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Musical MeaningToward a Critical History$
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Lawrence Kramer

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780520228245

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520228245.001.0001

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Hermeneutics and Musical History

Hermeneutics and Musical History

A Primer without Rules, an Exercise with Schubert

(p.11) 1 Hermeneutics and Musical History
Musical Meaning

Lawrence Kramer

University of California Press

Hermeneutics is defined as both the theory of interpretation and “the art of understanding.” It was strictly a text-based discipline, oblivious to music. The object of musical hermeneutics being to study musical meaning means that it is a discipline with no object at all. The prototypical music was purely for instrumental performance. Once “classical” genres of symphonic and chamber music took hold, the possibility of autonomous music was recast as the postulate that music is in essence autonomous. Autonomous music was a chimera that teased musical amateurs out of thought; it became partially symbolic in response to their desire for meaning but continually eluded the meaning it seemed to express. Unlike parable, ekphrastic paraphrase is supposed to ground itself in literal description, or at least the fiction or convention of literal description, no matter how figurative it otherwise becomes. Like parable, paraphrase always proceeds from the perception of a meaning that is conveyed through musical devices but not confined to them. Ekphrastic hope appears when writing on music rises to eloquence; Ekphrastic fear is a pervasive feature of musical criticism, almost an enabling convention.

Keywords:   hermeneutics, ekphrastic paraphrase, parable, ekphrastic hope, ekphrastic fear, Schubert

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