Ramblings: Philosophers on Music
Some topics for the Ninth Walk, Welshpool to Llanymynech, waterside walking, 12 m
Plato (427-347 BC)
"Our music was once divided into its proper forms...It was not permitted to exchange the melodic styles of these established forms and others. Knowledge and informed judgment penalized disobedience. There were no whistles, unmusical mob-noises, or clapping for applause. The rule was to listen silently and learn; boys, teachers, and the crowd were kept in order by threat of the stick. . . . But later, an unmusical anarchy was led by poets who had natural talent, but were ignorant of the laws of music...Through foolishness they deceived themselves into thinking that there was no right or wrong way in music, that it was to be judged good or bad by the pleasure it gave. By their works and their theories they infected the masses with the presumption to think themselves adequate judges."
Martin Luther (1483-1546)
“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through Music.”
That music was to accompany praises to God in native tongues, not Latin, so the message could be understood and appreciated by all.
"The unutterable depth of all music by which it floats through our consciousness as the vision of a paradise firmly believed in yet ever distant from us, and by which also it is so fully understood and yet is so inexpressible, rests on the fact that it restores to us all the emotions of our inmost nature, but entirely without reality and far removed from their pain. So also the seriousness which is essential to it, which excludes the absurd from its direct and peculiar province, is to be explained by the fact that its object is not the Idea, with reference to which alone deception and absurdity are possible; but its object is directly the will, and this is essentially the most serious of all things, for it is that on which all depends."
Renee Decartes (1596-1650)
"The object of music is a Sound. The end; to delight, and move various Affections in us."
Descartes occupies the middle ground between classical and humanist thoughts about music.
The Nature of Reality
From the Greek philosophers until the era of quantum physics and string theory, philosophers have shed light on the nature of perception and reality. How does music fit in with their schemes? That is what this section is all about.
"God gave us music so that we, first and foremost, will be guided upward by it. All qualities are united in music: it can lift us up, it can be capricious, it can cheer us up and delight us, nay, with its soft, melancholy tunes, it can even break the resistance of the toughest character. Its main purpose, however, is to lead our thoughts upward, so that it elevates us, even deeply moves us. ... Music also provides pleasant entertainment and saves everyone who is interested in it from boredom." (Quoted from Nietzsche at the age of 14)
Nietzche's philosophy aimed at self-realisation, "individuation" in psychology's terminology, through developing and uniting masculine and feminine, which he categorised as apollonian and dionysian.
Herman von Helmholtz (1821-1894)
Helmholtz connects the boundaries of physical and physiological acoustics on the one hand, and of musical science and aesthetics on the other. He discovered how the brain perceives harmony.
"Music stands in a much closer connection with pure sensation than any other art."
It is, "the theory of the sensations of hearing to which the theory of music has to look for the foundation of its structure."