In this paper I
begin to fashion a theory of musical form that I call historical
formalism. Historical formalism posits
that our perception of the formal properties of a musical work is informed by considerations
not only of artistic categories but also of the historical, sociopolitical, and
cultural circumstances within which that work was composed.
artistic perception, categories of art, contextualism, formalism, Kivy, Levinson,
musical form, Walton
1. Introduction: Form and
the philosophy of art
Form occupies a
primary role in philosophical discussions about art as, for instance, in Clive
Bell’s claim that “the essential quality in a work of [visual] art is
and Susanne Langer’s theory of art as expressive form.
In philosophical discussions of
music, form proves to be crucial. Formalists
regard it as one of the most important artistic aspects of a musical
work and some of the most influential theorists endorse formalist positions
about musical meaning.
Thus in On the Musically Beautiful,
Eduard Hanslick, godfather of the formalists in music, declares, “The content
of music is tonally moving forms.”
In this paper I discuss form as one of the most important artistic aspects of a
musical work. I argue, using a sample of the pertinent
philosophical literature, that even those knowledgeable discussants who grant
musical form its central role often fail to furnish a fully convincing account
of it. The
subject of musical form is a notoriously difficult topic and my present goal is
not to provide an exhaustive account of it. My aim, rather, is to offer
some preliminary thoughts toward a theory of musical form that may contribute positively
and pertinently to a philosophical analysis of music.
I call the theory of musical form that I begin to develop in this
paper historical formalism. Historical
formalism posits that our perception of a musical work’s formal properties
depends both on considerations of artistic categories and on knowledge of the historical, sociopolitical, and cultural
circumstances within which that work was composed. Historical formalism can be considered a
version of contextualism. Because it
makes room for a set of considerations that exceed the boundaries of the
art-historical (musico-historical) context, historical formalism is more
far-reaching than other forms of contextualism, particularly Kendall Walton’s
contextualist interpretation of artistic perception. My inclusion of a larger
set of considerations as relevant to the apprehension of a musical work’s form provides
evidence in favor of the claim that within the specifics of
perceiving its formal features, music is intrinsically interrelated with the cultural milieu in
which it is created.
I argue for historical formalism from the ground up. I start by
considering a basic view that understands musical form as a pure perceptual
Sections 2 and 3 I argue that such a
view is incomplete. I maintain that considerations of the musico-historical categories
to which a work belongs
have an impact on one’s perception of that work’s musical form. In Section 4, I expand the considerations that
for perceiving correctly a work’s musical form. I show that not
only are considerations of music history and theory relevant, but also that historical
(broadly construed), sociopolitical, and cultural considerations may be relevant.
I thereby clarify the advantages of historical formalism over more restrictive
versions of contextualism.
2. Aural-form and categorial-form
A commonsense view considers musical form as one aspect of a
musical work whose characterization is unproblematic. In such a view, what we
intend with musical form can be easily identified as those structural
properties featured in a musical work that can be heard in a performance. According
to such a characterization, the form of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony consists of all the melodic lines, chords,
harmonies, rhythms, etc., that one can hear when attending a performance of
that work. However, as soon as we think seriously about it, we quickly recognize
that the commonsense view is incomplete, and that musical form is more complex
than what it suggests.
Whittall notes, “musical form” is an ambiguous term. On the one hand, it can
refer to the structural properties that one can hear in the performance of a
musical work. On the other hand, musical form can also refer to “a generic
category (such as ternary, canon, sonata).” To
capture what Whittall is suggesting, I introduce a distinction between categorical-form and aural-form. Though implicitly
acknowledged in the theoretical debate (both philosophical and musicological)
about music, this paper is the first attempt to develop such a distinction in a
sustained way. I have a twofold aim in making this distinction: first, to solve
a terminological incoherence that troubles scholarly works even by
distinguished thinkers such as Peter Kivy;
and second, to provide a conceptual tool whose usefulness is validated by the
analysis of musical form developed in the discussion that follows.
