Listening to Music with a Friend

While the solemn/Feierlish adagio of Bruckner’s 8th symphony is ebbing and flowing,

I am sitting by myself at Hill Auditorium

and thinking: What does it mean to listen to music with a friend sitting next to you? This is the focus of this blog: Listening to music, singing, dancing, or reading poetry with a Greek friend. I have been doing this all my life: Attending Lohengrin with Yiannis in Athens, Le Grand Macabre with Gregory in London, Dr. Atomic with Van in Chicago, Der Rosenkavalier with Pantelis in Vienna, and sharing songs and poems with all of them. What am I hearing when I listen to a piece with a friend, whether in public or at home? And why do I feel that our friendship does not simply need this listening but generates it?

In Bruckner’s 8th the horns, the harps, the cellos, the cymbals turn the Hill into St. Stephens’ Cathedral that Pantelis Polychronidis and I visit.  I feel that, like our friendship, which always unfolds and at the same time remains in suspension, this music keeps evolving without ever reaching a conclusion. I am in thrall of its texture and tension. What sound scape are my friend and I orchestrating?

People attend concerts with all kinds of company: with the one they are in love with, and touch their hand as they listen; with a colleague with whom they pursue a personal, more than professional, bonding; with a musician who can introduce them to some rules of composition and performance; with a total stranger with whom they strike an interesting conversation during intermission. In all these cases, the work is the central point of concentration even if ulterior motives also play a role. However, when listening with a friend, what matters is not the work itself but the occasion, because with him I am seeking resonance, not reason: “While reason implies the disjunction of subject and object, resonance involves their conjunction. Where reason requires separation and autonomy, resonance entails adjacency, sympathy, and the collapse of the boundary between perceiver and perceived” (Erlmann: Reason and Resonance: A History of Modern Aurality, 2010, p. 10). Over the last few decades many musicologists have been emphasizing the activity of listening (to or for) and comparing it to other modes of hearing, or even seeing, but I am not aware of any discussion of listening with. I would like to broaden Nancy’s following question to address listening with a friend: “What does it mean to exist according to listening, for it and through it, what part of experience and truth is put into play? What is at play in listening, what resonates in it, what is the tone of listening or its timbre?” (Nancy: Listening [2002], p. 5)

When listening with Pantelis I am not attuned to an autonomous work, I do not look for unity or meaning. Most musical experiences offer me a structured form and a comforting closure, and tuck me to bed. This particular one exposes the present to sheer development. It is time for reflection, not attention. At the same time, instead of letting me indulge in my interiority, the friend discourages me from becoming a hearing subject, an echoing ego. He keeps the world open for me in musical terms: he makes me listen in music.

Together we co-habit a resounding present, we achieve a presence in flux.  “This presence is thus not the position of a being-present: it is precisely not that. It is presence in the sense of an ‘in the presence of’ that itself is not an ‘in view of’ or a ‘vis-à-vis.’ It is an ‘in the presence of’ that does not let itself be objectified or projected outward. That is why it is first of all presence in the sense of a present that is not a being (at least not in the intransitive, stable, consistent sense of the word), but rather a coming and a passing, an extending and a penetrating” (Nancy 13).

In the friend’s resonating presence I am not an interpreter of the internal necessity of an artistic structure. At an early stage I listen to how music listens to itself and later I listen to the two of us listening to each other. Paraphrasing Heidegger, Derrida says that “Dasein carries with it the friend itself, and not only its voice. … I hear and carry the friend with me in hearing its voice” (Derrida, “Heidegger’s Ear” in John Sallis, ed.: Reading Heidegger, 1993, p. 164). This is the music we make together. Musical time with Pantelis is caring for our friendship; it is the melos in the epimeleia tou eterou eautou. Furthermore, the voice of my friend “is what permits Dasein to open itself to its own potentiality-for-being” (172). Philia/friendship is an abstraction. For example, it may include anybody in the same auditorium listening attentively to Bruckner. But Heidegger “does not speak of friendship, of the concept or the general essence of friendship, but of the friend, of someone, of a Dasein in the singular whose voice alone … opens in a way the hearing of Dasein” (173). The philos/friend is unique. Being there and making music with him means composing philein and opens the listening of Dasein.

This blog is about listening to music and making music with Pantelis Polychronidis.  It amplifies and annotates an essay I published this month (in Greek), “Πιάνο, Ποίηση, Παντελής.”


March 15, 2014

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2 Responses to Listening to Music with a Friend

  1. ELB says:

    Από το δοκίμιο: “[…] ενώ όλοι μας συσχετίζουμε συχνά ποίηση και μουσική (π.χ.σχολιάζοντας τους στίχους για τα τραγούδια που θαυμάζουμε), η αλληλεπίδραση των δύο τεχνών έχει μελετηθεί

    Something of which I’m completely ignorant, and which you may have already considered and explored, is “Word and Music Studies” or “Melopoetics” (e.g.,

    And something quite different, but potentially interesting in its own way: Peter C. Muir’s book _Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920_. In the last chapter, the author provides and analysis and an argument about the development of 12-bar blues as a *musical* structure (a structure which conventional ‘functional harmony’ music theorists have apparently sometimes or often struggled to ‘explain’), and he does so very much in terms of the relationship to the form of the *words* (to grossly oversimplify and twist: the difference between political verse [“Frankie and Johnny were lovers, O Lordy how they could love. They swore to be true to each other, just as true as the star above” etc.] and iambic pentameter [“I hate to see de evening sun go down, I hate to see de evening sun go down” etc.]) as these changed from proto-blues blues ballads to blues proper. See esp. around p. 204.

    Finally: I thought of this blog again last night as I was reading Graham Johnson’s liner notes in Hyperion’s Schubert edition, vol. 4 (χρειάζομαι τις μεταφράσεις από τα γερμανικά ο κακομοίρης), in a short essay entitled, “Schubert and his Friends”–which you have likely before seen. I was especially struck by: “These songs are a by-product of the happiest moments Schubert had in his short life. It made him happy to give pleasure to the friends whose words […] Every time we hear a song with a so-called ‘weak’ poem by one of his friends, we should consider the background of affection and companionship that went into its making.” (


    • Vassilis Lambropoulos says:

      I’m familiar with Word & Music Studies. Unfortunately, an introverted project with next to no impact. Started in Austria by some scholars who now have their own book series and conferences but they basically talk among themselves and tend to be quite philological. Ditto for Dayan in Edinburgh – a loner who has not bothered to converse.
      Thanks for the Muir reference, I’ll look it up.
      Schubert & his circle is of great interest to me. I hope one day I’ll post something on his friendship with Mayrhofer. BTW, I do not know German and do not read notes. They happen to be my life-long passion.
      Thanks for reading me, I’m moved by your insightful attention!


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