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Music Philosophy of Music
by
Theodore Gracyk

Introduction

Narrowly construed, philosophy of music encompasses all theorizing about music that arises within philosophy. More broadly construed, it includes any theoretical discussion of music informed by recognized philosophical methodologies and theories. As a result, premodern philosophizing about music is closely associated with scientific speculation (or “natural philosophy”). The scientific revolution of the early modern period encouraged separation of scientific from philosophical inquiry. Like most recent philosophy, contemporary philosophy of music focuses on issues that are not subject to empirical inquiry. Although there are some differences in focus and methodology, contemporary philosophy of music can overlap with music theory. This bibliography will emphasize the narrower construal, in which philosophy of music is non-empirical, philosophically based inquiry into the nature of music. From this perspective, philosophers have discussed music since the recorded beginnings of Western philosophy, with the nature of music playing an important role in the thought of Pythagoras (c. 570–c. 490 BCE) and then Plato (429–347 BCE). Pythagoreanism and Platonism further demonstrate that philosophy of music should not be equated with aesthetic theory as extended to music, for those philosophers did not restrict themselves to narrowly “aesthetic” questions. Philosophy of music has been and remains a much broader field than philosophical music aesthetics. For example, Pythagoreanism investigated music as part of the quadrivium of four mathematical sciences, while Plato emphasized music’s effects on the health of the soul. Music’s mathematical dimension became less important to philosophers after the Renaissance, after which most philosophers adopted the prevailing view that music is an art form rather than a science. After 1700, modern philosophy developed aesthetic theory as a distinct subcategory of inquiry. Since then, philosophy of music has generally reflected, and in many cases guided, philosophical inquiry into the nature of art and of aesthetic properties such as beauty and sublimity. The 19th and late 20th centuries have been particularly robust periods of development in the philosophy of music. Plato’s inquiry into music’s effects on the soul has given way to inquiry into the nature of emotive expression and of music’s power to alter the emotions of listeners. Different accounts of the emotions have generated a range of views on music’s relationship to the emotions, including the influential formalist position that expressiveness detracts from music’s unique value as an art. Accounts of music’s role in cosmology have evolved into sophisticated debates about the distinct kinds of entities that arise in musical practice. Philosophy of music currently reflects the recent, general division of philosophy into the analytic and continental approaches, with relatively little exchange between the two approaches.

General Overviews

Few works attempt to provide an overview of philosophy of music. (However, see also Reference Works and Textbooks.) The most notable exceptions are the three-volume collection of edited primary texts assembled by Lippman 1986–1990, the histories of Western musical aesthetics provided in Lippman 1992 and Bowman 1998, and the cumulative impact of the essays commissioned for Alperson 1994 and Stock 2007 and those collected in Alperson 1998. However, Lippman 1986–1990 overemphasizes the modern period. As a corrective supplementation, Strunk 1998 is the best collection, providing numerous primary texts from ancient Greece. Hamilton 2007 and Alperson 1998 usefully question the implicit elitism of concentrating on Western classical music. Due to the diversity of viewpoints in philosophy, readers should approach each of these works with an awareness of its editorial or authorial perspective and its resulting limitations.

  • Alperson, Philip, ed. What Is Music? An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music. Rev. ed. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

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    A collection of essays that opens with Francis Sparshott’s lengthy overview of philosophy of music as it looked in the 1980s (pp. 33–98), followed by thirteen essays on various topics, many by leading scholars. There is an extensive bibliography (now slightly out of date). The emphasis is on analytic philosophy.

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  • Alperson, Philip, ed. Musical Worlds: New Directions in the Philosophy of Music. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.

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    This book republishes and supplements a special issue of Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, The Philosophy of Music. Taken as a whole, this diverse set of essays provides an excellent introduction to the range of topics explored in recent philosophy of music.

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  • Bowman, Wayne D. Philosophical Perspective on Music. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Organized chronologically, this relatively accessible textbook begins with Greek antiquity and ends with feminism and postmodernism. A good source on continental philosophy of music but cursory in its treatment of analytic approaches. The bibliography is similarly unbalanced.

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  • Hamilton, Andy. Aesthetics and Music. London: Continuum, 2007.

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    Organized around selected major topics, Hamilton engages the views of major historical and contemporary writers and supports Critical Theory. It is unique among overviews in emphasizing the elitism that emerges when philosophy of music restricts itself to consideration of Western classical music. Contains a useful bibliography.

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  • Lippman, Edward A. A History of Western Musical Aesthetics. London and Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

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    A chronological exposition of major ideas about music in Western thought. It contains informative chapters on antiquity and the 18th and 19th centuries, but Lippman’s antipathy toward analytic philosophy results in an unbalanced account of more recent philosophy.

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  • Lippman, Edward A., ed. Musical Aesthetics: A Historical Reader. 3 vols. Aesthetics in Music 4. New York: Pendragon, 1986–1990.

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    Each volume offers edited selections of important contributions to the field, with English translations of all non-English texts. Volume 1 covers antiquity through the 18th century, volume 2 covers the 19th century, and volume 3 covers the 20th century through John Cage but neglects analytic philosophy’s impact on the field.

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  • Stock, Kathleen, ed. Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning, and Work. Mind Association Occasional series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    This edited collection of ten contemporary essays concentrates on three topics: ontology, musical expression, and musical meaning. It offers an overview of major topics from the perspective of analytic philosophy, and the editor’s introductory overview is very clear. However, several of the essays are specialized and narrow in focus.

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  • Strunk, Oliver, ed. Greek Views of Music. Vol. 1 of Source Readings in Music History. Rev. ed. Edited by Leo Treitler and Thomas J. Mathiesen. New York: Norton, 1998.

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    This collection provides English translations of a range of documents and is a useful supplement to Lippman 1986–1990, Vol. 1. However, the editorial focus is very broad and some selections contain limited philosophical content.

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Reference Works

Few reference works provide a comprehensive survey of philosophy of music. Gracyk and Kania 2011 is the most comprehensive, offering introductory essays on fifty-six topics, each with its own bibliography. For those seeking breadth but less depth, Bowie et al. 2001 is even-handed and easy to locate. Several other reference works contain more concise introductions to the field. The best are Alperson 2004, Davies 2003, DeBellis 2005, and Kania 2007. All four have useful bibliographies, but all four emphasize analytic philosophy. Sections 2–4 of Bowie et al. 2001 provide a succinct historical overview of philosophy of music. Lippman 1998 does so also, but is much shorter.

  • Alperson, Philip. “The Philosophy of Music: Formalism and Beyond.” In The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics. Edited by Peter Kivy, 254–275. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

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    A focused overview that begins with the philosophical challenge of 19th-century formalism and then examines recent variants and responses within analytic philosophy. It offers a selective but strong bibliography.

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  • Bowie, Andrew, Stephen Davies, Lydia Goehr, and F[rancis]. E. Sparshott. “Philosophy of Music.” In New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Vol. 19. 2d ed. Edited by Stanley Sadie, 601–631. New York: Grove, 2001.

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    This contribution to Grove is more balanced and comprehensive than in previous editions. The combined efforts of four philosophers provide a chronological survey of the field. Following a brief general section, the extensive bibliography is divided into eight historical periods. Also available online to subscribers.

