Music, aesthetics of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M030-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved May 17, 2022, from

7. Musical performance

Philosophical issues about musical performance revolve around why and to what degree performers should be faithful to the composer’s intentions, and what justifies performers’ interpretive freedom. On the one hand, it has been claimed that performers have a moral obligation to composers to perform their music as specified, and that it might discourage future composers from composing if this was not common practice. On the other hand, it has also been argued that composers are not infallible judges of how their works might sound best, and others - conductors, performers, critics - may have better ideas as to how a work should be played so as to sound best, which after all is what we seek in musical experience.

A different issue concerns why period music should be played on authentic, historical instruments, especially if it sounds better on modern instruments (Kivy 1995). Here one school of thought argues that besides the historical value of authenticity, we owe it to composers of the past to play their music the way they wanted, and also that it broadens our horizons to hear music of the past the way it would have sounded. Others claim that older music played on authentic instruments may sound strange to our ears and we should instead seek to maximize aesthetic value by using modern instruments with their greater dynamic and expressive range and power. Perhaps the way out here is to be a pluralist, and value both sorts of performance (Kivy 2002).

Other issues concern whether improvising is a kind of performing; what it means to perform a work well, or to perform it in the first place; how performers’ interpretation differs from critical interpretation; and how recording technology affects the performance and reception of music (see Art, performing).

Citing this article:
Trivedi, Saam. Musical performance. Music, aesthetics of, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M030-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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