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The Interpretation of Music: Philosophical Essays.

Krausz, Michael, ed. The Interpretation of Music: Philosophical Essays. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. ix + 288 pp. Paper, $22.00--Interpretation is one of the most important aspects of the philosophical investigation of music. Michael Krausz's collection of 19 previously unpublished essays presents itself as a notable contribution to the literature on this topic. In it, Krausz includes essays dealing with many of the most intriguing questions of interpretation of music, from the ontology of a musical work to the possibility and legitimacy of multiple interpretations, to the differing interpretations offered by performers, composers, and appreciators.

Krausz's own concern is whether an essentialist theory of musical interpretation can be posited in any meaningful way. He explains that such an essentialist theory "would close an open concept" (p. 1). Since music cannot really be construed as a natural kind, then any sort of essentialist theory would destroy the meaningful interpretative process that we enjoy about music. Thus Krausz sets the stage for a number of explanations of how these interpretations might manifest themselves. He explains that this does not mean that there are not "appropriate procedures or conventions for the reasonable application of the idea of musical interpretation" (p. 2). These conventions are explored in the essays which follow.

Without the space to give sufficient explanations of each piece, I will give synopses of the most important themes that run throughout the collection. Goran Hermeren discusses the complexity of interpretation He differentiates and elucidates the concepts of meaning, understanding, intention, explanation, musical ambiguity, and how music can guide action. Jerrold Levinson contributes perhaps the book's most important essay, in which he skillfully explains the difference between performative and critical interpretations of musical works. F. M. Berenson attacks the purist view that emotional experience is not a sufficient explanation of a developed form of listening or appreciation. Krausz's own contribution argues further that musical works must be allowed a number of acceptable interpretations. James Ross discusses how the standards of excellence can be used as functional in the appreciation of a musical work. At the end of the second section, Robert Kraut questions whether Quine's Indeterminacy of Translation thesis can illuminate the perceptual experience of music.

Robert Martin uses the type-token debate to examine the ontological status of a piece of music. Bojan Bujic distinguishes between the idea of music as notated before and after the moment of sounding. This again relates back to the questionable ontological status of the musical work. Joseph Margolis offers an interpretation of the status of the musical work leaning on Hanslick's explanation of music. In section four, J. O. Urmson suggests that performances are like cakes that have been made when one follows a recipe. The score acts as the recipe instructions and the performance will be different every time. Frank Sibely follows Krausz's multiplicity of interpretations theory and explains how it is that we make music personal through differing interpretations. In the final essay of this section, Lydia Goehr delves into the political significance of differing interpretations of musical works.

In section five, Roger Scruton discusses the moral emptiness of the analogy theories of musical expression. Rom Harre discusses musical meaning and semantics. Diana Raffman suggests that we actually perceive sounds differently and can interpret accordingly. In the final section, Francis Sparshott explains how portraiture can work in music with an explanation of Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations. Joanna Hodge provides an analysis of the Wittgensteinian question of the relationship between understanding a sentence and understanding a musical theme in addition to addressing the issue of the relationship between aesthetics and the philosophy of art. Kendall Walton then takes up the analogy of understanding humor and understanding music, giving music a different context within which to be understood. Mark DeBellis finishes the section with an essay dedicated to the merits of the use of music theory to the informed listener, that is, he questions the importance of an understanding of music theory to mature appreciation.

All in all the book is well conceived. Some of the essays suffer from philosophical verbiage and general lack of clarity, but most read fairly well. It is disappointing that there is so little use of gender neutral language. Altogether, the volume is worth a reading for anyone interested in the myriad of possibilities of interpretive practices which surround the musical arts.
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Author:Worth, Sarah E.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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