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  • Davies, Stephen. “Music.” In The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics. Edited by Jerrold Levinson, 489–515. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    A concise survey of seventeen topics in the field, with an emphasis on analytic philosophy of the last three decades. Nonspecialists will find it useful for its breadth and clear organization.

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  • DeBellis, Mark. “Music.” In The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 2d ed. Edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes, 669–682. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

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    This very clearly written overview of philosophy of music begins with the topic of musical expressiveness and then contrasts it with other accounts of musical meaning. There is a brief but insightful bibliography.

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  • Gracyk, Theodore, and Andrew Kania, eds. The Routledge Companion to Philosophy and Music. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

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    This comprehensive reference volume provides introductory essays on fifty-six topics in philosophy of music and related disciplines. Each entry is approximately 5,000 words in length and has its own bibliography. Fourteen of the essays address historical periods or individuals.

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  • Kania, Andrew. “The Philosophy of Music.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2007.

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    Published as an entry in an online encyclopedia, this survey of the field is organized topically, with an emphasis on the primary issues in analytic philosophy of music during the last three decades. The bibliography is extensive.

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  • Lippman, Edward A. “Music: Historical Overview.” In Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Vol. 3. Edited by Michael Kelly, 313–321. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    This broad historical survey narrows in succinctly on the key developments of the last three centuries. However, the author has a narrow conception of what constitutes “musical aesthetics,” and there is virtually no discussion of philosophy in the analytic tradition.

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Textbooks

Perhaps surprisingly, there are few textbooks available on the philosophy of music. Rowell 1983 is primarily a historical overview from antiquity through romanticism. Kivy 2002 covers the major topics within the analytic tradition, Bowman 1998 is the best choice for those interested in a more detailed understanding of historical figures, and Sharpe 2004 is both more narrowly focused than the alternatives and more engaging for the beginner. See also General Overviews.

  • Bowman, Wayne D. Philosophical Perspective on Music. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Organized chronologically, this relatively accessible textbook begins with Greek antiquity and ends with feminism and postmodernism. A good source on the modern period and then continental philosophy of music, but cursory in its treatment of analytic approaches.

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  • Kivy, Peter. Introduction to a Philosophy of Music. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002.

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    This introductory-level survey focuses on topics that interest the author, who is an eminent figure in the field. It is particularly useful in explaining formalism as interpreted and defended in contemporary philosophy, and for its capsule summaries of the author’s many books.

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  • Rowell, Lewis. Thinking about Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983.

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    The author’s interests in taxonomy, history, and comparative aesthetics make for a complex introduction. However, there is an embarrassing neglect of 20th-century ideas, so the engagement with “New Music” (pp. 211–250) attacks the 20th-century avant-garde without considering how new musical styles might demand a revision of established concepts.

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  • Sharpe, Robert Augustus. Philosophy of Music: An Introduction. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2004.

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    The author provides a relatively accessible, “humanistic” introduction that restricts itself to three core topics: ontology, meaning, and value. The European edition is Philosophy of Music: An Introduction (Chesham, UK: Acumen, 2004).

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Journals

No magazines or journals are devoted to philosophy of music. However, there is one multi-disciplinary journal that emphasizes the field (JMM: The Journal of Music and Meaning), and the three major journals on philosophy of art (British Journal of Aesthetics, Journal of Aesthetic Education, and Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism) routinely feature new work on the philosophy of music.

Philosophy of Music Before 1900

The category General Overviews is often misleading in putting excessive focus on major philosophers who said very little about music, such as Immanuel Kant (b. 1724–d. 1804). Less famous writers have often been more significant for their direct contributions to the philosophy of music, as with the variations of post-Kantian Formalism advanced by Schopenhauer 1969, Hanslick 1986, and Hanslick 1990, and Gurney 1966. Philosophy of music was important in antiquity, as explained in Mathiesen 1999 and documented in the edited selections assembled in Strunk 1998. Modern philosophy of music begins in earnest with debates about Opera, attracting the attention of Rousseau, as exemplified by Rousseau 1998 and, famously, Nietzsche as is evident in Nietzsche 1967.

  • Gurney, Edmund. The Power of Sound. New York and London: Basic Books, 1966.

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    This sprawling, ambitious work grapples with the issue of our understanding and appreciation of instrumental music. Originally published in 1880 and relatively neglected for many years, it has more recently influenced important theorists and has gained respect and attention. The 1880 edition is available online.

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  • Hanslick, Eduard. On the Musically Beautiful: A Contribution towards the Revision of the Aesthetics of Music. 8th ed. Translated by Geoffrey Payzant. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1986.

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    The best English translation from German of Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: Ein Beitrag zur Revision der Ästhetik in der Tonkunst (Leipzig: Weigel, 1854). This translation features the 8th edition of the 1891 original. This slim volume is one of the most important books in the field. The editor/translator supplies a small amount of helpful supporting material.

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  • Hanslick, Eduard. Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: Ein Beitrag zur Revision der Ästhetik in der Tonkunst. 2 vols. Edited by Dietmar Strauss. Mainz, Germany, and London: Schott, 1990.

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    For scholars seeking a German edition of Hanslick’s classic book, this text and supporting material are definitive.

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  • Mathiesen, Thomas J. Apollo’s Lyre: Greek Music and Music Theory in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Publications of the Center for the History of Music Theory and Literature 2. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

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    A scholarly survey of the terrain announced in the title, this history provides a great deal of context for the thought of philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine. With an impressively comprehensive bibliography.

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  • Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Birth of Tragedy and The Case of Wagner. Translated by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House/Vintage, 1967.

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    English translation from German of Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (Leipzig: E. W. Fritzsch, 1872) and Der Fall Wagner: Ein Musikanten-Problem (Leipzig: C. G. Naumann, 1888). Nietzsche wrote a great deal about music. This volume is valuable for bringing together his two most important discussions of music: his first book—heavily influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer—and then his subsequent repudiation of Richard Wagner.

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  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “Essay on the Origin of Languages.” In Essay on the Origin of Languages and Writings Related to Music. Translated and edited by John T. Scott, 289–332. Collected Writings of Rousseau 7. Hanover, NH, and London: University Press of New England, 1998.

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    English translation from French of “Essai sur l’origine des langues.” In Œuvres posthumes de Jean-Jaques Rousseau, Vol. 3 (Geneva 1781), pp. 211–327. Among his many writings on music, this essay is significant for its speculation that music and language arise from a common source.

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  • Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation. 2 vols. Translated by Eric F. J. Payne. New York: Dover, 1969.

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    English translation from German of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (2d ed. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1844). Although the discussion of music occupies only small portions of this immense and difficult work, it constitutes a historically significant step in the 19th-century movement to validate instrumental music as a non-representational art.

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  • Strunk, Oliver, ed. Source Readings in Music History. Rev. ed. Edited by Leo Treitler. New York: Norton, 1998.

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    This much-referenced collection assembles a range of documents, with English translations of all non-English texts. Nearly 300 pages of texts parallel the material covered in Mathiesen 1999, while 300 pages of text provide context for Rousseau 1998, and 200 pages of text cover the 19th century.

