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A. Heavey (Oxford, UK)
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Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History
Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History
by Lawrence Kramer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.95

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Shockingly poor., 18 Feb. 2009
This text forms the third instalment of Kramer's out put on musical meaning, the others being Music as Cultural Practise, and, Classical Music and postmodern Knowledge. In this text he builds on the work in his earlier texts which focus heavily on the relationship between the subject and musical meaning, however in this instant his approach takes a slightly different stance. In this text the musical work is explored in relation to "contingencies" that surround it; musical meaning is acquired through the construction of the "contingencies" and their reactions to events in the music. Reception history is nothing new, especially with much of the repertoire Kramer discusses, though his approach to constructing an understanding of the contexts that surround musical meaning is novel. The book is constructed of examinations of several pieces of music and the ways in which they have acquired meaning. The wealth of topics covered is commendable, with everything from Schubert to Kurt Weill receiving attention; this is perhaps one of the biggest strengths of the text as it demonstrates that musicology need not hide away from popular music and jazz.
However, there are some significant issues with this work. The way in which pieces are examined and the conclusions Kramer draws from these examinations is decidedly problematic and leaves the informed reader with major concerns as to the validity of his methods. To take four examples, the discussion of Schubert's Musical Moment in Ab, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and, Liszt the virtuoso, and finally, Kramer's discussion of "revenants", one sees the same problems recurring over and over again.
In his discussion of the Schubert Kramer constructs a reading of the work which finds Schubert exploring the idea of having syphilis. His writing here is extremely persuasive but highly dependent on the importance of the appearance of Cbs in the B section of the work and the account Cone gave the work. Kramer here seems to, for the sake of ensuring the success of his argument, ignore the importance that Schubert gave to chords III and VI in much of his compositional output. In short Kramer makes a veritable mountain of phenomena out of a mole hill of commonplace Schubertian compositional features.
Kramer's discussion of the Beethoven "Moonlight Sonata" is both fascinating and troublesome. His examination of how the work has come to hold the position it does in the pianistic repertoire is informed, though selective, with not enough attention being paid to how it came to be known as the "Moonlight" sonata. The problem with this chapter arises from the inaccurate designation of this work as dedicated to the legendary "immortal beloved". This is a strong claim that he provides insufficient evidence for, and any student who has studied scholarship surrounding Beethoven's work will wonder why Kramer did not chose the "Les Adieux" sonata, as the place where Beethoven may have played out a musical discourse on their relationship. One wonders if Kramer didn't chose the "moonlight" for its erotic potential over the decidedly un-erotic "Les Adieux".
His account of Liszt and his virtuosity also demonstrates an inability to acknowledge anything that might damage his thesis, in this case that virtuosi existed prior to Liszt and that they were able to use their bodies to their advantage in performance. Clara Schumann is just one neglected figure here, who would have perhaps yielded a much richer study had Kramer dared to explore her.
The final chapter of this book deals with the ghosts of past music haunting both the composers of said music and later composers, in a way of attempting to illustrate his point Kramer includes an example of his own revenant composition which harks back to Beethoven's C minor Variations. On listening to this "composition" he reader is forced to question just what Kramer was hoping to achieve.
In short the aims of this text are commendable but his actual findings completely undermine the validity of this venture leaving the reader confused and concerned that such a talented writer could be so unprofessional in his manipulation of data. One wonders at whom this book is aimed, as the informed reader will spot the gaping holes in his research and the student will be highly confused.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2014 3:57 PM GMT


A-level Notes for Ian McEwans "Enduring Love" (Jane Gibson's 'A'-level Notes)
A-level Notes for Ian McEwans "Enduring Love" (Jane Gibson's 'A'-level Notes)
by Jane Gibson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.50

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars clear, insightful notes on "Enduring Love", 29 Sept. 2008
As a former A level student who used these notes, and achieved an A grade at English A level, I feel this text provides an invaluable resource for those who wish to successfully study Ian McEwan's "Enduring Love". Each chapter of the book is dealt with individually, with the author providing a commentary of points/ rhetorical questions and analysis with which the student can interact. This enables the student to develop their own reading of the text, rather than merely providing them with an "exam worthy" reading. Analysis of the appendices is also included as well as sample essays which demonstrate how the student can communicate their views on the text successfully. These are particularly useful as they show how the points raised across the book can be moulded into all manner of essay questions; this in turn demonstrates the value of a close reading and understanding of a text, which encourages the student to transfer the skills learnt in this text to the others they study. I feel that these notes are aimed at a higher ability student when used alone, but they could also provide a useful resource for teachers, aiming to raise the performance of their own students, by using them as a discussion guide for group or class work.

Grateful former A level student.


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