I define categorial-form as
the musical form that refers to the particular musical genres (sonata, rondò,
etc.) that may be determined by factors such as architectonic structure,
harmonic language, typical rhythms, the instrumentation, as well as historical
and geographical origins. The categorial-form, rondò, for instance, is
characterized by a particular architectonic structure, divided into a series of
sections. The first section is regularly repeated between subsidiary couplets (episodes) and appears again at
the end of the composition. Schematically, the rondò’s structure can be
represented by ABAC … A, where A is the first section and B, C, etc., are the couplets. The
categorial-form dodecaphonic music is characterized instead by the use of a
particular method of composition whereby a predetermined set of twelve
nonidentical notes constitutes the basic material from which the composition is
Aural-form refers to the ordered set of structural properties that can be heard in a
performance. It is intrinsically related to features of sounds, such as their
frequency, loudness, or duration. These features are objects of aural perception—that is, objects that we
perceive primarily, though perhaps not exclusively, by means of sense organs
receptive to properties of sounds. I define structural properties as those
properties pertinent to our perception and critical assessment of an aural-form.
properties can be differentiated into four different types. A first type contains
those audible properties of sounds that depend on their physical constitution,
such as pitch (e.g., “being an E-flat”) and relations of pitch (e.g., “being a
major third”), duration (e.g., “being a quarter note”), dynamics (e.g., “being
a pianissimo”), and
timbre (e.g., “being mellow”). Call these tone properties.
A second type includes
structural properties that depend on the particular arrangement of tone
properties. Call these syntactical properties. Properties of harmonic,
polyphonic, melodic phrases and thematic organization, such as “being a
dominant-tonic cadence” and “being a theme in G major,” are syntactical
A third type of
structural property includes musically expressive properties. The exact
characterization of this type may well be controversial. Many, however, would
accept Budd’s account that a section of an aural-form “can be agitated,
restless, triumphant, or calm since it can possess the character of the bodily
movements which are involved in the moods and emotions that are given these
In other words, expressive properties are intrinsic to an aural-form and
capable of conveying certain aspects of human expressive behavior, in
particular those associated with the voice, which they translate into musical
A fourth type
includes what may be called broad-span properties, which depend on
overall relations of similarity, identity, contrast, etc., among syntactical
properties drawn from different sections of a work’s aural-form. A repetition of the first theme is a
broad-span property of a particular section of an aural-form. Such a property
depends on the perceived similarity between a section characterized by the
syntactical property “being a theme” and a previous section possessing the
syntactical property “being the first theme.”
I believe that
the perception of the structural properties of aural-form often
depends upon considerations of categorial-form. For
instance, the unexpected absence of the repetition of the exposition may very
well have an impact on the expressive properties of an instance of sonata form.
Consider, for example, Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Opus 59, No. 1. The first movement of the Quartet is in eighteenth-century
sonata form. The categorial-form eighteenth-century
sonata form is characterized by three sections: first, an exposition that contains
the first subject in tonic key and a second subject in the dominant (and
sometimes further subjects, often repeated); a development follows, in which
the material of the exposition is elaborated in a kind of free fantasia; and
finally a recapitulation occurs in which the exposition is repeated, often with
modification, and the second subject is transposed into the tonic.
exposition, however, Beethoven skips the repetition. This feature, skipping the
repetition, is a broad-span property. It is surely original, given the date of
its composition (1806), but it is not merely that broad-span property that
interests us. It is rather the fact that, in what immediately follows the
exposition, Beethoven mimics a repetition of the exposition down to the
smallest detail of phrasing and dynamics. Then, suddenly, at measure 107, he
introduces a G-flat that clearly affirms the identity of the section: we are
listening to the development. The effectiveness of this passage results from Beethoven’s
conscious manipulation of the expectations of those who hear the music and are
tricked by this false start. The expressive quality of the passage, its
surprising nature, depends on the perceivable ambiguity of the first five
measures of the development.
The claim that
one’s perception of an aural-form’s structural properties depends on the
categorial-forms to which that work belongs sounds plausible and has been
largely endorsed by contextualists in artistic perception. Jerrold Levinson,
however, argues against it. In his view, knowledge of a work’s categorial-form
(simply “form” in his idiom) does not significantly affect our perception of
that work’s aural-form (which Levinson calls “FORM”).