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Understanding Music

There is considerable disagreement about what it means to understand music, so that philosophers and other theorists can appear to be talking past one another when they discuss this topic. DeBellis 2005 is a good resource for beginners who seek the lay of the land. (The literature on expressive meaning is sufficiently rich and diverse to warrant its own listing as Emotion and Music.) Davies 1994 and, to a lesser extent, Scruton 1997, survey and evaluate the major issues. Higgins 1991 usefully argues that the prevailing theories are deficient in their failure to take popular and non-Western music seriously. As a general rule, however, philosophers of music tend to narrow their focus to gain insight into particular problems. This tendency to adopt a narrow focus is due, in part, to the general tendency to conduct contemporary philosophy in the format of the academic essay. As a case in point, Krausz 1993 assembles a strong set of essays offering a wide range of highly focused discussions of music, meaning, and various approaches to its interpretation. Ridley 2004 features one philosopher’s use of the essay format; although some of the chapters are not concerned with musical meaning, these sophisticated essays offer alternatives to the dominant theories. In contrast to this pair, DeBellis 1995 and Levinson 1997 are good examples of book-length discussion of a single issue. Levinson 1997 challenges traditional doctrines about the musical structures that listeners must understand, while Debellis 1995 challenges the notion that a listener should be able to articulate whatever she understands about a piece of music.

  • Davies, Stephen. Musical Meaning and Expression. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

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    This comprehensive overview of the various topics that have been associated with musical meaning and understanding is impressive for its range of citations, its clear articulation of major positions, and its original proposals. The first two chapters examine competing notions about musical “meaning.” The remainder examines the expression of emotion.

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  • DeBellis, Mark. Music and Conceptualization. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    Explores the difficult question of how some understanding of music occurs in the absence of conceptual understanding, which implies that music analysis does not explicate what many listeners understand about music. Although it is now out of date, the bibliography is a useful guide to the topic of music cognition.

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  • DeBellis, Mark. “Music.” In The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 2d ed. Edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes, 669–682. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.

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    This very clearly written overview begins with the topic of musical expressiveness and then contrasts it with other forms of musical meaning. With a brief but insightful bibliography.

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  • Higgins, Kathleen Marie. The Music of Our Lives. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991.

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    The bulk of this accessible study concentrates on core topics of meaning and emotion, but it is unusual in looking beyond European art music and in explaining how the understanding of music has ethical implications. It remains a useful antidote to stereotypes about the narrowness of philosophical inquiry.

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  • Krausz, Michael, ed. The Interpretation of Music: Philosophical Essays. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

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    This collection of nineteen original essays is an extraordinarily rich overview of the many facets of musical interpretation, most of which touch on issues of musical meaning and understanding in useful ways. However, the essays are not intended for beginners.

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  • Levinson, Jerrold. Music in the Moment. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1997.

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    This brief book offers an important critique of the position that adequate understanding of music requires apprehension of large-scale musical structure. It defends concatenationism, an account derived from Edmund Gurney that proposes that localized and audible structures are sufficient to account for musical understanding.

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  • Ridley, Aaron. The Philosophy of Music: Theme and Variations. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.

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    Although the author looks exclusively to Western art music for examples, the opening chapters offer an important defense of an essentially contextual model of how music is understood in ways that give it value. Specialized, and so recommended primarily to specialists.

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  • Scruton, Roger. The Aesthetics of Music. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

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    This comprehensive study by an eminent philosopher features a surprisingly accessible writing style. It systematically examines the nature of music and defends the unique value of the resources of the Western tonal tradition, a position that strikes many readers as narrow and elitist.

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Formalism

Before the 18th century, instrumental music was culturally less important than vocal music, and so philosophy of music did not focus on instrumental music. As instrumental art music became culturally more important, philosophers turned their attention to its nature and value. The resulting formalism holds that the art of music is essentially an art of creating musical forms or structural relationships. Music may be language-like in presenting us with syntactical structures, but its capacity for meaningful communication is hampered by the absence of the semantic dimension of true language. From this perspective, opera and song are reclassified as hybrid art forms and the expression of emotion has no bearing on the value of a musical work. The best short introduction to the issues is Alperson 2004. The classic position, articulated in Hanslick 1986, is associated with the aesthetic formalism advanced in the account of beauty provided in Kant 1987. Consequences for music theory are explained and criticized by Detels 1994. However, contemporary formalists generally reject the broad claims of 19th-century formalism. Contemporary exponents of formalism defend it as adequate for only a limited range of instrumental music. Furthermore, appreciation of musical form and an interest in expressive properties are no longer regarded as mutually exclusive approaches to instrumental art music. The most important transitional figure is Meyer 1956, where the classic position is refashioned by incorporating insights from information theory. The most important exponent of a revised, “enhanced” formalism is Kivy 1990. The position is developed more fully in several essays in Kivy 1993, where the author defends his brand of formalism against recent developments in musicology. Although formalism has encouraged the idea that musical understanding and appreciation require a listener’s grasp of large-scale form, this position is challenged by Levinson 1997.

  • Alperson, Philip. “The Philosophy of Music: Formalism and Beyond.” In The Blackwell Guide to Aesthetics. Edited by Peter Kivy, 254–275. Oxford: Blackwell, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470756645Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This accessible overview of issues in the philosophy of music is an excellent starting point for understanding 19th-century formalism, its recent variants, and responses to it within analytic philosophy. The bibliography is also recommended.

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  • Detels, Claire. “Autonomist/Formalist Aesthetics, Music Theory, and the Feminist Paradigm of Soft Boundaries.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52.1 (1994): 113–126.

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    A powerful feminist critique of formalism and its detrimental effect on music theory. A revised version is included in Soft Boundaries: Re-Visioning the Arts and Aesthetics in American Education (Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1999), pp. 91–104.

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  • Hanslick, Eduard. On the Musically Beautiful: A Contribution towards the Revision of the Aesthetics of Music. 8th ed. Translated by Geoffrey Payzant. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1986.

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    The best English translation from German of Vom Musikalisch-Schönen: Ein Beitrag zur Revision der Ästhetik in der Tonkunst (Leipzig: Weigel, 1854). This translation features the 8th edition of 1891. This short and deceptively simple book popularized a Kantian position concerning instrumental music.

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  • Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Translated by Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1987.

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    The most readable English translation from German of Kritik der Urteilskraft, in Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 5, edited by Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1908). Originally published in 1790, this challenging book is considered the most important source for formalism in aesthetics. Kant’s occasional discussions of music assign limited value to music (e.g., pp. 196–201).

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  • Kivy, Peter. Music Alone: Philosophical Reflections on the Purely Musical Experience. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1990.

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    An eminent philosopher defends formalism as an account of what is rewarding in a purely musical experience of absolute music. The controversial result is an “enhanced” formalism that recognizes that expressive properties are important to the musical experience. There is sophisticated discussion of historical precedents and a strong bibliography.

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  • Kivy, Peter. The Fine Art of Repetition: Essays in the Philosophy of Music. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    This strong collection of new and republished essays contains several essays that defend the importance of appreciating some music as musical structure, unencumbered by semantic properties. The title essay (pp. 327–359) is particularly recommended for its defense of a neo-Kantian formalism.

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  • Levinson, Jerrold. Music in the Moment. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1997.

