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It follows that rather a lot of the book is not about music at all, but only about the way that we talk about it. And yet some of the most interesting essays manage to combine the two in almost equal measure -- something that the general reader, as opposed to the academic, will probably be grateful for. Tippet's intensely significant re-working of Schubert's 'Die Liebe Farbe' from Die Schöne Müllerin, for example, which forms and informs the critical central scene of The Knot Garden. Or Busoni's life-long predilection for re-composing Bach, for another. Less specifically but much more universally are the general issues involved in performance, interpretation and above all, in improvisation -- issues essentially of proprietorship, I suppose, of whose 'work' you're actually dealing with.

Some of the papers, I have to say, are pretty turgid. Post-structuralist jargon, and just bad English, inflates really quite simple matters into impenetrable socio-musicological mandarinese. As a mild example I offer the following:

The first striking distinction in these definitions of, and synonyms for, the English word 'work' is that between, on the one hand, work in its original sense (or work experienced by the majority of people who have ever worked) and, on the other hand, work as the tangible out-come of work in its primary sense.

I can't see how he is distinguishing between a 'primary' and an 'original' sense. Or, if he is, the distinction is not 'striking' to my dull, old mind. I think he (Philip Tagg, co-founder of The International Association for the study of Popular Music) is really just trying to say that the word 'work' is both a noun and a verb.

There's worse than that, far worse: veritable smogs of allonic, syntagmic, hypertextual, sub-categorically indifferentiated, parametrical transtextuality, and -- though I hope it's only by coincidence -- it all comes from the Popular Music Camp.

But there's also a good deal of finely wrought, clearly communicative English which is a pleasure to read, and none more so than Reinhard Strohm's essay (Oxford-Heather Professor of Music) which, it seems to me, systematically and convincingly dismantles the whole chronological and epistemological edifice of assumptions upon which much of the criticism of the idea of the piece of music as Work is based. He persuades me that the premises of the critical view are themselves unsound. Lydia Goehr, whose book The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works is really the eminence grise behind a great deal of the present book, is allowed, in the final essay, to answer back. She, however, does not convince, I think.

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Copyright © 12 January 2003 Peter Dale, Danbury, Essex, UK


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