentiality experienced by the
listener/receiver (C-A in my model). The distance between sign and expression (B
and C) can be reduced in my model by narrowing the angle in A. This would represent
a situation where A1 and A2 share a greater part of their horizon of understanding
through a united context and ideology.
The epistemological process of listening to classical music engages the concept
of the musical work. If there is no musical idea beyond the sounding music, there
is no need for a discussion of the essence of music: the essence of music equals
the effect of the music. On the other hand, we do have this concept, and this makes
5 Wolfgang Fuhrmann, in his presentation of Luhmann's theory, concludes rather bluntly: Without
listeners, there is no music (Fuhrmann 2011: 147).
possible a discourse based upon a performance of (classical) music works where one
issue could be the essence of the musical work. However, the arguments would be
bound to the (intersubjective) context, and Luhmann underlines that one cannot get
at the work's "essence" while disregarding the "nonessential", as there is no such
thing as a distinguishable essence (Luhmann 2000: 204). Therefore, an answer to my
question regarding the location of the essence of a musical work is that a successful
performance of classical music will offer the audience possibilities to reflect
upon the essence of music as a relational dimension within a cultural context and
contextualized by the idea of a musical work.
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Luhmann's Challenge to Music Sociology. Acta musicologica 83 (1): 135.
Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1960.Wahrheit und Methode:Grundzyge einer philosophischenHermeneutik.
Goehr, Lydia. 2007. The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of
Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hanslick, Eduard. 1854/1973. Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: ein Beitrag zur Revision der Ästhetik der
Tonkunst. K. Bjørseth (transl.). Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Hatten, Robert S. 2004. Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven,
Schubert. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press.
Herder, Johann Gottfried. 1800. Kalligone: T. 1: Vom Angenehmen und Schönen, vol. T. 1. Leipzig:
Hume, David. 1995. Four Sissertations. Bristol: Thoemmes.
Ingarden, Roman, Adam Czerniawski, and Jean G. Harrell. 1986. The Work of Music and the
Problem of its Identity. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kahneman, Daniel. 2012. Thinking, Fast and Slow. London: Penguin Books.
Kant, Immanuel, and WilhelmWeischedel. 1790/1974. Kritik der Urteilskraft.Werkausgabe Band
X. Suhrkamp Verlag.
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Luhmann, Niklas. 1995. Social Systems. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
Luhmann, Niklas. 2000. Art as a Social System. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
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Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph, and Horst D. Brandt. 1992. System des transzendentalen
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University Press of New England.
Per Dahl (b. 1952), dr.philos. He studied musicology, philosophy and psychology at the University
of Trondheim, Norway, and has been working in Stavanger since 1979 (Music Conservatoire,
now Faculty of Performing Arts). He is a consultant to The Norwegian Institute of Recorded
Sound since 1985. From 2000 to 2003, he was the rector at the University College of Stavanger.
After finishing his dissertation Jeg elsker Dig! Lytterens argument. Grammofoninnspillinger av
Edvard Griegs opus 5 nr. 3 (I love You! The listener's argument. Recordings of Edvard Grieg) at
the University of Stavanger in 2006, he has written three books: Anvendt musikkestetikk (Applied
music aesthetics, 2008), Verkanalysen som fortolkningsarena (Music Analysis as an Arena of
Interpretation, 2011) and Music and Knowledge. A Performer's Perspective (open access at Sense
Publishers 2017). He is head of a researcher group focusing on Practitioner Knowledge in Music
and Dance at UiS. He is a member of the Directorium in International Musicological Society.
Article delivered 2017 02 03
Of Essence and Context : Between Music and Philosophy, edited by Rta Staneviit, et al., Springer International Publishing AG,
2019. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/uisbib/detail.action?docID=5783570.
Created from uisbib on 2022-08-01 10:57:57.
Copyright © 2019. Springer International Publishing AG. All rights reserved.
Applying 'literacy' in music reading
First published in Academic Letters 2021
The history of dividing music theory and practice has not ended yet. Even after the fusion of Conservatories and Music High Schools into universities, we find this division manifested in several layers of governance.[i] In big institutions, the fusion is only visible on the top level. The different activities in music are separated into various departments/faculties. Smaller institutions might be in the same faculty/department, but only a few institutions have a unique building housing all music research and performance studies. The educational programs at the university level have some possibilities to combine musicology and music performance studies, but the cooperation between staff members is sometimes a big challenge. In the new branch named artistic research, the need for competence from both sides is only partly welcomed. The need for identity in their own culture and history creates many obstacles to the new opportunities for music educators in today's higher education.
In this short paper, I will present a reading of the concept 'literacy' as a lens for developing an understanding of the differences between musicologists and musicians in their relation to printed music. Brian Ferneyhough describes the music notation as being in "a strange ontological position: a sign constellation referring directly to a further such constellation of a completely different perceptual order." (Ferneyhough 1998). The score is a common platform for the analyst and the performer in this perspective. However, the musician and the analyst read the music/score/parts with different mindsets, making their consecutive actions very different. To say it simply, the analyst discovers the parametrical structures in the composition (studying melody, rhythm, harmony, and form), describing the syntactical dimension (the plan of succession) in the music. A professional musician will have the proficiency to perform the succession of note signs and search for signs and symbols that could give some information on making the performance musically expressive and coherent, focusing on the plan of simultaneity.[ii]
Literacy is defined (UNESCO) as the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.[iii] The definition of literacy has three parts: 1) assembling different verbs, 2) a connection to printed and written materials, and 3) associated with varying contexts. The parts could be linked to 1) subjectivity/epistemology, 2) objectivity/ontology, and 3) intersubjectivity/cultural processes. Then it will be possible to uncover the differences in approaching music notation.[iv]
Music notations (scores/parts/sheet music) are ontological elements independent of human relations. Literacy is an ability and, as such, a concept within an epistemological dimension bound to humans and their contexts. Therefore, what we can do when approaching music notation is strongly connected to our aims of studying music. The definition of 'literacy' includes verbs towards ontological and epistemological elements. I will comment on some of these relations to demonstrate how/why analysts and musicians have different discourses around music.
