How would a person who believes that musical works are universals account for instances of musical works which seem to imply that each performance of the same piece is always different, not only in the sense that all performances are different interpretations of the same score, but taking the examples of the arab "maqam", the indian "raga" or western jazz music, in which improvisation and sometimes a radical "mutation" of the work plays an important role, not accidental but essential to the performance of that work? Victor G.

Any performance of a musical work will always differ in some ways from other performances. And universalist theorists know that. What's required is that the performance nonetheless have the characteristics that the relevant universal call for. (Or have enough of them; we'll set issues about imperfect performances aside.) So suppose the universalist would say something like this: there's something that makes a performance even of a work that allows for accident or improvisation a performance of one work rather than another. Whatever that is tells us which universal the work corresponds to. It may just be that in some cases, the pattern that the work "is" may be more abstract.

Whether that's fully adequate is harder to say. But it's the obvious way to deal with the sort of worry that you raise.

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