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    This brief book offers an unusual variation of formalism, dubbed “concatenationsim,” according to which relevant form is a matter of attending to a succession of brief episodes and the cogency of their succession. On this account, large-scale form is irrelevant to musical value.

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  • Meyer, Leonard B. Emotion and Meaning in Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.

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    This highly influential and controversial updating of Hanslick 1986 acknowledges that musical structure generates emotions in listeners, yet assigns expression a limited relevance to musical meaning and value. Contends that reading a score is an adequate alternative to hearing any particular musical work.

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Emotion and Music

Although philosophers investigate many topics concerning music, some of the most contentious and important debate is centered on the topic of music’s capacity to express and manipulate emotion. Given that sonic patterns lack psychological states, many philosophers hold that the phrase “expresses emotion” is either not applicable to music or is used metaphorically. Davies 2005 is an excellent, brief overview of this general topic, whereas Davies 1994 offers a slightly dated but more comprehensive overview. Budd 1985 is the best summary and critique of the most influential historical positions. Kivy 1989 is regarded as the modern classic on the distinction between expression and expressiveness, a distinction that is also important for the appeal to an expressive persona in Levinson 1996. Nussbaum 2007 turns to biology to defend a sophisticated version of arousalism, the position that music is expressive of emotions by virtue of arousing them in a listener. Robinson 1997 collects several essays that together provide a fuller sense of the contemporary debate, while Matravers 2007 argues that this debate has now reached an impasse.

  • Budd, Malcolm. Music and the Emotions: The Philosophical Theories. International Library of Philosophy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.

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    A highly respected philosopher explains and critiques influential theories about music’s relationship to the emotions, including those of Arthur Schopenhauer, Eduard Hanslick, and Susanne Langer. Because the focus is on historically influential writers, the only outdated part of the book is its bibliography.

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  • Davies, Stephen. Musical Meaning and Expression. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.

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    The bulk of this ambitious book (pp. 123–380) is a comprehensive overview of theories about music’s capacity to express emotions. It is impressive for its range of citations and its clear articulation of major recent positions, as well as for its original proposals about music’s capacity for presenting expressive characteristics.

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  • Davies, Stephen. “Philosophical Perspectives on Music’s Expressiveness.” In Themes in the Philosophy of Music. By Stephen Davies, 169–191. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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    First published in Music and Emotion: Theory and Research, edited by Patrick N. Juslin and John A. Sloboda (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 23–44. This essay is an extraordinarily clear introduction to the major issues concerning music’s expressiveness.

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  • Kivy, Peter. Sound Sentiment: An Essay on the Musical Emotions. The Arts and Their Philosophies. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989.

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    Containing the text of the earlier book The Corded Shell: Reflections on Musical Expression (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), this expansion of the argument is a modern classic on the topic of musical expressiveness. The core insight is the distinction between expressing emotion and being expressive of emotion.

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  • Levinson, Jerrold. “Musical Expressiveness.” In The Pleasures of Aesthetics. By Jerrold Levinson, 90–125. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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    This much-discussed essay offers a sophisticated account of the controversial “persona theory” of musical expression.

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  • Matravers, Derek. “Musical Expressiveness.” Philosophy Compass 2.3 (2007): 373–379.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2007.00078.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This relatively brief but very clear overview of the current state of the debate about expression of emotion in music contends that philosophers have reached a theoretical impasse.

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  • Nussbaum, Charles O. The Musical Representation: Meaning, Ontology, and Emotion. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2007.

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    This recent attempt to provide a comprehensive, naturalist account of music and its appeal argues that all tonal music is representational, and that this fact explains our experience of music as emotionally expressive. Beginners will have a tough time with the dense and technical argumentation.

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  • Robinson, Jenefer, ed. Music and Meaning. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1997.

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    This edited collection is recommended for collecting three previously published essays on musical expressiveness, authored by Gregory Karl and Jenefer Robinson (pp. 154–178), Jerrold Levinson (pp. 215–241), and Stephen Davies (pp. 242–253). Together, they convey the scope of the contemporary debate.

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Ontology

Although oil paintings and carved statues naturally suggest that some artworks are particular physical objects, this way of thinking about objects does not seem adequate to thinking about musical works. Sound waves are physical, yet almost no one contends that any musical work is a particular set of sound waves. Consequently, musical works pose interesting puzzles in ontology, the philosophical subdiscipline that explores the fundamental categories of existence. The arguments rapidly become sophisticated, but beginners can get a sense of the basic issues from Kivy 2002. Ingarden 1986 is the most important text in the continental tradition. Kivy 2002 and Dodd 2007 are virtually alone in the analytic tradition in defending traditional, “Platonist” views, according to which musical works are abstract entities that composers more properly discover than create. This tradition is challenged and revised by Levinson 1990 and Davies 2001. Goodman 1976 is the most important recent defense of a more radical and less common position, nominalism, which denies the existence of abstract objects. Gracyk 1996 demonstrates that the philosophical issues are not restricted to the fine art tradition, while Goehr 2007 is more radical in questioning the general application and historical relevance of the ontological categories that dominate the debate in analytic philosophy of music.

  • Davies, Stephen. Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration. Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/0199241589.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A sophisticated analysis of the nature of musical works and the implications for music performance. In addition to articulating and defending an original theory about the complex ontology of musical works and their performances, this book is impressive for its range of citations and its thorough overview of recent alternative positions in analytic philosophy.

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  • Dodd, Julian. Works of Music: An Essay in Ontology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    A spirited defense of so-called “musical Platonism,” which holds that musical works are eternal, abstract objects that are discovered rather than created by composers. Nonspecialists are likely to feel lost here. Because the main argument had already appeared in journal articles, some major critical responses predate the book’s publication.

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  • Goehr, Lydia. The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    This influential and widely cited book is divided into two parts. The first half is a critical survey of contemporary ontologies of music, and the second argues that the concept of a musical work is of recent origin, having crystallized around 1800. Much cited since the publication of the first edition in 1994.

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  • Goodman, Nelson. Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols. 2d ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1976.

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    Although not the book’s primary focus, its analysis of scored music has generated much discussion. Controversially, the book’s theory of symbols entails that a musical performance cannot deviate from what is specified in its score, for the musical work is equivalent to the class of performances that conform to the score.

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  • Gracyk, Theodore. Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

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    Concentrating on rock music, contends that popular music of the late 20th century does not conform to standard ontological assumptions about compositions and performance. Argues that studio-constructed recordings are a popular form of the art tradition of electronic music and musique concrete.

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  • Ingarden, Roman. The Work of Music and the Problem of Its Identity. Edited by Jean G. Harrell. Translated by Adam Czerniawski. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

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    English translation from Polish of Utwór muzyczny i sprawa jego tożsamości (Krakow, Poland: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1973), which significantly revises earlier versions of the same material in German. This influential and widely cited book explores the relationship between musical scores and musical works in the European art music tradition.

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  • Kivy, Peter. Introduction to a Philosophy of Music. Oxford: Clarendon, 2002.

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    This introductory textbook contains a highly accessible chapter, “The Work” (pp. 202–223), which explains and defends the traditional account of musical works, often called “musical Platonism.”