Levinson’s view is controversial and has been critically discussed
In the following section, I examine Levinson’s view and, while rejecting its
most extreme consequences, I accept some of its provocative conclusions, which illuminate
how we perceive aural-forms.
In explaining the link between aural- and categorial-form, I intend
to establish the plausibility that contextual knowledge can affect one’s
perception of a work’s aural-form. I also
want to provide evidence in favor of the claim that our perception of a musical
work’s formal properties can depend on considerations of categorial-forms.
3. Linking categorial-form
by developing an idea that originated with Edmund Gurney, that a piece of music
is a temporal process.
Thus, because of the limitations of our aural perception, musical pieces are
never the object of a single act of perception—like the façade of a building. They
are perceived as they unfold in time and the portions that can be aurally
grasped (quasi-heard) as unity are of
limited extent. Levinson identifies those portions as melodies.
contentions about the nature of musical pieces and our perception of them have
important consequences in terms of his theory of musical form. Levinson argues
that, as far as perception is concerned, a musical form “is in effect exhausted
by the constitution of the smallest independent units, that is, phrases and
melodies, out of formless elements, and the specific manner in which each
independent unit leads to the next.”
In his view a musical form has positive
artistic value if it affords “an experience well worth having.”
Whenever evaluation is involved, the “essential form in music”
still coincides with the linear development of melodies and harmonies.
We can summarize Levinson’s view of musical form, using my
terminology, as follows: the form of a musical work can be generally reduced to its
aural-form, especially in terms of its tone, syntactical,
and expressive properties. Although Levinson admits that
broad-span properties are possibly perceivable, he argues that
their perception is difficult to achieve and is often unnecessary for music
appreciation and evaluation. “The elevation of FORM [i.e.,
over forms [categorial-forms],” Levinson
writes, “is very much in the spirit of our present discussion.”
Categorial-forms, in fact, are not perceptual objects;
merely historical categories and abstractions. For instance, we cannot perceive
that the Allegro of Haydn’s Keyboard
Sonata in G Major (no. 4) is in sonata form. We can apprehend that
aspect of the Allegro only conceptually by consciously organizing what
one has perceived prior to her judgment about the Allegro being in
sonata form. We know that the Allegro is in sonata form
because we have heard the identifying syntactical properties serially at
the appropriate places. There is nothing that we can actually hear, per
se, that enables us to perceive a piece’s
to be in sonata form. Since categorial-forms are not perceivable features of a musical work, they
cannot afford by themselves a worthwhile experience. For this reason Levinson believes that
considerations of categorial-forms should
not affect our critical judgment of a work’s aural-form. Levinson does admit
that such considerations can possibly enhance our perception of the
impressiveness of individual bits of an aural-form, enhance our perception of
its cogency, facilitate our perception of its melodies, contribute to our
perception of its higher-order aesthetic properties, and provide intellectual
does Levinson handle cases like Beethoven’s Opus 59 No.1? His
account explicitly addresses the complications of such cases. He
recognizes the existence of properties such as this Opus 59’s “being surprising” at measure 107. Using my terminology,
however, he holds that considerations of categorial-forms are unnecessary for
perceiving those properties. He argues that a listener can perceive them simply
by becoming familiar through listening to many actual examples of works belonging
to the appropriate categorial-form(s).
Levinson justifies his view by
introducing a distinction between intellectual
hearing-as and perceptual hearing-as. Intellectually
hearing an aural-form as a particular categorial-form “involves entertaining
certain concepts in thought and relating them to current perceptions, or
consciously organizing what one is perceiving under certain articulate
categories.” In other words when, for instance,
intellectually hearing-as-a-sonata a work’s aural-form, we classify explicitly
what we just heard in terms of some propositional knowledge, which include
notions such as exposition, repetition, first theme, etc.
Perceptually hearing an
aural-form as a particular categorial-form (for instance, a sonata) “involves
not conscious thought or categorization but a disposition to register and
respond to the musical progression one is presented in a certain way.” To “perceptually hear-as-a-sonata” a work’s
aural-form means to have “internalized a certain norm [not a
categorial-form] from pieces of a given kind, and implicitly [to sense]
convergence with and divergence from that norm as presented by a particular
composition.” By having internalized such a “norm,” a
listener responds, for instance, with a “reaction of surprise when a
recapitulation structurally due … fails to turn up.”
