The Complicator Vol. 32- The Four Fields of Musical Inquiry

Tent_camp.jpgPhilip Alperson, in the introduction to “The Philosophy of Music,” describes “the four broad areas of music which were to become standard areas of inquiry in Western thought” about music. They are:

Formalist, which is “concerned with the qualities of musical form itself.”

Expressive, which is focused on “the connection between music and human emotion.”

Metaphysical, concerned with the “ontological, cosmological and religious significance of music.”

Ethical, concerned with “the effects and role of music within society.”

I read and hear lots of you talking about how the music feels, how it makes you feel, and things like that, so I bet that the expressive camp would be well-populated. And the idea of an ethical perspective on music might help clarify that muddy thing that so many people seem to be concerned with when they talk about how vapid and empty some music seems to be.

Maybe the formalist camp would be reserved for the most esoteric and avant-garde among us; and the metaphysical might be populated by new age listeners and certain composers.

Of course, we’d wander between camps. We might be in two or three at once, even.

Even so, do you think you can place yourself in one or more of these groups? What are your concerns when you listen to music? If you have no concerns, does that automatically mean you are an “expressive” listener? Are there any things that are missing from this list?

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