1. On Interpretation. Music as Text

The term interpretation, as applied to musical performance, had no currency before 1800 and came into parlance only during the nineteenth century, with the growing separation of the roles of composer and performer, in a parallel wave to that of the emergence of the ‘work-concept’ (as defined by Goehr, 1992). The ‘work-concept’ ‘regulates not only our musical attitudes but also our social practices’ (Taruskin, 1995: 10), imposing on performers ‘a truly stifling regimen by radically hardening and patrolling what had formerly been a fluid, easily crossed boundary between the performing and composing roles’ (ibid.). In the twentieth century the concept and practice of ‘musical interpretation’ became normative for performers, listeners and scholars (Danuser, 1994-2007), largely because of its dependence on the idea of a canonical repertory that was performed by diverse artists. Rooted in positivist thinking (Hirsch, 1976), ‘musical interpretation’ has often been used to signify the way in which notation should be interpreted—pointing to a text-based understanding of the musical work. Predicated upon the existence of a fixed source text (the score), which preserves an idealised concept of the authorised ‘musical work’, and on a performer bringing the musical experience itself into renewed existence, the concept of ‘interpretation’ implies a centripetal approach from the performer towards the supposed ‘essence’ of the artwork itself and it is strongly related to other time-bound concepts, such as Werktreue, ‘authenticity’, ‘composer’s intention’, and, crucially, to certain editorial practices, particularly the Urtext. Nowadays, however, when we see one Urtext-Edition often replaced by another, it has become clear that Urtext-Editions cannot operate as originally intended. Moreover, printed scores are historically situated, having limited temporal validity. Deconstructions of the Urtext-utopia (Fellerer, 1980; Feder, 1987; Grier, 1996; Gülke, 2006; De Assis, 2009 a.o.) have revealed that a score is less a fixed source than it is a multi-layered, historically constructed artifact. The editing of music is now considered as inherently dynamic, and the edition of a given piece is as contingent upon the historical context of its origination as it is upon the historicity of its concrete realisation. Therefore, the idea of a clearly defined ‘source text’ tends to vanish, and with it a major part of the hermeneutic foundation of the concept of musical interpretation. This suggests that the concept needs to be rethought and/or challenged.

Read further: 2. The Shift to Performativity. Music as ‘Tones-In-Motion’