A listener can internalize a
sonata “norm” just by comparing several examples of sonatas. Knowledge of
categorial-forms or even a “prior abstract grasp of sonata structure” is not required.
In this sense, Levinson
underlines that perceptual hearing-as has nothing to do with propositional
knowledge. It is rather a form of knowing-how: the knowledge of “norms” (such as the
sonata “norm”) need not be even in principle articulable linguistically and, consequently, is not known
propositionally, like the knowledge of categorial-forms, but behaviorally or
For Levinson, intellectual
hearing-as is not necessary for perceiving structural properties such as Opus 59’s “being surprising” at measure
107. A listener can in fact identify sections (e.g., the exposition), label
different themes (e.g., the first theme in the tonic) of Opus. 59, while still failing to perceive that expressive property
at measure 107. Levinson grants that the propositional knowledge involved in
intellectual hearing-as may facilitate or hasten the perception of “being
surprising” or similar properties.
However, in order to perceive it, we only
need perceptual hearing-as. Since
perceptual hearing-as does not require propositional knowledge of
categorial-forms, Levinson can still confine the role of such knowledge to
those “enhancing” ones as listed previously. That is, he can still deny that
knowledge of categorial-forms determines in part, at least sometimes, our
perception of an aural-form’s structural properties.
I believe that Levinson’s
concatenationism is pointing in the right direction. First, it correctly emphasizes that perceiving
the aural-form of a particular musical work as a sonata involves a “behavioral”
response to sounds rather than a mere capacity of describing what one has just
heard. Second, it makes room for the possibility that a listener can develop the
ability to respond “behaviorally” to a sonata in the absence of formal training.
A capacity to react to particular developments in a sonata can certainly be
acquired spontaneously through attentive listening. I believe that these two
points are the aims of Levinson’s project which, in this sense appears to be
I find Levinson’s view too
extreme when he suggests that perceptual
hearing-as does not depend on propositional knowledge of categorial-forms, but
on non-propositional knowledge of “norms.” In the light of recent research in
epistemology, Levinson’s distinction between categorial-forms and “norms” seems
difficult to vindicate. In the remainder
of this section, I maintain that there is no disjunction in principle between
knowledge of categorial-forms and knowledge of “norms”: in a qualified sense, they both amount to the
same propositional knowledge. I therefore suggest that (i) perceptual hearing-as necessarily
depends on propositional knowledge and that (ii) such knowledge must be propositional
knowledge of categorial-forms.
Levinson’s claim that
knowledge of “norms” is non-propositional and is distinguished from knowledge
of categorial-forms relies primarily on the premise that propositional
knowledge, and hence knowledge of categorial-forms, is knowledge that can be
easily articulated, that is, if someone knows that p, she must have the capacity to express p in words. However, as Jason Stanley argues, “Whether this premise
is true or false depends upon which words count.”
If knowing that p requires being able to describe p accurately and systematically, the premise is false or at least controversial
and would require sustained defense. In
our case, knowing that eighteenth-century sonatas usually present a repetition
of the exposition does not imply knowing how to express that belief accurately
If articulation includes indexical
or demonstrative expressions, Stanley adds, then the premise that propositional
knowledge is knowledge that can be easily articulated may very well be true. I know that my keyboard is this shade of white and that the pages
of that paper are that shade of
white. Though surely having propositional knowledge of those shades of white, I
can express it only in demonstrative-involving terms. But, Stephen Davies also
observes that a listener who cannot articulate in this second sense her
responses to an aural-form surely does not sense convergence with and divergence from “norms,” as
In our example, a listener who
is able to perceive Opus 59’s surprise
expressive property around measure 107 must be able to articulate verbally,
when asked, something similar to the following description: “Here [mm. 103–106] is when the tune
seems to repeat the beginning as in those
other similar pieces I have listened to [18th-century sonatas], but here [mm. 107] is when I realized that
it was not a repetition and this
piece is somewhat different from those
others.” When we allow indexical and
demonstrative terms, knowledge involved in perceptual hearing-as seems always
articulable. Since, in this qualified
sense, knowledge of “norms” is in principle articulable, Levinson is left with
no evidence justifying his view that knowledge of “norms” is non-propositional;
it cannot be distinguished from the propositional knowledge of
I must emphasize that,
according to historical formalism, claims containing indexical and
demonstrative terms and expressing salient and recurring properties
characterizing a specific set of aural-forms still constitute knowledge of
categorial-forms. Such claims can be
vague, unsystematically collected, and expressed in words not complying with the current musical jargon. However, their content is in
some degree equivalent to that of musicological accounts of categorial-forms. It is in this qualified sense, which incorporates
what is correct in Levinson’s lesson, that historical formalism sees perceptual
hearing-as as depending on propositional knowledge of categorial-forms.
