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Philosophy of music.
I. Introduction
II. Historical survey, antiquity–1750
III. Aesthetics, 1750–2000
IV. Anglo-American philosophy of music, 1960–2000
V. Contemporary challenges
Philosophy of music

I. Introduction
1. A sceptical beginning.
2. Entries in Grove's dictionaries.
Philosophy of music, §I: Introduction
1. A sceptical beginning.
Short and long discussions of music saturate the history of Western philosophy.
Similar discussions of philosophy saturate the history of Western music. Yet referring
to ‘the philosophy of music’ often surprises academics and laypersons alike. Some
declare they did not know there was such a subject; perhaps that is because there
have been few devoted philosophers of music. If one were to list known philosophers
solely devoted to music, or known musicians devoted to philosophy (a devotion that in
much earlier times would still have kept them in the class of musicians), one might not
come up with a single name. However, were one to name philosophers and musicians
who have contributed to the subject, one could produce a seemingly unending list and
a list of the greatest names: Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Boethius and so on through
to the present. Most philosophical engagement with music has taken place in the
context of (a) philosophers developing cosmological and metaphysical systems in
which each subject and type of phenomenon, including music, is assigned its proper
place; (b) philosophers treating music as one of the arts within their different
philosophical systems of aesthetics; and (c) musicians – composers, performers,
theorists, and critics – drawing on, and thus contributing to, philosophy to explain the
foundations, rationale and more esoteric aspects of their theories, practices and
products. Even so, scepticism about the subject remains.
Typically, the Western philosophy of music has been treated as a history of competing
philosophical theories about the music most approved of at any given time – sacred
music, serious music, classical music – hence generating a canonic discipline of the
best that has been said about the best music produced. Yet even on this canonic level
fluctuation in theory type, methodological commitment and chosen phenomena has
been broad. Sometimes the fluctuation has produced scepticism as to whether there is
a distinct field that is the philosophy of music and a belief that any such field is a
hotchpotch of more or less connected theories produced by philosophers and
musicians of the Western tradition. Others have admired this same tradition, seeing
the connections between the different philosophical explorations of music as
interestingly sustaining and interacting with the explorations that constitute Western
philosophy as a whole. Between the extremes of scepticism and admiration have
laboured the theorists, troubled in their different periods by all that has been left out of,

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or included in, the canon: types of argument, types of philosopher, types of music,
types of musician. Sometimes their resulting theories have been absorbed into the
canon, sometimes as central, sometimes as marginal. Often they have helped
generate new fields – musicology (and ‘new musicology’), music theory and analysis,
ethnomusicology and anthropology, the physics of sound (acoustics), the sociology of,
psychology of and social history of music – fields that have contributed to, or
competed with what, at any given time, has constituted the canonic line of the
philosophy of music. If, now, one still wants to grant that there is something
approaching a sustained discipline of the philosophy of music, probably it is best
understood, like the history and practice of music itself, as a family (or families) of
theories, objects and practices happily and unhappily connected in relations of
continuity and rupture, benevolent and malevolent debate, competition, influence,
admiration and affection.
From another methodological point of view, whether one should speak of the
philosophy of music on a particular species level, as one does, say, of the philosophy
of biology or of law, or, as many have, only on the genus level, as part of a general
aesthetics or philosophy of art, depends on how particularistic or unique one takes
music (and each of the other arts) to be. ‘The aesthetics of one art is that of the others;
only the material is different’, declared Robert Schumann. But just as one may argue
that philosophical questions raised by biological phenomena are sufficiently particular
for questions appropriate to ‘the philosophy of science’ as a genus discipline to fail to
cover them, or that questions raised about law are inadequately covered by the
general questions of ethics, so one may argue that music is too particular to be
exhausted by the general questions of aesthetics. Certainly, from a historical point of
view, music deserves to be treated as a particular if only by virtue of the extraordinary
and distinctive breadth of use and significance it has sustained. For music has been
treated not only as one of the major arts but also as a significant science and, for an
extraordinarily long time, as a mainstay of a liberal arts education. In its different roles,
music has been treated as theoretical speculation and idea, as practice, production
and performance, as expression and craft, as natural phenomenon and cosmological
Nevertheless, for all this breadth, does the same assertion of particularity hold true
when music is made the subject of philosophy? The difficulty inherent in that question
has most interestingly lain in the ‘of’ in ‘the philosophy of music’. It has not lain in the
obvious and pervasive truth that philosophers have used music, often with great depth,
in their thinking, or that musicians have used philosophy with similar depth in theirs; it
has lain in the less obvious thought that the practice and theory of music has
historically represented a deep resistance to its being made the object of a systematic
philosophical theory. There is a problem in making any particular subject the object of
a general philosophical theory, but the claim here is more specific to music's peculiar
historical engagement with philosophy. Allied repeatedly with human emotion, with
purely sensuous expression, with cosmology, mystery and mathematical abstraction,
with useless and unnatural (artificial) function, with purely transient or temporal
existence, with non-conceptual communication and, finally, with the often
underestimated channel of the human ear (the ear is merely ‘the channel of the heart’,
the eye ‘the channel of the mind’), theorists and practitioners have been remarkably
successful in making the ‘art of tone’ resist the philosophical bid to provide for music
an exhaustive rational, logical or conceptual account.
The long history of music's being described negatively, in terms of what it is not, does
not have, or cannot and should not do, has often been used to prove either music's

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impoverishment because music fails of philosophical account or philosophy's

impoverishment because philosophy fails to control music. In the ruling dualistic terms
of Western thought, some theorists have suggested that music's history is just the
history of human passion, and that since philosophy's demand for reason has so often
opposed itself to what passion offers, music has symbolized philosophy's antidote.
One way to counter the resistance has been to make music's ‘art of tone’ subservient
to poetry's ‘art of word’, or to render music rational, conceptual or logical in conformity
with philosophical law. In the 19th century, Nietzsche spoke of the resistance and of
the related struggle between music and philosophy when, in The Birth of Tragedy, he
suggested that ‘perhaps music represents a realm of wisdom from which the logician
is exiled. Perhaps art is … a necessary correlative of, and supplement for, science?’
He had the long history of Western philosophy and music explicitly in mind. It was a
history going back to ancient, Athenian quarrels between reason and feeling, mind and
body, truth and illusion, desire and obligation, freedom and constraint, and to at least
one of music's origins, namely, in mousikē: the desired contribution of the passionate
muses to the project of educating the soul and to the distrust of some philosophers
that the muse of music could in fact educate the soul. Regarding contemporary
debate, a comparable struggle is articulated as a conflict between authoritarian and
non-authoritarian social and cultural forms, or in gendered terms, between patriarchal
and matriarchal discourses (see §V below). To accommodate music's endless
resistance or philosophy's endless self-reflection, perhaps the headword ‘philosophy of
music’ should be rejected, since it tends to embody an assumption that music can be,
or historically has been, captured by and controlled within the constraints of
philosophical method. ‘Philosophy and/or music’ may better capture their suggestive
history of interactive equality and tension and leave dialectically open the issue of their
relation. The headword may not only indicate what the entry will contain but also how
the subject will be approached, as a necessary excursus into one specific history of
music's complex relations with philosophy will now demonstrate.
Philosophy of music, §I: Introduction
2. Entries in Grove's dictionaries.
We now examine changing attitudes in the English-speaking musical world by a
consideration of the treatment of the topic in the Grove dictionaries from the earliest
discussion (in 1927) to the present day (2000). Grove's Dictionary, historically, has
epitomized a mainstream if not always subtle position of extreme scepticism towards
the existence of, and interest in, the philosophy of music, perhaps typifying attitudes
prevalent among musicians in Great Britain. In its third edition (1927) – the earliest to
have an entry even approaching a direct discussion of philosophy and music – the
author, Sir Percy Buck, introduced readers to the subject under the headword
‘Aesthetics’. This choice of rubric justified Buck's beginning his account ‘about the year
1750’ when the term ‘aesthetics’ first came explicitly into use for the ‘science which
investigates the Beautiful’. Though he provided no more historical information, and
concerned as he was to expound his favoured aesthetic theory, he still explained
something about a tradition of the philosophers’ engagement with music whose
temporal and conceptual scale extended far beyond that mid-18th-century year. Yet
what he wrote was quite disparaging:
‘Aesthetics’ has come to mean two different things to two different
groups of thinkers. To the pure metaphysician it still stands for the
investigation of Beauty as a thing in itself – a speculation which attracted
even the earliest Egyptian and Greek thinkers – and to him Beauty is an
absolute, outside of us, independent of its effect on mind and of human

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reaction to it. To the psychologist, however, Aesthetics has, by common

consent, been narrowed down to the consideration of the Fine Arts: i.e.
the arts concerned with sight and hearing (Architecture, Sculpture,
Poetry, Painting and Music).
The connection between aesthetics and the modern classification of the fine arts has
been sustained by more than the psychologists’ common consent. It was, and
remains, the standard starting account among many metaphysicians and historians of
the arts (Kristeller, 1951). Yet Buck, preferring the psychologists’ method, was
determined to get metaphysics out of the way:
The single metaphysical problem ‘What is Beauty?’ thus resolves itself
into a number of practical questions which may be stated in some such
form as this: ‘How and why do we as human beings become affected by,
and pass judgement on the quality of, works of art?’.
He had already loaded his argument by assuming that metaphysics should be
resolvable into practical, as opposed to theoretical, questions. He explained:
It would serve no purpose to attempt to summarise here even the chief
theories of the metaphysicians. From Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to
Plotinus and the Neoplatonists in Greece, from Leibniz to Lessing,
Baumgarten, Kant, Hegel and Schopenhauer in Germany; from
Descartes and Diderot to modern time in France; from Bacon to
Bosanquet in England, we are met by an endless stream of conflicting
dogmatism. Few people pretend to understand (and most people doubt
the ability of anyone to understand) what the majority of the above
writers really want to say, and to those to whom metaphysics is not an
end in itself the whole output of human thought in this field seems to be
distressingly dreary and sterile. For the metaphysicians write – and
possibly it is proper that metaphysicians should write – as if they had
never once allowed themselves to be thrilled by any manifestation of
Beauty. It is therefore permissible to say that no student of music will
love his art one whit the less for giving a wide berth to all that the
metaphysicians have written.
Buck turned to the ‘psychologist [who] approaches the subject from an entirely
different standpoint’, and who deals with an experience that is ‘always two-sided,
being a reaction to a stimulus’. He did not particularly mention music again, finding his
points applicable to the fine arts in general. Yet he did hint at fairly standard answers
to what are still the predominant questions of a musical aesthetics with a predilection
for psychology: What is Beauty? is it objective? law-like? does beauty reside in the
object, the work of art, or in the hearer's response? what is the nature of an emotional
response? what is the relation between the work of art (the stimulus) and the
response? how, more generally, should one describe the relation between music and
human nature, between music's ‘psychic energy’ or formal movement and the
movement of our ‘inner lives’, or between how music moves and why we feel moved
when we listen to music? What is surprising about Buck's answers was the implication
that they were free of metaphysical assumption and carried solely by mere
commonsense. At best, they were carried by that 18th-century British tradition of
philosophical psychology that devised a theoretical ideal of commonsense – a shared
faculty of sense – to guide its inquiries.
According to Buck, beauty resides in the response to a particular stimulus, in our
feelings stirred by this particular object; yet not every feeling so stirred results in an

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aesthetic judgment. We judge aesthetically only when we take an interest in how

artists have objectified their feelings, because art is the presentation of an idea
through a medium; we find a work of art beautiful when our response is akin to the
feeling in the artist that originated it. Much ‘barren [i.e. philosophical] discussion’, he
wrote, could be avoided if we understood that a work's appeal lies not in the
immediacy of our feeling-response but in how that response is mediated through the
intellect, because the intellect contributes the knowledge of how the work is arranged.
The intellect gives credence and shape to the emotion, the feeling of pleasure or
displeasure, approbation or disapprobation, on the basis of which we judge. However,
our judgment is not merely a reflection of our personal tastes; if it were, we could not
guarantee objectivity in our practice of criticism. Criticism, rather, is the application of
aesthetic principles derived on the basis of an acquired expertise about the technical
and stylistic properties of art. Buck did not name these principles; he remarked only
that they were conventional, not law-like; he then simply grounded their purported
objectivity in ‘sincerity’. One ‘ultimate and eternal question’, he wrote, governs the
entire enterprise of aesthetic judgment and criticism: ‘Is the artwork genuine? Was it
born because the catharsis of its author compelled him to create?’. If critics who ask
this question are sincere, their answers and judgments will be, and in their sincerity, he
concluded, they will have engaged with the problems of aesthetics.
Music's expression, its embodiment of the emotions and its capacity to prompt
catharsis (purification of feeling) in listeners are incontrovertible topics of musical
aesthetics, although some would argue the topics, prompting as they do the central
issue of the source and objectivity of expression, taste, judgment, criticism. Do musical
works express or embody the composers’ feelings, ideas or intentions? Do works
express or mean something through their own form and content as linguistic
sentences or utterances mean something independently of the particular persons who
utter them? Are expressive or emotive predicates attributable to works themselves:
may we say of the music itself that it is sad? Are the judgments and evaluations of
musical works based on listeners' responses; if so, under what conditions of feeling
and intellect? or are such judgments based on the emotive content we find in the form
and content of the works themselves?
These classic questions of objectivity and subjectivity lie behind Robert Donington's
entry, still under the rubric ‘Aesthetics’, in Grove5 (1954). Noting first the Greek origin
of the term aisthanesthai (‘to perceive’), Donington observed that the term had come
more broadly to refer to the ‘theory of artistic experience’. He did not say more but
remarked on how rewarding aesthetics was for those with speculative talent, although
he warned against untrained dabbling. He noticed how much ‘unrivalled confusion’ the
subject has promoted, even among ‘the trained’, and then stated that the philosophical
aspect was beyond the scope of the dictionary.
In the earlier editions of Grove's Dictionary, a discussion of aesthetics was included
without any presumption that the dictionary was offering philosophical coverage. In the
first (1877–89), when the editors specifically excluded certain topics and modes of
inquiry from their concerns, philosophy was not mentioned among them. Its absence is
further confirmed by the noticeable omission of entries on philosophers who
contributed to music in that capacity. Although Rousseau was entered in the first
edition, he was not recognized for his philosophical views on music (though they were
mentioned) but for his compositions and music theory (specifically his debate with
Rameau). Schopenhauer, now widely regarded as ‘the musician's philosopher’,
entered Grove only in the fifth edition, as briefly did Nietzsche (the entry mostly
concerned his relationship to Wagner). Further, when it was considered, aesthetics

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was not specifically connected to philosophy; it was not even treated with special
reference to music, as Donington confirmed when, in referring his readers to an
aesthetician he admired, he mentioned Benedetto Croce (1902), not usually known for
his remarks on music despite his influential work on language and expression.
Unlike Buck, Donington did not promote a preferred method. Though he granted that
psychology has much to contribute to aesthetics, he remarked that it had not yet been
very successful in its contributions. He granted that critics had written much that was
useful, but again warned against an attempt at philosophical explanation. He praised
Wagner for his inspired and voluminous intuitions and developments of opera and
myth, but chided him for attempting philosophical explanation. Although he regarded
philosophy as beyond his scope, he showed an awareness of when his themes called
for philosophical account: ‘The question of the principles on which a work of art can be
judged good of its kind is one on which both psychologists and critics can throw much
light’, he wrote, ‘but only a philosopher can (with their assistance) frame a really
accurate answer’. Without claiming any such accuracy, he offered guidelines as to how
the question might be approached.
Donington first observed that music may be described according to its emotional or
physical aspects, noting that its physical aspects were treated elsewhere (under
‘Acoustics’). We need only to know for aesthetics that certain vibrations and
combinations of sounds give rise to certain reactions, perhaps of monotony or distress.
The emotional aspects are then dealt with by psychology, by theories that show how
auditory experiences vary conventionally and habitually in all sorts of ways against the
background of shared human faculties. He continued more speculatively: although
aesthetic pleasures include natural beauties, ‘works of art are unique in putting us in
touch with another mind’. A basic feature of artistic experience is communication by
artists through works of art. Artists communicate their intentions to give pleasurable or
satisfying feelings to listeners through the medium of music. To achieve this,
composers tend to use contrasts: harshness raises a desire for sweetness, and
resolution is felt when sweetness is offered. Discord finds resolution in concordance:
when it does not, we speak of composers as ‘ahead of their time’, although this does
not necessarily mark progress. He finally suggested that the impact of music might
depend upon primordial associations that are worked out unconsciously, but offered no
more detail. He concluded that, even had his thoughts not been accurate, he hoped he
had been asking the right questions.
That Donington was approaching some of the right questions is not in doubt; that his
answers were not entirely convincing is beside the point. What matters is this: in how
many more editions would Grove assign the writing of an entry on aesthetics to
theorists who felt the need, either because of disinclination, modesty or inadequacy, to
disavow the contribution of philosophy in an encyclopedic coverage of ‘music and
The position changed in Grove6 (1980). The entry's headword was now ‘Aesthetics of
music’, and subtitled as ‘the philosophy of the meaning and value of music’. It was
extended considerably and was written by the Canadian philosopher Francis
Sparshott. Aware of the difficulties of adequate representation of so large a topic, he
began by delimiting its scope:
The term ‘aesthetics of music’ normally designates attempts to explain
what music means: the difference between what is and what is not
music, the place of music in human life and its relevance to an
understanding of human nature and history, the fundamental principles of

