• Who's 'I' in Music?: Unmasking the Musical Persona

    Lodewijk Muns (see profile)
    Society for Music Theory (SMT)
    Music and literature, Music and philosophy, Musical analysis, Aesthetics, Musicology
    Item Type:
    aesthetics of music, persona, Ludwig van Beethoven, Stephen Davies, Peter Kivy, Music analysis
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    According to conventional literary theory, when we interpret the text of a poem or work of fiction as a condensed or represented speech act, this implies a hypothetical speaker. The speaker may be a well-defined narrator who may also be a participant in the action. Often, however, the text offers few or no clues as to who is ‘speaking’. In such cases, the speaker is referred to as a ‘persona’; lacking any identity except that derived from the speech act, it is like an empty mask. This literary concept has with some plausibility been applied to music, specifically, instrumental music as it has gone through a process of literarization in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The application of the persona concept to music is based on the premise that music may represent a form of utterance, expression or thought. As any action implies an agent, this premise implies an utterer, expresser or thinker – the ‘musical persona’. This persona should not be confused with the ‘implied composer’, which is an image of the composer that may be created by the listener on the basis of her listening experience. The answer to the question ‘who’s (musically) speaking?’ is less interesting than the fact that sometimes it makes sense to ask this question. The mere sensation of human, subjective agency will cause us to approach the music with different expectations than when it is an autonomous, abstract process. It is through the performer’s enactment that the persona may most convincingly come to life.
    Last Updated:
    2 years ago
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