Phenomenology as the Basis of Musical Analysis

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Arts and Humanities | Music | Philosophy


Brian Campbell, Music; Emily Esch, Philosophy


This essay starts with the premise that music is an experiential phenomenon. That is, in order for music to exist, in addition to the actual sound, there must be a listener whose mind organizes the sound in such a way that the sonic experience is presented as music. Further, the goal of music theory is to gain an understanding of music without necessarily appealing to factors outside of the musical experience. Because music is essentially an experienced phenomenon, music-theoretical claims ought to have their foundation in the musical experience. Phenomenology (the study of experience) provides a way to examine this foundation. I examine three specific music-theoretical methodologies (Schenkerian analysis, Narmour's implication-realization model, and Hatten's correlation-based theory of meaning) as well as the phenomenology of musical experience. I argue that substantive theoretical claims in all three theories are based to some degree on music phenomenology. In particular, I argue high-level syntactic structures are a result of the listener's feelings, be they emotional or general senses of motion or coherence, during the musical experience.