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the interpretation and appreciation of music, the nature and ground of

excellence and greatness in music, the relation of music to the rest of the
fine arts and to other related practices, and the place or places of music
in the system of reality.
Here are captured most of the central questions pertinent to the philosophical
discussion of music in its history and in the present day: the ontological questions of
being and classification, the epistemological questions of experience, knowing and
meaning and the normative questions of criticism, appreciation, judgment and value,
and the functional questions of music's role in education and entertainment, culture
and society. Sparshott went on to delimit the scope of the enterprise in terms of the
modern disciplines from which it is differentiated:
aesthetics is to be distinguished from the psychology and sociology of
musical composition, performance and listening; from the history of
musical practice; from the physics of sound and the physiology of the
ear; from the analysis and description of all particular works and
traditions in music; and from all other kinds of empirical inquiry, even
though fruitful discussions in aesthetics may in practice be inseparable
from some such inquiries.
While acknowledging that ‘aesthetics’ had sometimes been used to include some or all
of the modes of inquiry he had just put aside, Sparshott then added, against this, that
aesthetics had also maintained a much narrower use, to refer only to those attempts to
establish a rational basis for enjoyment and evaluation. He did not favour either side:
the first was too broad, the second too narrow. Instead, he stated his intention simply
to record ‘what has been thought and said’ by philosophers and philosopher-musicians
‘about music in the tradition of Western Civilisation’, although suggestions were added
about how this tradition ‘might be enriched by contributions from elsewhere’,
specifically from the long traditions of aesthetics, philosophy and the arts in China and
India. He mentioned the concept of ‘rasa’ in Indian poetics, a sort of ‘relish’, that might
have served Western aesthetics better than that of expression, and China's great
system of equipoises, a cosmological system (social and aesthetic) that allows ‘the
theory of music and ceremonies’, as Yueh Chih wrote, to embrace ‘the whole nature of
Sparshott's reasons for some of the inadequacies he saw in the aesthetics of music
provide a new perspective on the scepticism that still concerns us. The field, he
suggested, has received a noticeable lack of attention because (a) not all writers who
would like to philosophize about music have the requisite knowledge of the technical
complexities of music's production and notation; (b) there has been a strong prejudice
that musical value does not extend past its notes or forms into extra-musical areas of
human experience and value; and (c) that the humanities have long assigned music a
low place, as merely an emotional or ornamental art of entertainment, of insignificant
use in serious matters of culture. ‘At least the first of these reasons remains operative’,
he noted, concluding that ‘modern theorizing about music rises above the arcane and
the nugatory less often than does comparable writing about the visual arts’.
His own discussion tried to alleviate that impression to the extent that he offered a
chronology of what had best been said and by whom in Western philosophy about
Western music, from antiquity until the late 20th century (see §2 below for his account
from antiquity to 1750). His account highlighted precisely the kinds of judgment, choice
and prejudice that have historically been at stake in the topic. Unlike Buck and
Donington, Sparshott showed how far music itself has been an essentially contested

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concept and the Western philosophy of music an essentially contested field. His
account suggested that, if scepticism is to be retained, it should be of the constructive
kind that allows essentially contested fields and concepts to be admitted to the
contest. Denying that a given mode of inquiry is genuine or worthwhile might at times
be a valuable, even a necessary, position to take within a field, but it should not be
taken, as one might read the early Grove entries, as externally representing the field
as a whole.
Sparshott's entry was published under the headword ‘Aesthetics of music’, although
he knew that the title referred to a discipline and set of concerns that came into their
own only in the mid-18th century. That was the time when music achieved (or so it is
argued) its emancipated status as a fine art, when it acquired sufficient autonomy for
its focus to move away from its external functional and occasional extra-musical
functions in church and court to the secular and bourgeois concert-hall aesthetic of
works, performances and reception (see §3). Sparshott associated the paradigm
change of this period, as many theorists do, with the beginnings of modern theorizing
about music, a type of theorizing that gave modern meanings to the theoretical terms
of the previous sentence. It was also a type of theorizing that helped sustain the three
kinds of concerns Sparshott identified as sometimes detrimental to the modern
aesthetics of music: the new analytical focus on technical matters of composition and
form; the formalist separation of specifically or purely musical value from extra-musical
association, and the ‘bourgeois’ relegation of music to the sphere of leisure or mere,
albeit fine, entertainment. These tendencies, however, constitute only a small part of
the modern aesthetics of music, an aesthetics often reckoned as marking the period in
which the relations between philosophy and music received more explicit attention in
theory and practice than ever before.
The modern period saw musicians engaging in philosophy and philosophers engaging
in music. It heard that music, under its condition of freedom and emancipation, was
infinite expression, absolutely philosophical, the last true religion, the pure expression
of the world's Will, the supreme carrier of the Dionysian spirit of tragedy in the modern
age. It saw the plastic arts aspiring to the non-discursive, abstract and supremely
expressive Romantic condition of absolute or purely instrumental music. It witnessed
music, in the form of the symphony, opera or song, disclosing utopian and
revolutionary dreams or prophesies for the future of humanity. It saw music, operatic
and instrumental, being so feared for its power over the public that it was sometimes
strictly censored.
Yet it was also a period of radical distrust of music's metaphysical and political imports,
a period in which evolutionary science, psychology, history and sociology gave
independent, empirical credence to, and justification for, the development of new
musical genres. It was a period in which the discipline of music developed internally
motivated forms of analysis and criticism that attended to the specifically musical,
technical and expressive aspects of musical composition, notation, form and
All these tendencies – the Romantic, the formalist, the speculative, analytical,
positivistic and empirical, the psychological, political and sociological – are part of the
modern aesthetics of music. They are also the tendencies of modern philosophy per
se. Some may reasonably find the ‘arcane and nugatory’ in the most extreme
manifestations of any of these tendencies, in the worst excesses of metaphysical
speculation, in the worst excesses of formalism and positivism, and so on. More
pertinent is the treatment here of the period before the establishment of the modern
aesthetics of music: the views and approaches just mentioned can be found in more or

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less similar forms before 1750 (as, more or less, Sparshott's chronology shows). Yet
this approach also shows a tendency to treat this history before the modern aesthetics
of music as a pre-history, as if all the issues and concerns of philosophers writing
about music, and musicians engaging in philosophy, were leading up to and resulting
in these modern concerns (especially with the autonomy of music). Perhaps this
tendency encourages the acceptance of the title ‘aesthetics of music’ as appropriate to
the entire field.
It is common among modern aestheticians and modern philosophers to read the
history of Western philosophy and music in terms of standardized periods, such as
Antiquity, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Romanticism, Modernism; it
is usual, furthermore, to suggest the development of themes from one period to
another, a development that need not follow a straight, progressivist or unified line.
Many theorists show how, in each of these periods, contemporary writers often
justified their particular claims by showing their origin and authority in antiquity (or
another early period) as a way to assert a difference from, and rejection of, their
immediate predecessors’ claims. Such is the repeated pattern in the arts behind the
quarrels between ‘the old and new’, ‘the conservative and progressive’ and ‘the
ancients and moderns’. Although, as a general point, this way of writing history has
some justification, its sometimes severe limitations need to be acknowledged.
One alternative is to confine ‘the aesthetics of music’ to the modern Western period, to
acknowledge the paradigm shift of the mid-18th century without underestimating the
obvious continuities that also transcend the shift: this is the approach of the present
entry. It offers (in §3) a discrete discussion of the aesthetics of music, surveying the
dominant concerns of the modern field. This discussion tracks the concerns
predominantly associated with what is normally called ‘continental’ philosophy, a
literature mostly written in German. It puts aside the Anglo-American contribution
(discussed in §4) as well as certain other distinct issues, thereby reflecting
contemporary disciplinary divisions and allegiances which, despite some recent
erosion, institutionally at least still hold sway. In the entire entry the influence of non-
Western thought shows itself noticeably underdeveloped in the contemporary
philosophical field.
This separation of the Anglo-American contribution is especially pertinent because it
reflects a tendency among modern philosophers to distinguish musical aesthetics from
the philosophy of music, or aesthetics from the philosophy of the arts (a distinction
originally made by Hegel). Many want to avoid the assumption that philosophical (for
example ontological) problems prompted by the world of the arts are automatically to
be associated with the traditional concerns of aesthetics (about judgment, beauty,
nature etc.), or that the concerns of aesthetics are exhaustively treated by reference to
the arts (for example judgments of natural beauty). Now, as before, the naming of our
enterprise carries assumption and significance and, at best, encourages lively contest.
Such contest becomes evident within and between the ensuing surveys, in which
judgments, qualifications, prejudices and preferences are left more or less explicit. It is
appropriate and timely that this entry should be self-reflectively concerned not only
about its topic but also about its status as a dictionary entry: for usually such entries
presuppose solutions to the problems about objectivity and representation that occupy
philosophers as precisely the problems still in need of solution.
Philosophy of music

II. Historical survey, antiquity–1750

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1. Hellenic and Hellenistic thought.

2. Early Christian thought.
3. Medieval thought.
4. Renaissance thought.
5. Baroque thought.
6. Rationalism.
7. Enlightenment.
Philosophy of music, §II: Historical survey, antiquity-1750
1. Hellenic and Hellenistic thought.
The commonest positions in the aesthetics of music are borrowed and developed from
classical antiquity. Greek musical practice being inaccessible, the theories related to it
have been freely adapted to the practice of whatever day it might be – a licence less
available to those who similarly exploited classical writings on less fugitive arts. The
language of musical aesthetics has thus often suggested a certain remoteness from
what was actually going on.
Although ‘music’ (mousikē) is a Greek word, classical Greece did not use it to mean
what we call music. It had no word for that. Etymologically, the word means ‘the
business of the Muses’, who were goddesses of poetic inspiration. As a body of
practice, the ‘music’ of classical Greece extended to cover all imaginative uses of
language and dance, and as an object of theoretical study ‘music’ was largely the
study of scale-construction and tuning systems. But this divergence between Greek
conceptualization and our own dwindled in Hellenistic times.
Among the debris of ancient thought we may distinguish at least six views about the
nature and significance of music. The first view is assigned to the thinkers, mostly
anonymous, associated with the name of Pythagoras (6th century bce), traditionally
the first to take note of the relevance of certain small-number ratios to the intervals
recognized as consonant and invariant in the music of the day. By the 5th century bce
the Pythagoreans were speculating that similar ratios should be discoverable
everywhere in the world. That music embodies numerical principles and somehow
answers to the laws of nature seems already to have been accepted everywhere, from
China to Babylon; the Pythagorean contribution was to make this hitherto mysterious
relationship amenable to rational inquiry. The ratios found in musical intervals were
sought in the distances of planets, in the compositions of stuffs, in the souls of good
men and in everything that contributed to cosmic order. Musical structures should thus
have analogues in the human mind and in the world at large, and their felt but ineffable
meaningfulness should be explicable by those analogies. Music was important as the
only field in which these ratios had been discovered rather than merely postulated. But
the mathematicians of the 4th century bce borrowed the name ‘music’ for the branch of
their study devoted to the theory of proportions, and the specifically audible varieties
and manifestations of such proportions became theoretically accidental. The doctrine
that music was or ought to be an ‘abstract’ system of relationships stateable in a set of
equations has haunted musical aesthetics ever since, although the habit of linking
music to astronomy by a supposed ‘music of the spheres’ died with Kepler (1619).
The second Greek view of music adapted the Pythagorean ideas to fit the notion,
popular then as now, that national music expressed national character or ethos.
Damon of Athens seems to have done the adapting in the middle of the 5th century
bce (see Lasserre, 1954). National styles or ‘modes’ were construed as essentially
scale systems, whose intervals are generated by ratios characteristic of the personality
types and behaviour patterns of their users, Dorians, Phrygians and the like. Damon

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thought of music as primarily a means of moral indoctrination. Plato, from whom these
ideas descend to modern times, cut them loose from their mathematical
underpinnings: his Republic (c380 bce) merely postulates a series of causal
connections, as follows. The specific mental characteristics that assign a person to a
given sort find expression in corresponding patterns of thinking; these patterns achieve
utterance in characteristic forms of poetical speech, and such formal speech evokes a
fitting melodic and rhythmical accompaniment. To hear, and especially to perform, the
resulting music will tend to re-create the originating mental characteristics, so that the
student performer becomes the same sort of person as his composer-teacher. The
charms of music are thus the same as those exerted by an attractive personality,
except that music is expressive through and through whereas the excellence of a man
may require him to be inexpressively reticent. In this Platonic version of the ethos
theory, the expressiveness of music reflects that of an actual or possible poetic text.
This answers to the Greek practice of teaching gentlemen to accompany themselves
on plucked strings, leaving wind instruments and bravura generally to low-born
professionals. The verbalizing version of ethos theory has the advantage over the
mathematicizing version that it calls for no cosmological commitments; on the other
hand, this modesty leaves it with no hidden resources to counter empirical rebuttals.
A third view of music, which has also proved perennial, is implicit in the histories of
music that survive from the first centuries of our era. Like the analogous histories of
other arts, these sources take a technical view of music: its history is the progressive
mastery of more and more elaborate instruments, performing techniques and sound
patterns. Music is seen as exploring the possibilities of a self-contained world of
sound. However, this view of cultural history is modified by an assumption derived
from Aristotle’s cosmology and reinforced by cultural nostalgia for the classical age of
Greece. The world of sound, like the world at large, is not infinite; the possibilities to be
explored are not endless; and the fruitful development of the art of music was
completed long ago at a period defined by that completion as classical. This
complication of the progressivist view of music has also been revived from time to
time, with the idealized classical age suitably updated; but its revivers are mostly
musical revolutionaries who modify the theory by claiming that new worlds of music
can be substituted for the old, so that new explorations can proceed – even if, as
conservatives will protest, the new worlds cannot sustain human life. In its extreme
form, this last modification becomes the claim that every serious musical work is or
should be a self-contained musical universe.
The ancient progressivist theories of music history, whether or not they held that
progress must end somewhere, ran counter to a deep-seated belief in social
degeneration, which assigned the ‘golden age’ to a technically primitive past. When
these tendencies collide, we have a view of music history in which musicians
continually press for innovations which statesmen and moralists untiringly resist. Plato,
writing as a moralist, reinterpreted the conflict between reactionary and progressive
musicians as one between two kinds of music: one, the true music, rationally based
and logically developed, exemplifies the structural principles of all reality, including the
human mind; the other music, impressionistic and fantasticated, merely imitates the
sounds of nature and the passing show of temporary feelings. Variants of this contrast,
which despite its incoherence is deeply rooted in Plato’s general metaphysic, keep
reappearing in the history of aesthetics, most recently in Adorno’s pitting of the
severities of dodecaphony against the confectionery of the culture industry. The
contrast has been strikingly reflected in recent decades in debates over the proprieties
of interpretation: a music whose vocation is subtly to mould the perceptible surface of

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sound is a performer’s art for which composers merely provide the material, but if
music is to unfold profound tonal structures it must be elaborated in the study and its
performer must reveal only such treasures as the composer has buried for him.
The reason why the underlying view of music history whose vicissitudes we have
traced gives rise to such continued controversy is that it starts by equating the
progress of music with the elaboration of its means rather than with the exploration of
deep structures. Even the intonational researches whereby the Greek theorists finally
excogitated a unified system, within which the originally incommensurable tribal modes
could each appear as a possible variant, were represented as a mere development of
new possibilities of modulation rather than as an investigation of the nature of modality
as such.
A less tendentious account of the division within music that the ancient histories of
music sought to explicate is adumbrated in Aristotle’s Politics (c330 bce): there are two
musics because there are two uses for music. Rituals and festivals call for an exciting
and ecstatic music, demanding virtuosity of its performers and moving its audience to
a salubrious frenzy. A gentleman needs a different sort of music to play for his
recreation, as one of the amenities of everyday life. ‘What passion cannot Music raise
and quell?’, Dryden was to ask. But not all music has the raising and quelling of
passion as its function.
A fourth view of music was sketched by Aristoxenus (c300 bce), a student of Aristotle.
He refuted the Pythagorean numerology and the ethos theory that was built on it by
pointing out that the ratios generating harmonies are inaudible, and music is
concerned with the audible. What can be heard is sounds in relation. The ear certainly
needs the aid of memory and mind, but the contribution of memory is to make
protracted structures perceptible, and the intellect is called on, not to intuit any
underlying reality, whether cosmic or psychic, but to grasp the mutual relations of
notes within the system of a scale. Music is thus a self-contained phenomenological
system, and the significant form of any work is not derived from its relation to any other
reality but is identical with the principle of its own organization. Why men should make
such things and delight in them Aristoxenus does not say, but no Aristotelian need ask:
any refined exercise of mind and senses is inherently delightful, for man is by nature
hungry for information. Aristoxenus concedes that such audible constructions may
acquire by association an ethical significance, but that is adventitious.
Aristoxenus’s embryonic formalism strikes a responsive chord today, but was little
noted in antiquity. To Ptolemy in the 2nd century ce, he was only the bellwether of one
of the two extremist schools of musical theory, the latter-day Pythagoreans being the
other. Ear and reason are judges of harmony, says Ptolemy, the ear establishing the
facts and the reason divining their explanation. Musical theorists, like astronomers,
must lay bare the design that unifies the phenomena, thus showing that the real is not
irrational. He complained that the Aristoxenians trust the ear alone and forgo
theoretical explanation, while the Pythagoreans trust reason at the cost of
observational accuracy. The philosophy of music is thus shown to involve difficulties of
principle that are still central in 20th-century philosophy of science.
A fifth view of music was current among the followers of Epicurus, represented by
Lucretius in the 1st century bce, for whom music was nothing but a source of innocent
pleasure, natural in the sense that it represents a complex use of man’s natural
endowments: ‘Every creature has a sense of the purposes for which he can use his
own powers’. Such elaborations, discovered by accident and developed by
experience, afford relaxation, distraction in distress and an outlet for excess energy.