4. Aural-form, history, politics,
At this point, one might wonder whether our perception of a work’s
aural-form can depend only on considerations of categorial-form. In this
section, I show that considerations other than those of categorial-form may
very well be relevant for perceiving a work’s aural-form. The historical,
sociopolitical, and cultural context within which a work is composed can be
relevant and should be considered. It is this aspect that distinguishes
historical formalism from other versions of contextualism.
When discussing the nature of musical form, Peter Kivy directly
addresses the issue of what kind of considerations might be relevant for
perceiving what I call a work’s aural-form. Though admitting that our perception of
the structural properties of a work’s aural-form can be informed by our
knowledge, Kivy identifies this knowledge with musical knowledge in a strict
sense—that is, knowledge of music theory and of
Considerations other than strictly
musical ones, such as “functionalist considerations and considerations of
social setting,” are, for Kivy, of no particular value when we perceive and
critically assess an aural-form.
In our practice of listening, an
aural-form “is meant to perform but one function: to be [an object for] rapt attention,” and “all its
other past social settings and function have been obliterated.”
Social setting and social function, Kivy argues, might impart to a
musical work “artistic properties” that can be enjoyed and appreciated (e.g.,
how well a piece of dance music suits the movements of the dancers), but such
properties are not structural properties of a work’s aural-form.
Social setting and function, in other
words, do not affect a work in terms of our perception and judgment of its
I argue, in contrast, that to appreciate the complexities of an
aural-form to its fullest in an attitude of rapt aesthetic attention, it
is sometimes necessary to inform our perception and critical judgment with
considerations of social setting and functions, that is, with historical
(broadly construed), cultural, and political considerations. Let me offer an
example. Consider the aural-form of Lied von der Belebenden Wirkung des Geldes, composed
by Hanns Eisler between 1934 and 1936.
The various sections of this song draw
on different musical worlds. The instrumental introduction is a quasi-toccata
and prelude, played by a jazz instrumentation. The first and the third main
verses are a slow waltz tending toward a valse triste. The refrain is a
toccata-quick march. The bass moves in a
rhythmically regular way. The harmonic progression follows closely the rules of
tonal harmony and leaves nothing unresolved. The vocal line and the voicing of
the accompaniment nicely imitate one another. All the elements are somehow questions that
receive an answer. The song unfolds in a rather traditional way. There are, one
should add, inconsistencies, peculiarities, and distortions in the formal
arrangement of the musical flow.
However, these last features of the Lied’s
aural-form, some critics argue, are the outcome of musical ineptness or—more
harshly—of “stupidity.” This Lied and almost all of the songs Eisler wrote have been judged as
“primitively immediate.” Adorno disdained Eisler, since “for
the sake of being understood [Eisler] has lowered his musical means to a new
outdated level, rather than rising to the challenge of present-day music.”
are motivated by critics' hearing and assessing the Lied’s aural-form in relation to the
categorial-form of twentieth-century avant-garde music.
