Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Thought of Music

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

The Thought of Music

Article excerpt

Lawrence Kramer 2016 The Thought of Music, Oakland, University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-28880-5

How do we listen to music? How do we experience and respond to the music we listen to in a way that allows the music to express itself fully, free from our own desire to impose our own interpretations? Lawrence Kramer's dense and provocative book, The Thought of Music, considers current hermeneutic trends within the classical music world. Absolutely brimming with musical examples, ranging from Beethoven through to Cole Porter, Kramer makes a convincing case for why people listening and analysing music should avoid imposing the idea (or "idea") upon the work in question. Kramer's detailed analyses of musical works are used to demonstrate the ideas already evident within the music; a triplet motif moving over a static bass line is reflective of the text in Schubert's Der Lindenbaum, the love theme from Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet is not just a reflection of the doomed love of the two characters, but also of the composer's struggle with his own sexuality. Any idea we have about the music in question can, according to Kramer, be only reflected from the music to further enhance the idea. Music can exemplify, but not interrogate, any given idea. It is through our experience of listening to any given piece of music that we can address our own ideas, continue to consider them and then be transformed by them. But this comes from the listener reflecting through the music, not from the music itself.

Kramer argues passionately for the rights of any given piece of music to be able to express itself in its own language. In addition to this, imposing any given piece of music with our own cultural meaning further restricts the music from expressing itself fully. Wittgenstein's assertion that spoken language is a form of life is expanded in The Thought of Music - music too is to be a form of life, maintaining its own right to exist without the impositions of meaning. Kramer uses the example of public street pianos as an example of how music can be its own source of life, creating communities (transforming public places into sites of pleasure, complete with impromptu audience), encouraging dormant musical talents to be revealed, and, most importantly, the elevation of classical music to a reclaimed space of pleasure without pretence. …

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