I think it's plausible that a good pianist could perform fantastic music without putting any "soul" into it. That is, the audience could have a profound, moving experience, although, for the pianist, the activity is mechanical and repetitive, or even boring, unpleasant or tedious, because they've performed the same piece many times before. What I wanted to ask is -- if the audience learned what the pianist was really doing, would they be justified in thinking that their experience wasn't profound after all, or in feeling somehow cheated? Does it really matter whether or not the performer is themselves connected to the work?

I think it must matter in *some* ways whether or not the performer is connected to the work. For example, the listener's connection with player depends, in part, on the state of mind of the player and the perception of that state by the audience. But I think that in terms of the general quality of the experience, or whether the audience is "cheated" or "profound," the state of the pianist does not settle things. I say this for two reasons. First, it seems that, general, aesthetic experience does not require this sort of emotional investment on the part of the "player," or even any intention at all. A photo accidentally taken by someone's phone, for example, could elicit a profound experience. That doesn't seem like a"cheat" to me, even once I find out it was an accident. Secondly, a musician brings to a performance much more than is consciously present and occurent at the time of the performance. A pianist has practiced for years, and much of that practice was presumably invested with deep emotional involvement. The way the pianist plays a piece reflects many decisions--decisions on how to play it, for example--that may themselves be deeply invested with emotion. Furthermore, the piece itself "speaks" to the audience (the compose may have invested profound ideas and emotions into the writing of the piece), and the pianist's dispassionate execution of the notes might itself be sufficient to communicate that to the audience.

Read another response by Yuval Avnur
Read another response about Music