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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 June 2017


While fragility is typically defined as ‘the quality of being easily broken or damaged’, within a musical framework the term can be understood through a myriad of causal lenses. One must consider what can be ‘broken’ or damaged’ in a musical context, and secondly how this sense of impairment might present itself. This article offers an extensive categorisation of musical fragility, and a characterisation of it in its numerous forms across the works of a broad range of composers. Through classification, a distinction between local and large-scale fragility emerges. A typology of fragilities makes it possible both to identify them in works that might not necessarily be considered fragile and to identify works that use combinations of fragility types. This classification involves ten types, with compositions from new and experimental acoustic music offered as examples.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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2 Properties of fragility are often argued by philosophers in discussions of dispositions. In particular, the focus has been on whether a disposition is causally relevant, i.e. whether fragility is causally relevant to breaking. See McKitrick, Jennifer, “Are Dispositions Causally Relevant?”, Synthese 144, no. 3 (2005), pp. 357–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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4 However, a stable element does not need to be a constant.

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6 Instances of the term ‘fragility’ found in writings on music include Boutwell's description of the texture in Morton Feldman's Four Instruments ( Boutwell, Brett, ‘“The Breathing of Sound Itself”: Notation and Temporality in Feldman's Music to 1970’, Contemporary Music Review 32, no. 6 (2013), pp. 531570 CrossRefGoogle Scholar); Harrison's discussion on the work of Aldo Clementi as ‘certain quality of fragility’ ( Harrison, Brynn, ‘The Tempo of Enclosed Spaces: A Short, Personal Reflection on the Ensemble Music of Aldo Clementi’, Contemporary Music Review 30, no. 3–4 (2011), pp. 269274 CrossRefGoogle Scholar); and Frasch's depiction of the structural architecture of her piece the silence that reigns … as ‘too fragile to exist in the physical world’. (Heather Frasch, the silence that reigns … (2011). Unpublished Manuscript and Programme Note, (accessed 22 March 2017)). Although without reference to a specific piece, Schroeder's article on ‘networked listening’ focuses on a discussion of the fragility of the performative body and of the listening experience (see Schroeder, Franziska, ‘Network[ed] Listening–Towards a De-centering of Beings’, Contemporary Music Review 32, no. 2–3 (2013), pp. 215229 Google Scholar).

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8 Note that I will use the terms sonic fragility and musical fragility interchangeably.

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47 The performer must contact the composer indicating the duration of the intended performance to obtain the next pages of the score, and instruction to begin at the point in the score where the last performance left off. Thus far sections have been performed over 17 years, beginning in March 1999.

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