from 1919 to 1923 under Schoenberg, who devoted considerable attention to his
Eisler became knowledgeable in
traditional composition as well as in modern technique and he was the first of
Schoenberg’s pupils to compose using the dodecaphonic method. His piece, Palmström, Opus 5, definitely belongs
to the categorial-form of twentieth-century avant-garde music. If the Lied’s aural-form is evaluated as an example of that categorial-form,
then the uses of rather traditional and consonant material, of regular rhythms,
and of tonal harmony cannot but be perceived and critically assessed as
primitively simple and banal properties of an uninteresting aural-form. But the question arises of why a Schoenberg
pupil, who showed supreme control of the most complicated aspects of music
composition, would begin, at that stage of his career, to compose music like the
The answers to such a question will
not be found by looking at the self-contained musical domain. The explanation
of why Eisler radically changed his musical style is to be found in his then-recent
affiliation with the Communist Party and its revolutionary spirit. As a
consequence of his political ideology, Eisler committed himself “to the
creation of an alternative music culture on behalf of an excluded, ‘disenfranchised’
class of working people.”
Following his militant spirit, he
explicitly developed a new type of music: “angewandte Musik” (applied
music). Applied music can be defined,
first, in negative terms. It is not bourgeois music, the music traditionally
played in concert halls as a form of entertainment, in isolation from the
struggles of the masses. Applied music serves a sociopolitical function to
create a class consciousness and to instruct and teach the working masses.
Eisler wrote protest songs, politically
didactic pieces, and working songs (along with Auferstanden aus Ruinen, the
Democratic Germany’s national anthem). His politicized conception of music
motivated most of his musical and formal choices after 1926 and deeply affected
his approach to musical materials and compositional procedures.
Consideration of the historical, sociopolitical, and cultural
circumstances within which Eisler composed the Lied’s aural-form,
including the political function that he intended for his music to play, has
important consequences for how one perceives its structural properties. In this
light, the Lied’s aural-form is
heard not as primitively simple, but as economical and engaging. The use of
tonal harmonic language is perceived, not as banal, but as enjoyable and welcoming
toward the audience that Eisler wanted to reach. The inconsistencies,
peculiarities, and distortions, together with the different musical worlds the
aural-form draws on, are not perceived as unpleasant but as surprising,
designed to shock the listeners by creating passages that sound stylistically
I, like many, consider the value
of aural-forms to be related to the aesthetic impact that their structural
properties seem to have on us, and believe our critical judgment will need to be revised accordingly. Once we consider all the circumstances relevant
to the writing of the Lied and
how those circumstances affect our perception of its structural properties, its
aural-form should be judged as original and understandable both for those with
little experience in music and for the specialist. It should be assessed as an
aural-form that “make[s] [the listener] think,” reflecting the fractures and
the contradictions of the society in which Eisler was living.
Mutatis mutandis, the same applies to most of Eisler’s post-1926 works.
If the interpretation of Eisler’s Lied I have just proposed
is valid, Kivy’s account of musical form and similar versions of formalism seem
not comprehensive enough to admit that sometimes historical, sociopolitical,
and cultural factors can affect our perception and critical judgment of a
work’s aural-form. Historical formalism, an historically, socio-politically,
and culturally informed theory of musical form, is preferable for the correct
assessment of Eisler’s Lied and other,
similar pieces of music, as well. Consider,
for instance, Stravinsky's use of folkloric music material in his work, The Rite of the Spring (1913). There
is something in the expressiveness in the bassoon’s opening melody in The Rite that one will not understand
while ignoring its folkloric origin.
Following Richard Taruskin’s interpretation of the Rite, the passage sounds “ancient,” that
is, “evoking feelings of ancient times.”
Its expressive quality depends on the
historical and geographical provenance of the tune from which Stravinsky
explicitly drew. The Rite’s opening melody is a quotation
from a Lithuanian folk tune as reported in Anton Juskiewicz’s musical anthology,
Litauische Volks-Weisen. When Stravinsky composed the work, Lithuania and
Byelorussia were canonically associated with the “ancient” origin of Russian
The association between Lithuania and
“ancient” Russia was justified by the survival of archaic pagan rites in
Lithuanian contemporaneous folk customs. In their turn, the stronger survival of pagan
rites was a consequence of the fact that “Christianity did not entirely
supplant the ‘old religion’ until the fifteenth century, while Kievan Russia
adopted Christianity in the late tenth century.
