Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Interpreting Music

Interpreting Music

Lawrence Kramer
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Interpreting Music
    Book Description:

    Interpreting Musicis a comprehensive essay on understanding musical meaning and performing music meaningfully-"interpreting music" in both senses of the term. Synthesizing and advancing two decades of highly influential work, Lawrence Kramer fundamentally rethinks the concepts of work, score, performance, performativity, interpretation, and meaning-even the very concept of music-while breaking down conventional wisdom and received ideas. Kramer argues that music, far from being closed to interpretation, is ideally open to it, and that musical interpretation is the paradigm of interpretation in general. The book illustrates the many dimensions of interpreting music through a series of case studies drawn from the classical repertoire, but its methods and principles carry over to other repertoires just as they carry beyond music by workingthroughmusic to wider philosophical and cultural questions.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94736-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Musical Examples
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Hermeneutics
    (pp. 1-19)

    This is a book about musical hermeneutics. A generation ago, no one would have wanted to write it. Music by nature seemed to rule it out. Music did not seem to mean the way other things do if it seemed to mean at all. This book tries to show why and how that situation has changed—changed dramatically. Each chapter examines a different concept or practice associated with the deceptively simple phraseinterpreting music. Hermeneutics is the art of interpretation. What do we do when we interpret music? What do we learn by doing it? What is at stake? Why...

  5. 2 Language
    (pp. 20-45)

    For the past twenty years, musicology has increasingly merged the study of Western “classical” music with cultural history on one hand and critical-philosophical thought on the other. This development is no longer news, but it is still noteworthy. The field has expanded to take in a wide variety of topics and methods formerly considered peripheral or illegitimate. It has rescinded the exemption from social utility formerly used to separate classical music from popular music and culture, and it has broken both with the nineteenth-century metaphysics of music as a vessel of transcendence and the twentieth century’s reduction of that metaphysics...

  6. 3 Subjectivity
    (pp. 46-62)

    The previous chapter frankly acknowledged the limitations, even the banality, of much of what we say about music, and it defended those qualities for what we can make of them. The give-and-take of speech acts in the imaginary dialogue about Mendelssohn’s concerto helps point the way to something more resonant, but we need to go further in that direction. We want, I assume, to articulate meaning, not just approximate it, as much so with music as with anything else. We need a reason to trust our interpretive statements. On the basis of the last chapter, again, we can surmise that...

  7. 4 Meaning
    (pp. 63-80)

    What was The New Musicology? I use the past tense because the conceptual transformation that overtook musical scholarship during the 1990s had become more or less normative by the time the decade ended. The process unfolded almost too neatly along the classic lines described in Thomas Kuhn’sThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions:a set of established conceptual protocols underwent a rapid collapse, others that would once have been dismissed as untenable replaced them, and then, after a period of ferment and controversy, the emergent protocols crystallized, perhaps with a certain loss of energy, into a new “normal science.” By 2002...

  8. 5 Metaphor
    (pp. 81-95)

    So far in this book we have started with concepts and worked toward music. This chapter, to help keep a promise made earlier, goes in the opposite direction. It begins, literally and figuratively, with a prelude, and dwells on the minute particulars of both the music and its performance. The idea is to embark in medias res without too firm a sense of ultimate direction. The hope is that when reflection inevitably follows, the particular feelings and values that prompt it will continue to resonate as reminders that we can understand what music “is” only in light of what we...

  9. 6 History
    (pp. 96-112)

    This chapter proposes that music,asmusic, is a source of historical knowledge. The tautological “as,” discussed in chapter 4, serves here in italics as the mark of a necessary alterity and exteriority: musicasmusic is music as historically mediated, musicin its immediacyas a repository (archive, legacy, ruin, simulacrum) of historical experience. As such, musicasmusic should be a means of understanding, not just an object of it. It should cease to be a silent (a silenced) partner in humanistic studies.

    Musicologists have come to read widely in critical and cultural theory and philosophy, but critics,...

  10. 7 Influence
    (pp. 113-127)

    Talk about musical influence has traditionally been cheap. The young Beethoven was influenced by Haydn and Mozart but cut loose, became himself, and influenced everyone else thereafter. Shostakovich’s symphonies were influenced by Mahler and his string quartets by Beethoven, but the voice in all of them is distinctively his own. And so on: a short history of music could be written by compiling such clichés, which bestrew the musical public domain. But influence can still cost money.

    In 2002 a British classical crossover group, The Planets, released a CD containing a one-minute silence inserted by the producer, Mike Batt, between...