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  • Levinson, Jerrold. “What a Musical Work Is.” In Music, Art and Metaphysics: Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics. By Jerrold Levinson, 63–88. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990.

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    An expanded version of “What a Musical Work Is,” Journal of Philosophy 77.1 (1980): 5–28. Where traditional thinking about abstract entities denies their malleability or even creation, this landmark essay argues that composing involves entities of a peculiar type.

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Continental Philosophy

Continental philosophy is a post-Kantian tradition that evolved from the work of G. W. F. Hegel (b. 1770–d. 1831), Karl Marx (b. 1818–d. 1883), and Friedrich Nietzsche (b. 1844–d. 1900). The name reflects the degree to which French and German thinkers dominate this tradition. Two notable Continental philosophers are Martin Heidegger (b. 1889–d. 1976) and Jean-Paul Sartre (b. 1905–d. 1980), both of whom contributed to the philosophy of art. However, as with Heidegger and Sartre, Continental philosophers have generally focused on literature and visual art, offering relatively little extended discussion of music. The most important exceptions are found in the areas of Critical Theory and Phenomenology and Poststructuralism.

Critical Theory

Critical theory is an outgrowth of 20th-century German neo-Marxism, particularly as developed in the Institute for Social Research of Frankfurt and then New York. It is closely allied to feminism in sharing the aim of redirecting intellectual inquiry toward the goal of human emancipation through the examination of inequality and oppression. Theodor W. Adorno (b. 1903–d. 1969) is the most significant figure in the philosophy of music as developed within the Frankfurt School, and it would be difficult to overestimate his influence in validating avant-garde music and denigrating commodified popular music. Although they are only a fragment of the whole, Adorno 2002 and Adorno 2006 are the most indispensible writings. Witkin 1998 is the best book for the beginner seeking information about the full range of Adorno’s thought on music. Huhn 2004 assembles essays on the full range of his intellectual activity, allowing more advanced appreciation of how his position on music fits into his larger philosophy. Hamilton 2007 argues for the continuing relevance of critical theory in philosophy of music. Attali 1985 is the most notable contribution to critical theory and music of recent years, while Goehr 2008 is the best example of recent philosophy of music influenced by Adorno.

  • Adorno, Theodor W. Essays on Music. Edited by Richard Leppert. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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    Includes translations in English of numerous essays that originally appeared in German. Gathers twenty-five of Adorno’s essays from a variety of sources, including his most important and influential essays on the failings of jazz and popular music. The editor has provided an excellent introduction, copious notes, and bibliography.

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  • Adorno, Theodor W. Philosophy of New Music. Translated and edited by Robert Hullot-Kentor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

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    This book is the best English translation from German of Philosophie der neuen Musik (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1949). This modern classic famously compares the music of Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schönberg, savaging the former while validating the latter for its artistic truth. The author has a reputation for being difficult, and this book is no exception.

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  • Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Translated by Brian Massumi. Theory and History of Literature 16. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

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    English translation from French of Bruits: Essai sur l’économie politique de la musique (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1977). This frequently cited neo-Marxist analysis of the history of Western music argues that musical culture consistently foreshadows major changes in social formation.

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  • Goehr, Lydia. Elective Affinities: Musical Essays on the History of Aesthetic Theory. Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

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    Essays about or inspired by the writings of Theodor Adorno. Although they are not all on music, several of the essays bridge the gap between the continental and analytic traditions by exploring the historical and thematic affinities that connect Adorno and Arthur Danto. Of interest primarily to academic professionals.

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  • Hamilton, Andy. Aesthetics & Music. London: Continuum, 2007.

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    Uniquely among surveys of major topics in philosophy of music, this book argues for the continuing relevance of critical theory in contemporary philosophy of music. Newcomers to critical theory will profit from the chapter on Adorno (pp. 153–191).

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  • Huhn, Tom, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Adorno. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521772893Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This collection of essays on Adorno and his place in critical theory includes three very good essays on his philosophy of music, contributed by Max Paddison, Lydia Goehr, and Andrew Bowie. There is an extensive bibliography.

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  • Witkin, Robert Winston. Adorno on Music. International Library of Sociology. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

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    Newcomers to Adorno and critical theory are likely to find the writing difficult and the arguments hard to follow, but they can get their bearings from this relatively accessible account of Adorno’s full range of writings on music.

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Phenomenology and Poststructuralism

As with all philosophy, Continental philosophy can bewilder readers who do not understand the background that informs a particular author’s thought. Arguably, this is especially true of Continental philosophy of art, which has a reputation for being difficult or even impenetrable. Cazeaux 2000 provides an overview of the intellectual terrain, usefully separating the major authors into the categories as phenomenology and poststructuralism, among others, and providing introductions to each category. Phenomenology is a 20th-century philosophical tradition that arises from the work of Edmund Husserl (b. 1859–d. 1938). Husserl’s theory of time consciousness is of particular relevance to understanding the experience of music. However, the larger implications of Husserl’s work were developed later, by his students, most notably in Conrad 1908, Ingarden 1989, and (focusing exclusively on music) Ingarden 1986. Benson 2003 is the best example of a contemporary phenomenology of music. Much recent French and Continental philosophy is poststructuralist in its rejection of explanations and theories that presuppose a fixed underlying structure of phenomena and events. Barthes 1977 is an excellent introduction to poststructural suspicions about successful representation and the implications for hearing music. Brillenburg Wurth 2009 and the essays in Buchanan and Swiboda 2004 provide guidance on the implications of the philosophies of Gilles Deleuze and Jean-François Lyotard, respectively.

  • Barthes, Roland. Image-Music-Text. Edited and translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

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    An influential selection of poststructuralist essays translated from French. Although not restricted to music, the selection includes the widely cited essays “The Death of the Author” (pp. 142–148) and “The Grain of the Voice” (pp. 179–189). The British edition is Image-Music-Text (London: Fontana, 1977).

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  • Benson, Bruce Ellis. The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    Influenced by the hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer, the author engages with and develops Roman Ingarden’s position in order to show that all music is essentially improvisational. Useful on the topic of performance and for extending the phenomenology of music beyond the European art tradition.

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  • Brillenburg Wurth, Kiene. Musically Sublime: Indeterminacy, Infinity, Irresolvability. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009.

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    The sublime is a central topic in poststructuralist aesthetics, as demonstrated by the work of Jean-François Lyotard. This historical overview of ideas about the musically sublime highlights Lyotard’s philosophy. There is an extensive bibliography.

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  • Buchanan, Ian, and Marcel Swiboda, eds. Deleuze and Music. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.

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    An influential French philosopher’s concern for developing new concepts in the face of artistic change inspired ten essays that explore his thoughts on art in relation to music, particularly in its popular and electronic forms.

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  • Cazeaux, Clive, ed. The Continental Aesthetics Reader. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

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    This collection offers edited selections by a wide range of writers. Reflecting the full scope of the Continental tradition, it provides an excellent overview of Continental philosophy of art and, through neglect, it inadvertently confirms the relative lack of attention to music.

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  • Conrad, Waldemar. “Der Ästhetische Gegenstand: Eine phänomenologische Studie.” Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 3 (1908): 71–118, 469–511.

