Ontmusic9. What is a musical performance?
Performances raise many philosophical questions amongst which are the following.
The primary purpose of the performing arts is to prepare and present 'artistic performances', performances that either are themselves the appreciative focuses of works of art or are instances of other things that are works of art. In the latter case, we have performances of what may be termed 'performed works', as is generally taken to be so with performances of classical music and traditional theatrical performances. In the former case, we have what may be termed 'performance-works', as, for example, in free improvisations.
- What kind of thing is a performed work?
- How is it appreciated through its performances?
- Is 'authenticity' an artistically relevant quality of performances of performed works, and, if so, why?
- How much of what goes on in the performing arts is rightly viewed as the performance of performed works?
- Artistic performances, whether or not they are of performed works, raise philosophical questions of their own.
- Can a performance itself be rightly viewed as a work of art?
- How do improvisation and rehearsal enter into the performing arts, and how do they bear on the appreciation of artistic performances?
- What role does the audience play in such performances?
“There are in general two modes or phases of performative interpretation, which we may characterize roughly as follows. The first involves deciding what the score ideally is—what work was actually written, where there are problems with deciphering the manuscript, or what work was really intended by the composer, when there is reason to doubt whether the score as we have it accurately represents those intentions. The second mode or phase consists in deciding to play a score, taken as unequivocal or uncontroverted, in a particular way, in effect electing particular values of its defining, though never absolutely specific, parameters of tempo, rhythm, dynamics, accent, and phrasing.” (bold not author's)
“These performances are carried out by persons who have learned how to interpret the code of the score as a set of instructions for action, and who have executed this set of instructions successfully.
- Jerrold Levinson, The Pleasures of Aesthetics: Philosophical Essays, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996, p. 60.
- Richard Cochrane, “Playing by the Rules: A Pragmatic Characterization of Musical Performances,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 58, no. 2, 2000, pp. 135–142. www.jstor.org/stable/432092.
Bibliography on Performances
Davies, David. “Works and Performances in the Performing Arts”. Philosophy Compass, 4 (2009): 744–755. doi:10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00235.x