Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Intentional actions: A theory of musical agency
by Peterson, John, Ph.D., The Florida State University, 2014, 323; 3681760
Abstract (Summary)

Studies of musical agency have been growing in the field of music theory since the publication of Edward T. Cone's book The Composer's Voice (1974). Indeed, recent publications by scholars such as Robert Hatten and Seth Monahan demonstrate that musical agency continues to be a topic worthy of investigation today. These authors tend to explore the function of agents within a piece, virtually ignoring the way agents arise in music. In this dissertation I work toward a solution to this problem by developing a theory of musical agency that explores the following questions: (1) How do virtual agents emerge in music? (2) What is the relationship between agency and narrative? (3) Can virtual agents influence music at levels deeper than the surface?

I propose that the concept of musical intention provides music theorists with a possible answer to this question. Action Theory, a robust subfield active in philosophy and sociology, views intentionality as a focal point in research on human agency—research that deserves more attention in studies of musical agency. Following assertions by action theorists Donald Davidson and Alfred Mele, I argue that an entity only attains the status of an agent when it performs an intentional act. With respect to music, then, I outline six categories of intentionality that can offer support to an agential hearing: gesture, contradiction of musical forces, unexpected event, conflict, repetition/restatement, and change of state. Further, I suggest that certain passages of music can be interpreted as intentional acts performed by virtual musical agents.

I begin by reviewing the literature surrounding Action Theory in philosophy and sociology, and Agency in music theory in Chapter One. After defining each category of intentionality in Chapter Two, I investigate how the categories of intentionality interact with recent theories of musical narrative and Schenkerian analysis in Chapter Three. To demonstrate how my insights apply to analysis, I examine Beethoven's Bagatelle Op. 126, No. 2 and Mendelssohn's Song Without Words Op. 30, No. 6. These two analyses also serve as an introduction to the way in which my methodology is applied in analysis. In Chapter Four, I use the categories of intentionality in combination with both narrative and Schenkerian analysis to develop an agential reading of Schubert's Piano Sonata in A, D. 959. My agential analysis adds nuance to Hatten's (1993) and Charles Fisk's (2001) readings of the work. I suggest that two agents are present at the beginning of the movement, and I investigate how these agents act throughout all four movements of the piece. In the first three movements, the two agents are in conflict with one another, and by the end of the fourth movement the two agents achieve a synthesis that resolves their conflict. Not only does an understanding of intentionality in music clarify earlier work on musical agency, but it also provides opportunities for richer interpretive analyses. To conclude my dissertation I suggest possible avenues for further investigation, and I briefly apply my methodology to a passage of post-tonal music.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kraus, Joseph, Shaftel, Matthew
Commitee: Buchler, Michael, Roberts, John
School: The Florida State University
Department: Music
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: DAI-A 76/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Music, Philosophy
Keywords: Agency, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Metaphor, Music theory, Schubert
Publication Number: 3681760
ISBN: 978-1-321-54694-1
Copyright © 2021 ProQuest LLC. All rights reserved. Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Cookie Policy