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    This two-part essay, available only in German, is notable for its development of a phenomenology of tonal relationships. Part 2 is in Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 4 (1909): 400–455.

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  • Ingarden, Roman. The Work of Music and the Problem of Its Identity. Edited by Jean G. Harrell. Translated by Adam Czerniawski. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.

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    English translation from Polish of Utwór muzyczny i sprawa jego tożsamości (Krakow: Polskie Wydawnictwo Muzyczne, 1973), which significantly revises earlier versions of the same material in German. This phenomenological analysis provides Ingarden’s mature reflections on the ontology of music. The book also contains helpful supplementary material.

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  • Ingarden, Roman. Ontology of the Work of Art: The Musical Work, the Picture, the Architectural Work, the Film. Translated by Raymond Meyer with John T. Goldthwait. Series in Continental Thought, 12. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1989.

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    English translation from German of Untersuchungen zur Ontologie der Kunst: Musikwerk, Bild, Architektur, Film (Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer, 1962).This book is an early version of Ingarden 1986 and it is recommended to those who want to understand Ingarden’s philosophy of music within the author’s broader philosophy of art.

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Genre and Area Studies

In the modern period, philosophy of music has generally focused on the canon of Western art music. Furthermore, it has generally approached music and its reception in ways that marginalize the importance of Performance. Opera poses a special case within this canon, and so receives some close attention, especially within the context of 19th-century debates about the essential nature of art and music. Jazz and Improvisation is a second area beyond the canon that is recognized as demanding special attention. Issues of musical performance practice have proven central to discussions of jazz, which has encouraged more discussion of music as performance. Incursions of Feminism and feminist theory into aesthetics have challenged the limited range of issues discussed, encouraging more thought about music’s relationship to the broader culture. Although philosophers have written relatively little about Non-Western Music and Popular Music, these topics have also received increased attention in recent years.

Performance

Musical works are composed, but they are also performed. Abbate 2004 contends that performances rather than works are the true locus of musical meaning. Godlovitch 1998 offers a skill-based analysis of performance that licenses interpretive freedom in performance. Thom 2007 is a concise, accessible treatment of the narrower topic of how performing musicians interpret the music they perform. Given that musical scores never fully determine the performances they guide, performance issues often overlap with questions of Ontology. This overlap is particularly evident in Benson 2003 and Davies 2001, which approach the topic of performance with analytic and Continental emphases, respectively. Mark 1981 merits attention as a more specialized and focused essay on the topic of works and their performance. The topic of authentic performance has become increasingly important in recent decades, and beginners will profit from the overview provided by Young 2005. More detailed discussions are Kivy 1995 and Davies 2001.

  • Abbate, Carolyn. “Music—Drastic or Gnostic?” Critical Inquiry 30.3 (2004): 505–536.

    DOI: 10.1086/421160Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This much-discussed essay by a respected musicologist focuses on opera and argues that live performances are more properly the focus of interpretation and response than are musical scores and works; music-as-performed is “real music.”

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  • Benson, Bruce Ellis. The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue: A Phenomenology of Music. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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    Influenced by the hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer, this discussion of music performance is a notable contribution to the philosophy of music in the Continental tradition. Argues that all music requires moments of improvisation, and so musical works are best understood as open structures for performance.

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  • Davies, Stephen. Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration. Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/0199241589.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One chapter is a detailed, robustly documented discussion of performance issues as they relate to ontological issues in the analytic tradition (pp. 151–197). Two others discuss authenticity (pp. 201–294). With their ample bibliographies, these chapters are a comprehensive source of information for advanced students, graduate students, and scholars.

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  • Godlovitch, Stan. Musical Performance: A Philosophical Study. London: Routledge, 1998.

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    Integrating five previously published essays, this engaging book surveys the major topics related to musical performance. Informative yet accessible, it is a good choice for those seeking an extended overview of the major philosophical issues associated with the topic.

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  • Kivy, Peter. Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995.

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    Addressing issues that arise from classical music’s “authentic performance” movement, an eminent philosopher of music distinguishes among different types of authenticities and highlights conflicting values that compete when music is interpreted in performance.

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  • Mark, Thomas Carson. “Philosophy of Piano Playing: Reflections on the Concept of Performance.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 41.3 (1981): 299–324.

    DOI: 10.2307/2107454Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay is a sophisticated articulation and defense of the position that a performance of a musical work involves two different artworks, the musical work and the performance itself.

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  • Thom, Paul. The Musician as Interpreter. Studies of the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007.

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    This very short and accessible book is an excellent starting point for understanding the multiple ways in which performers are required to interpret musical works.

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  • Young, James O. “Authenticity in Performance.” In The Routledge Companion to Aesthetics. 2d ed. Edited by Berys Gaut and Dominic McIver Lopes, 501–512. London: Routledge, 2005.

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    This essay is an accessible overview of the issues that arise in the evaluation of musical performance for authenticity. However, the essay disappoints in offering almost nothing in the way of references or documentation.

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Opera

Modern and recent philosophy of music tends to concentrate on instrumental art music. The most significant exception is philosophizing about opera. The balance between musical and theatrical elements of this hybrid art form occupied the attention of many philosophers of the 19th century, as with Wagner 1988, and these issues continue to inspire interesting explorations about the nature and power of opera. Levinson 1990 is the best short introduction to the basic issues surrounding hybrid art forms. Otherwise, recent philosophical treatments of opera tend to be historical in orientation. Tomlinson 1999 surveys a wide swath of opera history while Kivy 1999 focuses on opera in the 17th and 18th centuries. Abbate 1991 explores assumptions that informed six 19th-century operas. Wagner receives disproportionate attention; Scruton 2003 and Kitcher and Schacht 2004 are the best examples of philosophical discussion of this very philosophical composer.

  • Abbate, Carolyn. Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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    This set of essays by a musicologist explores the nature of operatic representation. The six chapters examine operas by different composers, ranging from Mozart to Wagner, and concentrate on operatic narrative as sonic narrative that requires an interpretive framework not adequately explained in 19th-century philosophy of music.

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  • Kitcher, Philip, and Richard Schacht. Finding an Ending: Reflections on Wagner’s “Ring.” Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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    Co-written by two philosophers, this analysis of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle begins with a discussion of the sources of Wagner’s philosophy of music (including Ludwig Feuerbach and Arthur Schopenhauer) and then examines the operas as Wagner’s artistic exploration of several fundamental philosophical issues.

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  • Kivy, Peter. Osmin’s Rage: Philosophical Reflections on Opera, Drama, and Text. 2d ed. Ithaca, NY, and London: Cornell University Press, 1999.

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    An eminent scholar examines the aesthetic and artistic expectations that informed the creation and reception of 17th- and 18th-century opera. The book is more than merely intellectual history in its serious engagement with the issue of whether operatic dramas are intrinsically problematical artworks.

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  • Levinson, Jerrold. “Hybrid Art Forms.” In Music, Art, and Metaphysics: Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics. By Jerrold Levinson, 26–36. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1990.

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    A technical discussion of the nature of hybrid art forms that focuses on opera as an important test case in denying the aesthetic priority of unifying the work’s distinct elements.

