Paper or softback
Paul Thom
Published 17 Dec 2008
List Price £18.95

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“Paul Thom’s latest book is a valuable and illuminating contribution to the philosophy of music. It focuses on a number of musical activities not often accorded sufficient attention by philosophers, such as the transcribing of works, the writing of variations, and the annotating of scores. Thom makes a persuasive case that activities of that sort, and even more so, that of musical performing, are modes of musical interpretation, and thus that musical interpretation is hardly the province of criticism alone, being instead something that pervades musical practice.”

—Jerrold Levinson, University of Maryland

“Written like a musical score, in a clear prose style, the book states its theme early, displays variations of the theme in chapters devoted to the three main forms of performative interpretation, and recapitulates that theme in a final chapter titled ‘Interpretation." Deeply informed by the author’s knowledge of music, the history of music, and theory, this volume is generously illustrated with examples of musical scores.”

—J.M. Carvalho, Choice

Among the many practices in which musicians engage are several that may be viewed as modes of interpretation, a kind of interpretation that Paul Thom calls “performative” to contrast it with another kind he calls “critical.” The difference is that the latter discusses a musical work; the former presents or enacts it. This book aims at making the case for understanding these activities of transcribing, varying, and realizing music as all forms of interpretation and, indeed, for seeing performative interpretation overall as a paradigm of what interpretation is. Thom devotes a chapter to each of the three types and, to make his philosophical points musically concrete, provides a wealth of illustrations ranging from classical music to jazz and involving performers as diverse as Toscanini and Billie Holiday.


List of Musical Examples



1. Transcriptions

2. Variations

3. Realizations

4. Interpretations



Paul Thom is Professor of Philosophy and Executive Dean of Arts at Southern Cross University in New South Wales, Australia.