Musical Formalism and Political Performances

Contemporary Aesthetics 7 (2009)
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Abstract

Musical formalism, which strictly limits the type of thing any description of the music can tell us, is ill-equipped to account for contemporary performance practice. If performative interpretations are in a position to tell us something about musical works—that is if performance is a kind of description, as Peter Kivy argues—then we have to loosen the restrictions on notions of musical relevance to make sense of performance. I argue that musical formalism, which strictly limits the type of thing any description of the music can tell us, is inconsistent with Kivy's quite compelling account of performance. This shows the difficulty that actual performances pose to overly rigid conceptions of music. Daniel Barenboim unannounced performance of Wagner in Israel in 2001 shows that the problem of the boundaries of musical relevance is no mere philosophical puzzle. It is a pressing problem in the musical public sphere.

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Jonathan A. Neufeld
College of Charleston

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