Philosophy of Music

Philosophy of Music: An Introduction

R. A. Sharpe
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Philosophy of Music
    Book Description:

    In a lively and engaging introduction to the aesthetics of music and the issues that illuminate musical listening, understanding, and practice, R. A. Sharpe guides the reader through three key questions: What is the work of music? Can music have meaning? Can music have value? He anchors his discussion to examples from Western classical music and jazz and places it in the context of the historical background and philosophical thinking on music from the Ancient Greeks to Eduard Hanslick and Edmund Gurney. Accounts of the philosophy of music often present it as a branch of metaphysics, raising questions about sounds, tones, and musical movement. Sharpe's non-technical treatment is problem-orientated and the questions he raises are about the value of music, the individuality of our assessments, and the way we prize music for its power to move us. He argues that when it comes to music philosophical analysis has its limitations and it is no surprise that there are contradictions in the aesthetics of music or that our judgements about its value are not internally consistent.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8462-4
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
    R. A. Sharpe
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Since you have opened this book, let me guess at what motivated you to do so. You may, like me, be interested in the philosophy of music because of your life with music. You may find it puzzling that your taste should be sometimes idiosyncratic, sometimes different even from that of people with whom you share many enthusiasms. Music you love bores some others. You may wonder whether you are right or wrong about it. You may wonder on what basis some music is thought to be more significant than other music. You might have reflected on whether or not...

  5. Chapter 1 Overture and beginnings
    (pp. 9-28)

    Philosophical reflection on music is more than two thousand years old but it is patchy. Beyond a handful of names, beginning, perhaps, with Plato and Aristotle and leaping two thousand years to Eduard Hanslick and Edmund Gurney, most of what has been written is only of interest to historians of ideas. But the past two decades have seen an extraordinary flowering in the aesthetics of music that has eclipsed earlier speculations. This philosophical activity has been predominantly analytic in style. It prizes and expects clarity and detail in argument. There are other philosophical traditions but I am not aware that...

  6. Chapter 2 The work of music
    (pp. 29-84)

    For the philosopher, two questions about what it is for something to be a work of music spring to mind. First, music is described as one of the fine arts. So what is it that makes music – or, to be precise, some pieces of music – works of art or examples of fine art? This is our first question. The second is what is the work of musicper se?Is it just what we hear, the performance, or is it something over and above that? Is it something we invent or something we discover? These questions occupy the second part...

  7. Chapter 3 Meaning
    (pp. 85-122)

    What can music mean? The question arises most directly with respect to instrumental music; indeed, it seems to have occurred to thinkers after music emancipated itself from text and dance, so becoming a fullyfledged art in its own right (what is described as “pure” or “absolute” music). When music accompanies words, its significance customarily lies in underlining or counterpoising the meaning of the text. In such cases the question of meaning does not arise in the same way.

    So the problem comes to our attention when we think, say, of Beethoven’s late quartets or Bach’sGoldberg Variations. These sublime works...

  8. Chapter 4 Value
    (pp. 123-166)

    Many of the questions I shall attempt to answer in this final chapter are quite general questions about the value of works of art and how we attribute that value, although some of the questions arise in a more acute and pressing form for music. But before we consider these perhaps there is an even more general question we should consider. Why, you might ask, do we need to make judgements of the relative value of pieces of music at all? After all, doesn’t the whole thing smack of university league tables, of Sir John Lubbock’s hundred best books and...

  9. Coda
    (pp. 167-170)

    I began this book with a list of the philosophical problems most likely to strike thoughtful musicians and music-lovers: questions about music’s power, whether it can have meaning, what counts as art music and questions about the divergence of taste. I said then that these are questions that relate to the value that music has for us. My approach has been “problemorientated” and the nature of those problems made it natural that I should conclude with a discussion of value. Other writers have viewed music primarily as a branch of metaphysics,¹ raising questions about sounds, tones and musical movement. My...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 171-176)
  11. Bibliography and discography
    (pp. 177-182)
  12. Index
    (pp. 183-185)