As with Eisler’s Lied,
it does not seem possible to fully appreciate the structural properties of The Rite’s aural-form if we limit our
considerations to those of musicological and musico-historical knowledge, as
Kivy’s theory suggests. But, I must add,
most contextualist accounts of artistic perception, and in particular Walton’s,
do not make room for the larger kind of considerations that are also relevant
in those cases.
Walton identified the role of the context as solely artistic
categories. He argued that by considering the given category to which an
artwork belongs, one can distinguish between an artwork’s standard, variable,
and contra-standard properties. The
aesthetic impact of a work’s property, according to Walton, depends on whether
one views it as standard, variable, or contra-standard. In this sense,
according to Walton’s contextualism, considerations that have an impact on
one’s perception of an aural-form’s structural properties are limited to
considerations of the relevant art-historical
In the cases discussed above, the impact that the structural
properties of those two aural-forms have depends upon a larger set of
considerations that include, in the case of Eisler’s Lied, the composer’s political affiliation and the intended
sociopolitical function of his music. In Stravinsky’s The Rite of
the Spring, the aesthetic impact of the opening bassoon melody depends also
upon considerations of its historical and cultural origin. Historical formalism
can include those and other pertinent considerations.
To conclude this section, I propose that our account of musical
form should be informed not only by considerations of the relevant
art-historical context, but also enriched, whenever it seems fruitful, by a
knowledge of the historical, sociopolitical, and cultural circumstances within
which a work is composed. The need to consider, at least sometimes, such a
broad set of circumstances testifies for the complexities of musical form, complexities
that have generally been obscured by previous accounts.
The analysis of musical form demonstrates more complexities than can be superficially assumed. I have argued that a suitable understanding of
such a fundamental aspect of musical works requires a more
comprehensive theory of musical form that I call historical formalism. Historical formalism challenges previous
theories of musical form since it holds that considerations other than those related solely
to music theory, music history, and the art-historical context—that is, considerations
of the historical, sociopolitical, and cultural circumstances within which a
musical work is composed—might be relevant to our perception and
critical assessment of a work’s aural-form.
persuaded that historical formalism, while acknowledging music’s
specific formal characteristics, gives us some insight on music’s intrinsic
relationship with the mundane vicissitudes of our world, an aspect of that art
form that has often been obscured not only by conventional formalist theories
of musical form, but also by contextualism.
Beginning September 1, 2014, Andrea
Baldini will be a Postdoctoral Fellow in Art Theory at the Institute of
Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanjing University. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 2014 from
Temple University in Philadelphia, where he studied as a Fulbright Fellow. His
research focuses on the social and political dimension of the arts, and his
dissertation develops a philosophical account of public art.
Published September 2, 2014.
 Clive Bell, “The
Aesthetic Hypothesis,” in Aesthetics,
eds. Susan Feagin and Patrick Maynard (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 15–23;
ref. on p. 17.
 Susanne Langer, Feeling and Form (New York: Scribner, 1953).
 Leonard Meyer, Emotion and Meaning in Music
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
 Eduard Hanslick, On the Musically Beautiful (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1986), p. 29.
 Peter Kivy, Introduction
to a Philosophy of Music (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2002),
p. 68; Kivy, “Fictional
Form and Symphonic Structure: An Essay
in Comparative Aesthetics,” Ratio,
22, 4 (2009), 421–438; ref. on p. 424.
 Malcolm Budd, Music and Emotions: The Philosophical Theories (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985), p. 47.
 Jerrold Levinson, Music in the Moment (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1997), p. 103.
 Stephen Davies,
“Musical Understandings,” in Musical
Understandings and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 88–127;
Peter Kivy, “Music in Memory and Music in the Moment,” in New Essays in Musical Understanding (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 183–217;
Justin London, et al., “‘Music in the Moment’:
A Discussion,” Music Perception,
16, 4 (1999), 463–494.
 Edmund Gurney, The Power of Sound (New York: Basic Books, 1996/1880).
 Levinson, Music in the Moment, pp. 4–5.
 Jerrold Levinson, “Reply to Commentaries on Music in the Moment,” Music Perception, 16, 4 (1999), 485–494;
Levinson, “Concatenationism, Architectonicism, and the Appreciation of Music,” Revue Internationale de Philosophie 60
 Levinson, Music in
the Moment, p. 72.
