Monday, June 03, 2013

The Pure Musical Experience

Music Alone: Philosophical Reflections on the Purely Musical ExperienceMusic Alone: Philosophical Reflections on the Purely Musical Experience 
by Peter Kivy

"Of the fine arts, music is, notoriously, the only one that requires a kind of technical knowledge and conspicuously technical vocabulary in order to "speak with the learned."  Hardly any but musicians ever acquire these things." - Peter Kivy, "Preface", p x

Peter Kivy commences this thoughtful book with one of my favorite words: "why". Specifically he asks: "Why Music?"(p 1) This metaphysical beginning is appropriate for a book that explores the shape of music; its surface and depth and the whatness of music. His subject is the philosophy of music, that is the study of fundamental questions about the nature of music and our experience of it. However, unlike philosophy of science, say, the philosophy of an artistic practice, such as music, is one that most people have a significant background in, merely as a result of being members of a musical culture. Music plays a central role in many people's lives.
In this collection of essays Kivy states that by music he means "the kind which Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and Beethoven's C#-minor String Quartet are paradigm cases"(p 14). He fascinates the reader with discussions of music as stimulating the passions or music as a form of mimesis. The mimetic view of music can be difficult to discern in more abstract music, but is particularly visible in "program music" such as that popularized by the Romantic composers like Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. Indeed a strong supporter of Berlioz's music, Jacques Barzun, argues that "all music is programmatic, explicitly or implicitly, in more than one way"(p53).
Through sharing philosophic thoughts on how to understand music, its movement and emotional impact on the listener, Peter Kivy presents reflections that challenge the reader (presumably a music-lover and fellow listener) to meditate on the nature of the experience of music. This reader found the discussions illuminating with clarity and elegance that honored the experience of music.

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