The Musical Work: Reality or Invention?

The Musical Work: Reality or Invention?

The Musical Work: Reality or Invention?

The Musical Work: Reality or Invention?

Synopsis

Like literature and art, music has "works". But not every piece of music is called a work, and not every musical performance is made up of works. The complexities of this situation are explored in these essays, which examine a broad swathe of western music. From plainsong to the symphony, from Duke Ellington to the Beatles, this is at root an investigation into how our minds parcel up the music that we create and hear.

Excerpt

Symposium. Skipping over the first definition of the word in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which is ‘a drinking-party’, one soon arrives at this meaning: ‘a meeting or conference for discussion of some subject’. In fact, a typical symposium occupies an intermediate position between what one commonly understands by a ‘meeting’ and a ‘conference’. More ambitious (but also more focused) than the first, less grand (but also less diffuse) than the second, it is an ideal kind of event for the cash-strapped university of today.

The idea of holding a series of Liverpool Music Symposia arose from the coexistence, at this university, of two academic units, the Department of Music and the Institute of Popular Music, which cooperate happily enough in the sphere of undergraduate teaching but rarely find the opportunity to come into direct contact within the scholarly arena. To talk of ‘breaking down barriers’ is unnecessarily melodramatic. What is needed, rather, is a chance to knock ideas about in a common forum and, by so doing, to reach a clearer understanding of both the similarities and the contrasts that exist between the various musical traditions. It is also useful for students of so-called classical music to learn of (and, if appropriate, adopt or adapt) the concepts and terminology of modern popular music studies, just as the reverse must equally be true.

The theme of the first symposium suggested itself almost by chance. Having read Lydia Goehr's recent book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music, I suddenly realised that the musical work and the varied conception (or, sometimes, non-conception) of it – whether considered diachronically (through history) or synchronically (across the spectrum of musical traditions) – constituted the perfect subject: topical, controversial, multi-faceted and intellectually challenging. From there, the project . . .

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