Musical meaning and expression

Ithaca: Cornell University Press (1994)
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Abstract

We talk not only of enjoying music, but of understanding it. Music is often taken to have expressive import--and in that sense to have meaning. But what does music mean, and how does it mean? Stephen Davies addresses these questions in this sophisticated and knowledgeable overview of current theories in the philosophy of music. Reviewing and criticizing the aesthetic positions of recent years, he offers a spirited explanation of his own position. Davies considers and rejects in turn the positions that music describes (like language), or depicts (like pictures), or symbolizes (in a distinctive fashion) emotions. Similarly, he resists the idea that music's expressiveness is to be explained solely as the composer's self-expression, or in terms of its power to evoke a response from the audience. Music's ability to describe emotions, he believes, is located within the music itself; it presents the aural appearance of what he calls emotion characteristics. The expressive power of music awakens emotions in the listener, and music is valued for this power although the responses are sometimes ones of sadness. Davies shows that appreciation and understanding may require more than recognition of and reaction to music's expressive character, but need not depend on formal musicological training.

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