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  • Toby Young


Michael Tippett's Fourth Symphony opens with the striking sound of an intake of breath, a gesture, which – according to the composer – describes the very nature of existence. Such statements are not uncommon from Tippett, yet nevertheless this is a broad claim, which naturally poses more questions than it answers. This article explores whether such a claim has any validity, presenting a philosophically led reading of the opening breath motif in an attempt to understand whether art can really shed new light on the well-rehearsed arguments of metaphysical enquiry.



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1 This form of this article mirrors my reading of the score itself, inspired by the layered analysis of Cone's, Edward T. seminal article ‘Three ways of reading a detective story’, The Georgia Review, 31/3 (1977), pp. 554–74.

2 David Clarke, The Music and Thought of Michael Tippett: Modern Times and Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 3.

3 Notes to ‘Tippett: Symphonies Nos 2&4’ in CD issued with BBC Music Magazine, III/6 (1995).

4 Michael Tippett, Moving into Aquarius (St Albans: Paladin Books, 1974) p. 101.

5 Maynard Solomon, Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 20–25; Cf. William Kinderman, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), pp. 70–84.

6 Solomon, Late Beethoven, p. 20.

7 See Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, trans. Alastair Hannay (London: Penguin Classics, 1843), pp. 112–32.

8 Kemp, Ian, ‘Tippett's Fourth Symphony’, The Musical Times, Vol. 123, No. 1670 (1982), p. 266.

9 Thomas Schuttenhelm, The Orchestral Music of Michael Tippett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), p. 259.

10 Cf. Heiner Goebbels, Aesthetics of Absence: Texts on Theatre, ed. Jane Collins (London: Routledge, 2015), p. 39.

11 Keith Lehrer, Art, Self and Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 111.

12 Clarke, The Music and Thought of Michael Tippett, p. 24.

13 Hubert Dreyfus, Being-in-the-World: A Commentary on Heidegger's Being and Time, Division I (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), p. 40.

14 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Albany: SUNY Press, 1953) p. 132.

15 Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 207.

16 Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 97.

17 Heidegger, Being and Time, p. 93.

18 Cf. Karl Jaspers’ notion of a Grenzsituation (‘limit situation’), the conceit that humans only discover truths pertaining to their being in extreme situations.

19 Whittall, Arnold, ‘Resisting Tonality: Tippett, Beethoven and the Sarabande’, Music Analysis 9/3 (1990), pp. 267–86.

20 Martin Heidegger, ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’, Off the Beaten Track, trans. Vittorio Klostermann (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 29–37.

21 Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1990), p. 19.

22 Lehrer, Art, Self, and Knowledge, p. 9; cf. Wittgenstein's notion that the form of representation cannot be described, it can only be shown.

23 Michael Tippett, Moving into Aquarius, p. 77.

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  • ISSN: 0040-2982
  • EISSN: 1478-2286
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