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No further explanation of musical delight is possible or necessary, and the pretensions

of highfalutin theories are merely absurd. The Epicurean tradition did not survive the
triumph of Christianity, but such Philistine mutterings remain a permanent possibility
for aesthetics, one that is congenial to most of us some of the time and to some of us
most of the time.
A sixth, sceptical view goes beyond the Epicureans by agreeing that music is a
diversion but denying that it is natural. Musical practice is conventional through and
through: it may have effects on the character, but only because it is believed to have
them. In fact, the Sceptics denied that music could be an object of knowledge, since it
is constituted by the relations between notes, which themselves have no reality; and
what is unreal cannot be known. This ontological scepticism, known to us from the
work of Sextus Empiricus (3rd century ce), was to find, when less crudely stated, a
permanent place in musical aesthetics.
The last four of these ancient traditions, the ones that flourished after the Greek cities
lost their independence, allow music no social or civic significance. When an art claims
autonomy, it may be a sign that it accepts a peripheral place in the culture of its day.
Philosophy of music, §II: Historical survey, antiquity-1750
2. Early Christian thought.
The Stoics had slighted music as irrelevant to the life of reason, and the Church
Fathers followed them in finding it irrelevant to salvation. Yet music played an
important part in the liturgy. This generated some tension. In fact, we find St Augustine
(4th century) torn between three attitudes to music: exaltation of musical principles as
embodying principles of cosmic order; ascetic aversion from music-making as carnal;
and a recognition of jubilation and congregational song as respectively expressing
inexpressible ecstasy and promoting congregational brotherhood. Being a rhetorician
and not a musician by training, he thought of the numerical side of music as embodied
in poetic metres rather than in music proper, but the other two attitudes left him
agonizing: it is as if a man were seduced by worship.
Medieval musical aesthetics, while preserving the Augustinian attitudes, resembles
medieval philosophy of culture generally in basing itself on the attempt by Boethius
(6th century) to consolidate the consensus of classical philosophy, whose three-tiered
metaphysical and epistemic structures readily adapted themselves to the notion of a
triune God. Boethius thought of music as a branch of mathematics, unlike other
branches in that its proper manifestations are perceptible and affective as well as
intelligible. There are three musics: musica mundana, cosmic music, the ‘harmony’ or
order of the universe; musica humana, human music, the order of the virtuous and
healthy soul and body; and musica instrumentalis, music in use, the audible music
men make. This framework haunted musical thought for a millennium. Its significance
lies in its Neoplatonic and Christian implications. Man, according to Neoplatonism, can
and should associate himself with the higher, intelligible level of reality, but turns in his
weakness to the lower, sensuous level. Now, the human voice is not an artefact, but a
direct embodiment of intelligence: in a sense, it belongs to musica humana. Stoics
such as Epictetus had taught that man attunes himself with the eternal Mind by an
intellectual ‘song’ of praise: that is, by philosophy. Christian writers – using, like St
John Chrysostom (c400), the homely analogy of work songs that ease men’s
necessary toil – had adapted this rhetoric to a literal advocacy of psalmody, audible
praise facilitating mental praise of a personal God. This complex of thought now gives
rise to a new version of the old dichotomy between two musics: a low, sensual,
instrumental, secular music is contrasted with an exalted, intellectual, vocal, sacred

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music. This dichotomy is reinforced by another Boethian doctrine, that the artist, in this
case the music theorist who understands practice, is better than the mere practitioner,
in this case the player or singer who uncomprehendingly follows the guidance of his
training or his instrument: ‘it is the definition of a beast, that he does what he does not
understand’, as Guido of Arezzo (c1030) unkindly remarked of singers.
Philosophy of music, §II: Historical survey, antiquity-1750
3. Medieval thought.
Boethius, by treating music as a mathematical science, gave it a high place in the life
of the mind (higher than rhetoric, for instance), but cut it off from secular song and
dance. This sealed the fate of musical aesthetics in the early Middle Ages. The art of
music became a rational mystery underlying practice, and medieval theorists tended to
be preoccupied with ways of calculating and representing musical ratios. Since these
ratios are exemplified everywhere in the cosmic economy, allegorical interpretations of
all sorts abound, without any one of them being much developed or emphasized.
However, in the 9th century the philosopher Eriugena used the fact that the cosmic
order is one of simultaneous complexity to explain the peculiar value of polyphony. For
the first time, musical harmony was equated with the internal relationships of an
audible object.
The drive towards polyphony and polyrhythm was one of the factors that led to the
development of a graphic, mensural notation, without which such complex music could
scarcely be learnt and certainly could not be transmitted throughout the newly
cosmopolitan and bookish culture of the 11th century and after. The introduction of
such a notation, as systematized by Franco of Cologne around 1216, was not itself a
contribution to aesthetics but transformed aesthetics by radically changing the nature
of the art. It facilitated complexities of a wholly new order; it liberated musical time
immediately from the tyranny of the syllable, and ultimately from any expressiveness
based on words; it enabled the composer to be an intellectual working at his desk,
rather than a performing musician; and finally, as Nelson Goodman and Thurston Dart
have stressed in different ways, it lent emphasis and authority to those aspects of
music that it recorded, so that a composition came to be defined by its score. Thus the
abandonment of conventional notation by the advanced composers of our day left
some musicians feeling as if the solid ground of their art had vanished from under their
The notation that evolved for the sacred music of the Middle Ages had not only to
record musical facts but also to disclose them as rational. Hence abstruse
controversies arose about the nature of perfect and imperfect numbers, and the
metaphysical superiority of triple (trinitarian) over duple (manichean) relations. But by
the early 14th century a more sophisticated and subtle logic led in aesthetics, as in
philosophy at large, to a rejection of the equation between rationality and structural
simplicity. The new mood appeared in a passing remark of Johannes de Muris (1319):
‘What can be sung can be written down’. The reactionary Jacques de Liège (c1330)
attacked the ‘new art’ as lascivious, incoherent and above all irrational: if three is
admittedly the perfect number, why admit imperfections? But he was too late.
Medieval aesthetics in general rests on the ancient theory of beauty, as that which
gives immediate pleasure when perceived, rather than on any theory of art. Allegorical
explanations are introduced only when the literal level is exhausted: it may be true that
polyphony mirrors the universe, but beauty must be experienced before it is explained,
and the fundamental fact is that counterpoint sounds well. This position allows of little
theoretical development; but Roger Bacon, among others, drew the conclusion that the

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most beautiful work would be one that pleased all the senses at once, and in which
music formed only one component (De Bruyne, 1947).
Philosophy of music, §II: Historical survey, antiquity-1750
4. Renaissance thought.
A versatile mathematical intelligence does not demand simple forms but adapts itself
to the complexities of the real. The advances of late medieval logic thus prepare the
way for the conclusion that mathematical considerations have no essential bearing on
music. In the later 15th century, the view of music as the branch of mathematics that
pertains to sounds tends to give way to a humanist view of music as a sonorous art, to
which mathematics is relevant only as calculating or explaining means to musical ends
otherwise determined. Johannes de Grocheo had already made the essential point
around 1300, urging that the mathematical science of music was not the same as the
art of music, which was the application of such theory to singing. This art was not a
branch of mathematics, and neither musica mundana nor musica humana had any
place in it. His cool Aristotelian pragmatism made little headway in that age of
numerological hermeticism. But Tinctoris in the late 15th century, and yet more clearly
Glarean in 1547, remodelled the theory of music on the basis of its actual history,
practice and effects. They thought of music primarily as a form of human activity rather
than as a closed science or a model of the cosmos; and the conventional ethical
associations of old and new modes received less attention than the actual effects that
genius and discipline may achieve. Tinctoris (c1473–4), enumerating and classifying
the effects claimed for music, was content to cite authorities; but a century later writers
such as John Case (1586) put flesh on his bones. Such humanism comes the more
readily because no myth claims divine origin for polyphony. God may have taught
Adam to sing his praise, and Jubal to play upon instruments, as J.A. Scheibe still
maintained in 1754; but counterpoint was invented by men in historical times.
Glarean already sensed a crisis in music, a tension between polyphonic skill and
melodic feeling, between art and nature. Zarlino, in 1558, attempted a synthesis
involving a subtle humanization of the ancient ethos theory. Of all musical effects, he
says, the ear is judge. But the ear finds a fundamental contrast between the feeling-
tone of joyful major and mournful minor triads. Instead of finding metaphysical reasons
why each mode should reflect a different type of character or feeling, he appeals to
experience to testify to a correlation of harmonies with feeling within a single harmonic
scheme. Then, instead of saying (with Plato) that the harmony and rhythm of a piece
should be determined by those actually inherent in the accompanied words and their
meanings, he demands that harmony and rhythm be those perceived as suiting the
general feeling-tone of the subject matter of the words.
While thus adapting ancient proprieties to a modernized and humanized form in which
they have remained so familiar as to seem obvious, Zarlino introduced another fateful
concept of a quite different tendency. Just as a poem may have a subject, such as the
fall of Troy, so does a musical composition have a subject but this is a musical subject,
a theme, a series of sounds. Music is about music. It is thus at once autonomous,
through its melodic organization, and heteronomous, through its harmonic and
rhythmic affectivity.
Zarlino’s professional Venetian compromise between ancient theory and modern
practice was soon challenged by the mainly amateur circle formed at Florence around
Giovanni de’ Bardi, whose chief theorist was Zarlino’s pupil Vincenzo Galilei (1581).
They pointed out that Greek humanism, now the acknowledged ideal, had rested on
the practice of a monodic and heteronomous music in which a singing line traced and

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induced a flow of emotion: the gentleman troubadour, long ignored or disparaged by

theorists, came into his own now that gentlemen were writing the books. Polyphonic
music cannot raise and quell passions, because the effects of simultaneous melodies
must cancel out. To emulate the fabled effects of Greek music at Alexandrian feasts,
arcane and autonomous pattern-making must be replaced by the expressive voice of a
natural man. And what is expressed is merely sentiment and speech, not (as in Plato’s
fantasy) character and thought. Significantly, this polemic is launched in the name of
Boethius’s second level against his third; the revival of Neoplatonism might have
encouraged the opposition to take the yet higher ground of Boethius’s first level, but
the unfashionableness of logic and mathematics seems to have discouraged them
from doing so.
Zarlino (1588) found the obvious reply to the Florentine arguments: music is music, it
is not rhetoric. But that was the point at issue: rhetoric was the cornerstone of a courtly
education, musicians’ music was work for monks and lackeys. The debate continued
and, sotto voce, continues yet; but, as the 17th century saw, it was rather
unnecessary, since the Venetians had in mind a public and ceremonious music, and
the Florentines envisaged a music for a more private use.
Philosophy of music, §II: Historical survey, antiquity-1750
5. Baroque thought.
Towards 1700, the controversies between old and new musics settled down to a
squabble of gentlemen over their amusements. The favoured contrast was that
between stiff French correctness and supple Italian invention. The divergent styles
found different rationales. Le Cerf de la Viéville (1704–6) claimed for the French party
that the accepted rules formulated the established requirements of good taste and
stood for reason and method as against the vagaries of fancy and passion. Raguenet
(1702) maintained that the Italians, trained to music from the cradle, could dispense
with rules because their underlying principles had become second nature. If they took
risks, it was because they had developed a sense for when something risky would
come off. The arguments on both sides are closely analogous to those used at the
time in controversies over painting and literature. Both parties occupy the lowest
ground of sentimental humanism: hedonism and a courtly ambience are assumed, and
the rules appealed to turn out to be no more than recipes for a rational enjoyment.
If humanistic thought can find for music a deeper significance than that of mere
amusement, it must be through its working on human passion. Here an issue had
been left unsettled between Venice and Florence: how does music most fitly express
feeling? Through the 17th century and after, three modes were mooted. Music may
follow the inflections of a voice speaking in passion – a device practically abandoned
at Florence soon after it was first tried, but still theoretically entertained by Grétry 200
years later; it may echo the sense of a text word by word, as a man who gestures
while he speaks – Rosseter (1601) thought it vulgar to do so, Morley (1597) thought it
absurd to do otherwise; or it may convey the general tone of its text. All three modes
were defended around 1600, and confused (as by Richard Hooker in 1617) with the
very different doctrine of ethos according to which music mirrors not passion but
character. But what if there is no text to accompany? The rise of a purely instrumental
music that is more than an accompaniment for dancing seems to call for compositional
principles that are purely structural, but how can these be used without sacrificing
humanistic meaning? ‘Sonata, what do you want of me?’, asked Fontenelle
(Rousseau, 1753).
Answers to this newly pressing problem were sought from the art of rhetoric. There

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were three good reasons for this. First, it afforded the only actual model for the
articulation of temporally extended forms on a large scale; secondly, it formed the
basis of genteel education; and thirdly, of most direct relevance, the ancient treatises
on rhetoric had as their avowed aim the systematic analysis of the passions and the
means of working on them – so that J.J. Quantz (1752) could say that ‘The orator and
the musician have, at bottom, the same aim’.
Rhetoric was actually used in two ways. First, theorists of the Baroque age tried to
describe musical forms and figures by making various figurative uses of terminology
derived from the articulations and ornamentations of discourse. These systems, never
stabilized, died out as our special vocabulary for describing musical forms gradually
made its way. And second, musical theorists tried to adapt directly to music the
programme for a scientific rhetoric first enunciated in Plato’s Phaedrus (c375 bce): an
analysis of human passions and the ways to arouse them. These attempts leaned
heavily on Descartes’ treatise on the passions (1649), which argued that the most
complex emotions could be shown to result from the mechanical combination of a few
simple psychological components by a strict causal necessity. Such writers as
Mattheson (1739) offer elaborate analyses of the emotions along these lines, with
detailed specifications of the corresponding musical devices. The resulting emotive
packages are mediated by dance forms, since in a dance a complete musical
complex, often with ethnic and hence ethical connotations, is already wedded to
gesture and thus as it were integrated into a way of life. On examination, the mediation
proves somewhat programmatic: the musical specifications could be at best sketchily
correlated with the analyses of the passions, since only a few simple musical variables
had an emotive significance that could be specified. In theory, that would not detract
from a Cartesian analysis, which actually called for the reduction of complexities to
combinations of a few simple forms; but in practice the Cartesian programme has
rather limited application, and the more elaborate versions of the ‘theory of affections’
were eventually abandoned (see Affect, theory of the).
Such theories of emotive meaning admit an important ambiguity: are the feelings in
question to be worked on or only to be symbolized? The more sophisticated authors
write as if the primary function of the emotive meaning were to make the music
intelligible. A work of art has to be unified as well as articulated, and Mattheson’s
requirement that each piece confine itself to a single emotion suggests that at least
part of what is at stake is the use of a consistent manner as a unifying principle. But
the question was not clearly posed, and evocation of the represented passion was not
ruled out. What was excluded was the demand that the composer be imbued with the
feeling he expresses or imparts. This exclusion showed that music was being
assimilated to rhetoric and not to poetry: traditionally, the poet is inspired by the feeling
he arouses, while the orator must keep cool to control his audience.
To the extent that the doctrine of affections pertains to the meaning rather than to the
effects of music, its intellectual affinities are not with the Cartesian ‘hydraulics of the
animal spirits’ already alluded to, but with the later contention of such Enlightenment
sages as Holbach and Hume that it is the function of reason to articulate and thus to
civilize the passions.
We have noted the demand that each piece be dominated by a single mood. Such a
demand envisages the composer as master of various styles. The notion of style is
imported into musical theory in the 17th century from its original home in rhetoric,
which required of the orator the ability to speak in diverse literary manners and to suit
diverse occasions. The Baroque age found this notion useful when coping with the
survival of contrapuntal church music alongside a basically monodic secular music. No

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longer are there rival musics: the accomplished musician knows how to write church
music, theatre music or chamber music, in a diversity of national manners.
Philosophy of music, §II: Historical survey, antiquity-1750
6. Rationalism.
It was not only through the doctrine of affections that Descartes left his mark on the
aesthetics of music. He (1649) and his friend Mersenne (1636–7) both attempted once
more the impossible task of rationalizing the mathematical basis of harmony. More
important was Rameau’s (1722) successful interpretation of harmony itself as a
system on the Cartesian plan, reducing the bewildering variety of possible chords to
the simple system of triads and their inversions. The modern notion of harmony,
already implicit in Zarlino, thus suddenly acquires an intelligible basis and occupies the
centre of musical thought. As the notion of the ‘position’ of a chord suggests, music
comes to be envisaged as occupying a ‘space’ with vertical (chordal) and horizontal
(cadential) dimensions. The Baroque vocabulary borrowed from rhetoric does not fit
this way of thinking about music, and it becomes easier to think of it in formal, even in
architectural, terms.
Rameau himself pointed out the more immediate significance of his theories. The
squabbles of italophile and francophile cliques and cabals over operatic styles and
persons, which through most of the 18th century retained the interest of the lay public,
mostly concerned the style of vocal writing. They were therefore trivial in comparison
with the issue of principle between the theories and practices that put melody first and
those that put harmony first. Melody tends to be interpreted heteronomously, in terms
of what it expresses; in giving harmony priority over melody Rameau laid new
foundations for the autonomy of music, at the same time making it easier for
instrumental music to take up a central position that it had never before occupied and
from which it has yet to be evicted.
Rameau’s revolutionary move coincided with, and purported to incorporate, a more
fundamental discovery. This was Joseph Sauveur’s almost single-handed
development of the science of acoustics, making sounds into objects susceptible of
systematic investigation and description. The scepticism of Sextus Empiricus was
finally refuted, and from then on music could be slowly, subtly and profoundly
transformed into an art of sound (see Physics of music). Meanwhile, Rameau fastened
on the overtone series, already identified by Mersenne but now explicated by Sauveur,
as affording a natural basis for the harmonic relations he was expounding. Musical
structures were thus founded on nature – not the nature of the heavens, or of the soul,
or of the eternal objects of mathematics, but the nature of sound itself.
In seeking a basis in nature for the structures he explored, Rameau was typical of his
age. The reference to ‘nature’, which might be most variously conceived, is one aspect
of a convergence between the criticism of music and that of the other arts that
continued throughout the 18th century. The notion of the ‘fine arts’ had been conceived
when palaces became museums in the 16th century; its gradual emergence reflects
the dominance of monarchic courts, making symbolic use of acquisition and display.
Like other cultural movements of the epoch, this conceptual unification of the fine arts
had to be validated by an appeal to classical antiquity, and the only rationalization to
be found there was the concept of ‘arts of imitation’ implicit in Plato’s Republic and
explicit in his Epinomis (c350 bce).
Music, then, like other arts, must imitate what is not art; and what is not art is nature.
But the nature of what? The growing separation of composer and performer from their

