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Nicholas Cook. Music, lmagination, and Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press / Clarendon Press, 1990.265 pp.

Kramer, Lawrence

Cook's topic is the relationship between musical experience-specifically the experience of Western art music since the mid-eighteenth century- and musicological discourse. His starting point is the fact that many people who know little or nothing about this music nonetheless take intense pleasure in it. He cites empirical studies suggesting that what might be called the listener's working ignorance of the music is no hindrance to such pleasure, and that working knowledge is no help. For many listeners, formal elements as simple as literal repetition and tonal closure go unrecognized, leaving dim hope for the recognition of large-scale tonal relations and complex structures like sonata form. Even musically knowledgeable listeners, one study suggests, tend to listen knowledgeably only when they have some explicit reason to do so. Music, Imagination, and Culture is an intelligent and meticulously argued book. Ironically, given its argument, it is at its best in discussing esoteric matters like fingering and- notation; Kant's joke casts a long shadow. But taken as a whole, the book is,or should be, a source of consternation. It sets itself squarely against the malaise that increasingly bedevils the culture of Western art music, but is itself a symptom of that malaise. To paraphrase Karl Kraus's famous wisecrack about psychoanalysis, this book is the sickness of which it believes itself to be the cure.

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Current Musicology

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Academic Units
Music
Publisher
Columbia University
Published Here
February 6, 2015
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