Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration

By Stephen Davies | Go to book overview
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4 Performances

The setting: a prestigious international piano competition presided over by a panel of judges drawn from the most accomplished, respected, and astute virtuosi, pedagogues, and critics currently active. The session rules have been altered. Under the pretext of minimizing predictable nationalistic and doctrinal prejudice, not only the players' identities but the players themselves have been concealed from the judges. The judges are blindfolded before entering the hall. Each player is labelled by number. The judges are also unaware that not a single person will participate in the competition. The prize will go to a program which drives a conventional piano. No human player participates.

The contest proceeds. Although the level of talent is impressive, the accolades converge in the end on one player whose future developments will be anticipated eagerly, so the judges inform the musical world. The call goes out for the winner to appear. Player #8 appears in a clear acrylic jacket and is respectfully laid on a disk stand specially fashioned for the occasion. As from one voice, a great gasp echoes through the hall.

Something seems to have gone wrong. . . Are we witness to a musical performance here?

(Godlovitch 1998 : 125)

In this chapter I discuss musical performances. I have allowed that musical performances need not be of works, in that they can be freely improvised, and I have noted that some works are not for performance. Most pieces are for performance, though. Of these, not all are intended for live performance; some are for what I have called studio performance. Nevertheless, many works for performance are intended for live performances, and I concentrate on these.

My focus is on the relation between live performances of works and the works they are of. I begin with this question: what makes a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5? Other queries quickly follow. If two performances sound the same, are they always of the same work? If two performances sound different, can they be


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