Music as Discourse

Semiotic Adventures in Romantic Music

by Kofi Agawu

The question of whether music has meaning has been the subject of sustained debate ever since music became a subject of academic inquiry. Is music a language? Does it communicate specific ideas and emotions? What does music mean, and how does this meaning occur?Kofi Agawu's Music as Discourse has become a standard and definitive work in musical semiotics. Working at the nexus of musicology, ethnomusicology, and music philosophy and aesthetics, Agawu presents a synthetic and innovative approach to musical meaning which argues deftly for the thinking of music as a discourse in itself--composed not only of sequences of gestures, phrases, or progressions, but rather also of the very philosophical and linguistic props that enable the analytical formulations made about music as an object of study. The book provides extensive demonstration of the pertinence of a semiological approach to understanding the fully-freighted language of romantic music, stresses the importance of a generative approach to tonal understanding, and provides further insight into the analogy between music and language. Music as Discourse is an essential read for all who are interested in the theory, analysis and semiotics of music of the romantic period.
  • Oxford University Press; December 2008
  • ISBN: 9780199708314
  • Read online, or download in secure PDF or secure ePub format
  • Title: Music as Discourse
  • Author: Kofi Agawu
  • Imprint: Oxford University Press

In The Press

"Kofi Agawu is widely known as one of the pioneers of musical semiotics. Now, in Music as Discourse, he offers a focused study that shows semiotics in action, engaging with a familiar and cherished repertory in a way that provides valuable insights to both scholar and student."--Patrick McCreless, Professor of Music Theory, Yale University
"At a moment when referential and structural interpretations of music threaten divorce, Agawu's fresh initiative supports synthesis and debate. These are splendid new analyses of important works."--David Lidov, Department of Music, York University, Toronto
"Excitement, radicalism, challenge: these qualities have seldom been associated with advanced courses in analysis. This book, with its lapidary clarity, its surprising insights, and its emphasis on musical meaning, is going to change all that."--Raymond Monelle, Honorary Professor of Music, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
"Confirms [the author's] status as one of the foremost semiotic analysts of our time. . . rarely can a treatise that ponders on matters so weighty have had such a light, intensely readable, touch." --Tempo
"An excellent example of . . . analysis as a kind of 'performance'." --Notes
"Remarkable . . . inspiring . . . a reminder of how playful and rewarding music analysis can be. . . . One finishes Agawu's book with new methods to probe music's unfathomable meanings, new ways to refashion the tools we already know, a conviction that the real value of analysis lies in the doing of it rather than the 'truth' it uncovers, and a desire to get down to work." --Theoria
"The painstaking clarity of the analyses will surely be imitated by a generation of bright students. . . radical and challenging . . . easy to absorb yet infinitely sophisticated. . .This elegant and rich book needs to be lived with and digested. Of how many analytical manuals can one say that?" --Music and Letters

About The Author

Kofi Agawu is Professor of Music at Princeton University and an adjunct professor at the University of Ghana, Legon. He is also author of Representing African Music: Postcolonial Notes, Queries, Positions.