Skip to content

Debate: Ambiguity

Updated Saturday 24th June 2006

Professor Dennis Kurzon takes issue with Darren Barenboim's Reith Lecture contention that music has ambiguity lacking in real life.

Piano keyboard Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Jupiter Images

I would like to take issue on a small remark by Daniel Barenboim in the third Reith lecture. He relates to ambiguity, saying "in real life ambiguity may be described as a doubtful quality, somebody who is ambiguous, not knowing exactly what he or she wants, how to react etc. But in the world of sound, in this magical world of sound, ambiguity means that there are many many possibilities, many ways to go."

I would not agree with him. Ambiguity is rife in real-life, too, and it has nothing to do with not knowing what to do. Any linguist, and I am one of that breed, will tell you that almost everything that is said is ambiguous. It is the context that helps to disambiguate. The ambiguity found in music -- and I like the way Barenboim presents that topic -- is also found in language, unintentionally in everyday conversation, intentionally in literary texts, but it is different in nature. It is usually not the question of what is coming next, but the two or more meanings of what one has already said.

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?

Other content you may like

Some merits of Manchester Creative commons image Icon Nightfall404 under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 license article icon

History & The Arts 

Some merits of Manchester

In Manchester, William is struck by the city's dignity - and woollen socks.

Article
The Sound and the Fury: Wrecking Ball Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

TV, Radio & Events 

The Sound and the Fury: Wrecking Ball

The first in a new music series: How the early 20th century saw a fragmented, abstract, discordant sound come to the fore.

Article
OU on the BBC: Sound of Life - The Song of the Earth Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: NASA article icon

Health, Sports & Psychology 

OU on the BBC: Sound of Life - The Song of the Earth

Experience a magical journey through one day of the planet's life, through sound: Join Aubrey as he listens to the song of the Earth.

Article
20th century composers: making the connections Creative commons image Icon The Open University under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license activity icon

History & The Arts 

20th century composers: making the connections

Explore the world of 20th century classical and avant-garde music through the composers and the fascinating connections that exist between them.

Activity
The Great Fall: Berlin’s ‘Freedom’ concert Creative commons image Icon Allan Warren under CC BY-SA 3.0) license under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

The Great Fall: Berlin’s ‘Freedom’ concert

How did the Berlin 'Freedom' concert come about after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, and what significance has music played in Germany's past?

Article
Charles Hazlewood on... Romeo and Juliet Creative commons image Icon wallyg under CC-BY-NC-ND licence under Creative-Commons license video icon

History & The Arts 

Charles Hazlewood on... Romeo and Juliet

The conductor Charles Hazlewood introduces Romeo and Juliet as part of the BBC/OU Discovering Tchaikovsky series.

Video
5 mins
Sacred music in a secular world Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: By tamburix via Flickr under Creative Commons licence article icon

History & The Arts 

Sacred music in a secular world

Richard Langham Smith muses on the interplay between sacred music and secular culture.

Article
What is music? Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC article icon

History & The Arts 

What is music?

What is music and where does it come from? A number of people contribute their ideas in this article which was originally part of the "Big Question" series.

Article
Shaken and stirred? Blending the familiar and new in Bond’s music  Creative commons image Icon jcoterhals under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence under Creative-Commons license article icon

History & The Arts 

Shaken and stirred? Blending the familiar and new in Bond’s music

With all the talk on who will be the next James Bond, we get shaken and stirred about the music in these iconic films.  

Article