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public meant that the honorific answer of the ancient ethos theory, that music directly
shows and moulds character, would no longer do; and the difficulty of finding any other
laudatory answer threatened to relegate music to the last place in the pecking order of
the arts. Among the early systematizers of the arts, Dubos (1719) held that music
imitated the voice, and gave pleasure through the style of that imitation. Batteux
(1746), arguing that all the arts exist to portray an idealized nature, seems to have
been the first to think of music as a language of the heart that is natural because it
precedes all conventions.
Rameau’s breathtaking proposal of a Cartesian science of music did not fit into these
systematizations of the arts, and seemed politically objectionable at a time when
progressive thinkers were exalting the natural voice of the natural man (see Diderot,
1823). Its impact, though in the long run decisive, was therefore delayed.
Philosophy of music, §II: Historical survey, antiquity-1750
7. Enlightenment.
Batteux’s description of music as the language of the heart, itself a sentimental
blurring of the contemporary doctrine of affections, was developed by Rousseau
(1781) into a popular and durable theory about the origin and nature of language. The
first human speech must have been a chant that expressed thought and feeling
together; developed languages confine themselves to communicating thought, leaving
to music, in its original form of song, the task of expressing feeling. Such expression
was indeed the true function of all art. And since Rousseau equated nature with
human nature, and this with the naively passionate side of man as opposed to the
artificial ‘rationality’ his schooling imposed on him, music ‘imitated nature’ more than
any other art did. But only melody is thus vindicated. Harmony and counterpoint,
gothic and barbarous inventions designed merely to produce a volume of agreeable
sound, fall altogether below the level of art.
The compilers of the Encyclopédie, the foundation of progressive thought in the later
18th century, followed Rousseau in deriving beauty from ‘nature’ interpreted as
simplicity and truth but did not agree on the consequences for music. D’Alembert
(1751) disparaged music in a way that had become traditional, for the poverty of its
representational resources. Diderot (1751), however, set music highest among the
arts; not for Rousseau’s reasons, but because musical relationships are perceived
directly and not mediated through interpretation of content, so that music gives
imagination more freedom.
Diderot’s appeal to imagination invokes an alternative tradition in aesthetics, according
to which the fine arts were not exercises in imitation that call for rationalized skill but
sources of ‘pleasures of the imagination’ open to the free play of creative genius. To
this school, dominant in British aesthetics throughout the 18th century, not the poem
but the landscape garden, in which artifice merges with the infinite, was the paradigm
of art. It is this view of art and music that Romanticism was to develop. Meanwhile
Kant (1790), systematizer of the Enlightenment and synthesizer of British and German
aesthetics, acknowledged both conflicting evaluations of music: of all arts it is the least
rational and the most delightful, a language of feeling that contrives to be universal in
scope only by forswearing all cognitive meaning, so that it can never be integrated into
the truly human life of reason.
Such odious comparisons between the arts were not universal. G.E. Lessing (1766)
pointed out that different arts used such heterogeneous means that it was pointless to
compare them. Music, deployed through time, must relate to other realms of

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experience than do those arts whose works are extended in space and presented all
at once; how can they be thought to compete? And J.G. Herder (1800) denounced all
attempts to set up hierarchies of the arts, especially that of Kant.
Philosophy of music

III. Aesthetics, 1750–2000

1. The rise of aesthetics.
2. Subjectivity, language and music.
3. Kant: judgment, imagination and music.
4. Romanticism: philosophy, music and literature.
5. Schopenhauer, Hegel and Schleiermacher.
6. Formalism.
7. Disintegration.
8. The 20th century: artists.
9. The 20th century: theorists.
Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
1. The rise of aesthetics.
The theoretical reflections on the status of music as an art and as a form of meaningful
articulation, which constitute what is now termed the ‘aesthetics of music’, are often
seen as merely a continuation of philosophical reflection upon music of the kind that
began with the Greeks. However, the aesthetics of music cannot be said to have
existed before the second half of the 18th century in Europe. The word ‘aesthetics’
derives from the Greek aisthanesthai, ‘perceive sensuously’, but perception became a
decisive issue for philosophy only in the empiricism of Locke and Hume.
Given the increasing success of the natural sciences, rationalist philosophers of the
17th century had argued that the mathematical intelligibility of the world was proof that
its true structure can be explained independently of the vagaries of sensuous
perception. Leibniz summed up the implications of the rationalist view for music in the
dictum that music was ‘the unconscious counting of a mind which is unaware of its
own numeracy’. Against the rationalist view, the empiricists maintained that our access
to the world's intelligibility lies in the impressions made by the world on the senses,
which constitute the prior basis of scientific knowledge. In his Aesthetica (1750),
Alexander Baumgarten, himself schooled in the Leibnizian tradition, prepared the
ground for the new subject of ‘aesthetics’ by focussing attention on the value of what
appears as sensuously true in everyday life even if it has no claims to scientific status,
such as a successful painting of a particular object. J.G. Hamann, in his Aesthetica in
nuce (1762) and in other work, linked insistence on the senses as the prior means of
access to the truth to the claim that this access also requires natural languages that
cannot be reduced to a ‘general philosophical language’. He saw languages primarily
as celebratory expressions of the divine harmony of creation, rather than as the means
of representing an objective world. This led him to the claim that the oldest language
was music and to his giving a prominent philosophical role to literature.
Hamann's understanding of language is echoed by Herder, Rousseau and others
during the second half of the 18th century, but they dispute the divine origin of
language, seeing language instead as connected to the natural expressivity that is the
basis of music. Herder, for example, claims that all natural sound is music, and that
music is the language of emotion. Language thus ceases to be thought of as
descending from divine naming and gains a new freedom from theology. This freedom
is crucial to the emergence of music aesthetics, because it also changes the status of

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music, by questioning the idea that music, as itself a kind of language, could be seen
in Pythagorean terms as part of a divinely ordered nature. The aesthetics of music
emerges, therefore, at the moment when it is no longer self-evident what either
language or music really is.
Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
2. Subjectivity, language and music.
The new conceptions of language in the 18th century come to be linked to the ‘world-
making’ capacity of the post-feudal individual subject. When language is no longer
understood as just re-presenting a ‘ready-made’ world, it can become a means of
revealing what otherwise remains inarticulate. In the same way, aesthetics becomes a
distinct philosophical topic when reflection on art becomes concerned with what art
can articulate that theology, philosophy and science cannot. The new aesthetic
approach to the arts is accompanied and influenced by changes in the status of
instrumental music in the second half of the 18th century. These changes are linked to
the move of the most important theories of art away from the idea of art as ‘mimesis’:
instead of art imitating or representing an extra-aesthetic order of truth, it becomes
significant for its own sake. It is therefore not fortuitous that the least representational
form of art, wordless instrumental music, should come to be seen by many as the
highest form of art.
The emergence of ‘absolute music’ corresponds to changes in the conception of the
human subject which begin in the 17th century and dominate philosophy in early
modernity. The first theorist to think of music primarily in terms of the listener was
Descartes, whose grounding of knowledge in the thinking subject's certainty of its own
existence became the most significant moment in the origin of modern philosophy. In
1618, Descartes claimed that music requires imaginative activity on the part of the
listener if the differing bars of a piece are to be made into a discernable unity. This
theoretical claim is accompanied by a related change in music praxis: from the 17th
century onwards, European music increasingly becomes more a spectacle, rather than
just a ritual or a collective participatory activity. The listener’s role therefore becomes
more individualized, and more attention is paid to music's subjective effects. However,
a prophetic tension already becomes apparent with regard to the subject who listens to
music. Rationalists like Descartes think musical effects are calculable in terms of a
scientific theory, but the suspicion that music might resist such a theory will later lead
to specifically aesthetic views, for which music is a manifestation of the freedom of the
subject and therefore immune to scientific explanation.
The interrelated social and conceptual changes of this period are accompanied by
moves away from polyphonic music, which is understood as reflecting a fixed divine
order, towards a harmonically based music, in which the composer's melody plays a
new, ‘expressive’ role. Especially in Italy, this new conception of the role of music goes
hand in hand with the rise of opera and with accompanying theoretical debates about
the relative status of music and language. The move away from the dominance of
polyphony is also regarded as a rejection of the idea that the essence of music is
mathematics: Mattheson maintained, for example, that ‘the art of notes draws its water
from the well of nature and not from the puddles of arithmetic’ (1739, p.16).
However, the nature in question is still a nature conceived of in rationalist terms, which
composers depict with the intention of arousing moral sentiments in their listeners;
they do not attempt to make the listeners undergo the emotions depicted in the music.
The move from music being understood as expressing something to a listener who is
its ‘object’, to C.F.D. Schubart's idea in the 1780s of expressing oneself as a subject in

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music as one's object, is another of the essential changes that lead to the founding of
aesthetics proper. A vital factor here is the increased importance of the notion of the
musical work as an autonomous, rather than a functional, entity. These changes also
highlight tensions that result between positions that consider music from the point of
view of the composer, of the listener, of the performer or of the music itself.
The aesthetics of music results, then, from debates about the relative importance of
language and music in the 17th and 18th centuries, from the rise of modern
individualism and from the importance of art in a culture increasingly secularized by
the scientific and social achievements of the Enlightenment. From Saint-Evremond's
declaration in 1678 that ‘The Musick must be made for the Words, rather than the
Words for the Musick’ (1705; Eng. trans., 1930, p.210), one moves by the end of the
18th century to Wilhelm Heinse's remark in 1776–7 that ‘Instrumental music …
expresses such a particular spiritual life in man that it is untranslatable for every other
language’ (1795–6, iii, 83), to W.H. Wackenroder's claim in 1797 that music ‘speaks a
language which we do not recognize in our everyday life’ (1910, edn, p.167), and to
J.N. Forkel's assertion in 1778 that music ‘begins … where other languages can no
longer reach’ (p.66). When the Enlightenment assumption that truth can be
represented only in semantically determinate language is questioned, the role of music
in philosophical thinking becomes vital. Before this time theorists regarded the feelings
aroused by music as wholly able to be articulated via the objective ways of naming
them, a conception captured in Fontenelle's famous question: ‘Sonata, what do you
want of me?’. This question was soon to become very outmoded.
Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
3. Kant: judgment, imagination and music.
The most influential philosophical moves away from Enlightenment assumptions about
music are indirectly occasioned in the 1780s and 90s by Immanuel Kant. Kant himself
had no great knowledge of music, and maintained that, as merely a beautiful play of
sensations, music was the lowest form of art. His initial importance for the aesthetics
of music actually derives from his theory of knowledge (1781). His revolutionary claim
is that objective knowledge can be understood only as a product of the cognitive acts
of a subject. If the intelligibility of objects in the world can be brought about only via
synthesizing acts of the mind, the mind can no longer be just the imitator of pre-
existing objects. Descartes' idea that the activity of the imagination is necessary for the
constitution of music is extended by Kant into the idea that all knowledge of the world
depends on the workings of the imagination.
If the imagination could be said to function in terms of fixed, ultimately mathematical
rules like the rest of nature, rationalist assumptions about music's harmonious links to
the rest of nature, of the kind shared by Descartes and composers such as Rameau,
would still hold. However, while accepting that the imagination does partly function in
terms of rules, Kant rejects claims about nature's inherent structure, arguing that we
ourselves ‘give the law’ to nature as it appears to us, so that we cannot know nature
as it is ‘in itself’. The essence of nature ‘in itself’ for his contemporaries Diderot,
Rousseau, Herder and the Sturm und Drang movement is manifest in dynamic
conflicts of the kind also present in human passions and in living organisms, which
cannot be explained solely by scientific laws. The relationship of the imagination –
which is itself in some way part of nature – to truth and language therefore becomes a
central issue in this period. Rousseau did not think of music as a reflection of a
universal form of intelligibility accessible to all rational beings; instead, he links musical
melodies to particular natural languages which ‘grow’ in specific cultures. His idea of

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nature as the source of art helps open the way for Kant's later notion of the ‘genius’. In
his Critique of Judgment (Kritik der Urteilskraft, 1790), Kant regards the nature-derived
imaginative ability of the genius to produce new formal rules as the basis of art. Those
aspects of art that cannot be wholly derived from existing rules, and which therefore
depend on the spontaneity of the subject, play a vital role in Kantian and post-Kantian
music aesthetics.
Kant also sought ways of resolving key problems that emerge from his epistemology
via reflection on art. In order to suggest how the passive reception of data from the
world can become the active rendering of that data into forms of knowledge, he had
introduced (1781) the idea of ‘schematism’, the ability of the subject to apprehend
something as something, rather than receive a mass of sensory data. The relationship
of this ability to the freedom of the subject, which Kant regards as the condition for art
to be possible at all, becomes crucial in his later work. A piece of music can be
described in terms of laws of physics, that is, it can be categorized as sounds of
different pitches and durations. If it is to be apprehended as music, however, the
listener must be able to hear the sounds as notes, thus as significant in relation to
other not immediately contiguous sounds. This ability cannot be rule-bound, because it
is required every time a new series of sensory data is heard as music. Furthermore,
the listener can relate the elements of music to each other in any number of different
ways in aesthetic ‘play’. Kant insists that the ability to apprehend something as a work
of art is not wholly conceptual, even though it depends on the same activity of the
subject that is the condition of possibility of conceptual knowledge.
Two questions arise here. The first concerns the status of a conceptual description of
music in relation to what the music itself makes intelligible to the listener. The second
concerns the boundary between musical and verbal articulation: if language cannot
say all that is to be said about music, this boundary cannot be drawn by verbal
language alone. Kant helps open up these questions in his notion of the ‘aesthetic
idea’ – ‘the representation of the imagination which gives much to think about, but
without any … concept being able to be adequate to it, which consequently no
language can completely attain and make comprehensible’ (1790; 1974 edn, p.193).
Post-Kantian Romantic music aesthetics explores in depth the idea of languages that
would be adequate to the imagination's ability to make the world intelligible in ways
that scientific laws cannot explain.
Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
4. Romanticism: philosophy, music and literature.
Music's dependence on mathematically expressible proportions and connection to the
imagination and feelings are linked in Romantic thought to the Kantian problem of the
relationship between the deterministic world of the natural sciences and the ethical
and aesthetic world of human freedom. Attempts to reconcile the conflict between
these two aspects of existence form the basis of German Idealist and Romantic
philosophy. These attempts are associated with the exploration at the end of the 18th
century of the new possibilities inherent in the dynamic form of the sonata. The sonata
offers a formal framework of implicit and explicit rules, and freedom for the imagination
to develop this framework by the exploitation of contrast and contradiction. At the
same time, it demands that the framework resolve in its conclusion the apparent
contradictions it contains. In his System des Transcendentalen Idealismus (1800),
F.W.J. Schelling gives a culminating role to art as that which manifests a reconciliation
of the contradictions between necessity and freedom, arguing that the freedom of the
subject must itself actually be part of nature, and that nature therefore cannot be

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conceived of solely in deterministic terms. Beethoven seems to have been an admirer

of Schelling, and Hegel's Schelling-influenced philosophical system has often been
regarded as analogous to Beethoven's sonata movements.
The interplay between the musical and the philosophical is characteristic of early
Romantic thought, for which there is no absolute difference between the forms in
which the arts and the sciences are articulated and thus no final boundary between
language and music. Friedrich Schlegel maintained in 1798 that music is ‘the highest
of all arts. It is the most general [art]. Every art has musical principles and when it is
completed it becomes itself music. This is true even of philosophy’ (Literarische
Notizen, 1980 edn, p.151), and he asked whether, in instrumental music, ‘the theme …
is not as developed, confirmed, varied and contrasted as the object of meditation in a
sequence of philosophical ideas?’ (1988, p.155).
Schlegel exemplifies the Romantic idea that what is revealed in all forms of artistic and
cognitive articulation, be it verbal language, painting or music, is understanding of both
the inner and outer world. The Romantics attached no inherent priority to referential
language, because we may come to understand an aspect of the world, such as
temporality or emotions or even a landscape, more appropriately via music. There is
also a musical aspect, most obviously manifest in poetry, to any use of language, and
music itself can involve a ‘referential’ aspect, of the kind present in such works as
Haydn's The Seasons. Schlegel also links music's resistance to determinate semantic
meaning to his conception of Romantic ‘irony’, which puts in doubt the truth of what
one says even as one says it. In 1798 his friend Novalis claimed that the world is an
endless series of changing relationships, which was best understood through music
because music was not directed towards referentially fixing objects in the world.
Novalis's loosening of the boundary between language and music is echoed in
Herder's view in Kalligone (1800) that music is a temporalized ‘energetic’ art, not a
finished product or work, and is valuable for precisely that reason.
The change in the status of wordless music also gives rise in Romanticism to the first
methodologically elaborated conception of ‘literature’. Schlegel and Novalis see
musical forms as providing the model for the rhythmic and other attributes of verbal
texts, which take them beyond both their pragmatic and referential functions and the
limitations of rule-bound language, giving the texts a value for their own sake. Schlegel
asserts that: ‘the method of the novel is that of instrumental music’ (1980, p.146), and
he even talks of the ‘musical’ aspects of Kant's philosophy. The Enlightenment
contrast between music's supposed failure to say anything important and the primacy
of verbal language is therefore turned on its head in Romantic thought; this inversion is
later epitomized by Walter Pater's assertion in 1877 that ‘All art constantly aspires to
the condition of music’ (1961, p.129). Novalis also points the way both to the non-
representational art characteristic of 20th-century Modernism and to the recent
musical avant garde's use of elements of language as non-semantic elements of
musical composition, when, linking them to music, he imagines ‘Poems, just pleasant
sounding and full of beautiful words, but also without any meaning or context … like
fragments of the most diverse things’ (1978, p.769). The Romantics initiate far-seeing
reflections on the historical interplay between language and music, content and form,
and these reflections do not give the one an inherent superiority over the other.
In his Philosophie der Kunst (1802–3), Schelling characterizes music in the terms he
uses to reconcile the Kantian division between the world in itself and the world as
appearance, between the ‘real’ and the ‘ideal’ aspects of the world and ourselves. Art
works make the ‘ideal’ manifest in ‘real’ objects, revealing how productive freedom
combines with the necessities dictated by the material of the work. Language is itself

