The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 39, Issue 1/4, 2023

Music Issue

Robert S. Hatten
Pages 135-148

Toward an Adequate Theoretical Framework for Interpreting Complex Signification in Music

A fundamental issue for music semiotics is how we might address the signification and interpretation of complex amalgams that do not neatly subdivide into what I call “atomistic signs.” At all levels of musical organization, we are confronted with complex amalgams that demand a more synthetic kind of perception and cognition (e.g., gestures) or a more integrative approach to reconstruction and implementation (e.g., musical styles, understood as competencies guiding interpretation). Although many music-theoretical models helpfully address the temporality of musical events, they cannot fully capture the immediacy of a complex musical gestalt that demands qualitative, aesthetic, affective, and, ultimately, synthetic interpretation. This essay considers ways we can enhance our theoretical understanding of, and our own competency for, musically artistic interpretation. I conclude with an application of this approach to the opening of the Sarabande from Bach’s keyboard Partita no. 4 in D Major.