RMA Report

The below report, written by Suzie Wilkins, originally appeared in the April 2010 edition of the Newsletter of the Royal Musical Association.

Music and Philosophy: A Royal Musical Association Study Day in association with the British Society of Aesthetics

King’s College London, 20th Feb 2010

The very expression ‘Music and Philosophy’ covers an almost overwhelming breadth of topics and invites countless debates and discussions, many of which raise questions about the fundamental definitions of music and its role in our understanding of the world. This Study Day, generously funded by the RMA, the British Society of Aesthetics and the Arts and Humanities Research Council and supported in kind by King’s College London, aimed to encourage a dialogue between the two disciplines. It is impossible to relate the papers to one common theme, although issues within aesthetics proved a popular area of enquiry. The event took place at King’s College London on February 20th 2010 and was attended by about 100 delegates.

The day was opened by Julian Dodd, who gave a comprehensive, though to some delegates’ tastes overly so, overview of the various stances on the ongoing debates over authenticity. He gave a convincing argument that authenticity is reached more through an insightful interpretation than an accurate performance and therefore that it is this facet that gives historically informed performances their value. After this, Andrew Bowie presented his work on language and music in analytical and European philosophy.

The day then continued with a series of parallel sessions, broken up by a keynote address on philosophy and the myths of music history by Mark Evan Bonds, an engaging presentation which focussed on how seemingly opposite viewpoints can often lead to similar scholarly results, with a particular focus on the myth of the great opposition between Wagner and Hanslick.

As the day progressed there was some bias from delegates towards the more philosophical talks (with Nietzsche proving a particular favourite) although attendance for all the papers was good and a keen sense of scholarship and debate was to be found even in the smaller groups.

Erkki Huovinen and Tobias Pontara gave a collaborative paper on intuitions and evidence in theories of musical expressivity which discussed how some methods within an analytic philosophy of art are better understood as aesthetic criticism. This talk was structured over an examination of some of the key theories of musical expressivity, such as those by Levinson and Matravers, and these were presented very clearly in their Powerpoint slides, which made the talk particularly accessible to people not expert in the field.

There was some critical discussion about the connotations of the word ‘intention’ after Elisa Negretto’s paper in which she argued that anticipation and expectation are two different entities and that this often overlooked difference has important ramifications for examinations of aesthetic meaning. After this, Philip Letts produced a closely argued paper in response to some of Andrew Kania’s work and its implications for musical ontology.

Two particularly well-attended papers were given at the end of the day by Stefan Lorenz Sorgner, on Empfindungen; and Julian Johnson, who gave a talk utilising some well-chosen (and well-edited!) musical examples, which cast a new angle on the relationships between music and language as well as music and philosophy.

Overall, the day introduced some interesting arguments hopefully to be resumed at later dates. Many thanks must go to the organisers Tomas McAuley and Víctor Durà-Vilà.

Suzie Wilkins (University of Sussex)