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‘the complete work of art’ (1859, i/5, p.358), and the other arts are seen as analogous
to language. Schelling maintains that music is an inferior form of articulation, because
its physical manifestation as sound (Klang) means that it is merely transitory. Music's
dependence on temporal succession relates it to human self-consciousness, which
also links together moments of time in meaningful succession, transcending
temporality even as it depends upon it. Rhythm is therefore the principle both of music
and of the self for Schelling: without a unification of differing moments, which both
makes a succession into a rhythm and makes differing experiences into my
experiences, there could be neither music nor a self. Rhythm, the ‘music in music’
(ibid., 322), is consequently the very condition of possibility of an intelligible world, in
which successions of phenomena become meaningful by being unified into identifiable
entities. Not only is rhythm therefore also the basis of melody and harmony, but music,
as the interplay of difference and identity, can be said to be ‘nothing but the heard
rhythm and the harmony of the visible universe’ (ibid., 329). Everything in the universe
gains its identity from its endless relationships to other things, in the same way as
each moment of a rhythmic sequence becomes determinate only by being
apprehended as part of a whole.
In Romantic philosophy ‘the Absolute’, the whole that is necessary for finite things to
have an identity, is revealed to us only via our sense of the limitations of what we
know. This sense of limitation is manifested in concern with music's attempt to say the
‘unsayable’. The Romantic philosopher K.W.F. Solger’s dialogue Erwin (1815) makes
some of the most emphatic claims concerning music’s relationship to the Absolute:
‘the effect of music consists in the fact that in the sensation of every present moment a
whole eternity emerges in our mind. Music … therefore really achieves what is not
achievable for the usual activity of the understanding. But it also does not achieve it for
real objects, but only in the universal empty form of time’ (Dahlhaus and Zimmermann,
1984, pp.146–7). In order to achieve the real unification of the finite and the infinite,
music, Solger asserts, must link itself to other forms of art, a conception that Wagner
would soon try to realize in his idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, but which Solger saw as
realized in the ‘complete musical church service, in the singing of holy hymns before
paintings of divine actions’ in inspiring architectural surroundings.
Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
5. Schopenhauer, Hegel and Schleiermacher.
Schelling suggested in 1811 that ‘because sound and note seem to arise only in [the]
battle between spirituality and corporeality, music alone can be an image of …
primeval nature and its movement’ (Die Weltalter, 1946 edn, p.43), and he relates
music to Dionysus in a manner later echoed by Nietzsche. Much of Schelling’s
conception of this period was appropriated by Schopenhauer in Die Welt als Wille und
Vorstellung (1819). However, unlike Schopenhauer and many who follow him,
Schelling still thinks of music as linked to rationality, because music tries to come to
terms with rationality’s origins in what discursive rationality itself can never finally
explain. For Schopenhauer, the world of the transient appearances ordered by science
is the product of a single self-contradicting power, the ‘Will’, which is ‘an endless
striving’ (1966, p.240). Any manifestation of the Will must sustain itself against other
manifestations that will eventually destroy it. Awareness of the Will comes about
through the constant imperative to appropriate other parts of the world in order to
subdue the lack generated by our ever-present bodily and emotional needs. If we
remain subjected to these needs there can be no possibility of contentment. Music is
most closely analogous to the Will and is the most important form of art, because it
least represents the world of appearance. Even though the Will cannot be represented

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as appearance, music is supposed to be an ‘image/representation’ (Abbild) of the Will,

so that ‘One could … just as well call the world embodied music as embodied Will’
(ibid., 366). The tensions and resolutions in a melody and the temporality of music
echo the self-consuming nature of the Will at the same time as offering an aesthetic
escape from dependence on it. The point is not that we experience the emotions that
music articulates – that would merely be a further form of subjection to the Will – but
that music should turn them into aesthetically significant forms. Schopenhauer regards
these forms as analogous to Platonic ‘Ideas’, and this is supposed to explain the
connection of music to mathematical forms. The inconsistencies in Schopenhauer's
position have often been pointed out, but he had a remarkable impact on the history of
music, the aesthetics of music and the other arts: Wagner regarded reading
Schopenhauer as a decisive moment in his intellectual and musical development.
In his Ästhetik (1835), Hegel, like Herder and Schelling, defines the arts through their
mutual relationships in a historical and philosophical hierarchy, but claims that the
‘science of art … is in our time much more necessary than in times when art for itself
as art provided complete satisfaction’ (1965, i, 21). Art, the ‘sensuous appearing of the
Idea’ (p.117), is understood via an historical account of the developing relationships of
thought to the object world. The final phase of art is ‘Romantic’ art, which moves away
from ‘classical’ (Greek) art's concern with the sensuous beauty of the object towards
the Christian realization that the highest truth lies in the mind's ability to transcend the
(dis)appearing sensuous world. Music is therefore the ‘key note’ of Romanticism,
because it does not represent external objects. Its ‘principle’ is ‘subjective inwardness’
(ii, 320), and it is the culmination of the aesthetic liberation of mind by the
transformation of the merely sensuous (sinnlich) into ‘meaning’ (Sinn). However,
instrumental music has no capacity for revealing anything about the external world of
science, history and society. This leads Hegel to a version of musical formalism. The
philosopher's ability to assert in conceptual language that music is a one-sided form of
articulation is evidence for Hegel of why, in modernity, art is transcended by
philosophy, whose task is to explicate the relationships between the principles of the
For Hegel, instrumental music's lack of semantic content is merely a deficiency on the
part of music, which conceptual thought can overcome. Schopenhauer, on the other
hand, gives all music the same ‘meaning’, because it is the means of temporarily
escaping finitude via its lack of worldly meaning. A true description of music would be
the ‘true philosophy’ for Schopenhauer: whereas Schopenhauer thinks that description
is impossible, Hegel claims to provide it. This version of the paradigmatic opposition
between music as a higher and a lower form of language reappears in many
subsequent theorists: Kierkegaard (Enten-eller, 1843), for example, suspects music for
its merely transient, if highly seductive effects, which contrast with the ethical
seriousness of real communication. The question underlying the future of music
aesthetics now becomes a hermeneutic question: should music be interpreted in its
own terms, or in terms of something else, like philosophy, psychology or physics? The
answers to this question will link music aesthetics to major philosophical and
ideological battles in the modern world.
F.D.E. Schleiermacher's too often neglected aesthetics is based on his theory of
hermeneutics, the ‘art of interpretation’. Interpretation is an ‘art’, because there can be
no prior rules for dealing with texts or utterances that make new sense even though
they violate existing rules. Instead of isolating music in the manner of formalism, which
thinks that music must be understood solely via its own criteria, Schleiermacher
regards those criteria as themselves inextricably linked to other forms of articulation.

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He relates music to gesture and mime, because both are non-verbal, and maintains
that ‘the mobility of self-consciousness’ – which he regards as vital to all art – is
evident in both. The idea of the mobility of self-consciousness leads him to develop
Kant's notion of schematism in relation to music. Sounds in nature are not music, and
music is possible only through new syntheses of sounds, which depend on the subject,
as composer, performer or listener, to constitute them as music. Verbal language can
have either a closer or a more distant relationship to music: the specifically aesthetic
issue is the ‘transition to music’ from the pre-musical. This transition depends upon
‘free productivity’, which forms sounds into new significant configurations. Free
productivity must play a role, in differing degrees, not just in the composer or the
performer but also in the listener.
The essential aspect is therefore the acknowledgement, through interpretative activity,
of the other person's freedom to articulate and thereby give pleasure and new insight.
Because the relevant aspects of the context of any interpretation must be chosen from
an indefinite number of possibilities, there can be no definitive rules for this choice.
Most crucially, verbal language is itself never completely semantically determinate: it
always depends upon shifting contexts for its meaning. As such, ‘even in the most
strict kind of utterance the musical influence will not be absent’ (1977, p.160), and the
musical influence can play a role in how the utterance should be understood. Art, as in
Kant, is ‘free production of the same functions that also occur in the bound activity of
mankind’ (1974, p.375). Verbal languages differ from music because the referential
and pragmatic ‘bound’ aspect tends to dominate. However, in metaphor this aspect is
relativized: a metaphor can make us notice new aspects of the world, even if we
cannot say what the metaphor means beyond its literal meanings. This brings verbal
language closer to the ways in which music brings to our attention what we may not be
able to state in words. Music is therefore closest to poetry, in which the concern is not
with the general referential aspect of language but with the articulation of a particular
aspect of life in a particular form. The paraphrase of a metaphor or a poem, or the
verbal description of music, cannot exhaust what is paraphrased or described. After
Schleiermacher, theories that take in all dimensions of the understanding of music
become increasingly rare.
Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
6. Formalism.
The enormous and continuing impact of Eduard Hanslick's Vom Musikalisch-Schönen
(1854) should be understood in relation, first, to its intended refutation of the
‘unscientific aesthetics of sentiment/feeling’ (1990, p.21), and, secondly, to the music
of Hanslick's time against which it was directed – the ‘programme music’ of Berlioz,
Liszt, Wagner and others, which used literary and other verbal models to extend the
range of musical expression. Hanslick argued that Schumann's claim that ‘the
aesthetics of one art is that of the others, only the material is different’ (p.23) ignored
the fact that the beauty of an art is inseparable from its specific techniques. He
therefore maintained that ‘in aesthetic investigations the beautiful object and not the
feeling subject should first be investigated’ (p.22), and that aesthetics should strive for
the rigour of a natural science.
Hanslick successfully highlighted ways of looking at music as an ‘autonomous’ art:
instead of describing the feelings evoked by hearing the music, the music critic
analyses the specific harmonic, melodic and rhythmic characteristics of the music
itself. The reasons for the shortcomings of Hanslick’s approach had, though, already
been suggested by the Romantics: the boundaries between the musical and the non-

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musical are not as absolute as he (sometimes) wished to make them. The

incorporation into music of the previously non-musical is almost definitive of music
history, and any attempt to interpret music solely in its own terms is inherently
unrealizable. E.T.A. Hoffmann had already shown in his account of Beethoven's Fifth
Symphony that it was possible to combine technical analysis of music with an –
admittedly extravagant – metaphorical description of that music. Although technical
analysis can generate ‘verifiable’ results, there is no reason to think that metaphorical
interpretation cannot reveal just as much of the piece qua music. Hanslick fails to
reflect sufficiently on the contested criteria that can be used to decide between the
many ways of discussing a piece of music. There are no ‘scientific’ criteria for such
hermeneutic decisions, and the criteria cannot be established merely from the side of
the work itself.
Hanslick's core idea is that music's ‘content and object’ are ‘sounding moved forms’
(1990, p.75), and he takes instrumental music as his model. The musical material –
harmony, rhythm and melody – expresses ‘musical ideas’, which are determinate in a
way that subjective feelings can never be, and are ‘their own purpose’. ‘Music just
wants to be grasped as music’ (p.77), but music is also ‘a language which we speak
and understand but cannot translate’ (p.78): ‘in language the note is only the means to
the expression of something which is completely alien to this means, while in music
the note appears as its own purpose’ (p.99). Hanslick relies, then, on an untenable
conception of language, which makes the existence of literature incomprehensible,
because it denies that language itself has a ‘musical’, non-pragmatic aspect. In order
to stress music's distance from representation, Hanslick actually presupposes an
aesthetics of representation for the other arts, thereby ignoring Romantic insights,
themselves based on the understanding of music, which show that any form of art
could not validly be said to be art if it were understood merely in terms of
representation. Hanslick attempts to overcome the opposition between form and
content by claiming that the content of music is in fact its forms, rather than what it
might represent or make us feel. The claim that music's form is its content is not a
priori implausible, but to assess its plausibility one needs to employ the resources of a
contextual approach, in which the forms are located both aesthetically and historically.
Hanslick's desire for a formalist understanding of music meant that he was not
sufficiently prepared to historicize his conception. In this he will be followed by many
subsequent approaches to music, particularly those that regard musical analysis as
the only methodologically tenable approach to music.
Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
7. Disintegration.
Hanslick's account of the scope of aesthetics of music rules out neither the importance
of music for emotional life nor the possible philosophical import of music. However,
Hanslick does exemplify a new tendency for aesthetics to aim at the same kind of
rigour as is assumed to be present in the natural sciences. This leads to the exclusion
of many approaches as merely ‘subjective’ and unworthy of academic consideration.
The discipline of aesthetics now also tends more and more towards schematic
attempts – often, like that of Friedrich Theodor Vischer, modelled on Hegel – at
thoroughgoing systematization. Such works lack the sense of philosophical discovery
that characterizes early Romantic approaches to aesthetics, and the desire to
complete the system too often results in a Procrustean treatment of the particular arts.
The writings of the composers of the era, such as Berlioz, Wagner and Liszt, on the
other hand, contribute little to sustained philosophical insight into music, even though

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they are essential documents of the aesthetically crucial interplay – and frequent
incongruity – between verbally formulated conceptions of music and actual musical
production. The composers also testify to an interest in combining music with the other
arts, as suggested by Solger, in the name of the achievement of a higher kind of art,
an interest that culminates in Wagner's music dramas. Although many of the ideas the
composers embrace derive from Romantic thought, the subtle differentiations of that
thought are sometimes neglected, for instance in Wagner's unqualified declaration in
Oper und Drama (1852) that ‘the linguistic capability of the orchestra can clearly be
described as the capacity to announce the unsayable’, namely the ‘feeling’ that
rational verbal language is incapable of expressing. Instead of proposing a complex
interplay between language and music, Wagner – who elsewhere sometimes sustains
a more differentiated view – here makes a rigid division between the two.
Unlike the best of Romantic music aesthetics and hermeneutics, which regards both
the separation of subject and object and other absolute distinctions in aesthetic theory
as mistaken, the authors of the music aesthetics of the second half of the 19th century
often concentrate exclusively either on music as an expression of subjective feeling or
on the objectifiable aspects of music. The falling apart of the two sides is not just an
issue for aesthetic theory: it also relates to a more general intellectual division between
the arts and the sciences, which affects all later theorists. A symptomatic text of the
era in this respect is Hermann von Helmholtz's Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen
als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik, first published in 1863, a truly
masterly account, based on the physics of sound, of the constitution of the harmonic
relationships between notes and of their effect on human physiology. Helmholtz ends
with a chapter on ‘Relations to Aesthetics’ in which he insists that the tonal systems he
has examined are not an object of science as such, but ‘a work of artistic invention’
(1913 edn, p.587). The task of aesthetics, though, is to find the ‘laws and rules’ (p.588)
of beauty, even though these are consciously present neither to the producer nor to
the recipient of music. This leads Helmholtz, as many subsequent theorists will also be
led, back to the issues that concerned Kant and the Romantics. He suggests, for
example, that ‘we understand pleasure in the beautiful … as a law-bound
correspondence with the nature of our mind’ (p.589), but this is only because, like
Kant, he thinks we must assume a sensus communis in matters of taste. Once
Helmholtz leaves the passive aspects of the realm of perception, where his account is
exemplary, he is forced into what is really hermeneutic territory, which, as
Schleiermacher had already shown, and as Hugo Riemann argued against Helmholtz,
involves the active rather than just the receptive capacities of the subject. Helmholtz
also underestimates the need for an awareness – of the kind his contemporary
Willhelm Dilthey tried to reintroduce into academic discourse – of the inescapability of
attention to context in all forms of understanding.
A further characteristic tendency of music aesthetics in the second half of the 19th
century is the attempt to graft music on to a theory of human nature. Charles Darwin
asserts in 1871 that ‘musical tones and rhythm were used by our half-human
ancestors, during the season of courtship’, and that it would therefore be ‘opposed to
the principle of evolution’ to think that ‘articulate speech’, as the ‘latest … [and]
highest, of the arts acquired by man’ (1972, p.284), was the source of humanity's
musical capacities. Music is in fact the source of language, whose fundamental aspect
is rhetorical, because it is based on the need to charm a sexual partner. Darwin thus
adopts a familiar Romantic topos, as well as something akin to Schopenhauer’s
metaphysics of the Will, but he does not give any serious reasons why music should
come to be an autonomous form of art.

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Edmund Gurney (1880) attempts to add on a theory of musical autonomy to Darwin's

theory that music is dependent upon emotional excitation (although he later moves
away from Darwin's view). Gurney is left with a paradigmatic problem: if it is the case
that musical works are qua music, independent of any emotion from outside music
(even though they also gave other forms of pleasure), all music would seem, as it did
for Schopenhauer, to have essentially the same significance. The source of Gurney's
problem is his rigid separation between a referential conception of verbal language
and music: he assumes, mistakenly, that non-musical emotions are all namable and
that musical feelings must be purely musical. Gurney's position exemplifies a central
problem for any aesthetics that wishes to hold on to the autonomy of music at the
same time as connecting music to the social and historical world.
Friedrich Nietzsche's account of music in Die Geburt der Tragödie (1872) mixes
Schelling's link of music to Dionysus with Schopenhauer's metaphysics of music and
the Will, while connecting Wagner's music dramas to Greek tragedy. Tragedy, as
music was for Schopenhauer, is closest to the Will (Dionysus), because it transforms
the destructive and chaotic aspects of human existence into the form of art. By 1878,
though, Nietzsche already asserts, in the light of his engagement, after writing Die
Geburt der Tragödie, with materialist conceptions of science of his day, that ‘In itself no
music is deep and significant, it does not speak of the “Will”’ (Sämtliche Werke, 1980,
ii, 175), and that ‘Music is precisely not a general, supra-temporal language’ (p.450).
The twists and turns in his conception of music and in his relationship to Wagner are
underpinned by his antipathy to any art or any conception of art that echoes Christian
redemptive metaphysics, which he regards as an obstacle to confronting the realities
of human finitude. He also comes to attack Wagner, in the name of a formalist musical
autonomy, for giving up ‘all style in music, in order to make of it what he needed, a
theatre-rhetoric, a means of expression … he increased the linguistic capacity of
music into the unmeasurable’ (vi, 30). At times, though, Nietzsche sees aesthetics as
‘nothing but an applied physiology’ (p.418), and, like Darwin, as ‘bound to … biological
preconditions’ (p.50). At other times – like the early Romantics, and in a manner that
will eventually influence deconstructive approaches to interpretation – he claims that
music is the reminder that the world ‘has once again become “infinite” for us: to the
extent that we cannot reject the possibility that it contains infinite interpretations in
itself’ (iii, 627).
This conception, however, is often reduced to another version of Schopenhauer's
metaphysics, when he claims that the ‘will to power’ ‘interprets’, by repressing one
aspect of itself in favour of another. Nietzsche's influential rejection of the notion of
truth as adequate representation of a ready-made world leads him to regard all forms
of articulation as potentially deceptive, and thus as all ultimately ‘aesthetic’. His
assessments of music vary so much because he constantly undercuts the differing
bases, from biology, to psychology, to metaphysics, upon which those assessments
are built. Nietzsche points to a disintegration that takes place in aesthetics when
hopes for the capacity of art to replace theological meaning by establishing
harmonious new relationships between the human and the natural are undermined
both by the advances of the natural sciences and by the failure of these advances to
be accompanied by equivalent moral and aesthetic progress. The crisis of forms in
post-Wagnerian music at the end of the 19th century clearly relates to these
developments: once the harmonic tonal system comes to be seen as optional, the
relationship of music to a meaningful natural order seems increasingly to be a ‘merely
human’ projection. The problem for 20th-century music aesthetics lies in finding a
response to this crisis that could both sustain a critical perspective and do justice to

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new forms of musical production.

Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
8. The 20th century: artists.
In 20th century ‘classical’ music the tension between the post-traditional sense of
liberation from established forms, and the fear that a ‘merely human’ order might turn
out to be no meaningful order at all, was brought to a head by what Schoenberg terms
the ‘emancipation of dissonance’, the renunciation of a tonal centre around which
composition is organized.
An intriguing speculative interpretation of the emancipation of dissonance is to be
found in Thomas Mann’s novel Doktor Faustus (1947), which follows the life of the
fictional German composer Adrian Leverkühn whose ‘compositions’ involve elements
derived from descriptions of the work of Mahler, Schoenberg and others. Mann
connects the fate of the avant-garde composer, who insists that ‘even a silly order is
better than none at all’, to the fate of Germany as it descends into the barbarism of the
Nazi period. Doktor Faustus is questionable in a variety of respects because
establishing relationships between music, ethics, society and politics in the 20th
century is fraught with difficulties. However, the most significant composers were
themselves clearly convinced of the existence of such relationships, and the
continuing rejection of much of their music by large parts of the listening public
suggests the importance of that conviction. The vital aesthetic question here is how
the move of the most innovative music away from the tastes of the majority of its
audience is to be interpreted. Carl Dahlhaus suggests that, while the music aesthetics
of the 19th century aimed to explicate the musical experience of the educated lay
person, the music aesthetics of the 20th century becomes an aesthetics for experts
which reflects on the legitimacy of the new compositional techniques (Dahlhaus,
Zimmermann, 1984).
Writing in 1957, Pierre Boulez sees advances in the technology of sound production
as making possible ‘a category of works free at last from all constraint outside what is
specific to themselves’. He regards this possibility as ‘quite an abrupt transformation,
when one considers that previously music was a collection of codified possibilities
applicable to any work indifferently’ (Thévenin, 1991, p.179). Boulez seems untroubled
by the fact that the notional lack of any ‘codified possibilities’ must give rise to
difficulties for those listening to the music in question: if there is nothing ‘codified’
about the music, what grounds does one have for terming it music at all? It is therefore
no coincidence when, the following year, Milton Babbitt argues that advanced
composition is increasingly becoming like research in physics and will become
inaccessible to the general public.
John Cage is also among those composers who regard liberation from the forms of the
past as an unquestioned improvement, but he does so from a perspective that aims
beyond a supposedly restrictive conception of ‘music’. He offers an alternative
between the position common to Boulez and Babbitt – ‘if [the composer] does not wish
to give up his attempts to control sound, he may complicate his musical technique
towards an approximation of the new possibilities and awareness’ – and his own
position: ‘one may give up the desire to control sound, clear his mind of music, and set
about discovering means to let sounds be themselves rather than vehicles for man-
made theories or expressions of human sentiments’ (1973, p.10). Cage proposes a
series of not necessarily compatible conceptions: he concurs with Herder, in the idea
that music is not limited to intentional human creations, and with Kant’s view of art, in
the idea that it is a ‘purposeful purposelessness’ (p.12); at the same time, he endorses

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a very radical version of what was adumbrated by the advocates of music’s autonomy
from extra-musical meaning. Cage does claim that ‘the coming into being of something
new does not by that fact deprive what was of its former place’, but his anarchic
optimism contrasts sharply with the worries of the composers who did the most to
create the situation to which he responds so positively.
Stravinsky’s writings on music aesthetics contain a number of observations on the
interpretation and performance of music which prefigure the ‘authenticity’ movement,
but the writings would not receive the attention they do if they were not by Stravinsky
(it is not even clear to what extent they were all by him anyway). The lectures entitled
La poétique musicale (1942) espouse a neo-classicism which, as it did for the later
Nietzsche before him, involves favouring minor French talents – for Nietzsche it was
Bizet, for Stravinsky, Gounod – over the ‘bad musicians of modern Germany: the
Liszts, the Wagners, the Schumanns’. The ‘essential aim’ of music should be ‘to
promote a communion, a union of man with his fellow-man and with the Supreme
Being’. This union is being destroyed because ‘Modern man is progressively losing his
understanding of values and his sense of proportions’, and this ‘leads us infallibly to
the violation of the fundamental laws of human equilibrium’. Like later conservative
thinkers, such as Scruton (1997), Stravinsky interprets effects as causes, failing to see
how the musical and other cultural symptoms which understandably disturb him have
deep social and economic roots and cannot just be attributed to the misuse of freedom
on the part of those he blames for the symptoms. His repeated appeals to the need for
a ‘foundation’ that would reveal the hollowness of ‘unrestricted freedom’, and for an
‘established order’ to which one should submit as an artist and human being, are
based in the last analysis on a dogmatic theology which completely fails to come to
terms with the complex realities of the secularized modern world.
Schoenberg is profoundly aware of the problems created by his farewell to many of the
established foundations of musical composition. His writings testify to a constant
tension between the drive for authentic innovation and the desire to legitimate that
innovation in terms of existing traditions. His account of his role in the ‘emancipation of
dissonance’ raises important points with regard to his music’s relationship to verbal
language, describing how he only became able to use the new non-harmonically
based style ‘to construct larger forms by following a text or poem’ (1975, p.217), the
lack of recognizable chordal patterns having ruled out other ways of structuring a
larger compostion. In his longer compositions before the development of his new
method of ‘composition with 12 tones’, the ‘differences in size and shape of [the text or
poem’s] parts and the change in character and mood were mirrored in the shape and
size of the composition, in its dynamics and tempo, figuration and accentuation,
instrumentation and orchestration. Thus the parts were differentiated as clearly as they
had formerly been by the tonal and structural functions of harmony’ (pp.217–8).
However, in that case, the hard-won musical autonomy established in music at the end
of the 18th century is now renounced in favour of a renewed subordination to the text.
Schoenberg’s essential concern is that his music should embody an order of the kind
possessed by harmonically based music. He suggests that the artist ‘will wish to know
consciously the laws and rules that he has conceived “as in a dream”’ and that ‘he
must find, if not laws and rules, at least ways to justify the dissonant character of these
harmonies and their successions’ (p.218). In the search for specifically musical forms
of order, Schoenberg arrives at a method which he claims to have ‘esthetic and
technical … support which advances it from a mere technical device to the rank and
importance of a scientific theory’ (p.220). He accordingly presents the method of
‘composition with 12 tones’, which he developed in the early 1920s, as the

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‘foundations for a new procedure in musical construction which seemed fitted to

replace those structural differentiations provided formerly by tonal harmonies’ (p.218).
Arguments over the significance of Schoenberg’s new method continue to this day. Do
listeners actually listen to such music with tonal ears, and is the method therefore, as
Hindemith and others have claimed, still in fact reliant on a natural order of harmony
based on the intervals between notes with less complex mathematical ratios? Or is the
perception suggested by Hindemith’s argument merely a habit that has developed in
the West over the centuries? The more significant issue here, as Mann realized, lies in
the consequences that could be drawn from adopting either of these assumptions. The
tendency has been for many on the authoritarian and conservative side to insist that
there is a natural order upon which music relies, which the avant garde senselessly
transgresses, and for many on the left to insist that one cannot naturalize something
that is inextricably connected to other developments in culture and society. Given the
growing openness of the public to music from the most diverse cultures, this issue
seems likely to be settled in favour of the relativity of music to historically based
norms, but the underlying tension persists between the desire to naturalize and the
desire to historicize because music has become ever more clearly linked to an
awareness of the essentially contested nature of cultural norms.
Philosophy of music, §III: Aesthetics, 1750–2000
9. The 20th century: theorists.
The most significant theoretical development in the music aesthetics of the 20th
century is the emergence of sophisticated theories of music’s connections to society
and history, which extend the exploration of music’s relationship to subjectivity to the
ways in which individual subjectivity is at least in part consituted by socially generated
structures and practices, including language, economics and music itself. Many of the
other major theories of music, on the other hand, either are questionable elaborations
of positions from previous music aesthetics, or fail to deal with the real aesthetic
Large parts of the philosophical work on music in Britain and the USA from the 1920s
onwards reflect the impact of the new ‘analytical’ philosophy of language of Frege,
Russell and Carnap, which assumes that the philosophical explanation of thought can
be achieved by the logical analysis of language. Until the later Wittgenstein – who will
maintain, in line with Romantic hermeneutics, that ‘Understanding a sentence in
language is much more related to understanding a theme in music than one thinks’ –
such philosophy often stifles thinking about those aspects of language the Romantics
regarded as inseparable from music, though it does offer invaluable insights into the
logic of our understanding of the object-world. Analytical approaches to philosophy
draw on powerful support from the natural sciences, which study the rule-bound
subjective aspect of music in new forms of physiology and psychology, and study the
objective aspect of music, in acoustics, information theory and other physically based
disciplines. The aesthetics of music, though, is inherently at odds with philosophy
which, like ‘logical positivism’, relegates statements about music as an art to
‘meaninglessness’, on the assumption that the meaning of a statement lies only in the
ways in which it can be scientifically verified. Controversies over the relationship
between verbal language and music now take on a new significance, which comes to
be reflected in the divide between analytical and ‘phenomenological’, and hermeneutic
approaches that still dominate contemporary philosophy. In certain respects this divide
echoes the divide between positions that see music as a timeless category and
positions that think it impossible to separate the understanding of music from its

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Until recently much of analytical philosophy worked mainly on the objectifying
assumption that meanings are phenomena to be explained in terms of the rules for the
use of language. It also considers music in mainly objectifying terms, looking, for
example, at notional laws governing the hearing of the musical object, or at whether
the object has ‘representational properties’. The advocates of phenomenology closest
to its founder, Edmund Husserl, such as Roman Ingarden (1973; Eng. trans., 1986),
are concerned to give exhaustive descriptions of the structures via which the world is
‘given to us’, and they often deal with ontological issues similar to those that concern
analytical philosophers, such as the status of the musical work qua score and qua
performance. Ingarden argues, for example, that the musical work is a ‘purely
intentional object’, reducible neither to the score nor to a specific performance (or set
of performances).
Susanne K. Langer (1942) incorporates music into a view, derived from Ernst Cassirer,
of humankind as distinguished from the animal world by its ability to produce symbols.
Langer's often exhilarating position remains, though, unhappily suspended between
analytical assumptions about the ‘fixed meanings’ which refer to objects in the world in
verbal language, and a Romantic awareness, based on Kant's notion of schematism,
of the need to explore ways of making sense beyond discursive language. For Langer,
music becomes the ‘logical expression’ of feelings, and has no ‘literal meaning’. It has
‘all the earmarks of a true symbolism, except one: the existence of an assigned
connotation’ (1942, p.240), and is an ‘unconsummated symbol’ of the form of feelings,
rather than of feelings themselves, or of objects in the world. However, it is clear that
living metaphors also have no ‘assigned connotation’, and that music cannot be limited
to expressing just the form of feelings. The strict division Langer requires between
music and language therefore not only fails to theorize language adequately but also
fails to do justice to key aspects of music.
Hermeneutic and phenomenological approaches to language and art associated with
the work of Martin Heidegger assume that humankind is inherently characterized by
the need to understand its own facticity. This ‘always already’ present existential need
is the inescapable basis of any subsequent theoretical attempt to understand
ourselves and the world. A hermeneutic aesthetics of music therefore does not see it
as necessary to make definitive methodological divisions between the differing
dimensions of language, or between language and music, because these divisions are
constituted in continually changing practices of understanding. In his essay
‘Grundfragen der Musikästhetik’ (1926), Heidegger's pupil Heinrich Besseler
announces that ‘the real goal of all music theory and music history today should be
termed hermeneutics’ (p.78). Like Heidegger, Besseler wishes to get away from the
idea that the truth about phenomena like music is a purely theoretical or scientific
matter: ‘Music originally becomes accessible to us as a manner/melody of human
being’(‘Weise menschlichen Daseins’, p.45). Music is part of human ‘being in the
world’. The task of aesthetics, as it was in the Romantic tradition, is to make us
understand better what we are in relation to music and what music is in relation to us:
these questions cannot be divorced. The questions are historical because there can,
as the history both of music and of music aesthetics shows, be no final answer to
them. Besseler confirms the significance of his approach in the notion of
Gebrauchsmusik (‘functional music’ or ‘music for use’), which reflects the new musical
production of the early Hindemith, Eisler and others. He also challenges notions of
musical autonomy, arguing that ‘The everydayness away from which high art wishes to
lead is the life-element of Gebrauchsmusik’ (p.43), and asks ‘What role does music

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play in the context of the particular existence and its everydayness?’ (p.42). This
position is itself a historical reaction to the failure of so much music theory at that time
to come to terms with the new roles of music in a society which was in ideological,
social, economic and political crisis.
The exploration of music's relationship to society exemplified by Besseler is
unthinkable without the emergence of the sociological tradition of Marx, Dilthey and
Max Weber. However, many Marxist sociological approaches to music aesthetics,
such as those of Georg Lukács and Zofia Lissa, remain, despite the importance of
their attempts to show how musical and socio-historical transformations are
inextricably linked, trapped within a model of art as primarily a representation of
historical reality and as merely a ‘reflex’ of its historical circumstances. Because it
does not offer an adequate account of musical autonomy, let alone of the revolutionary
utopian promise of reconciliation that music seems to offer its listeners suggested by
Ernst Bloch (1918), this model often makes it incomprehensible that the same music
can be highly valued, for differing reasons, in the most diverse modern societies. The
challenge facing a sociologically orientated aesthetics of music is therefore to do
justice to seemingly incommensurable realms. Analysis of historically specific social,
economic and political constellations has to be combined with analysis of music which
becomes aesthetically significant only because it transcends such constellations.
The strength of the work in music aesthetics of the philosopher, critic and composer
T.W. Adorno, on whose theories Mann relied for parts of Doktor Faustus, lies in his
combination of the refusal to ignore the continuing importance of the Western classical
tradition of autonomous music with a critical stance which accepts that art may have
become inadequate as a means of responding to the extremes of modern history.
Adorno directs his aesthetics against the ‘culture industry’. In capitalist societies where
virtually anything can become a commodity to be bought and sold, art with an
immediate popular appeal will tend to function as a compensation for existing
injustices, and will therefore encourage uncritical acceptance of the status quo. The
freedom of the subject is threatened when subjects become the passive objects of
cultural products made to fit the artificially created demands of the market. The music
of the heroic bourgeois period, particularly that of Beethoven, had seemed at times to
offer symbolic indications of a reconciliation between the new freedom of the individual
and the need to create new forms of collective social justice. It did so, Adorno argues,
by being true to the specific, collectively generated, technical demands and
possibilities of the art form itself, rather than by aiming to please its recipients or to be
immediately comprehensible. The task of music aesthetics is to bring out the more
general truth of the most significant music, at the same time as doing justice to the
particularity of the musical work, which is, as it was for Kant, a value in itself. The
problem is that music no longer can be regarded as true if it is beautiful in the manner
of the tradition of Western classical music: that tradition's means of extending the
ability of the modern subject to express itself have, particularly since Wagner, become
clichéd and ‘ideological’. The difficulties of composing modern music are thus
incorporated into a wider theory of how music relates to the individual and of how the
individual is subjected to the pressures of modern rationalized societies.
Despite his pessimistic assessment of modernity, Adorno tries to sustain both the
autonomy of music and the notion that music still has a potential to keep alive the idea
of a fulfilled human existence. This leads him to revise Romantic notions of the
relationship between music and language: ‘As language, music moves towards … the
absolute unity of thing and sign, which is lost in its immediacy to all human knowledge’
(1970; Eng. trans., 1984, p.154). Music ‘makes a fool of the spectator by continually

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promising meanings – and even intermittently granting meanings – which are for it in
fact only, in the truest sense of the word, means towards the death of meaning, and in
which [meanings] it for that reason never exhausts itself’ (pp.154–5). Like the
Romantics, Adorno sustains an interplay between what can be stated in verbal
language and what music may communicate through its unique historical configuration
of material. Within Adorno's own context new music can only keep alive possibilities of
meaning by refusing to be assimilated into the dominant ways of making sense of the
modern world. The musical avant garde of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, which
resists interpretation in terms of straightforward enjoyment, is seen as the music that is
true to the demands of philosophically serious music aesthetics. Adorno's position,
particularly in Philosophie der neuen Musik (1949), where he stylizes the difference
between Schoenberg and Stravinsky into a paradigm of the conflicts in modern music,
is often unnecessarily dogmatic, and his moves from immanent analysis of works to
their wider social meanings are sometimes questionable. However, his requirement
that art, the sphere in which the most developed possibilities of human freedom can be
explored, be subject to rigorous aesthetic and historical criticism rings increasingly true
at a time when the culture industry and those who administer it threaten to obliterate
differentiated aesthetic judgment in so many areas of the contemporary world.
Adorno may well represent the end of a tradition of aesthetic theory which was certain
of its ability to make substantial connections of Western music to a wider story about
history and philosophy. Now, in an era of incommensurability between philosophical
traditions and of ‘decentred’ artistic production, such enterprises are often seen as
underestimating the complexity of the task of establishing large-scale links between
the theorization of art and the writing of history. What, then, are the future tasks of
music aesthetics if it renounces a ‘grand narrative’ (Lyotard) of Western art and if the
very category ‘work of art’ is now threatened? Since its inception, aesthetics has
always been a hybrid discipline. Its decline from the speculative heights of the early
19th century was in part a result of many of its concerns becoming the object of more
specific disciplines, particularly in the natural sciences. However, the power of the
early conceptions, beginning with Baumgarten, lay in their disturbing the boundaries
between scientific and other conceptions of the world by showing that art poses
questions that cannot be definitively answered from within any of these particular
conceptions. When aesthetics competes with disciplines with their own rigorous
methodological criteria it must in one sense fail: the aesthetics of music will not, for
example, give us testable results of the kind offered by musical analysis. However, the
inextricable links between aesthetics and hermeneutics are today again becoming
important both for the study and the praxis of music, and for philosophy.
The notorious problems concerning the appropriate ways to carry out musical analysis
relate to problems that have also bedevilled the analytical philosophy of language. The
underlying dilemma is a circularity, in which the results of any investigation must
depend on the initial decision as to what it is that is being analysed. This dilemma was
already recognized by Kant when he introduced the notion of schematism in his theory
of judgment, was developed by Schleiermacher and was made central to 20th-century
philosophy by Heidegger and Wittgenstein. Criteria for judgment, be it in semantics or
music analysis, cannot legitimate themselves, so there can be no definitive way of
establishing a universally valid starting-point for any kind of analysis. The choice that
music aesthetics now faces lies between the analytical development of Hanslick's
formalism, and hermeneutic attempts, represented in recent years by Carl Dahlhaus,
Hans Heinrich Eggebrecht, Roger Scruton and others, to keep alive interactions of
music with other ways of understanding and experiencing the world and ourselves.

