Many contemporary composers have become increasingly aware of their position as interpreters and critics of music history, interacting with a pluralistic multitude of musical possibilities. One of the most distinct of these composers is the German Hans Zender (1936-). Through his numerous essays on music, he is moreover one of the writers who have reflected most profoundly upon the challenges of pluralism. This essay explores how Zender’s concept of productive listening, developed in critical dialogue with both Cage’s ideas and the hermeneutic tradition, forms the platform for his understanding of interpretation and composition. Composer, performer and listener are equalled in Zender’s poetics; all are receivers, and all are producers. Zender regards composition as a tension-filled confrontation of the unfinished past with the sensibility of the present. In a coda, it is suggested how Zender’s ideas have correlations to Walter Benjamin’s philosophy of history.

Keywords: Pluralism, listening, interpretation, historical criticism