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  • Scruton, Roger. Death-Devoted Heart: Sex and the Sacred in Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde.” Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    This account of a particular opera argues that its continuing relevance requires it to be something more than self-expression. It explores the Wagnerian ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), and it evaluates opera as a platform for reflecting on general human concerns.

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  • Tomlinson, Gary. Metaphysical Song: An Essay on Opera. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.

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    These essays on important historical junctures in the history of opera combine musicology and philosophy. The author, a musicologist, argues that opera requires a distinctive yet historically evolving kind of listening, “operatic hearing,” that attends to opera’s explorations of metaphysics.

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  • Wagner, Richard. Wagner on Music and Drama: A Compendium of Richard Wagner’s Prose Works. Edited by Albert Goldman and Evert Sprinchorn. Translated by H. Ashton Ellis. New York: Da Capo, 1988.

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    Reprint of 1964 edition (New York, Dutton). This large volume provides English translations of Wagner’s most important writings about the state of opera and its future. The original German texts are in Richard Wagner, Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen, 4th ed., 10 vols. (Leipzig: C. F. W. Siegel, 1907).

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Jazz and Improvisation

While improvisation has played an important role in music performance, philosophy of music has generally concentrated on composers and compositions. The increasing cultural status of jazz has gradually encouraged philosophers to come to grips with music that places a strong emphasis on the value of musical improvisation, which has in turn encouraged discussion of the nature of improvisation, creativity, and the value of musical Performance. Prime examples are Alperson 1984, Gioia 1988, Brown 2000, and Benson 2008. Hagberg 2008 expands this conversation by exploring additional value dimensions of jazz improvisation. However, Hodier 1979 and Kraut 2005 argue that improvisation should not be the primary focus of the process of philosophizing about jazz. Young and Matheson 2000 focus on jazz performance as an interesting problem for Ontology.

  • Alperson, Philip. “On Musical Improvisation.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 43.1 (1984): 17–30.

    DOI: 10.2307/430189Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This influential essay is an important landmark in demonstrating the narrowness of prominent philosophies of music that locate musical creation in composing but not performing and explains why improvisation challenges standard assumptions about musical ontology.

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  • Benson, Bruce Ellis. “Stealing Licks: Recording and Identity in Music.” In Recorded Music: Philosophical and Critical Reflections. Edited by Mine Doğantan-Dack, 137–154. London: Middlesex University Press, 2008.

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    This essay applies insights of Continental philosophy to the question of how music technology alters musical creativity and its reception. Locating the nature of jazz in improvisation, it considers how recording complicates musical identity in jazz. With a very useful bibliography. Comes with one digital sound disc.

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  • Brown, Lee B. “‘Feeling My Way’: Jazz Improvisation and Its Vicissitudes—A Plea for Imperfection.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 58 (2000): 112–123.

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    Exploring some implications of Gioia 1988, this exemplary piece of scholarship argues that the correct standards for evaluating jazz improvisation cannot be derived from the prevailing formalist aesthetic inherited from the European art music tradition.

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  • Gioia, Ted. The Imperfect Art: Reflections on Jazz and Modern Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.

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    Written by a musicologist rather than a philosopher, this award-winning book features seven readable essays that examine the ways in which modernist aesthetics have encouraged misunderstandings about the nature and value of jazz. Recommended as an entry point into selected major issues.

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  • Hagberg, Garry L. “Jazz Improvisation and Ethical Interaction: A Sketch of the Connections.” In Art and Ethical Criticism. Edited by Garry L. Hagberg, 259–285. New Directions in Aesthetics 7. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444302813.ch12Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Expanding on the idea that improvisation collapses the distinction between process and product, the author argues that the evaluation of a jazz performance should attend to the ethical dimensions of the actions exemplified in the performance. The discussion presupposes knowledge of ethical theory.

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  • Hodier, André. Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence. Rev. ed. Translated by David Noakes. New York: Grove, 1979.

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    English translation from French of Hommes et problèmes du jazz (Paris, Flammarion, 1954). This landmark attempt to define the essence of jazz is frequently cited and discussed in the literature. It is surprising for the contention that jazz is a performance style that can dispense with improvisation.

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  • Kraut, Robert. “Why Does Jazz Matter to Aesthetic Theory?” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63.1 (2005): 3–15.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0021-8529.2005.00176.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The author answers the title’s query by arguing that improvisation is not the key issue to consider, and then offers multiple ways that thinking about jazz can influence aesthetic theory. The essay presupposes considerable knowledge of aesthetic theory.

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  • Young, James O., and Carl Matheson. “The Metaphysics of Jazz.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 58.2 (2000): 125–134.

    DOI: 10.2307/432091Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A defense of the position that the standard distinction between musical works and their performances applies to jazz performances, so that the same musical work can be presented by two performances that possess very limited sonic or formal agreement.

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Popular Music

Although jazz originated in American popular music, jazz did not emerge as an important topic for philosophy of music until it was firmly established as a tradition of “serious” music. With this exception, most philosophers have regarded popular music as either beneath discussion or, in the case of Adorno 2002, as inviting explanation of its insidious nature. However, a more general movement toward applied philosophy and a greater skepticism about the claims of high culture have created an environment in which some philosophers have given serious consideration to popular music. Gracyk 2008 is an online overview of this material. Shusterman 2000 reprints several influential essays that serve as a good starting point for those unfamiliar with the issues. Rudinow 1994, Gracyk 1996, and Bicknell 2005 examine specific issues concerning popular music that would be overlooked or misunderstood without attention to the particulars of the music and its musical culture, showing that philosophy of music is enriched by extending it to popular music. Baugh 1993 contends that traditional dismissals of popular music impose values that do not apply, while Davies 1999 responds that popular music does not have a radically distinct aesthetic.

  • Adorno, Theodor W. Essays on Music. Edited by Richard Leppert. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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    This large volume gathers Adorno’s most important and influential essays on the failings of jazz and popular music. Essays that originally appeared in German are in English translation. The editor provides excellent supporting material, including copious notes and an extensive bibliography.

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  • Baugh, Bruce. “Prolegomena to Any Aesthetics of Rock Music.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 51.1 (1993): 23–29.

    DOI: 10.2307/431967Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A very clear articulation and defense of the view that the aesthetic standards of European art music should not be applied to some popular forms, such as rock music, due to their distinctive sources of value. The argument is challenged in Davies 1999.

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  • Bicknell, Jeanette. “Just a Song? Exploring the Aesthetics of Popular Song Performance.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63.3 (2005): 261–270.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.0021-8529.2005.00206.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Insightfully examines differences between art music and popular music by highlighting audience expectations of performer sincerity in popular music.

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  • Davies, Stephen. “Rock versus Classical Music.” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 57.2 (1999): 193–204.

    DOI: 10.2307/432312Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This response to Baugh 1993 usefully distinguishes between higher-level and lower-level aesthetic theorizing and argues that higher-level theory does not justify standard assumptions about radical differences between art music and popular music.

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  • Gracyk, Theodore. Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

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    The first scholarly book to apply philosophy of music to the genre of rock music. Its discussion of the ontology of recorded music is widely cited, and it contains an accessible discussion of Adorno’s writings on jazz and popular music (pp. 149–173).

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  • Gracyk, Theodore. “Aesthetics of Popular Music.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden. 2008.