 Ibid., pp. ix–x, 72–73; Jerrold Levinson, “Musical Literacy,” Journal of Aesthetic Education, 24, 1 (1990), 17–30; see pp. 27, 30n17.
 Levinson, Music in the Moment,
p. 125. Nicholas Cook underlines that
propositional knowledge of categorial-forms can facilitate perceptual
hearing-as “is hard to square with Levinson’s injunction, near the end of the
book, that it is a ‘great mistake’ to attend reflectively to large-scale form
‘before a piece has cohered in a listener’s mind’” (“Music in the Moment by
Jerrold Levinson,” Music and Letters, 80
(1999), 602–606, ref. on 603). I do
not press this potential inconsistency of Levinson’s account because, as Andrew Kania (2012) emphasizes, Levinson’s project was conceived
as a polemic against traditional views overestimating the role of
categorial-forms. I grant that
Levinson’s polemical aim might require some exaggerated claims. See Andrew Kania, “The Philosophy of Music,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
ed. E. N. Zalta (Fall 2012 edition), accessed November 19, 2013, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/music/.
 Jason Stanley,
“Knowing (How),” Noûs, 45, 2 (2011), 207–238; ref. on p. 214.
 Davies, “Musical
Understandings,” p. 97.
 Kivy, Introduction
to a Philosophy of Music, p. 104.
 I am here concerned
with the formal features of the work, not with its textual meaning. The reader can imagine the vocal line as
played by a saxophone.
 Gerd Rienächer, “The
Invigorating Effect of Music?” in Hanns
Eisler: Miscellany, ed. David Blake
(Luxembourg: Harwood, 1995), pp. 91–102.
 As quoted in Günter
Mayer, “Eisler and Adorno” in Blake, Hanns
Eisler, pp. 133–158; ref. on p. 136n8.
 Albrecht Betz, Hanns Eisler Political Musician
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1982), p. 39.
 Blake, Hann Eisler,
 Betz, Hanns Eisler Political Musician, pp.
31ff.; Mayer, “Eisler and Adorno,” pp. 152–154.
 Rienächer, “The Invigorating Effect of Music?,” p. 95.
 Peter Hill, Stravinsky:
The Rite of the Spring (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 35.
 See Richard
Taruskin, “Russian Folk Melodies in the Rite of Spring,” Journal of the American Musicological Society, 33, 4 (1980), 501–543;
Taruskin, Stravinsky and the Russian
Tradition: A Biography of the Works
through Mavra (Berkeley and Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1996), in particular pp. 891–923.
 See Igor Stravinsky
and Robert Craft, Expositions and
Developments (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1981), p. 98.
 As in the case of
Eisler’s Lied, I am here concerned
with the formal features of the work, not with its putative representational
 Taruskin, Stravinsky and the Russian Tradition,
900. See also Jonathan Shepard, “The
Origins of Rus’ (c.900–1015),” in From
Early Rus' to 1689, ed. Maureen Perrie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), esp. pp.
 Kendall Walton,
“Categories of Art,” Philosophical Review, 79, 3 (1970), 334–367. Surprisingly
enough, Levinson argues for a version of ontological contextualism that would
well accord with historical formalism’s account of musical form. Levinson claims that a musical work’s
aesthetic properties depend on what he calls the “total musico-historical
context” in which that work is composed.
I must admit that I find it difficult to square Levinson’s ontology of
musical works with his theory of musical form.
See Jerrold Levinson, “What a Musical Work Is,” Journal of Philosophy, 77, 1 (1980), 5–28.
 For an instructive
discussion of Walton’s contextualism, see Brian Laetz, “Kendall Walton’s
‘Categories of Art’: A Critical
Commentary,” British Journal of
Aesthetics, 50, 3 (2010), 287–306.
 A version of this paper was originally presented at the
Eastern Division Meeting of the American Society of Aesthetics in Philadelphia
in 2012. I would like to thank the
commentator, Phil Jenkins, and others present for their suggestions and
critique. For thought-provoking
discussions about these issues, I want to thank Philip Alperson, John Dyck, Susan
Feagin, Jerrold Levinson, and Joseph Margolis.