The Musician as Interpreter

By (author) Paul Thom

Paperback - £20.95

Publication date:

15 May 2009

Length of book:

128 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271031996

Among the many practices in which musicians engage are several that may be viewed as modes of interpretation, a kind of interpretation that Paul Thom calls “performative” to contrast it with another kind he calls “critical.” The difference is that the latter discusses a musical work; the former presents or enacts it. This book aims at making the case for understanding these activities of transcribing, varying, and realizing music as all forms of interpretation and, indeed, for seeing performative interpretation overall as a paradigm of what interpretation is. Thom devotes a chapter to each of the three types and, to make his philosophical points musically concrete, provides a wealth of illustrations ranging from classical music to jazz and involving performers as diverse as Toscanini and Billie Holiday.

“Paul Thom’s latest book is a valuable and illuminating contribution to the philosophy of music. It focuses on a number of musical activities not often accorded sufficient attention by philosophers, such as the transcribing of works, the writing of variations, and the annotating of scores. Thom makes a persuasive case that activities of that sort, and even more so, that of musical performing, are modes of musical interpretation, and thus that musical interpretation is hardly the province of criticism alone, being instead something that pervades musical practice.”

—Jerrold Levinson, University of Maryland