Artistic expression and the hard case of pure music

In Matthew Kieran (ed.), Contemporary debates in aesthetics and the philosophy of art. Blackwell (2006)
In its narrative, dramatic, and representational genres, art regularly depicts contexts for human emotions and their expressions. It is not surprising, then, that these artforms are often about emotional experiences and displays, and that they are also concerned with the expression of emotion. What is more interesting is that abstract art genres may also include examples that are highly expressive of human emotion. Pure music – that is, stand-alone music played on musical instruments excluding the human voice, and without words, literary titles, or associated texts connected to it by its composer – is often characterized as the expressive art par excellence. Yet how could that be possible, given that such music lacks semantic or representational content? Pure music presents the hardest and most vivid philosophical challenge to any account of expressiveness in the arts, which is why it is crucial to consider the musical case for the light it sheds on the underlying principles and issues. In this chapter I consider two accounts of expressiveness in pure music. Both regard expressiveness as an objective property of such music. I argue for the position I call appearance emotionalism and against the alternative, which I label hypothetical emo- tionalism. But before I get to that, there is a different mode of musical expression to be acknowledged. Even instrumental music comes charged with associations. Some of these are private to the listener, but many are widely shared. The latter may be included in a piece by accident but are, more often, deliberately placed for their effects. For instance, when a song is quoted in an instrumental work, its title or words may be brought to mind. Certain melodies (e.g., “Ode to Joy”), styles (e.g., tarantella), idioms (e.g., fanfares), forms (e.g., minuet), modalities (e.g., church modes), and instruments (e.g., fifes and snare drums) recall particular social events, geocultural regions, historical periods, ideas, and sensibilities, and in this way can hook up with affective life-experiences. Though it is music’s associative ties that are likely to be referred to when most people are asked about music’s significance, philosophers say little about them..
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Stacie Friend (2011). Fictive Utterance and Imagining II. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 85 (1):163-180.
Derek Matravers (2007). Musical Expressiveness. Philosophy Compass 2 (3):373–379.
Andrew Kania (2009). Musical Recordings. Philosophy Compass 4 (1):22-38.
Stephen Davies (2010). Perceiving Melodies and Perceiving Musical Colors. Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1 (1):19-39.
Stacie Friend (2011). II—Stacie Friend: Fictive Utterance and Imagining II. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 85 (1):163-180.

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