Events Calendar

Music Graduate Colloquium: Robert Hatten

Friday, November 30, 2018
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Talbot College (TC)
Room: 101
graduate colloquium

Presented by Graduate Studies in Music, the Don Wright Faculty of Music Graduate Colloquium series includes lectures by distinguished guests, Western faculty members, and senior graduate students on all fields of research and creative activity in music.

Robert Hatten (University of Texas at Austin)
“A Theory of Virtual Agency for Western Art Music”

A semiotic shift in listeners’ interpretation of music’s signification, from actual agents embodying music in performance to the virtuality of agency as embodied in the music itself, had profound consequences for the historical development of Western music. Understanding the subtleties of a virtual agential perspective can provide insight into musical signification—illuminating both the “how” and the “what” of interpretation. I will outline a theory of virtual agency that addresses many of the issues that virtual agency brings into focus, and thereby demonstrate how a virtual agential perspective can contribute to a more comprehensive explanation of musical meaning.

I propose four levels in listeners’ inferences of agency, from (1) unspecified actants to (2) virtual human agents, (3) their ongoing actorial roles in dramatic (or narrative) trajectories, and (4) their transformation as parts of a larger, singular consciousness and subjectivity that is shared (and negotiated) by each individual listener. I will provide an overview, from the perspective of virtual agency, the coherent interaction of musical forces, gestures, topics and tropes, embodiment, identity, and the continuity of discourse, as leading to the expression (not merely representation) and ongoing development (not merely succession of states) of “feelingful thought” (virtual-agentially expressed emotions, as motivated by virtual situations in virtual worlds, and as enriched by self-reflection). These manifold components merge into the remarkable competency we bring to our interpretations of Western art music. My examples, from Beethoven and Chopin, will illustrate various ways composers have staged, and listeners can interpret, these levels of virtual agency, in the absence of a clearly premised, real-world-situational referentiality.

ROBERT S. HATTEN is Marlene & Morton Meyerson Professor in Music at The University of Texas at Austin, and President of the Society for Music Theory. His first book, Musical Meaning in Beethoven (1994) was co-recipient in 1997 of the Wallace Berry Award from SMT. Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes (2004) helped launch the book series “Musical Meaning and Interpretation,” which he edits for Indiana University Press. His latest book for the series is A Theory of Virtual Agency for Western Art Music (2018).

All Colloquium series events take place on selected Fridays in Talbot College 101 at 3:30 pm. (unless otherwise noted). Admission is free, and all are welcome to attend!

For FAQ, parking and other useful patron information visit

End time approximate.

Audrey Yardley-Jones - Graduate Program Assistant
519-661-2111 ext. 85354
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