Tiago Sousa

CEHUM: Minho University

Appreciating a musical composition – a synthesis between Levinson’s concatenationism and Kivy’s architecturalism

There is a tension between two seemingly valid perspectives on how to critically appraise a musical work. On the one hand, since music has the power to cause a strong direct emotional impact on people, it is the art about which value judgments are most easily and effortlessly produced – regardless of the degree of musical instruction, it is rare for a person not to assert a confident opinion about their musical tastes.
On the other hand, we have the world of specialized musicology. Someone with a great passion for the art of sounds but who has not studied music on a professional level will be disconcertedly lost if she encounters the manner in which this very subject is dealt with in academic circles. She will find no significant connection between this enigmatic conceptual apparatus and the emotion that music so naturally arouses in her, when she allows herself to dive into the beauty of the sounds.
There is, no doubt, for any artistic domain, an important difference between the way people naturally react to art and specialized criticism. However, in general and within certain but important limits, the symbolic, expressive and formal dimensions emphasized in the evaluation of, say, a painting, a sculpture, a novel, although they may acquire high levels of complexity, are sufficiently intelligible to the interested layman, without the need for technical jargon.
However, in the field of musicology, such jargon seemsto be a fundamental requirement for its intelligibility. Jerrold Levinson, nevertheless, believes that there is something fundamentally wrong about this tension. With his concatenationist (2006, 1997), he argues that traditionally accepted musicological theories are artificially intellectualistic, and he seeks to attenuate the gap between this kind of theories and the common listener through the aesthetic and epistemic legitimation of the latter’s experience.
Levinson’s theory elicited the most varied reactions among philosophers and musicologists. Of such reactions, one that stands out is the long and vigorous criticism dealt by Peter Kivy. Kivy accepts that the kind of perception explained by concatenationism, focused on the present instant, is necessary to assimilate a sequence of sounds as music, but it is not sufficient to appreciate the music in all its complexity and depth. This is because Levinson seems to overlook the role that theoretical learning plays in the phenomenological expansion of the intentional object by means of the integration of concepts that can help explore the course of the musical work in its multiplicity.
Despite Kivy’s criticism, I believe Levinson is right in emphasizing the “wholeness of the moment”. However, some distant temporal relations stressed by Kivy also seem important. In this presentation I enter into this debate in order to devise an account that synthesizes the merits of each position in a new hybrid perspective.
Finally, I will inquire to what extent my approach can be properly applied to contemporary works, such as those of, e.g., Magnus Lindberg or Wolfgang Rhim.

Keywords: Levinson; concatenationism; musical appreciation


Tiago  Sousa is currently working on his PhD in the Philosophy of Music at the University of Minho, Portugal, where he also lectures in Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art. Has published articles in this area, evidencing an article of 2017 published in The British Journal of Aesthetics, entitled “Was Hanslick a Closet Schopenhauerian?”. Additionally, he has a BSc and MSc in Electrical and Telecomunications Engineering from the University of Oporto, a BMus in Classical Guitar and an MA in Music, both from University of Minho. He regularly works as a teacher of classical guitar and occasionally performs as a classical guitarist.