Marsyas to Madonna. The construction of the musician as figure and type

NICA Masterclass | Thursday 29 November, 9:30-11:30 | Universiteitsbibliotheek Amsterdam, Singel 425, Vondelzaal

With Lydia Goehr (Columbia University, New York) and Marlies de Munck (University of Antwerp / Royal Conservatory of Ghent)

This seminar will run through a history of the arts, from antiquity to popular culture, to ask what is at stake in putting musicians on view. Why look at them as opposed to listen to them? What does that say about music as an art? We will start with Apollo and Marsyas and go from there.

Central to the reflection are the contest of the arts and the rhetorical device of ekphrasis. Both rely on dynamics of competition and comparison to make a strong appeal to the imagination. But how does that affect our conception of the art of music? And how are these competitive practices related to the typical depiction and description of the musician? A careful analysis of the relation between music and words, and between music and the visual arts, will bring to the fore the importance of the imaginative experience in music.

Lydia Goehr is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. Her research interests are in German aesthetic theory and in particular in the relationship between philosophy, politics, history, and music. She is the author of The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (1992), The Quest for Voice: Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy (1998), Elective Affinities: Musical Essays on the History of Aesthetic Theory (2008), and co-editor with Daniel Herwitz of The Don Giovanni Moment: Essays on the Legacy of an Opera (2006). She has written many articles on the work of Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Arthur Danto. Her current book is titled Red Sea – Red Square: Picturing Freedom – Liberating Wit.

Marlies De Munck studied at the Institute of Philosophy in Leuven. In 2012 she obtained a PhD in the philosophy of music with a dissertation on the concept of musical meaning, under the supervision of Lydia Goehr (Columbia University). She currently teaches at the University of Antwerp and at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent. She regularly gives lectures on themes in the philosophy of music and published articles on various topics in aesthetics and philosophy of art, such as literature, film and painting. She is co-editor of the essay-collection Muziek ervaren (Damon 2014) and recently published the book Waarom Chopin de regen niet wilde horen (Letterwerk 2017).


Participants of this seminar are asked to prepare a five-minute statement about a video, painting, picture, literary passage or other representation of an (imaginary) musician or musical work. The statement should be based on the readings and will be the starting point for discussion. In addition, every participant is asked to prepare two questions for debate.

The obligatory readings are:

Shadi Bartsch and Jaś Elsner. “Eight Ways of Looking at an Ekphrasis.” Classical Philology 102, no. 1 (January 2007): i-vi.

Lydia Goehr. “How to Do More with Words. Two Views of (Musical) Ekphrasis”. British Journal of Aesthetics 50, no. 4 (October 2010): 389–410.

Walter Pater. “The School of Giorgione.” In The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Literature, 130-54.

  1. W. Adorno. “On Some Relationships between Music and Painting,” translated by Susan Gillespie, The Musical Quarterly 79, no. 1 (Spring, 1995): 66-79.

Friedrich Nietzsche. “On Music and Words” (1871) [excerpt].

Lydia Goehr. “Improvising Impromptu, Or, What to Do with a Broken String”. In The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies, edited by George E. Lewis and Benjamin Piekut (Oxford University Press, 2016).

Lydia Goehr. “ ‘All Art Constantly Aspires to the Condition of Music’—Except the Art of Music: Reviewing the Contest of the Sister Arts”. In The Insistence of Art: Aesthetic Philosophy After Early Modernity, edited by Paul A. Kottman (New York: Fordham University Press: 2017), 140-69.

Lydia Goehr. “The Central Claim.” Chapter 4 of The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works.


How to Register

To register, please send to a note to NICA (, in which you supply us with your name, affiliation (the master’s programme or research school you are associated with), and a brief motivation. Please register before November 15th. There is room for 20 participants in total. All are welcome, but NICA members will have priority. This masterclass counts for 1 EC for NICA participants.


Associated conference

This NICA masterclass is organized in parallel to the conference Elvis Lives in Amsterdam: Manifestations of the Imaginary Musician (29 November to 1 December), for which participants can register separately. For more information, see:


Picture credits: The Torment of Marsyas (Louvre Museum, Paris); Madonna during her concert in Paris, France, as part of her Confessions Tour on August 31, 2006, © Pascal Mannaerts / / CC BY-SA 3.0