The fictional Dr. Strabismus sets out to write a new
comprehensive theory of music. But music's tendency to deconstruct
itself combined with the complexities of postmodernism doom him to
failure. This is the parable that frames "The Sense of Music, " a
novel treatment of music theory that reinterprets the modern
history of Western music in the terms of semiotics.
Based on the assumption that music cannot be described without
reference to its meaning, Raymond Monelle proposes that works of
the Western classical tradition be analyzed in terms of
temporality, subjectivity, and topic theory. Critical of the
abstract analysis of musical scores, Monelle argues that the score
does not reveal music's "sense." That sense--what a piece of music
says and signifies--can be understood only with reference to
history, culture, and the other arts. Thus, music is meaningful in
that it signifies cultural temporalities and themes, from the
traditional manly heroism of the hunt to military power to
This theoretical innovation allows Monelle to describe how the
Classical style of the eighteenth century--which he reads as a
balance of lyric and progressive time--gave way to the Romantic
need for emotional realism. He argues that irony and ambiguity
subsequently eroded the domination of personal emotion in Western
music as well as literature, killing the composer's subjectivity
with that of the author. This leaves Dr. Strabismus suffering from
the postmodern condition, and Raymond Monelle with an exciting,
controversial new approach to understanding music and its
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