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Music Philosophy Essay

The essays in this book cover a spread of topics in the philosophy of music: how music expresses emotion and what is distinctive to the listener's response to this expressiveness; the modes of perception and understanding that can be expected of skilled listeners, performers, analysts, and composers and the various manners in which these understandings can be manifest; the manner in which musical works exist and their relation to their instances or performances; and musical profundity. As well as reviewing the work of philosophers of music, a number of the chapters both draw on and critically ... More

The essays in this book cover a spread of topics in the philosophy of music: how music expresses emotion and what is distinctive to the listener's response to this expressiveness; the modes of perception and understanding that can be expected of skilled listeners, performers, analysts, and composers and the various manners in which these understandings can be manifest; the manner in which musical works exist and their relation to their instances or performances; and musical profundity. As well as reviewing the work of philosophers of music, a number of the chapters both draw on and critically reflect on current work by psychologists concerning music.

Keywords: philosophy of music, psychology, musical meaning, musical works, musical profundity, expressiveness

Bibliographic Information

Print publication date: 2011Print ISBN-13: 9780199608775
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199608775.001.0001

Few works attempt to provide an overview of philosophy of music. (However, see also Reference Works and Textbooks.) The most notable exceptions are the three-volume collection of edited primary texts assembled by Lippman 1986–1990, the histories of Western musical aesthetics provided in Lippman 1992 and Bowman 1998, and the cumulative impact of the essays commissioned for Alperson 1994 and Stock 2007 and those collected in Alperson 1998. However, Lippman 1986–1990 overemphasizes the modern period. As a corrective supplementation, Strunk 1998 is the best collection, providing numerous primary texts from ancient Greece. Hamilton 2007 and Alperson 1998 usefully question the implicit elitism of concentrating on Western classical music. Due to the diversity of viewpoints in philosophy, readers should approach each of these works with an awareness of its editorial or authorial perspective and its resulting limitations.

  • Alperson, Philip, ed. What Is Music? An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music. Rev. ed. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994.

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    A collection of essays that opens with Francis Sparshott’s lengthy overview of philosophy of music as it looked in the 1980s (pp. 33–98), followed by thirteen essays on various topics, many by leading scholars. There is an extensive (but dated) bibliography. The emphasis is on analytic philosophy.

  • Alperson, Philip, ed. Musical Worlds: New Directions in the Philosophy of Music. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.

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    This book republishes and supplements a special issue of Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, The Philosophy of Music. Taken as a whole, this diverse set of essays provides an excellent introduction to the range of topics explored in recent philosophy of music.

  • Bowman, Wayne D. Philosophical Perspectives on Music. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    Organized chronologically, this relatively accessible textbook begins with Greek antiquity and ends with feminism and postmodernism. A good source on continental philosophy of music but cursory in its treatment of analytic approaches. The bibliography is similarly unbalanced.

  • Hamilton, Andy. Aesthetics and Music. London: Continuum, 2007.

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    Organized around selected major topics, Hamilton engages the views of major historical and contemporary writers and supports Critical Theory. It is unique among overviews in emphasizing the elitism that emerges when philosophy of music restricts itself to consideration of Western classical music. Contains a useful bibliography.

  • Lippman, Edward A., ed. Musical Aesthetics: A Historical Reader. 3 vols. Aesthetics in Music 4. New York: Pendragon, 1986–1990.

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    Each volume offers edited selections of important contributions to the field, with English translations of all non-English texts. Volume 1 covers antiquity through the 18th century, Volume 2 covers the 19th century, and Volume 3 covers the 20th century through John Cage but neglects analytic philosophy’s impact on the field.

  • Lippman, Edward A. A History of Western Musical Aesthetics. London and Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

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    A chronological exposition of major ideas about music in Western thought. It contains informative chapters on antiquity and the 18th and 19th centuries, but Lippman’s antipathy toward analytic philosophy results in an unbalanced account of more recent philosophy.

  • Stock, Kathleen, ed. Philosophers on Music: Experience, Meaning, and Work. Mind Association Occasional series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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    This edited collection of ten contemporary essays concentrates on three topics: ontology, musical expression, and musical meaning. It offers an overview of major topics from the perspective of analytic philosophy, and the editor’s introductory overview is very clear. However, several of the essays are specialized and narrow in focus.

  • Strunk, Oliver, ed. Greek Views of Music. Vol. 1 of Source Readings in Music History. Rev. ed. Edited by Leo Treitler and Thomas J. Mathiesen. New York: Norton, 1998.

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    This collection provides English translations of a range of documents and is a useful supplement to Lippman 1986–1990, Vol. 1. However, the editorial focus is very broad and some selections contain limited philosophical content.

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