Review of Peter Kivy. 2001. New Essays on Musical Understanding. Oxford University Press; and Lawrence Kramer. 2002. Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History. Berkeley: University of California Press

Goehr, Lydia

It is not obvious that one would choose to read these two new essay collections together, although their titles are similar. But it is useful to do so. Both are notable for their author’s display of wit, musicianship, and deep commitment to writing seriously about music. Both show the current interests of the field. Yet, radically opposed in method and style, each serves to illuminate the strengths and weaknesses of the other. Both are offered as unapologetic demonstrations of their methods. Peter Kivy is one of the most significant figures in the field of the analytic philosophy of music; Lawrence Kramer is a major contributor to the postmodern discourse of New Musicology. Kivy is a self-proclaimed purist about music; Kramer wants to account also for music’s being socially conditioned. Kivy’s brevity, clarity, and use of explicit argument contrast with Kramer’s length, indirection, and sometimes obscure style; Kramer’s richness and hermeneutical complexity contrast with Kivy’s sometimes historically-spare account. Both, however, share a certain modesty, because, whereas Kivy seems not to want to assert that there is anything too new in his New Essays, so Kramer seems content to move only “toward” a Critical History.


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August 18, 2022