The ability to identify printed music is mandatory for both professions. It is the objective, ontological element common in music reading. However, we enter the epistemological domain as soon we go to the next level to understand the printed material. Then each person's horizon of understanding will be activated, and differences might develop. Their cultural capital[v] and social context[vi] can be decisive in shaping the understanding.
Interpret the written music involves knowledge about notation practice, which is most common to analysts and performers, but their perspectives are different. The analyst searches for an interpretation that can support their arguments referring to compositional technique or music theory concepts.[vii] The performer must add a considerable amount of knowledge of conventions (genre, style, composer's notation practice) supporting the actual notation to create an interpretation of the sounding music. The musicologist's interpretation aims to create a conceptual, sometimes cultural, context based on the printed music work.[viii] The performer's interpretation seeks to create a coherent, conscious, and sounding idea of the music work.
To communicate and compute using printed and written materials in different contexts is what the musicologists do every day. It is essential to underline that their communication and computing are primarily done in various contexts, all having a specific discourse, making their communication about music a second-order communication. They(we) do not communicate music or musical expressions but ideas and concepts, arguments, and metaphors, all in a verbal language under the spell of music notation as a representation of the music. Here the contrast between to two roles becomes extreme. The performer communicates and computes using printed materials in a different context having the performance on their mind. That involves activating his practitioner knowledge; how to transform the idea of an interpretation into performative actions that will give the audience a glimpse of the interpretation developed in their mind. Then information outside the printed score like the acoustics in the venue, the temperature on stage (and among the other musicians), and all impulses from the performer's body and instrument, will now be part of the process of computing the sounding result.[ix] Even if the printed score is the same for the musicologist and the musician, the context is different and more critical; the mindset using the knowledge related to the score is entirely different.
Is there any way these two worlds could meet? Is an amalgamation of these competencies necessary, something we want?
The objective printed score as the common ground could be the ontological fact initiating some terminology and measurement based on this object. However, it soon becomes impossible to agree on the next level, developing relevant terminology. There is no context-free terminology, and therefore the aims/ideologies generating new terms need to be contextualized. The two roles in reading printed music are partly incommensurable as they belong to different paradigms (worldview on what music is). I called it mindsets at the beginning of this text. I will not go into a detailed analysis of incommensurability and paradigms between the musicologist and the performer for this short text. I hope that my reading of 'literacy' connected to the differences in knowledge in reading music can contribute to seeing some common areas of knowledge acquisition for analysts and performers. On the other hand, I do not see the need to fuse different competencies into a standard vocabulary. It is more important to develop each horizon of knowledge within their paradigms; the scientific revolutions in music will come soon enough.
Agawu, Kofi. 1999. "The Challenge of Semiotics." In Rethinking Music, edited by Nicholas Cook and Mark Everist, XVII, 574 s. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Borgdorff, Henk. 2012. The conflict of the faculties: perspectives on artistic research and academia. Leiden: Leiden University press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Cook, Nicholas. 1987. A guide to musical analysis. London: Dent.
Cook, Nicholas. 2013. Beyond the score: music as performance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dahl, Per. 2019. "Where Is the Essence of a Musical Work?".
Ferneyhough, Brian. 1998. "Aspects of notational and compositional practice." In Brian Ferneyhough: Collective writings, edited by James Boros and Richard Toop, 2-13 London/New York: Routledge
Luhmann, Niklas. 2000. Art as a social system. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
Schuiling, Floris. 2019. "Notation Cultures: Towards an Ethnomusicology of Notation." Journal of the Royal Musical Association 144 (2):429-458.
UNESCO. 2004. The Plurality of Literacy and its Implications for politics and Programmes. Edited by Education Sector. Paris: UNESCO.
[i] (Borgdorff 2012)
[ii] (Agawu 1999)
[iii] (UNESCO 2004)
[iv] (Schuiling 2019)
[v] (Bourdieu 1984)
[vi] (Luhmann 2000)
[vii] (Cook 1987)
[viii] (Cook 2013)
[ix] (Dahl 2019)
Text, Identity and Belief in
Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms
Stravinsky was a leading proponent of neoclassicism who repeatedly underlined in his
statements and writings that there was no alignment between text and music in what
he composed. Analysis of the Symphony of Psalms (as well as other works) reveals many
possibilities for the listener to experience meaning-construction based on text-music
relations in this work. Stravinsky re-joined the Russian Orthodox Church in 1926 and
made his conversion a central role of his identity. In this article, I present some refl ections regarding his religiosity and revisit the idea of absolute music as a premise for
neoclassicism. Taking the listener's perspective in my analysis of text-music relations, I
will focus on the epistemological possibilities for creating meaning based both on the
text and the relation to expressive qualities in music. In order to understand Stravinsky's statements, I fi nd it necessary to accept his view of music and religious texts as
two incommensurable paradigms.