Do We Hear What We Say We Hear?

Arthur Berger

in Reflections of an American Composer

Published by University of California Press

Published in print November 2002 | ISBN: 9780520232518
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520928213 | DOI:
Do We Hear What We Say We Hear?

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The chapter delineates the hopelessness of seeking a one-to-one correspondence between the music and the story line. One could take the program (i.e., the plot or story) of a given work and apply it just as easily to another. In the second half of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century the assumption about program music was that music could do what words can do. But even in vocal music, as it need scarcely be pointed out, however much the composer strives after it, there is no identity between the feeling and content of combined words and music. Analysis at its best is a very useful tool for understanding what a composer has accomplished and to apprehend in all its fullness what we otherwise take in through direct nonverbal aesthetic experience. Another thing of importance is that generally interesting knowledge and knowledge that is distinctly relevant to hearing must be differentiated. The desire for knowledge is universal and musicologists spend their time in pursuit of it but when technical matters of this nature are spelled out, it must sound formidable to nonmusicians who find their Beethoven wonderful without knowledge of why.

Keywords: absolute music; program music; composers; romantic tradition; musicology; serialists

Chapter.  4934 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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