A Theory of Virtual Agency for Western Art Music

A Theory of Virtual Agency for Western Art Music

Robert S Hatten
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 09/06/2018
ISBN: 978-0-253-03799-2
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In his third volume on musical expressive meaning, Robert S. Hatten examines virtual agency in music from the perspectives of movement, gesture, embodiment, topics, tropes, emotion, narrativity, and performance. Distinguished from the actual agency of composers and performers, whose intentional actions either create music as notated or manifest music as significant sound, virtual agency is inferred from the implied actions of those sounds, as they move and reveal tendencies within music-stylistic contexts. From our most basic attributions of sources for perceived energies in music, to the highest realm of our engagement with musical subjectivity, Hatten explains how virtual agents arose as distinct from actual ones, how unspecified actants can take on characteristics of (virtual) human agents, and how virtual agents assume various actorial roles. Along the way, Hatten demonstrates some of the musical means by which composers and performers from different historical eras have staged and projected various levels of virtual agency, engaging listeners imaginatively and interactively within the expressive realms of their virtual and fictional musical worlds.

Author Bio

Robert S. Hatten is Marlene and Morton Meyerson Professor in Music at The University of Texas at Austin and President (2017–19) of the Society for Music Theory. He is author of Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation and Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert.


“A brilliant tour de force concerning an issue at the forefront of musical meaning today: the problem of agency. This book could only be written by someone with a lifetime of experience and study.”
 — Michael Klein, author of Music and the Crises of the Modern Subject

“Robert Hatten’s A Theory of Virtual Agency for Western Art Music is a magisterial contribution to music theory. It is substantial in content; immensely wide-ranging in musical and critical reference; penetratingly thought through and argued; and superbly written and organized. It is a joy to watch the arc of Hatten's thought as it builds on his earlier writings and fulfills his trilogy of books.”
 — Michael Spitzer, author of Music as Philosophy

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Table of Contents



Prelude: From Gesture to Virtual Agency

1. Foundations for a Theory of Agency

2. Virtual Environmental Forces and Gestural Energies: Actants

3. Virtual Embodiment: From Actants to Agents

4. Virtual Identity and Actorial Continuity

Interlude I: From Embodiment to Subjectivity

5. Staging Virtual Subjectivity

6. Virtual Subjectivity and Aesthetically Warranted Emotions

7. Staging Virtual Narrative Agency

8. Performing Agency

9. An Integrative Agential Interpretation of Chopin’s Ballade in F Minor, Op. 52

Interlude II: Hearing Agency: A Complex Cognitive Task

10. Other Perspectives on Virtual Agency



Index of Names and Works

Index of Concepts