Music and the Emotions: The Philosophical Theories

By Malcolm Budd | Go to book overview
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VIII

MEANING, EMOTION AND INFORMATION IN MUSIC

1 A theory of musical understanding should lie at the heart of a theory of musical value. For just as an utterance can be understood, misunderstood or listened to with incomprehension, so can a musical work. And just as the listener lacks a proper basis for certain kinds of evaluation of the utterance if he hears it but does not understand it—in particular, he is not in a position to make his own estimate of the truth-value of the utterance—so the listener lacks a proper basis for certain kinds of evaluation of the musical work if he hears it but does not understand it—in particular, he is not in a position to make his own estimate of the musical value of the work. Moreover, although the listener can find the experience of a musical work intrinsically rewarding whether or not he understands the music, it is only when he hears and understands the work that the value of the music can be realised in his experience. For the musical value of a work is a function of the experience the listener has when he understands the work he hears: the listener can be aware in his experience of the value of the music as music only if he hears the music with understanding.

Now if music is something that can be understood, it must be possible for many people to share the correct understanding of a musical work. In particular, it must be possible for this understanding to be possessed both by the composer of a musical work and by a listener. For not only can a composer listen to a work he has composed and thereby assume the role of the listener, but he can consider his work from the point of view of the listener in the act of composition itself—he can imagine how his work will sound and he can intend that it should be heard in a certain manner. Hence, there is the possibility of musical communication. For a composer

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