Modes of reading

The more familiar a piece of music, the more I am fascinated by the interpretive claims made on it by the musicologist, the performer, the listener, the recording engineer, the advertiser, the anthologist and many others involved in its circulation.

Within literary studies the conversation continues about the credibility of various kinds of reading such as (to use current terms) the surface reading, the close reading, the distant, the philological, the hermeneutic, the symptomatic, the reparative, the paranoid, the affirmative, the cognitive, and others. It would be interesting to test some of these approaches by using them to read scores in musical analysis.

For example, I can imagine readings of Rachmaninoff’s iconic 18th Paganini variation based on the original manuscript (philological), structure (close), cultural origins (symptomatic), recording history (distant), or neurophysiological reception (cognitive).  Furthermore, on the level of actualization, a performer may give the piece a surface (Lang) or a hermeneutic (Trifonov) reading. On the occasion of reception, a listener may give it a (life-celebrating) affirmative or (affect-restoring) reparative reading. Thus I can see the scholar, the musician, and the concertgoer drawing on this broad repertoire of readings to mobilize different approaches to classical pieces.

This is the subject of endless discussions with Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” who faces every day these as well as additional reading possibilities as a collaborative pianist and pedagogue. Our discussions often circle back to the literary domain to speculate about what the study and teaching of literature might learn from the practices of musical performance, specifically, what a performative reading and master class teaching of literature would entail.

November 3, 2017

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