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

    Hi Stephen

    I don’t know if I share your idea about music been largely imitative. If we accept this idea, we must surely ask what music is imitative of, what does it actually imitate. Such imitation implies as it does in Philosophical terms, for example in Kant’s perceptive distinction between the phenomenal qualities of the everyday, empirical world and, the layer of hidden imitated “Things-in-Themselves” that are eternal, permanent and unknowable. In Kant there’s a strict and absolute division between these two realms. However Kant’s philosophical premise is built upon the reciprocal notion that these invisible forms and the actual raw chaotic materials of the empirical world are linked by the process of duplication, that gives the everyday world it’s relative conformity and order to what he called “laws”.

    Yet, perhaps, artistic creations, and music creations in particular, could be conceived as a type of inferior duplication of those perfect things or ideas that lay behind the often murky and dull, but sometimes beautiful phenomenal world of everyday existence. I don’t know if such a theory equates to what you mean by imitation, as the mating calls of birds are really a type of natural language rather than a form of disinterested thought like the music composed or “thought-up” by the composer himself. The natural languages of animals mean something equivalent to a computational code that’s tied into the biological “Hardware” of the organism in question.

    Unlike even everyday human language, there’s simply no room for ambiguity, for disinterested second thoughts about what’s been perceived, as a result there’s neither thought nor any degree of freedom either in the language or thoughts of animals, no matter how wonder and beautiful they are. I think that unlike Kant, we could perhaps attempt to understand the nature of music as being that perception that can be grasped inwardly, and be transformed into what Leibniz called the state of apperception (which is unique to human beings alone) in which one finally becomes consciousness of being something other than a mere animal, with the corresponding limited thoughts and language of such creatures; and what you say about music being an escape from the prison of one’s own mind is absolutely correct in this context, as it’s also an escape or movement towards more freedom.


  2. Stephen Andersen

    Thank you, James for your thoughts! Let me elaborate on what I was referring to as “music being largely imitative” . When one first studies an instrument of music or composition, one learns scales, intervals, rhythmic values, chordal formations and voice leading as well as harmonic and counterpoint rules of movement. These are the vary basic components of music. From these rudimentary concepts melodies and songs are formed, sonatas, cantatas and symphonic movements are created. However, initially one is inspired to play or create by listening to other’s music be it a grand symphony or an individual drum rhythm. As far as music representing a Platonic ideal in some other realm I don’t know with certainty that this is so. I would like it to be so. I would like to create music worthy of these other planes of existence and to garner interest from their inhabitants. An interesting audience indeed! My senses are finite however and limited to this plane of existence and mercifully so I think.
    So I will choose to imitate Bach and Palestrina and Mozart and Terry Riley and William Ackerman to name a few of my mentors. I am studying music history as well and find the various scale and chord progressions that were popular in ancient cultures to be very useful in creating music in imitation of those cultures. Some musical notation has been recorded from the early Medieval time and from the Byzantine and Roman cultures. Trying to interpret the notation is challenging though and can sometimes only be guessed at as the manuscripts available are incomplete and the musical shorthand as varied as the music.