Music's Making

The Poetry of Music, the Music of Poetry

By Michael Cherlin

Subjects: Music, Jewish Religious Studies, Literary Theory, Phenomenology
Hardcover : 9781438498454, 310 pages, July 2024

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Table of contents

Phil Ford


Introduction: Remembering David Benjamin Lewin

Part I

1. Music as Fiction

2. That Which Emerges out of Itself, That Which Is Created

3. Moving toward Middle Voice

4. Liminal Space

5. An Ethics of Intersubjectivity

6. Character, Canon, and Poetic Influence

Part II

7. Phrase as Musical Event, Wave as Musical Metaphor, and the Silence of Musical Space

8. Metric, Ametric, Fractured Meter, and a Sea of Silence

9. Smooth Space, Striated Space: Nomadic Space, Agrarian Space

10. What Repetition Can Do: Time's Arrows

11. The Horizontal and the Vertical: Worldly and Spiritual


A personal voyage of discovery drawing on musicology, literary theory, Jewish studies, and philosophical phenomenology.


As a work of musical theory, or meta-theory, Music's Making draws extensively on work done in philosophy and literary criticism in addition to the scholarship of musicologists and music theorists. Music's Making is divided into two large parts. The first half develops global attitudes toward music: emergence out of self and hearing through (drawing on Kabbalah and other sources), middle-voice (as discussed in philosophical phenomenology), liminal space (as discussed in literary theory), an ethics of intersubjectivity (drawing on Levinas), and character, canon, and metaleptic transformations (drawing chiefly on Harold Bloom). The second half embodies a search for metaphors, figurative language toward understanding music's endlessly variegated shaping of time-space. The musicians and scholars who inform this part of the book include Pierre Boulez, Gilles Deleuze, Anton Webern, Morton Feldman, and James Dillon. The book closes with an extended inquiry into the metaphors of horizontal and vertical experience and the spiritual qualities of musical experience expressed through those metaphors.

Michael Cherlin is Professor Emeritus of Music Theory and Composition at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Schoenberg's Musical Imagination and Varieties of Musical Irony: From Mozart to Mahler.


"This book exists along the interstice between disciplines, shedding the skin of 'academia' and the 'business' of teaching, Cherlin returns us to the real work of pedagogy, not only to the art and science of learning, to enquiry, but to the crucial relationship between the 'text' and 'tradition'. … what evolves is a musical intelligence born of experience, a passionate cantillation, which invokes a poetics of music. Drawing on a seemingly disparate set of references Cherlin leaves few doubts, the only direction is 'deeper' and from liminal spaces he'll guide you there." — James Dillon, five-time recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Music Award for Chamber-Scale Composition

"It is hard to imagine a more thoughtful book, imbued with a lifetime of profound philosophical meditations and musical experiences, as well as religious practices. The author's personal touch makes the book seem like a memoir about long-lasting intellectual friendships, or like a captivating seminar with many of the last century's leading thinkers." — Scott Burnham, Department of Music, CUNY Graduate Center