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Such interactions ensue of necessity from the fact that all understanding, be it of
referential language or Beethoven's ‘Eroica’ Symphony, is possible only via the
contexts in which what is to be understood is already pre-theoretically disclosed to us.
When we understand, we do not understand sentences via the rules of language:
instead we understand the world of which we are a part. If we did not have prior ways
of understanding the world we would never even be able to learn rules for
understanding utterances, because we could not get to the point of understanding
what it is to learn a rule at all. In a phrase of the philosopher of language Donald
Davidson, the hermeneutic conception erases ‘the boundary between knowing a
language and knowing our way around in the world generally’. Music can contribute to
our knowing our way around the world, even as it reminds us in its own ways that the
understanding of anything always also involves aspects that remain hidden to us.
Recent developments in musicology and music aesthetics suggest that a
hermeneutically orientated approach can assimilate the analytical insistence on the
autonomy of music at the same time as showing how the idea that music is mere
abstract form fails to explain why so many kinds of music matter so much, in so many
different contexts, to so many people.
Philosophy of music

IV. Anglo-American philosophy of music, 1960–2000

1. Ontology.
2. Performance.
3. Expressiveness.
4. Understanding.
5. Evaluation.
6. Future directions.
Philosophy of music, §IV: Anglo-American philosophy of music, 1960–2000
1. Ontology.
Ontology is the study of the manner, matter and form in which things exist; so the
ontologist might ask: what kind of thing is a musical sound or a musical work? Few
philosophers have recently addressed the first question (an exception being Scruton,
1997), but several discuss the second.
Although Goodman (1968) characterized the work as the set of its accurate
performances, in fact he regarded it as a set of ‘descriptions’ encoded in and relative
to a notational system. Anything that satisfied these descriptions was an instance of
the given work. As a nominalist, Goodman avoided talk of abstract entities, but a
person more inclined to realism might regard the work not as a set of descriptions but
as an abstract object, in particular as a sound-structure. This Platonist view has a long
history. Its entailments include the following: that musical works exist eternally and are
discovered by their composers; that a single work could be discovered by different
people; that composers, working independently and at a temporal and social distance
from each other, would write the same work if they specified the same sound-structure.
The main alternative to Platonism is a contextualist ontology, which ties the work's
identity to features that depend for their character on the socio-historical setting within
which it is made. Accordingly, works are created, not discovered, and identical sound-
structures specified in very different socio-musical contexts are likely to result in
distinct works. Contextualism was developed mainly by Levinson (1990). Because he
took the composer's identity to generate relational features of the work that are crucial
to its identity, he thought that different composers spelling out the same sound-

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structure inevitably composed different works. Also, he regarded a work's

instrumentation and the appropriate manner of sound production to be essential to its
identity. On all these points he has been criticized from a Platonist perspective by Kivy
(1993). Levinson focussed on works dating from the early 19th century. His proposals
are less plausible for earlier times, because far less detail then was specified by the
composer, both as regards what is to be sounded and the instruments to be used. One
might respond to this (as Goehr, 1992, did) by concluding that the concept of the
musical work, with its regulative function, did not emerge until 1800. Alternatively, one
could hold that a thinner but still legitimate conception prevailed before 1800. Works
can be thin or thick in constitutive properties; over the past six centuries they have
tended to become thicker, with more detail specified and less freedom granted to the
performer. A number of factors lie behind this trend, such as the development of an
increasingly complex notational system and the progressive standardization of
instruments and orchestras.
On this last view, musical works are not of a uniform ontological type. A similar
conclusion emerges when one considers differences across musical types at a given
time. For instance, jazz pieces are ontologically much thinner, and purely electronic
works are much thicker, than most classical ones. Works conveyed by notations
addressed to performers are always ontologically thinner than the performances that
instance them, because notations are silent on many matters that must be decided by
the player. But the notations or model instances that are the basis of jazz
improvisations are more skeletal than those specifying classical works, so the jazz
musician has more freedom than his or her classical counterpart. Meanwhile, purely
electronic compositions are for playback under standard conditions, not for
performance. (The person who controls the settings of a hi-fi in playing a CD does not
perform the works on it, whether these are Beethoven's or are purely electronic.)
Accordingly, in the case of purely electronic pieces all the acoustic details that are
reproduced under appropriate conditions characterize the work itself.
Philosophy of music, §IV: Anglo-American philosophy of music, 1960–2000
2. Performance.
In the case of classical music, philosophers typically have focussed more on works
and the listener's experience of them than on performances (exceptions include Mark,
1981; Thom, 1993; and Godlovitch, 1998). Some who write on jazz (Alperson, 1984;
Brown, 1996) and on rock (Gracyk, 1996) have discussed improvisation and the
manner in which live performances differ from those generated in the recording studio,
but the philosophical literature on these musical kinds is as yet under-developed.
Meanwhile, the performer's interpretative contribution is little discussed (but see
Krausz, 1993).
However, one performance issue, that of authenticity, has been widely debated by
philosophers in the last decade. An authentic performance is one that instances the
work, which is done by faithfully executing those of the composer's instructions that
are work-constitutive, whether or not it also duplicates some original performance
(Davies, 1987). Because a work's specification always under-determines many details
of its performance, many different performances can be equally faithful to it. There are
huge practical difficulties in finding authoritative scores, in mastering the instruments
and performing practices of former times and in interpreting the composer's
prescriptions in light of the notational conventions and musical practices they
presuppose. Moreover, there is some philosophical uncertainty, especially as regards
works historically removed from the present, about which of the properties publicly

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indicated by the composer are to be counted as work-determinative. Yet authenticity

would appear to be attainable in many cases, since performers often can comply with
all the instructions and indications conveyed by the composer, thereby delivering a
faithful instance of his work.
There are many kinds of authenticity in which music figures (Kivy, 1995), including that
associated with the performer's personal autonomy. But if we are interested in musical
works as the creations of their composers, the faithfulness with which the composer's
work-determinative instructions are met must be central to the enterprise of
performance. This is not to deny that a performance is evaluated also in terms of other
qualities, but it is to say that authenticity normally should not be traded for the sake of
heightening other performance values. If this last assertion does not appear to be a
commonsense platitude, as it should, perhaps this is because of the inflated claims
sometimes made on behalf of authentic performances. Of more philosophical
relevance is the understandable doubt that modern listeners can experience the work
as its composer's contemporaries did, in which case it can seem that authenticity must
be pointless. Yet this need not be so, as long as we value performances for
successfully instancing the works they are of, thereby acknowledging our musical
heritage and all the subsequent works built on that foundation. Besides, such
painstaking care is taken with the details of most works by their composers that it is
reasonable to predict that authentic performances usually will be more revealing and
rewarding than the alternatives for audiences who are receptive to works of the kind
being performed.
Philosophy of music, §IV: Anglo-American philosophy of music, 1960–2000
3. Expressiveness.
The traditional view, that emotions are purely inner sensations distinguished by their
phenomenal structures, has been rejected in favour of one that recognizes as no less
essential to an emotion's identity certain desires, attitudes, suppositions and beliefs
about its object, along with appropriate behavioural expressions and causal conditions.
In the 19th century, Hanslick anticipated the modern view and concluded that purely
instrumental music could not express human emotions. In effect, he argued that music
was incapable of conveying propositional attitudes or of picking out intentional objects
(and neither was it sentient, of course). Although a few current authors have not
regarded works as expressive of emotions – for instance, Raffman (1993) has
suggested that expressiveness attaches to performances, not works – most reject
Hanslick's conclusion. Indeed, accounting for music's expressiveness has been the
major preoccupation of Anglo-American philosophers of music in recent decades.
Although Susanne Langer's theory (1942) remains touted by music educationists, it
presupposes the crude, traditional view of emotions. Moreover, its account of music's
expressive power – as depending on an opaque and indescribable connection
between the form of emotions and of music – lacks explanatory power. (But for a
recent defence of Langer, see Addis, 1999.) Similarly unsatisfactory is Goodman's
analysis (1968) of art's expressiveness as involving metaphorical exemplification, for it
is clear neither how music illustrates the literary device of metaphor nor how the notion
of exemplification, by which the music provides a sample of an emotion in expressing
that emotion, applies to it (see Beardsley, 1981). Meanwhile, the claim that we
experience an irreducible analogy between music's movement and human expressive
behaviour (Scruton, 1974, 1997) identifies without accounting for the phenomenon that
is so puzzling.
One prominent analysis, sometimes known as the ‘contour’ theory, notes that

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expressive character is sometimes ascribable to a face or body without reference to

felt-emotions or the intentional contexts they suppose (Kivy, 1989; Davies, 1994); for
instance, the face of a St Bernard dog looks sad, without regard to the way the dog
happens to be feeling. The expressiveness of instrumental music is similar, arising
from a resemblance experienced between human appearances with an expressive
character and the dynamic contour and pattern of the music. In his version of the
theory, Kivy denied both that music was about, and that it often moved listeners to
echo, the emotions expressed in it. Neither of these positions is entailed by the
contour theory and, without them, it is better placed to explain why we would attach
importance to music's expressive character.
The contour theory cannot explain how music could express ‘higher’, more cognitive
emotions, such as pride, hope, envy and patriotism, which lack distinctive outward
appearances. Those who think that music is capable of expressing such emotions
have argued that music is able to invoke or otherwise ‘hook into’ the cognitive aspects
and attitudes that are distinctive to them (Levinson, 1990). Complementarily, some
philosophers (see Robinson, 1994, and Levinson, 1996) and musicologists (cited in
Robinson, 1997) have suggested that instrumental works should be heard as
developing a narrative about a persona hypothesized by the auditor. This narrative
provides both a human subject to whom emotions can be attributed and a context
allowing for the expression of subtle, cognitively complex feelings. Whether this kind of
imaginative engagement is required for the recognition and appreciation of the
expressive properties of instrumental music, or, instead, if it leads to responses that
are merely occasioned by the music, are topics that will continue to be debated.
A longstanding but frequently criticized theory holds that music's expressiveness can
be analysed reductively as its power to awaken a response in a suitably prepared
listener. The listener does not respond to the music's expressiveness; that is, the
music's expressiveness does not precede the listener's response, either as its object
or as its cause. Rather, the music is expressive in virtue of arousing the listener as it
does. New and more refined versions of ‘arousalism’ continue to be advanced (see
Ridley, 1995, and Matravers, 1998). The appeal of this theory no doubt stems from the
recognition that we could not easily explain the interest of music were it not for its
capacity to stimulate the listener's emotions.
Philosophy of music, §IV: Anglo-American philosophy of music, 1960–2000
4. Understanding.
It is frequently acknowledged that comprehending listeners must have a grasp of a
work's style and type, so that they can distinguish the expected from the surprising
and can synthesize the perceptual manifold in a fashion that reflects the music's telos
or organizational principles. In this regard, Meyer's theory (1956) of the listening
process is widely accepted (although his account of music's expressiveness as
depending primarily on delays in the fulfilment of such expectations seems unduly
narrow). According to Meyer, educated auditors bring to their listening expectations
internalized from experiences of similar pieces and earlier parts of the current one, and
these reflect the likelihood of various continuations from any moment in the work. More
generally, the cognitive character of listeners' understandings, which must be informed
by knowledge of the relevant idioms and conventions, is emphasized over alternative
accounts that characterize the appeal of music as purely visceral.
However, this is not to accept the tradition according to which the appreciation of
instrumental music depends on recognition of its formal structure and is fundamentally
opposed to emotional responses other than those that delight in the work's formal

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unity and ingenuity. The intellectual and emotional are not exclusive and opposed;
neither is the one always self conscious while the other is mindless. Appreciation may
be revealed in the emotional response music calls from a person as much as in his or
her verbal reports, and we might reasonably doubt that listeners comprehend music if
they are never moved emotionally by it; but neither of these observations counts
against the claim that music's comprehension is ineradicably cognitive. Many recent
philosophers hold that a work's formal structure will usually be of interest to listeners
who grasp it, but these philosophers are not narrow formalists. Listeners should be
able to recognize prominent musical ideas (such as themes), to identify their
repetitions, variants and recapitulations as such, and to describe the music's unfolding,
but this need involve neither an internal commentary in terms of textbook models nor a
knowledge of musical technicalities and the musicologist's vocabulary (Kivy, 1990;
Davies, 1994). Moreover, so intimate often is the connection between a piece's formal
structure and its expressive pattern that listeners' accounts of, or responses to, the
latter are no less indicative of their appreciation than would be their descriptions of the
Though the above position is far from strict formalism, it is rejected by Levinson
(1997), who follows the 19th-century author, Edmund Gurney, in arguing that almost all
musical understanding and appreciation comes from tracking the music's progress
moment by moment. Not only is it unnecessary for listeners to attend to overarching
form, it is impossible for them to hear musical units that extend over more than about
one minute. What is heard earlier can affect how later passages sound, but listeners
need be aware only of the outcome, not of the connections that underlie it. The art of
listening involves practical rather than intellectual knowledge – know-how rather than
propositional awareness – and the understanding achieved may not be capable of
Levinson intends his account to defend the person who responds to the passing
surface of music without reflecting on what he or she hears. If his claims are
controversial, it is because he presents them as appropriate for the listener whose aim
is to understand an extended classical work. The kind of listening he recommends
might be thought to be more appropriate for other musical kinds or for the listener
whose primary focus is not the work as such, and who yields to the music's subliminal
effects without attending to what is actually heard.
Philosophy of music, §IV: Anglo-American philosophy of music, 1960–2000
5. Evaluation.
Music plays so central a role in the lives of many people that there can be no doubting
how highly it is valued. As a primarily abstract art form, it cannot be important for the
informational significance of its content. This has been seen as posing a problem for
analyses of its profundity (Kivy, 1990), but it could be that the distinctness or
separation of the musical realm from the actual world is crucial to music's value, not
only for providing an enjoyable alternative to reality but also for intensifying the appeal
of the formal and expressive relations that it explores (Sparshott, in Alperson, 2/1994;
Goldman, 1995; Budd, 1996).
Although it is sometimes maintained that music is valuable mainly as a source of
knowledge (through direct acquaintance with the emotions it expresses and arouses,
say), or because of its humanizing and moralizing power, a more plausible view
recognizes that musical works are valued for the pleasure that attends their
appreciation. An interest in a sufficient number of works might, indeed, yield the
desirable side-effects mentioned, but individual works interest us for themselves and

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are valued according to the pleasurable experiences they provide. Not all works are
enjoyable: some are revealed as trite and dull, and then are to be avoided, while
others, though worthwhile, are harrowing and depressing. But, in general, musical
works reward those who take the trouble to understand them, and this includes works
in which the expression of negative emotions contributes to the creation of a whole the
worth of which can be seen to depend on the part they play.
The pleasure provided by the listening experience is taken not only in purely sensuous
elements but also in the complex relation between a work's content and the manner in
which it unfolds (Levinson, 1996). Sometimes formal relations are important; at other
times expressiveness is prominent; and most often it is the complex interdependence
of these two, as well as other features salient to an experience of the music's
progress, that is the object of appreciation. In order to hear the interplay between the
music's content and form, the listener's perceptions must be informed (if only implicitly,
as a result of repeated hearings of appropriately similar works) by a sense of the
musical conventions, constraints and possibilities within and against which the
composer operates.
Further kinds of musical value include a work's originality and its influence on later
works. These values are derivative: unless the work in question provides an enjoyable
experience, or leads to subsequent works that do so, its originality and impact are of
no moment.
It should be apparent from the earlier discussion of performance that we esteem, as
well as works, the performer's efforts, both as these succeed in delivering a faithful
version of the work and also as they are creative in going beyond that which is
supplied by the composer, so that what is sounded forth presents an interesting and
satisfying interpretation. In addition, we admire the sheer skill of the virtuoso player
(Mark, 1980; just as we admire the technical brilliance of the composer of complicated
fugues), but, in general, we expect virtuosity to be at the service of the work rather
than an end in itself (just as we expect composers to produce music that sounds
interesting, whatever structural complexities are hidden within it). Good performance is
valued for its own sake. This is apparent from the fact that improvised music is of
interest, as are those kinds in which works are so ontologically minimal that the focus
falls mainly on the player; and we do not condemn a performance if it reveals a poor
work to be just that.
Philosophy of music, §IV: Anglo-American philosophy of music, 1960–2000
6. Future directions.
Our understanding of music and its relation to those who make and listen to it might be
broadened by a fuller consideration by Western philosophers of the many musics of
non-Western cultures and non-classical types of Western music. This should provide a
new perspective on familiar issues as well as raising others hitherto undiscussed.
Even in the discussion of Western classical music, the range of issues canvassed has
been restricted or slanted: the focus has fallen more on works than on performances,
on purely instrumental music than on other kinds, on expressiveness than on ontology,
on what is common to listeners' responses than on what differs, and on music
considered in isolation rather than on its connection to morality, personal identity and
social relations more generally (for an exception see Higgins, 1991). Moreover,
philosophers ignore the general implications of modern technology for our experience
of music and, more particularly, differences between recordings and live

