Themes in the Philosophy of Music

Journal of Aesthetic Education 37 (3):108 (2003)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.3 (2003) 108-112 [Access article in PDF] Themes in the Philosophy of Music, by Stephen Davies. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003, 283 pp., hardcover. Over the last few decades, there has been a remarkable output of several books and articles on the philosophy of music. Stephen Davies is one of the leading contributors to this growing literature in the Philosophy of Music. This important and thought-provoking volume collects fifteen of Davies's essays on various philosophical issues pertaining to music such as ontology, performance, expression, and appreciation. With the exception of two, all of the essays have been published before. There is not enough space here to do justice to all fifteen essays, and thus I focus on those that strike me as most important and where I disagree with Davies.First a word about the book's relevance to aesthetic education and itspotential for use in aesthetic education. Davies's book strikes me as having immense potential for aesthetic education. I can easily see the various essays as being of great value in educating performers, composers, musicologists, and music lovers about various aspects of performance and appreciation especially. Here is a brief list of questions pertinent to aesthetic education that Davies's work raises and addresses: Why is performance on authentic instruments important? What is involved in understanding musical works? Is technical training necessary to appreciate musical works fully? To what degree can the performer create her own interpretation of a work, and how much does the score constrain her?Now on to the essays themselves. The first part of Davies's volume concerns ontology, and the first essay "John Cage's 4'33": Is it Music?" addresses this very famous musical work. Davies argues that 4'33" is not music but rather a theatrical piece about music because it does not exclude anysounds as being ambient noise, as Davies thinks musical works should do. Davies does not deny, however, that this work is an artwork. He thinks instead that the work is not organized sound, as all music must be, for it does not exclude any sonic events during performance as ambient; even sounds made by the performer of this work, claims Davies, are mistakes and not ambient. Thus neither Cage nor the performer organize (select, appropriate) sounds. Davies also suggests that while Cage wants us to have an aesthetic interest in the sonic properties of 4'33," he failed in his intention for we hear the work instead in musico-historical terms.Contrary to Davies's view, one mustwonder if 4'33" just is a theatrical piece about music, not a musical work as such. Unlike theater and theatrical works which are meant to be both seen and heard, Cage's work is only meant to be heard. Davies's view would seem to neglect this important auditory aspect in claiming that the work is just theater not music. Besides, why must all musical works exclude some soundsas ambient, and why might Cage's [End Page 108] work not be an exception to this? Why couldn't 4'33" be a limiting case of music, at one extreme of a range of musical works? As for Davies's claim that any sounds made by the performer who is supposed to be silent are mistakes not ambient noise, one must wonder if Cage intended instead that sounds made by the performer (such as musical tones or coughs) be bracketed by listeners as not part of the work while sounds made by the audience are part of the work, thus undermining the audience-performer distinction. Moreover, against Davies's claim that Cage intended us to have an aesthetic interest in sonic properties, I submit that Cage was Zen-influenced and not committed to such dualisticaesthetic concepts (such as beautiful vs. ugly) or any concepts for that matter, whether musico-historical or not. Instead, Cage intended us to simplylisten, with an open mind and openears, without adhering rigidly to concepts or hearing 4'33" in musico-historical terms, difficult as that may be. Finally, there...



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