  11. 8 Deconstruction
    (pp. 128-143)

    “How,” asks the title of a well-known essay by Rose Subotnik, “Could Chopin’s A Major Prelude Be Deconstructed”?¹ Just how to take this question depends a great deal on how one inflects it, apart from certain ambiguities (we will not escape them) that bedevil the casual use of the termsdeconstructanddeconstruction. The opening wordscouldsuggest either a scandalized “Howcouldyou!” or a keen “How could [that is, how might] you?” the one marking a sense of dangerous innovation still in the air at the time the essay was written, the other sensing an exciting opportunity to...

  12. 9 Analysis
    (pp. 144-161)

    Analytic statements about music inevitably have a hermetic quality. Even the simplest descriptions, say the labeling of an interval or a chord, call on an assumed body of technical knowledge that, at least initially, does not seem to point beyond itself. Those who love music but lack the technical knowledge tend to find analytic descriptions alienating, irrelevant, or intimidating. Those who have the knowledge do not always feel compelled to use it, or to use all of it. Music in the world survives handily without any help from analysis. Yet no one who wants to understand music deeply can avoid...

  13. 10 Resemblance
    (pp. 162-183)

    The Allegro agitato section of Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu in C♯ Minor comes to a memorable climax, the end of a story of thwarted purposes and hopes unrealized. The story can serve here as a preamble. It has been told before; in chapter 5 we encountered Strindberg’s playThe Pelicantelling it as a parable of raging hungers both conscious and unconscious. This use of the music rests on some tacit assumptions. Strindberg presumably counted on his audience to detect a certain irony in the furious performance of the Fantaisie-Impromptu by a young man whose sister is repeatedly said to have no...

  14. 11 Things
    (pp. 184-203)

    “Odradek” is the name—its origin unclear, its meaning unknown—by which the speaker of Kafka’s parable “Cares of a Family Man” knows an indescribable something that lives in his house. This object, which is also half a subject, appears now and again in transitional spaces, “the attic, the stairway, the halls, the foyer,” attracting annoyance and affection in equal measure. Its shape, which is no shape, lies somewhere between that of a star and a spool. It is not only equivocal in itself but set equivocally between the banal (a typographical mark; a spindle for the threads that dangle...

  15. 12 Classical
    (pp. 204-219)

    What is classical music and why should we care?

    Once upon a time these were easy questions; now they’re not. To help see what’s changed I propose a bit of time travel to an unlikely destination, Billy Wilder’s 1946 movieThe Lost Weekend. The title added a phrase to the language: the lost weekend is a monumental bender. The movie opens as Don Birnam (Ray Milland), a failed writer and an alcoholic, is packing for a long weekend in the country to celebrate having dried out. But he has not dried out at all, and his mind is on a...

  16. 13 Modern
    (pp. 220-240)

    Both modernity and its artistic offshoot, modernism, famously involve skepticism and confusion, widespread unintelligibility and the negation of meaning. A few iconic names make the point nicely: Schoenberg. Joyce. Eliot. Picasso. Time may long since have blunted their radical edge, but the memory remains sharp. How, then, does either modernism or modernity fit, except as a tragic or celebratory passage away from bygone clarities and promises, in a historically sensitive theory of interpretation? Is a hermeneutics of the modern and the modernist possible?

    This chapter will seek to show that the answer to the second question isyesif the...

  17. 14 Works
    (pp. 241-257)

    The sound of hunting horns is not, to put it mildly, an ordinary feature of twenty-first-century life. It happens, though, that on a rural stretch of road near my home, one can occasionally hear a call to the hunt, courtesy of a posh hunt club that still exists in these parts. One early autumn afternoon a few years back, while driving by, I heard just that. But just what did I hear in the sound of that horn?

    Certainly I heard an event in progress, a real-life musical summons for people, horses, and dogs to assemble at a certain place...

  18. 15 Performance
    (pp. 258-277)

    The topic of this chapter is musical meaning and musical performance. In saying so, I trope lightly on the title of a classic little book by Edward T. Cone,Musical Form and Musical Performance.¹ The trope, literally the turn, a turning away or turning aside, lies in the substitution ofmeaningforform. This change epitomizes much of the recent history of musicology. It reorients musical understanding. It turns from an implicit statement of hierarchy (form over performance) to an implicit statement of reciprocity (meaning with performance). Grammatically identical though they are, my phrase and Cone’s are dramatically different as...

  19. 16 Musicology
    (pp. 278-290)

    So what is musicology good for?

    Not so long ago the question would never have come up. Musicology was self-validating. It was grounded in a fixed conception of Western identity that it also helped perpetuate. Like the music it studied, primarily Western art music, it served the values of the humanistic tradition embodied in both the modern university and the high culture of a great civilization. It accumulated knowledge for deposit in a stable cultural archive that could support continuities of practice and understanding across time. It often debated its methods but rarely critiqued or interpreted the uses to which...

  20. NOTES
    (pp. 291-314)
    (pp. 315-318)
    (pp. 319-322)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 323-323)