Greek European Culture

Education, Europe - West

Music is Sound with Thought

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House

This is why music in the end is so powerful, because it speaks to all parts of the human being, all sides – the animal, the emotional, the intellectual, and the spiritual. How often in life we think that personal, social and political issues are independent, without influencing each other. From music we see that this cannot occur, it is an objective impossibility, because in music there are no independent elements. Logical thought and intuitive emotions are permanently united. Music teaches us that everything is connected.   – From: Daniel Barenboim, On the Nature and Power of Music  


  1. James

    As a rejoinder to the above, is it not also possible to add that music is perhaps a force just, if not more, powerful then that of human love (how inadequate the English rendering of this word is). Can anything transform us so deeply, so importantly, so essentially. Who can ever really be the same person as they were before, after they’ve experienced, say Mahler’s music as “an amplitude of a hearing encompassing the far distance, to which the most remote analogies and consequences are virtually present” (Adorno, Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy) or Schoenberg’s, Verklarte Nacht “as like music written in a completely different sphere, like music conceived on some very remote planet” (Adorno, Essays on Modern Music). Only a dullard or a corpse would remain the exact same person afterwards and, pivotally perhaps it’s in this
    capacity that it not merely approximates “thought”, but is “though directly”, in the sense of that which is “played out” in space by time, yet not been determined nor made by it. This I suspect is the reason why ancient philosophers often tutored their students in the art of “listening” which they perceived to a truer guide to understanding, the world and Cosmos and God, than the mudus imagnalis of the eyes.

    Who can doubt their wisdom?

  2. Isn’t music and all arts images of a living person? If yes, how could we put first the image and the prototype second!? Maybe one has to be disappointed from one’s relationships (maybe from oneself, first of all) in order to make this reversal.


    Beyond this, in the purely aesthetic level, of course we like different music in different ages/periods of our life. As I listen to Mahler now, I tend to agree with Wittgenstein, that much of his music reveals bad taste. It sounds like a conformity, but yes, Bach, Beethoven and Mozart are at the top of classical music. Schoenberg is worth our admiration for transcending his own invention (the 12notes system) and arriving at such masterpieces as the Verklaerte Nacht.

  3. James



    “Isn’t music and all arts images of a living person?” No, I don’t agree that all the arts, especially music, are necessarily about producing the images of some living being, for example, what exact image, or images of some person does Mozart’s 18th piano concerto produce, or a Hayden sonata?. Surely it can’t be said that a sonata is simply the inner reflection of the composer’s so-called “inwardness”, or that it’s objectively constructed with a self conscious message for the listeners, if either of these were simply the case then music wouldn’t have the deep power for us that it evidently does.


    Perhaps it’s because music doesn’t evoke a definite image or the exact same image every time when we hear it, which makes it freer, if not more elusive to understand then the worlds inhabited by other art-forms. A musical piece can and, often does evolve into something quite different during the course of a life times listening. It’s never quite the same piece again and again and it’s this lack of a definitive shape that isn’t draw upon any particular “image” of man, that gives music that power which can be described as that which is non-human, and it’s this non-human element which has historically conceived classical music to be something “intellect” too. This in no small measure, explains why music, at least in western consciousness, is often described as being the most spiritual art form, as both in ancient Greek philosophy (since the time of Pythagoras) and in Judaism, there’s been a denigration of the merely ephemeral, image bound, humanly sensuous world, as phenomena that are incapable of producing something of lasting spiritual worth. This is our cultural, social and scientific inheritance in the west. And it’s still music, the strangest of all human creations, that in a largely secular world still manages to resonate with something, some might call God.


    “ Maybe one has to be disappointed from one’s relationship” Indeed, for is not hope given to those for which there’s simply none left?


    “As I listen to Mahler now, I tend to agree with Wittgenstein, that much of his music reveals bad taste” Yes, I do agree in part, I think Wagner had exhausted nearly all the energies and “color” which gave music form in Mahler’s time. Yet, I’m not sure it was bad taste, just frustration and repeated sufferings perhaps.


    “Schoenberg is worth our admiration for transcending his own invention” Yes, his music was the breath of fresh air made to witness the horrors and strangeness of the 20th century.



  4. Stephen Andersen

    I have been studying music theory and composition for several years now. Music does affect one in various ways however after much reflection I find music to be mostly imitative. Even birds can instinctively create a mating call and how interesting that the same call is used to identify the various species. I think the volitional aspect of the composer or creator of a piece of music largely controls the influential aspect of that music. Aesthetics are influenced by human tastes which are more similiar than different cross culturally speaking. We all have five senses that operate in the same manner unless one is handicapped. I personally find music to be a wonderful escape from the prison cell of one’s mind and evocative of thought and reflection. I know I am not a flat liner yet.