Music, Imagination, and Culture

Music, Imagination, and Culture

Music, Imagination, and Culture

Music, Imagination, and Culture

Synopsis

Musicians imagine music by means of functional models which determine certain aspects of the music while leaving others open. This gap between image and the experience it models offers a source of compositional creativity; different musical cultures embody different ways of imagining sound as music. Drawing on psychological and philosophical materials as well as the analysis of specific musical examples, Cook here defines the difference between music theory and aesthetic criticism, and affirms the importance of the "ordinary listener" in musical culture.

Excerpt

The main theme of this book is the difference between how people think or talk about music on the one hand, and how it is experienced on the other.

It is of course a general phenomenon, and not one confined to music, that words and images rarely if ever express quite what they are meant to. They distort the experiences that they are intended to represent, either through carrying false or unintended meanings with them or through leaving unexpressed the finer shades of what was intended. But in the case of music the problem of experience and its representation is so pressing and so specific that some theorists, like the ethnomusicologist Charles Seeger, have questioned the degree to which words can be regarded as capable of expressing musical experiences at all. They have done so on the grounds that there is a basic incompatibility between words and rational reflection on the one hand, and the experiencing of music on the other--an incompatibility whose source lies in the quite distinct logical structures of verbal and musical consciousness. And it is not only theorists who have such doubts. People who go to concerts must sometimes be upset by the lack of correspondence between the manner in which they experience a piece of music and the manner in which it is described in the programme-note; for programme-notes often dwell on the aesthetic importance of large-scale tonal structures or motivic relationships that are in practice inaudible to most listeners. To be told that the beauty or significance of a piece of music lies in relationships that one cannot hear is to have the aesthetic validity of one's experience of the music thrown into doubt; and the manner in which music is described by professionals can only create in the untrained listener a sense of inadequacy, a feeling that though he may enjoy the music he cannot claim really to understand it.

I suppose any work of intellectual enquiry is motivated by a sense of perplexity. What I find perplexing, and stimulating, about music is the way in which people--most people--can gain intense . . .

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