This paper first establishes a definition of ambiguity and its significance to art and to perception in general. Its understanding is framed within a hierarchical conception of musical structure most similar to that of Leonard B. Meyer (1956,1973). Following (1) an illustrative survey of occurrences of intentional ambiguity found in the standard music repertory, and (2) a discussion of the limited attention paid by music theorists to ambiguity in the past, a general theory of musical ambiguity's causes is developed. The paper's final section consists of an extensive analysis of functional ambiguity as a principal expressive vehicle in Chopin's Mazurka, Opus 17, No. 4.


Cohen's (1944)
Allport's (1955)
Meyer, 1973, chapter 4.)
Cohen's (1944)
Empson's (1949)
Hindemith's Mathis der Maler (measure 231)
Honegger's Symphonie No. 5 (measure 71).
Empson's (1949)
Dahl Lecture, Arnold Schoenberg Institute, Los Angeles, California, October 5, 1981


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Bernstein. L. The unanswered Question. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976.
Berrv. W. Structural functions in music. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1976.
Cohen, M. A preface to logic. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1944.
Empson, W. Seven types of ambiguity (2nd ed.). New York: New Directions, 1949.
Epstein, D. Beyond Orpheus. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1979.
Hindemith, P. Craft of musical composition, Book I. New York: Associated Music Publish- ers, 1943.
Kris, E. Psychoanalytic explorations in art. New York: International Universities Press, Inc., 1952.
Meyer, L. Emotion and meaning in music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956.
Meyer, L. Explaining music. Berkeley: University of Calfornia Press, 1973.
Schenker, H. Der freie Satz. Vienna: Universal Edition, 1935.
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