LICA Research Seminar: Nicholas Reyland on Listening for the plot: towards a reader-response theory of musical narrativity

Date:8 June 2010
Time:2.30 pm (note different time from usual)

Nicholas Reyland(Keele University), Listening for the plot: towards a reader-response theory of musical narrativity

The quest to read music as some kind of narrative is once again an area of active enquiry, albeit now centred on a core of general agreement. For many scholars, the question of whether one can speak of narrativity in music is old hat: the answer, often, has been 'yes', or at least 'well yes, probably, at least some of the time', and the field has moved on to investigate the degree of narrativity present in various types of music, the stories these repertoires seem to tell, and the cultural work performed by such story-telling. My own published work on music and narrative, which evolved from analyses of Witold Lutosławski's music, has sought to contribute to that endeavour. Yet I am also intrigued by the question of how some music encourages the narrative impulse: not whether we can speak of musical narrativity, but why certain music encourages the narrative turn and how it leads to people hearing particular stories within it. In this regard, I have been considering the relationship between specific pieces of music and the diversity of stories that result from their narrativization by members of particular listening communities. In this paper, having briefly summarized recent debates over music and narrative, I identify the underlying thinking on musical narrativity that, in my view, links the manifestly different theories of scholars such as Byron Almén, Joseph Kerman, Greg Karl and Fred Maus. As my approach is inspired, in part, by reader-response and reception theories, I will also introduce ideas from these fields that have proven useful to my thinking; I will then outline my own 'listener-response' theory of musical narrativity.

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Who can attend:Anyone

Further Information

Organising departments and research centres:Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts
  • Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts (LICA)
  • The LICA Building, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YW, UK