Musical Meaning in a Broader Perspective

Stephen Davies

in Musical Understandings and Other Essays on the Philosophy of Music

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199608775
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191729669 | DOI:
Musical Meaning in a Broader Perspective

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We discuss several notions of musical meaning that do not accord with linguistic or semiological frameworks. Whereas accounts trying to reduce formal meaning to linguistic or semiological meaning are flawed, musical structures can be said to have meaning in that they are amenable to explanations in terms of reasons similar to those that justify human actions. An even more fundamental kind of meaning in music is experiential formal meaning. This relates to the experiential potential the listener is able to realize when she responds to the music with understanding. Music also has subjective significance in human life. Meaning-for-the-subject deals with the idiosyncrasies of musical experience, while meaning-for-us concerns the meaning music has for all human beings, rather than solely for individuals.

Keywords: understanding; musical meaning; semiological meaning; formal meaning

Chapter.  8717 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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