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Philosophy of music

V. Contemporary challenges
1. The ideological.
2. Cognitive science.
3. Technology and the experimental.
4. Popular music.
5. The present.
Philosophy of music, §V: Contemporary challenges
1. The ideological.
Many challenges arise out of the remarkable surge of recent interest in the interactions
of both music and philosophy with social and cultural theory, feminist criticism and
theory, post-structuralism and postmodernism. These interactions tend to stress the
connections between music and the world – with the ordinary conditions and
experiences of men's and women's lives – to counter the more positivistic, alienated
and abstracted discourse of formalism they take to have long dominated academia.
These challenges often consist in replacing the dominant theoretical discourse with a
preferred one. Theorists tend to articulate their positions by urging us to move away
from the establishment discourse towards a preferred alternative:
(i) from the high, élite, fine tradition of classical or serious art towards the practices and
rituals of popular, non-Western (non-European) music;
(ii) from the division between composer and performer, the commodified work-concept,
the masterpiece, the fixed score (text) and the differentiated and fixed genres (sonata,
symphony, concerto) towards performer-composer continuity, improvised
performances, forms and contents, spontaneous music-making and interactive genres;
(iii) from the mentalistic, voyeuristic, intellectual, concert-hall form of passive or
unbodily listening and watching towards active, participatory, dynamic, bodily and
erotic acts of musical engagement;
(iv) from the élite and institutionalized concert hall towards public and open
performance spaces;
(v) from the separation or remove of music from life towards its social context (say, its
involvement in and contribution to social action);
(vi) from principles and ideals of unity, sameness and singularity towards plurality,
difference and diversity, from the ideal of correct (Werktreue) or authentic
interpretation towards that of multiple and diverse interpretations; and
(vii) from the pure music itself towards those who, in multiple and diverse ways,
engage impurely (i.e. as real people) with music.
Some contemporary theorists seek to undermine the traditional (Western) discourse of
bi-polarities (body/mind; sense/reason; feeling/thought; fact/norm), a discourse that
has allowed theorists to disregard or exclude one side in favour of the other. They
suspect this discourse because they take it to be the ‘ideological machinery’ for the
sustained oppression of women (perhaps women composers and musicians, or
women's music conceived in anti-essentialist terms), and of minority groups
(composers, performers, musicians and their musics) (Kramer, 1990; McClary, 1990).
Yet it often looks as if the dichotomous discourse is perpetuated when the challenge is
articulated in terms of replacing the terms of one discourse with those of another.
Mostly, that is a false impression. Some theorists assert their difference from, and

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rejection of, the concepts and claims of the traditional discourse as a necessary act of
political separatism. Some see their function to be essentially negative or critical, that
is, to expose the dominant historical discourse for the prejudices it tries to conceal
behind the mask, typically, of ‘reason’, ‘purity’ and ‘humanity’. In either case, the point
is to stress that the preferred discourse does not fall prey to the same hegemonic or
ideological forms as the rejected one. In other words, a rejected discourse that claims,
for example, to speak for all but obviously does not, would be replaced by one that
explicitly stresses (say) diversity, range, locality and particularity precisely as a way to
expose the former's pretence while trying to avoid the pretence itself.
As so described, these contemporary aims suggest an interesting paradox when
applied to the history of Western music and philosophy. Recall the idea that, from the
earliest times, established academicians sometimes liked to conceive of music as
antithetical to philosophy. They attributed to music properties of the ‘irrational’,
‘uncontrollable’, ‘emotional’ and ‘insignificant’, properties they also often assigned to
woman or the ‘feminine’. Paradoxically, when they chose to value music, they stressed
qualities (say) of form, reason and meaning that rendered music least, one might say,
like music – least affective, least musical. That way, the academy could control what it
most feared. Contrarily, when they chose not to value music, and saw it threatening
society's established forms, they assigned to it all the ‘negative’ values that enabled
music to remain most musical. Symbolic of the discarded feminine, so the counter-
argument goes, music secretly carried all the values (of feeling, passion, of the body
etc.) that the academy of oppressive society tried to conceal, by relegating them to the
non-serious, the secular and the popular. Music thus named what the established
society refused to name; it served as society's principle of resistance, of non-identity
and, potentially, of the establishment's undoing (Leppert, 1993).
A relevant conclusion for the present discussion follows from this argument. Assuming
that Western philosophy, or the philosophy ‘of the academy’, has reflected or, in its
worst condition has tended to reflect society's oppressive tendencies, if it now stands
any chance of producing a successful philosophy of music, it will do so the more it
adopts values for itself that it has historically assigned to music. It is more likely to do
this when it positively embraces music as music and no longer relegates it to a
position of the incomprehensible ‘other’. The problem is whether, under this condition,
it will still be able to produce a ‘philosophy of’, if, that is to assume, thinking about
philosophy as a ‘philosophy of’ inherently assumes a position of dominance and
Philosophy of music, §V: Contemporary challenges
2. Cognitive science.
From the most contrary perspective, the engagement of philosophy with music has
been challenged and reshaped by the increasing interest philosophers and theorists
have taken in cognitive psychology and cognitive science. This engagement has
tended music towards its being empirically well-grounded. Being so grounded – so that
music may receive accurate and objective analysis – is a longstanding aspiration of
the philosophical enterprise and, in many quarters, remains so.
Early developments in structural linguistics since the 1930s led to attempts to describe
music as a ‘language’ or ‘code’, whose fundamental principles of organization were
analogous to those of verbal language and other semiotic systems (see Semiotics).
The central principle motivating this analogy was the Saussurean dualism of ‘speech’
(parole) and ‘language’ (langue). Speech consists of concrete verbal or musical
utterances; language represents underlying rules and structural relations. Knowledge

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of the latter is necessary for receiving and producing the former. The rules (at the level
of langue) that relate the sounds of speech to one another are conventional: they form
a code shared by the speakers of a particular language. The stress on conventional
codes or on the cultural relativity of musical languages recalls Langer's application to
music of Cassirer's philosophy of language. It also recalls the work by the pioneers of
structural linguistics (notably Jakobson, 1932). In the 1950s–70s theorists as diverse
as Cooke (1959), Pagnini (1974) and Gasparov (1976) all explored the parameters of
musical structure – acoustics, rhythm, harmony, form, scale – against the theoretical
background of structural linguistics. Structural linguistics has also been significantly
developed, and sometimes usurped, by semiotic or semiological theory. Taking music
as a sign, the task has been either to show, formalistically, the way in which music
refers to itself (here its meaning is specifically musical) or, anti-formalistically, how the
sign refers to or mediates the ‘extra-musical’ cultural or ideological world (Nattiez,
1975). The challenge of semiotics has been to show simultaneously the extent to
which music acts like a language, but achieves its meaning in a way other languages
do not (Lévi-Strauss, 1964; Ruwet, 1972 and Faltin, 1978).
At the same time, theorists have been showing a renewed interest in universal
structure, and in this regard may be distinguished from those who have focussed on
convention or, by long extension, on cultural ideology. The shift towards universality
has followed the advances of the theory of generative grammar whose proponents
focus on the universal ‘deep structure’ that is purportedly common to all languages
and supersedes each language's conventional ‘surface structure’. Attempts to apply
this sort of generative grammar to music can be found in Asch's theory of musical
analysis (1974), Blacking's theory of innate musical comprehension (1973) and
Arkad'yev's theory of a universal concept of rhythm (1992).
However, by far the most influential application of the generative approach to music is
found in the collaborative work of Fred Lerdahl and Ray Jackendoff (1983). They offer
a rule-based model that attempts to account for the musical intuitions of listeners
acculturated to classical tonal music. The theory has two rhythmic components:
grouping structure, which parses the musical surface into motifs, phrases and
sections; and metrical structure, which assigns a grid of strong and weak beats. The
theory also has two pitch-hierarchical components: time-span reduction, which assigns
degrees of structural importance to events in relation to the rhythmic structure; and
prolongational reduction, which assigns a hierarchy of tension and relaxation to
events. The reductions are represented by tree diagrams which are different from
syntactic trees in linguistic theory. The rules that assign these structures are of two
types: well-formed rules, which characterize hierarchical structures within each
component; and preference rules, which rank well-formed structures according to
perceptual plausibility. Some of these rules, such as those based on Gestalt principles,
are hypothesized to be psychological universals, while others are taken to be style-
Their work has given rise to many empirical predictions and experiments. It has also
helped establish a strong connection between music theory and cognitive science.
From a philosophical perspective, their model falls within the framework of modular
theories of mental representation. Thus, Anglo-American philosophers engaged with
cognitive theory, science or psychology have tended, when thinking about music, to
focus on the mental act of listening. Their general concern (confirmed by Raffman,
1993) has been with mental representation, with the idea that perception, broadly
defined, is an operation in which the mind represents the world to itself. This
representation may be more or less abstract, ranging as it does from the most basic

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sensorial responses or sensations to the most complex, conscious thoughts.

Theorists, Raffman writes, disagree on what governs the process of mental
representation in the case of listening, but Lerdahl and Jackendoff have argued that it
is governed by a musical grammar, by analytical and innate rules stored in the
unconscious mind that allow us to represent what is given to us in hearing as a
coherent or intelligible structure.
Though some contemporary cognitivists have gone on to use (more or less directly)
Lerdahl and Jackendoff's model to stress music's non-conceptual or ineffable meaning
(Raffman), others have used it to stress the strong cognitive and conceptual dimension
of listening (DeBellis, 1995). Both uses have depended on establishing a connection
between music's physical or formal features and the perceptual features of listening.
These connections are established when listeners enter into intentional contexts, such
that what we hear is more than the merely physical features of music. We hear pitch
rather than mere acoustical frequency (Raffman), patterns of closure, say, rather than
merely sequences of sounds (DeBellis). (Compare also Scruton's theory of
metaphorical listening, 1997.) The theories generally differ given the extent to which
they take the intentional contexts to be cognitively or theoretically laden. Some stress
the unconscious operations governing mental operations; others, the impact on
listening of, say, consciously knowing a music theory. DeBellis, for example,
investigates the logical relationships between hearing and musical analysis, arguing
that for some listeners and contexts, music perception is non-conceptual, for others,
laden with music-theoretic concepts: ‘Music-theoretical terms (closure, etc.) have a
certain kind of explanatory status, and … the value of hearing music in those terms
sometimes derives from that status’. His intent is to bring explanation and
interpretation into rapprochement. This intent has two advantages: first, it brings the
philosophy of music in touch with music theory (thus perhaps countering Sparshott's
objection that philosophers are insufficiently literate about music); secondly, it gives to
the philosophy of music, with its interest in listening, interpretation and meaning, a
scientific, empirical or theoretically sound foundation without reducing music to mere
Philosophy of music, §V: Contemporary challenges
3. Technology and the experimental.
Many theorists have used the pervasive presence of recording, computers and other
new forms of technology to challenge traditional ontological views about music, the
musical work and performance. What, they have asked, is the status of a recording?
How is it related ontologically to its performance, or to the work itself? Is the status of
the recording or work altered if the composer dispenses with the medium of live
performance, or if the composer composes directly into the technology, dispensing
with notation, traditional instruments and performance, and, hence, with the ontological
differentiation between work and reproduction? Answers to these questions have
partly depended on the type of the ontological theory supported (more or less
Platonist, nominalist, contextual: see §IV, above) and partly on how much theorists
have taken into account the diverse revolutions and experiments in compositional,
notational and performing techniques of this century. Up to now, the practice and
theory of John Cage and Glenn Gould seem to have proved the two most common
reference points for Anglo-American philosophers.
More broadly, developments in electronic, acoustic, aleatory, spatial and minimalist
musics have all forced transformations in music's traditional conceptual and
ontological packaging. Often in line with ‘alternative’ discourses of the postmodern,

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some of these developments have symbolized the move away from fixed to open
specification of musical features, especially when the compositional process has
stressed indeterminacy, chance and randomness. In other cases, the shift has been in
the opposite direction, making the determinate but interpretatively flexible qualities of
traditional notation absolutely precise and absolutely fixed through computer
Musical packaging has also been affected, modified or utterly transformed as
practitioners and theorists have moved away from tonal to sound organization, from
sound to noise organization, from noise to temporal organization, from temporal to
spatial organization. Part of what has conceptually, ontologically and politically been at
stake here has been the upholding or breaking down of barriers, (a) between the
different art forms (to what extent do we see or hear spatial music?), (b) between the
different functions of ‘classical’ musicians (composers, performers, listeners), (c)
between the so-called élite and popular forms of music-making, and (d) between the
aesthetic domain and the ordinary and between art and nature. Some theorists have
claimed that music (and they have produced music accordingly) can lead listeners
(back) into nature, (back) into the ordinary world of sound. Some have rejected the
idea that music represents in any sense at all: music is found in the world, and does
not exist at an aesthetic or representational distance from it. Some have claimed that
contemporary experiments of music reveal new and radical forms of expression, thus
subverting with more or less success the increasingly heard, conservative, or at least
backward-looking, assertion that tonal music (however broadly or narrowly defined) is
the one true or natural musical language.
Other writers have suggested of the new musics (some or all) that they are
experiments for the sake of such, that they have no ontological or aesthetic interest,
and, if anything symbolizes the end of music (in Hegelian terms) at the end of the 20th
century, it is the fact that the conceptual or philosophical interest of contemporary
musical forms has so often surpassed their aesthetic or musical interest. The claim
that these experiments have no musical interest tends to beg the question as to what
music is, what it can be, and what it is for. And the claim that aesthetic interest remains
the most, if not the only, relevant standard needs more support, especially if one holds
that interests, including aesthetic ones, change as languages, techniques and social
forms change. The purportedly special preserves of both music and the aesthetic
domain remain under negotiation. Two more sophisticated, though very different,
critiques by philosophers of radical experiment have been offered (Adorno, 1958 and
Cavell, 1969).
Philosophy of music, §V: Contemporary challenges
4. Popular music.
Ontological, aesthetic and social claims have been challenged by theorists who have
taken their primary examples from jazz, rock, rap and fusion (Brown, 1996). They have
contributed to the philosophical debate by stressing, first, the many ‘trans-’ or
‘intertextual’ relations that hold between different instances of music, given current
techniques of quotation, sampling and allusion, and secondly, the deep dependence
and interaction of ontological models on and with social and cultural forms of
production (Frith, 1981; Leppert and McClary, 1987; Middleton, 1990). When, and to
the extent that, their theories have been read back into the ‘élite’ production of
classical music, part of the intent has been to show that classical music is just one of
many forms of music production in the world, and that, if philosophers are to address
music, they should not automatically assume that the music should be classical music

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(and typically late 18th- and early 19th-century music). In other words, the stress on
‘just one of the many’ has been a political act of theory intended to undermine classical
music's longstanding hegemony largely by revealing the contingency of classical
music's underlying conceptual and aesthetic paradigms. The recent noticeable rise of
interest in opera, a genre that offers all kinds of interactions between the classical,
élite, popular, social and aesthetic, has also reflected the methodological shifts
associated with these interactions (Abbate, 1991; McClary, 1992; Goehr, 1998).
Theorists of the popular have also wanted to show the value of different kinds of music
or their broad and pervasive impact on all sorts (and classes) of persons in society.
Here they have sustained a most provocative suggestion that, because those who
listen to popular forms of music far outnumber (and the gap is growing) those who
listen to classical forms, then if philosophers really want to understand how music
moves, what it means and how it is social, they should look at the musics that do still
move, do still mean and do still interact with the social at the end of the 20th century.
Conservative theorists of the classical have tended to respond more or less explicitly
with an ardently-felt evaluative argument: the purpose of a philosophical theory is not
merely to describe the musics that do move and mean, but the musics that (they
believe) should move and mean. If society is benefited by its musics, then it matters to
which musics it gives value, and popular music is not for the most part the music, they
argue, that we should value (Scruton, 1997). Many of these theorists have sought
psychologically, naturalistically, or tradition-based arguments to explain the value they
find in their preferred exemplars of classical music.
Not all philosophers engaged with classical music believe their choice of examples is
so ideologically or evaluatively loaded. Some merely write about what they know most
about and most like. Some engage in traditional forms of speculation about music's
being and meaning without any apparent regard for the political, social or historical:
they believe they stand in a position of philosophical detachment. Yet other theorists
continue to engage philosophically with classical music, fully realizing that their choice
does not exclude others making alternative choices and contrary evaluations and,
further, that fruitful and critical interactions can be achieved between different modes
of philosophical inquiry, modes that might focus on different areas of musical
production. One consequence at least of this more expansive or open approach has
been to caution philosophers about the limitations of a monological or unilinear
approach towards even the classical domain. When philosophers speak about music,
what kinds of instances, and which instances, of music are they speaking specifically
about? Why, for example, the usually overriding emphasis on purely instrumental
music among certain groups of philosophers? Should we not be as concerned about
the reference of ