Music, aesthetics of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M030-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved August 13, 2022, from

6. Musical representation

Can music without words represent such extramusical things as bird calls, bubbling brooks, thunderstorms and steam locomotives or somehow narrate a programme or tell a story with the aid of sounds and perhaps also a title? Some have argued that while music is not primarily a representational art, it may nevertheless sometimes succeed in representing such things (Kivy 1984).

Others have claimed that music at best imitates or evokes or calls to mind such things but does not represent them (Scruton 1976). For it is claimed that music does not resemble these things to the degree required for representation, resemblance along with intention to represent being necessary conditions for musical representation. At best, it has been suggested that music may only represent other sounds, and when it comes to musical works, there is some reason to think that they only quote phrases or passages from other musical works rather than represent them.

A related issue concerns whether grasping the representational character of a musical work is essential to understanding or enjoying it. Here if the representational aspect of a work is often essentially connected to its expressiveness, and the latter is essential in understanding and enjoying music, then it would follow that representation also matters.

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