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    This online general introduction to the philosophical literature on popular music includes an extensive annotated bibliography.

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  • Rudinow, Joel. “Race, Ethnicity, Expressive Authenticity: Can White People Sing the Blues?” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 52.1 (1994): 127–137.

    DOI: 10.2307/431591Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The title clearly states the issue. A sophisticated yet accessible discussion of the possibility of expressive authenticity in a popular, politically charged genre.

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  • Shusterman, Richard. Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.

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    Contains several relevant, influential essays, including the accessible “Form and Funk: The Aesthetic Challenge of Popular Art” (pp. 169–200), originally published in British Journal of Aesthetics 31.3 (1991): 203–213. The author outlines and responds to standard criticisms of popular music.

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Feminism

Philosophical feminism concentrates on revealing and understanding the ways that social and political asymmetries are aligned with sex and gender differences. It is closely allied with Critical Theory in sharing the aim of redirecting intellectual inquiry toward the goal of human emancipation through the examination of inequality and oppression. Lorraine 1995 is an accessible starting point for understanding the relevance of feminism to the philosophy of music, while Bowman 1998 provides a clear introduction to the scope of feminist challenges to standard philosophy of music. Detels and Smith 1999, Macarthur 2002, and McClary 2002 are more complex examples of theorists informed by philosophical feminism who argue that traditional ways of thinking about music are biased in ways that support gender discrimination and oppression.

  • Bowman, Wayne D. “Music from Feminist Perspectives.” In Philosophical Perspective on Music. By Wayne D. Bowman, 363–394. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    This textbook chapter is the best comprehensive introduction to the relevance of feminism to philosophy of music, including a brief account of the first edition of McClary 2002.

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  • Detels, Claire, and Ralph Alexander Smith. Soft Boundaries: Re-Visioning the Arts and Aesthetics in American Education. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1999.

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    Although the book focuses on challenging the narrow conception of art that dominates in education and academic thinking, the core of this very well-documented study is a feminist critique of dominant ways of discussing, teaching, and practicing music. Chapter 6 (pp. 91–104) is an interesting critique of musical formalism.

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  • Lorraine, Renée. “A History of Music.” In Feminism and Tradition in Aesthetics. Edited by Peggy Zeglin Brand and Carolyn Korsmeyer, 160–185. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

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    This well-documented and informative essay is a highly accessible demonstration that music has been and continues to be an instrument of gender oppression. It has the additional virtue of addressing both art music and popular music. Originally published as Renée Cox, “A History of Music,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 48.4 (1990): 395–409.

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  • Macarthur, Sally. Feminist Aesthetics in Music. Westport, CT, and London: Greenwood, 2002.

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    A widely cited study of gender bias as it applies to music. It opens with a theoretical overview of the issues (pp. 11–29), after which the primary focus is the critical reception of art music by women composers.

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  • McClary, Susan. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality. 2d ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

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    A groundbreaking, very controversial work of feminist musicology. Its philosophical dimension is the unpacking of the gender implications of concepts and value systems that traditional philosophies of music have enshrined as gender-neutral universals.

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Non-Western Music

Historically, many philosophers have claimed to explore universal concerns and truths while remaining narrowly Eurocentric in their actual focus. Rowell 1983 counteracts this view with its explanation of the very different assumption made by the philosophical systems of two major Asian systems of thought. At the same time, there are many parallels between Western and non-Western thought, as explored by DeWoskin 1982 and Davies 2001. Although it is relatively easy to locate good introductions to non-Western philosophy of art, it can be difficult to locate such material concerning philosophy of music. One reason is that some cultures regard music as an integral aspect of non-musical social practices and so their discussions of music approach it as an ancillary feature of those practices, a point amply demonstrated by Roseman 1991. At the same time, a considerable understanding of diverse philosophical views about music can be found in the ethnographic and ethnomusicological studies of non-Western music. Notable examples are Basso 1985, Feld 1990, and Roseman 1991; they provide insight into the philosophies of music of central Brazil, Papua New Guinea, and Malaysia, respectively. The results are particularly illuminating when the anthropological research is guided by philosophical questions, as when Davies 2001 documents the aesthetic categories that inform value judgments among Balinese “classical” musicians. Finally, some cultures have developed distinct philosophies of music within traditions of sophisticated scholarly debate. DeWoskin 1982 explains the philosophy of music of early China, Shehadi 1995 deals with medieval Islam, and Rowell 1992 covers Hindu texts of early Indian philosophy.

  • Basso, Ellen B. A Musical View of the Universe: Kalapalo Myth and Ritual Performances. University of Pennsylvania Publications in Conduct and Communication. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985.

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    Written by an anthropologist with expertise on the Kalapalo people of central Brazil, this book explains how their ideas about musical organization dominate their thinking about cosmology and hierarchical power relationships.

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  • Davies, Stephen. “Authenticity and Non-Western Music.” In Musical Works and Performances: A Philosophical Exploration. By Stephen Davies, 254–294. Oxford: Clarendon, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1093/0199241589.003.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Among other issues, this lengthy book chapter explores the question of how Balinese musicians evaluate performances of traditional Balinese music. An interesting exploration of how non-Western musicians think about musical authenticity.

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  • DeWoskin, Kenneth. A Song for One or Two: Music and the Concept of Art in Early China. Michigan Papers in Chinese Studies 42. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1982.

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    This very clear, well-documented study explains how philosophy of music serves as the basis of Confucian aesthetics. Tracing the development of Confucian thinking, it discusses music in relation to cosmology, social order, and the expression of emotion.

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  • Feld, Steven. Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics and Song in Kaluli Expression. 2d ed. Publications of the American Folklore Society 5. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

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    This widely cited study relates the music practices and philosophy of song of the Kaluli of the Papua New Guinea rainforest to their origin myth and complex mythology of birds.

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  • Roseman, Marina. Healing Sounds from the Malaysian Rainforest; Temiar Music and Medicine. Comparative Studies of Health Systems and Medical Care. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

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    Emphasizing the link between music and healing in a traditional culture, this landmark study established a new field of ethnography, medical ethnomusicology. It illustrates one important pattern of thinking by which cultures embed philosophy of music in a broader philosophy.

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  • Rowell, Lewis. “Comparative Aesthetics: India and Japan.” In Thinking about Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music. By Lewis Rowell, 190–210. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983.

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    This chapter of an introductory textbook contains a brief yet informative outline of the general aesthetic systems of India and Japan and also explains their implications for music. A good place to start to study the non-Western philosophy of music.

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  • Rowell, Lewis. Music and Musical Thought in Early India. Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

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    This scholarly overview of the music of India offers a lengthy, detailed explanation of how the organization of Indian music reflects various systems of Indian philosophy. It will overwhelm beginners with its explanation of terminology and technicalities. Primarily historical, it contains a solid bibliography and a glossary of relevant Sanskrit terms.

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  • Shehadi, Fadlou. Philosophies of Music in Medieval Islam. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995.

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    This introduction to six centuries of Islamic thought explains the most significant contributions to philosophy of music in Islamic culture, including chapters devoted to Farabi and Ibn Sina (Avicenna), respectively (pp. 50–80). It has an extensive bibliography.

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LAST MODIFIED: 06/29/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199757824-0061

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