In Tomás McAuley, Nanette Nielsen, Jerrold Levinson & Ariana Phillips-Hutton (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Western Music and Philosophy. OUP. pp. 785-804 (2020)

Paul Boghossian
New York University
This chapter revisits the classic questions whether absolute music can express extra-musical meaning and whether such meaning should be thought of as playing an important role in our understanding and appreciation of music. It argues that music’s expressive ability plays a central role in our conception of its phenomenology and value—in our perception of music as expressive and in its capacity to move us, both in the understudied generic sense, and in the sense of arousing specific emotions in us. It examines a type of scepticism about music’s expressive ability made influential by Eduard Hanslick and considers to what extent it can be answered. The chapter concludes that, while the extreme scepticism espoused by Hanslick cannot be sustained, his discussion teaches us deep lessons about the expressive indeterminacy involved in music. The chapter illustrates some of the issues it deals with through an analysis of the slow movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major and explores the connection between meaning in music and meaning in poetry.
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