PhD Course in Musicology at Department of Musicology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, May 8-12, 2000
I would hope to discuss the concept of improvisation as it exists in a sampling of musical cultures, the ways in which improvisation has been described by ethnomusicologists, and the role of improvisation in the history of ethnomusicologists' taxonomies of music-making. The role - in general - of interpretation in the history of ethnomusicological literature would also be discussed, but with special reference to the contrastive or complementary notions of improvisation and "composition". Illustrations would come largely from the classical musics of Iran and South India, and from Native American music. I suspect this lecture will take some 75 minutes.
In Music History (I use this disciplinary label in the widest sense), no less than in the historical study of virtually all other subjects, there is a marked tendency to pursue the meanings of the discipline's objects from the past (whether in the past will be one of my thematic questions). For music historians in particular this has meant interpreting works of music in the light of a wide range of contexts--cultural, sociological, political, economic, psychological, and all possible intersections of any or all of these dimensions (gender-focussed interpretations, for example, engage all such intersections). Musical works, in turn, are read, explicitly or implicitly, as signs of the condition of those dimensions of their worlds. This tendency can itself be interpreted in a wide variety of ways--as fashion, as methodological or ethical imperative, as reaction against the micro-analysis of narrow specialization and "positivist" epistemology in the past, as plain academic ambition. In any case it is a condition of present-day scholaly culture, and I do not intend to pursue its history or motives. I will, however, point out that some of its products amount to an unacknowledged recycling of older styles of historical interpretation.
Interpretations can be differentiated according to the measure and explicitness of their claims to represent music of the past as functioning within the contexts of those dimensions of its worlds, consequently as expressions and reflections of the condition of its worlds, and then according to the measure and explicitness of theirclaims that the interpretations are consistent with the intentions and reception of the music in its worlds. Many works of music criticism or hermeneutics, of course, make no such claims at all. I shall consider some examples of such apparently anachronistic or a-contextual interpretations and ask whether that is a deficit, whether such interpretations can stand up in the face of the heavy current emphasis on "thick description." On the other hand we have been offered interpretations framed as disclosures of hitherto obscured meanings and significance of works, formulated in terms of the historical contexts already mentioned. But the use of such contextual language has not necessarily been supported by research either into the conditions of the worlds which those works are said to reflect, or into their functions and reception in their worlds. That leaves as the primary source for such interpretations the works themselves: social, political, and cultural meanings have been read out of the musical text. I shall raise the questions whether it can yield such information, i.e. whether such meaning can be immanent in the text, as is implied; what analytical procedures would be required to force it out, and whether this entails a recycling of the very musical analysis that has fallen under criticism for its limited approach to musical meaning.
In all of this we are confronted at the present time by a great unclarity about what can be and is being claimed, so far as the music of the past is concerned, and indeed about whether it is understanding of the music of the past that is the objective (or even what it means to say "understanding the music of the past"), rather than the exploitation of music of the past for the presentation of images of music's participation in the world in view of the interpreter. I shall suggest that the latter, too, is a perfectly sound position to take, and does not require to be disguised as "historicism." My appeal to the students will be for clarity and explicitness about the objectives and the claims, and for responsibility to those objectives and claims when it comes to the reasoning and evidence that are called forth by them.
As the title indicates, this lecture concerns the question of temporality in music, and how it takes shape as narrative when articulated by a voice. The conception of voice is chosen not primarily because my music-examples are from vocal music, works by Claudio Monteverdi, but to indicate a phenomenological point ov view: that music gives sense because it directs itself to us. In this respect, the concept of music's voice (or voices), can be just as relevant to instrumental music, where we indeed also speak of voice. Inspired by Nietzsche's view, that historicism is a sign of moral weakness, (or by Walter Benjamin's rephrasing of the same point in «Das Passagen-Werk», that historicism is the strongest narcotic of our time and what counts is instead to account for «das Nachleben des Verstandenen»), I go directly to St. Augustins classical investigation of temporality, in the XIth Book in his «Confessions». Here St. Augustin directs himself to God, in order to explore the limits of (human) time, an investigation where music plays an important role through the concepts of «intentio» and «distentio».
After thus having (tried to) establish a relation between 'directedness' and 'music', I move on to Dante's «Vita Nuova», Dante's expression of his most profound feelings for Beatrice and at the same time his explanation of how he became a (great) poet. Here I will try to show how the artwork, in this case a strange book, comes between the speaker and whoever he is directing his speech to. This takes place in a situation where oral cultur transforms itself to a written one, and a poetic practice takes shape where the inscription of the poet's voice in a work becomes crucial.
Dante became paradigmatic, also for the poetical/musical practice where Claudio Monteverdi is situated. Being one of the foremost exponents for a new music where musical expressivity is concidered a major achievement, his madrigals and dramatic music is most often thematized through concepts of 'mimesis' and 'rhetoric'. That is to say that the problem of representattion in music here makes its full impact. Going into three examples of music by Monteverdi - «Possente spirto» from his first opera «Orfeo», «Lamento d'Arianna», the monodic version of the most famoues piece in his second opera, «Arianna» and the concerted madrigal «Non havea Febo ancora (Lamento della Ninfa)» from manty years later - I will try to find out how the terms introduced by the analysis of St. Augustin and Dante is developed and transformed in Monteverdi's musical practice, in a way that seems to indicate limitations in 'mimesis' and 'rhetoric' as ways of describing, or conceptualizing Monteverdi's music.
These descriptions of how a voice directs itself to us hopefully then will give an opportunity to some concluding remarks regarding the relation of description to explanation (or perhaps between phenomenology and theory) in musicology, which I understand is one of the reasons why we are gathered together in this seminar.
From the phenomenologically diverse praxes of making scores, reading them, performing them, and listening to the consequences, it has been deemed critically fruitful to posit a unitary musical 'work' that exists, metaphysically, at a point of convergence between them. This paper will examine the price to be paid for such a conceptual construct, with particular reference to the work of Franco Donatoni.
Latest update: February 16, 2000