MUSICAL VERSIONS AND TRANSCRIPTIONS: Disputing Stephen Davies’ Account

Nemesio Puy, University of Granada

ABSTRACT:  According to Stephen Davies, versions and transcriptions of musical works have different ontological weight. In his view, transcriptions are new musical works derived from the original, whereas versions are not, and are taken to be the same work as the original. Therefore, transcriptions are ontologically heavier than versions because they count as new entities. Davies holds that transcriptions involve a change of instrumental medium, while versions do not. For Davies, when the medium of a medium-specific work is changed, the result is a new work that is different from the original. In this paper, this difference in ontological weight is rejected, arguing that neither versions nor transcriptions are new musical works. Although Davies’ general account is grounded on strong intuitions concerning musical practices, it will be shown that his view on this point at least is not consistent with the robust intuition that transcribers are not composing new musical works when they transcribe. In first place, we will reject Davies’ distinction in ontological weight between versions and transcriptions as a revisionist view regarding our musical practices. Then we will contend that, in Davies’ account, there are no additional reasons strong enough to support the revisionist idea that a change of instrumental medium is sufficient to generate a new musical work.

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