Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration

Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration

Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration

Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration


What are musical works? Are they discovered or created? Of what elements are they comprised? How are they specified by notations? What makes a performance of one piece and not another? Is it possible to perform old music authentically? Can ethnic music influenced by foreign sources andpresented to tourists genuinely reflect the culture's musical and wider values? Can recordings substitute faithfully for live performances? These are the questions considered in Musical Works and Performances. Part One outlines the nature of musical works, their relation to performances, and their notational specification. Works for performance differ from ones that are merely for playback, and pieces for live rendition are unlike those for studio performance. Pieces vary in the number and kind of theirconstitutive properties. The identity of musical works goes beyond their sonic profile and depends on their musico-historical context. To be of a given work, a performance must match its contents by following instructions traceable to its creation. Some pieces are indicated via exemplars, but manyare specified notationally. Scores must be interpreted in light of notational conventions and performance practices they assume. Part Two considers authenticity in performance, musical traditions, and recordings. A performance should follow the composer's instructions. Departures from the ideal are tolerable, but faithfulness is central to the enterprise of work performance, not merely an interpretative option. When musicalcultures interact, assimilation from within differs from destruction from without. Even music subject to foreign influences can genuinely reflect the musical and social values of a culture, however. Finally, while most works are for live performance, most performances are experienced viarecordings, which have their own, distinctive characteristics. This comprehensive and original analysis of musical ontology discusses many kinds of music, and applies its conclusions to issues as diverse as the authentic performance movement, the cultural integrity of ethnic music, and the implications of the dominance of recorded over live music.


In this book, I try to avoid the narrow parochialism that so far has distinguished musical aesthetics. Most philosophers of music (myself included) have concentrated on musical works to the exclusion of performances, on the listener's perspective to the exclusion of the composer's and the performer's, and on Western classical music to the exclusion both of popular forms of Western music and of non-Western varieties. This is as understandable as it is regrettable: one can philosophize convincingly only about what one knows deeply, and most philosophers of music know more about listening to the works of Western art music than they do about other kinds. Indeed, there is so much variety in musical kinds and practices across the world, and it is usually so difficult to penetrate the subtle complexities of any given genre, that few people pretend to a grasp of more than a few types. Appreciating the blues could be the hard work of a lifetime, and who then has the leisure to master the music of the central African pygmies, or Chinese opera?

I have done what I can to adopt a broader perspective here—for instance, I discuss the great gamelan traditions of Indonesia and the songs of the Beatles alongside the works of Beethoven and Brahms—but I am very aware of the limitations of my musical knowledge. My own thinking has been considerably stimulated by writings that approach music more from the performer's side (Paul Thom, Stan Godlovitch), that discuss jazz (Philip Alperson, Lee B. Brown) and rock (Theodore Gracyk), and that make reference to non-Western musics (John Andrew Fisher, Kathleen Higgins). I look forward to the time when the philosophical conversation about music is enriched by consideration of a yet wider range of musical genres, issues, and areas.

A project of these dimensions relies on the advice, help, goodwill, encouragement, support, and knowledge of many people. I am deeply grateful for the assistance I have received not only from those already mentioned but also from Lisa Allcott, Allan Beever, Alison Booth, Gillian Brock, Philip Brownlee, Jacques Brunet, Sue Carole DeVale, Warren Drake, Denis Dutton, John Elmsly, Bob Ewin, Ed Herbst, Jennifer Judkins, Andrew Kania, Constantijn Koopman, Uli Kozok, Jerrold Levinson, Fiona McAlpine, Graham MacCrae, Jonathan McKeown, Andrew Milne, Richard Moyle, John Rimmer, Fran Rudegair, Sam Sampson, Kendall Walton, Susan Pratt Walton, Raymond Weisling, and two anonymous referees for Oxford University Press.

I owe a special debt to my Balinese friends and advisers, Anak Agung Gedé Oka Dalem of Peliatan, Dewa Putu Berata of Pengosekan, I Ketut Madra of Peliatan, I Nyoman Sudarna of Denpasar, I Wayan Gandra of Petulu,

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