Lawrence Kramer

in Interpreting Music

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2010 | ISBN: 9780520267053
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520947368 | DOI:

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Musical meaning forfeits in advance any possible claim to represent musical knowledge. Music appears in this scenario as an intrinsically self-mystifying phenomenon. The more it incites subjectivity—that is, does just what it is supposed to do—the less responsive it becomes to description. The features we can describe, form and technique, cannot account adequately—if at all—for music's subjective effects. The chief traditional link of Western music to subjectivity is feeling. Parsing the statement “music expresses feelings” is a familiar task in musical aesthetics but perhaps a misguided one. The culture-based projection of subjectivity in music has a distinctive structure; it tends to mobilize a specific type of performativity. Musical hermeneutics proposes, not to decrypt a hidden message, and far less to fix the form of anyone's musical experience, but to leave a record of an event. Prejudgment delineates the sphere of common understanding; it pertains not to the things that need interpretation but to everything felt to need no such thing.

Keywords: music; subjectivity; feeling; aesthetics; musical hermeneutics; interpretation; prejudgment; performativity; meaning

Chapter.  8177 words. 

Subjects: Music Theory and Analysis

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