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Stanley Cavell on Modern Music: "Music Discomposed" and "A Matter of Meaning It" after Forty Years

Stanley Cavell on Modern Music: "Music Discomposed" and "A Matter of Meaning It" after Forty Years Cavell's influential mid-1960s critique of the "new music" of the postwar era poses significant challenges for contemporary composers who value this music. As with postmodernist critics, he has ably identified shortcomings in justifications for recent modernist music. With the benefit of time, however, the distance between Cavell's and the postmodernists' views concerning subjectivity and the role of the arts in defining it have become increasingly clear. In Cavell's scenario, a contemporary listener or critic confronted with the new music faces a sort of existentialist crisis: he or she is unable to individually affirm the value of a music that conforms to no recognizable models for music yet accepts the fact that this music is, according to Cavell's model of modernism, the fruit of an inexorable historical development. Cavell's interest in this dilemma stems from the wider aims of his philosophical project, particularly his focus on the perils of the nihilism he finds evident in deterministic and mechanistic theories of the arts. In this light, in both "Music Discomposed" and "A Matter of Meaning It," Cavell appears to be using new music primarily as a vehicle to articulate his concerns and to criticize formalist theories of artistic interpretation, such as that of Wimsatt and Beardsley. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of an effort on Cavell's part to engage this music with the same seriousness that is evident in his writings on modernist authors and visual artists. Toward the end of the article, attention is drawn to the ethical responsibility, given the situation Cavell has sketched, for a critic of the modern arts to make a commitment, either to an existing modern music or to a possible future music. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of Music Theory Duke University Press

Stanley Cavell on Modern Music: "Music Discomposed" and "A Matter of Meaning It" after Forty Years

Journal of Music Theory , Volume 54 (1) – Mar 1, 2010

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Publisher
Duke University Press
Copyright
Duke University Press
ISSN
0022-2909
eISSN
1941-7497
DOI
10.1215/00222909-2010-010
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Cavell's influential mid-1960s critique of the "new music" of the postwar era poses significant challenges for contemporary composers who value this music. As with postmodernist critics, he has ably identified shortcomings in justifications for recent modernist music. With the benefit of time, however, the distance between Cavell's and the postmodernists' views concerning subjectivity and the role of the arts in defining it have become increasingly clear. In Cavell's scenario, a contemporary listener or critic confronted with the new music faces a sort of existentialist crisis: he or she is unable to individually affirm the value of a music that conforms to no recognizable models for music yet accepts the fact that this music is, according to Cavell's model of modernism, the fruit of an inexorable historical development. Cavell's interest in this dilemma stems from the wider aims of his philosophical project, particularly his focus on the perils of the nihilism he finds evident in deterministic and mechanistic theories of the arts. In this light, in both "Music Discomposed" and "A Matter of Meaning It," Cavell appears to be using new music primarily as a vehicle to articulate his concerns and to criticize formalist theories of artistic interpretation, such as that of Wimsatt and Beardsley. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of an effort on Cavell's part to engage this music with the same seriousness that is evident in his writings on modernist authors and visual artists. Toward the end of the article, attention is drawn to the ethical responsibility, given the situation Cavell has sketched, for a critic of the modern arts to make a commitment, either to an existing modern music or to a possible future music.

Journal

Journal of Music TheoryDuke University Press

Published: Mar 1, 2010

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