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The Emancipation of Ambiguity: An Investigation into the Nature of Musical Notation

The Emancipation of Ambiguity: An Investigation into the Nature of Musical Notation

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This essay considers the relationship between score and performance by selecting examples of notation which are discussed within the context of the questions they elicit, questions pertaining to the nature of notation, gesture and meaning, improvisation, the nature of the score, and the composer/performer relationship.
This essay considers the relationship between score and performance by selecting examples of notation which are discussed within the context of the questions they elicit, questions pertaining to the nature of notation, gesture and meaning, improvisation, the nature of the score, and the composer/performer relationship.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
The Emancipation of Ambiguity: An Investigation intothe Nature of Musical Notation.Aoife Mac Alister E-Mail: aoifemacalister@gmail.com
 
A Brief Introduction
‘The notation is more important than the sound. Not the exactitude and success withwhich a notation notates a sound; but the musicalness of the notation in its notating.’
Cornelius Cardew
.Musical notation may be defined as ‘a visual analogue of musical sound, either as arecord of sound heard or imagined, or as a set of visual instructions for performers’.
1 
 Notation functioning in the first capacity, as a record of sound heard, for example as aresult of an ethnomusicologist’s transcription into western notation of a folk song,will not be dealt with in this study. This study will concentrate on the latter twofunctions as defined above: notation in its capacity as an analogue of imagined sound(as imagined by a composer), and notation in its capacity as a set of visual instructionsfor performers.Through the ages of the development of Western art music and the concurrentdevelopment of its notation, examples of notation have presented themselves whichseem to raise questions which extend far beyond the sphere of the nature of notationitself. Issues relating to the composer-performer relationship, the nature of a work,determinacy and indeterminacy, and the psychology of both performance andreception are raised by these notational peculiarities. In order to attempt anunderstanding and explanation of the notational pecularities found in the chosenexamples (naturally an exhaustive review is not possible here), it will be necessary toconsider them within the context in which they originally appeared. Examples will bedrawn with particular reference to keyboard literature. Seemingly impossiblenotational requests as regards the limitations of the instrument will be considered,alongside possible methods of realisation and the issues raised by these methods, suchas the use of physical gesture as an expressive device. Renaissance vocal music will
1
Ian D. Bent et al, ‘Notation’ in Stanley Sadie ed.,
The New Grove Dictionary of  Music and Musicians Vol. 18
(London: Macmillan 2001), p. 73.2
 
also be discussed with reference to its use of 
 Augenmusik 
(Eye music). Further issuesraised will include the differences between, and importance of, the musical experiencefor both the player and the listener. The importance of visual information for both performer and audience will also be considered.3

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