Composers and Performers


We take performers of classical music as producers of creative performances. We sometimes criticize a performer’s performance by saying ‘That is not what the composer wants’. The literature takes this kind of criticism, which I call ‘intentionalist criticism’, to be in tension with performers’ creativity—taking the criticism to be an attempt to restrict performers’ creativity by historical authenticity. This paper aims to construct a possible understanding of intentionalist criticisms according to which those criticisms are grounded in our respect of performers as artists. Under this understanding, the point of intentionalist criticisms is that performers, who are pursuing the aesthetic beauty of a work, can produce an aesthetically better result by being open-minded to the perspectives of the composer who is also a serious pursuer of the work’s beauty.

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  1. 1.

    I am not trying to define the notion of artist here. I am merely pinpointing a necessary condition for being an artist that is necessary for our discussion.

  2. 2.

    Performers’ creativity is certainly appraised by listeners and critics. Kivy (1995: 141) writes that performer’s creativity ‘is considered as one of the crowning achievements of the performer’s art: something to be sought after and cherished for its own sake.’ See Sarah Bryan Miller’s article ‘What Do the Judges Look For?’ in Musical America Worldwide ( \; amp;categoryid=7 \; amp;archived=0), which reports the criteria of the actual judges of music competitions. In general, judges take creativity to be an important virtue of performers. It even sometimes appears that performers’ creativity trump composers’ creativity. For instance, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2 played by the composer himself is considered by many critics as less desirable than the versions played by others that are significantly different from the composer’s performance.

  3. 3.

    Hereafter, ‘authenticity’ without a further qualification means ‘historical authenticity’. For the problem of historical authenticity, see Stephen Davies (2001: ch.5) or Kivy (1995).

  4. 4.

    I coin the term ‘intentionalist criticism’ from ‘authorial intentionalism’ in the literary theory. Authorial intentionalism claims that ‘an author’s actual intentions should constrain the ways in which it is appropriate to interpret his or her works’ (Huddleston 2012: 241).

  5. 5.

    Beethoven and Stravinsky definitely have this attitude toward performers. See, e.g., Benson (2003: 12-3) and Thom (1993: 104).

  6. 6.

  7. 7.

    We can also find such examples in the controversies about Nigel Kennedy’s performances.

  8. 8.

    Stephen Davies (2001: 252) writes that ‘⋯ musical works specified by notations always are indefinite with regard to some features of their sonic embodiment, while performances always are replete’. Collingwood (1958: 352) also comments that ‘⋯ the score of a symphony, however cumbered with stage-directions, expression-marks, metronome figures, and so forth, cannot possibly indicate in every detail how the work is to be performed’. Peter Kivy (1990: ch.2;1995: ch.2) also pushes the same point.

  9. 9.

    Commentators do engage with translating works. But even when they translate, they need to engage with serious philosophizing. It is extremely difficult to understand Plato’s Dialogues at their face-value. The translations we use, especially older ones from 50 to 100 years ago, have patched and filled in and added relatively freely just so the Dialogues could make sense.

  10. 10.

    Sellars’s interpretation of Kant indeed faces this criticism: ‘That is just Sellars!’ This is partly because Sellars himself maintained that he got his ideas from Kant correctly understood.

  11. 11.

    One might suspect that working with (I2) is committing ‘the intentional fallacy’ (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1946) because ‘the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art’. Whether the intentional fallacy is a genuine fallacy is an independent issue that has been debated ferociously. However, our discussion here does not depend on this issue. What we are dealing with is the value of trying to be faithful to author’s works.

  12. 12.

  13. 13.

    The strategy for cooperative creation I am describing here (acting like a submissive participant) may seem similar to hypothetical intentionalism. It is particularly close to Jerrold Levinson (2006, 2010)‘s version that suggests interpreters should come up with the best hypothesis about the actual author (not a hypothetical authorial persona)‘s intentions. However, the strategy I am describing is for maximizing the value of an artistic product, while hypothetical intentionalism is a theory for correct interpretation of an artwork. What I claim is that participants in cooperative creation find (something like) hypothetical intentionalism strategically or methodological useful for maximizing the value of their accomplishments and that intentionalist criticisms in question can be grounded in this methodological benefit of (something like) hypothetical intentionalism.

  14. 14.

    Perhaps, we might be able to think of a generalized principle of open-mindedness like the following:

    (G-OM) If a subject S is a serious pursuer of the value V, then taking S’s ideas for realizing V seriously is beneficial for our own pursuit of V.

    If (G-OM) is true, I believe, its truth is grounded in (OM). For whether the ideas for V are acceptable eventually comes down to whether those ideas are true.

  15. 15.

    (Eval) does not imply that there is a single standard for good performance. It only implies that there are better or worse performance all things considered.


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Correspondence to Junyeol Kim.

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Kim, J. Composers and Performers. Philosophia 48, 1469–1481 (2020).

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  • Classical Music
  • Composer
  • Performer
  • Authenticity
  • Creativity