Monthly Archives: January 1997
Written for a course in the philosophy of music taken (by distance) through California State University, as part of a masters degree program in humanities. (Jan. 1997). During the length of the course students kept essentially a listener’s diary with prompt questions.
Questions on the thing itself
6 When—and where—does the piece exist?
This is a difficult question. Certainly, the piece exists when it is played, because I hear it. Or, at least, I hear something that is said to be Mozart’s “Menuet” No. 6 for Piano, in D Major. However, I feel this is only a probabilistic venture into certainty. I can imagine a situation or two where the being of the piece as a piece of music could be called into question. For instance, if I were a long lost tribesman just emerging from the Stone Age (which is actually still happening in places like Papua New Guinea) and had no idea what “music” is, what should I think were the menuet to come suddenly sounding through hidden stereo speakers in the grinning anthropologist’s field office? Would the sounds transmitted fly come together in my awareness as a coherent cohesive unity, even if I didn’t understand its purpose and origin? Or would the composition erupt in my primitive mind like a sudden unusual chorus of bird twitterings, perhaps new to my experience, but unidentified as music? I like to think that the unity implied by the humanly manufactured sounds would somehow strike the primitive as something not only new to his experience but also as something of human origin, the piece perhaps resonating with a pitch and tone that mimic and utter the thinking processes of the primitive’s own mind, i.e., he is able to distinguish a self-reflexive analogy in the menuet that he cannot distinguish in the twittering of the birds. He can hear an expression of a condition, a response to being, that he can identify with, even if he cannot say to himself in his primitive tongue “that is a piece of music.”