Engaging with interpretation means engaging with somebody’s relation to music. However, who is this ‘somebody’? We can concentrate on at least two sites here: first, the site of the musician/performer (Jerold Levinson would call this a ‘performative interpretation’) and second, the site of the listener, who interprets a performance which is itself an interpretation of a musical work (Levinson’s ‘critical interpretation’). And, what about the composer? Perhaps s/he can be considered the first interpreter of her/his music.
Dealing with interpretation in music means evaluating what exactly is subjected to interpretation. Should we pay attention to the intentions of the composer as, for example, Peter Kivy proposes? In other words, is it important to know how a certain composer (would have) performed her/his own work? Or is it sufficient to pay close attention to the score? And how far can someone go before the performance is no longer considered a (re)presentation of that particular piece? Perhaps we should distinguish between the score and the work as Roman Ingarden suggests when he states that on the one hand the score guarantees the identity of a work whereas on the other hand it is nothing more than a schematic representation of a work. Paying attention first of all to the work itself might imply that we prefer to let the music speak instead of its author. It might imply that we agree with the idea that a musical piece always says more than what its author intended. Are various interpretations, that is, readings of a particular piece in different contexts, only possible because the work is somehow detached from its producer?
Considering various interpretations: perhaps what is interpreted in music are other, previous interpretations (cf. Gadamer’s Wirkungsgeschichte). Somehow, both musicians and listeners are influenced and formed by preceding performances, recordings, and other reflections upon that music.
Dealing with interpretation also means investigating the role of the reader (performer and/or listener). Is every new and original performance a further realization of the composition? In other words, is the possibility of coming up with more than one interpretation an intrinsic characteristic of a text? Is the work thus invariable, and are readers constantly discovering new aspects of it? Or should we emphasize the creativity of the reader and regard her/his interpretative acts as the completion, alteration and enrichment of a musical work, sometimes presented within the score? Do pieces become redefined with every performance, every listening act?
These questions can be regarded as a kind of framework within which this course is presented.
Authors whose texts will be discussed: Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jerold Levinson, Peter Kivy, Theodor Adorno, Bruce Ellis Benson, and many others.