Interpretation, Narrativity, and Musical Performance

Cosper, David James, Department of Music, University of Virginia
Maus, Fred, Department of Music, University of Virginia

Interpretation, Narrativity, and Musical Performance David Cosper (Under the direction of Fred Everett Maus) The foundation of this dissertation is the notion that the variety of ways in which listeners experience the agency of musical performers is analogous to the variety of ways in which readers experience narrators in works of fiction. I find this way of thinking preferable to more common approaches based on perceived similarities between musical performance and the interpretation of literary texts, which I see as a recurrent conceptual glitch in many discursive approaches to performance that often stands in the way of speaking to listeners' experiences in meaningful ways. I suggest that narrative studies, itself a busy interdisciplinary project, offers a rich theoretical vocabulary with the potential to help bring the criticism and analysis of recorded musical performances into line with listeners' experiences of them. The body of the dissertation consists of three sample analyses of musical performances in various genres, using a theoretical model of musical performer as narrator. The first case study begins with the project of exploring and explaining differences between several performances of an individual piece of instrumental classical music, Franz Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy. In the following chapter, I analyze several recordings of jazz pianist Jaki Byard, suggesting that Byard's marginal position in mainstream jazz criticism may result from the way his music seems to flout several narrative discourses thought to be fundamental to analytical engagement with jazz performance. The final case study focuses on the music of the Icelandic pop singer Björk, whose distinctive narrative agency I find to be resonant with Mikhail Bakhtin's writing on literary narration. In these three case studies, I argue not for any particular ―hearing‖ of these recordings, but rather for an interdisciplinary approach I find to be responsive to a wider variety of listening experiences than many more common theoretical discussions. I hope to open up a space between several preexisting theoretical discourses in which it is possible to craft theoretical solutions specific to individual listeners' experiences of individual musical performances and to demonstrate that narrative theory can be a therapeutic and regenerative resource in the continuing project of developing new and useful ways of discussing musical performance.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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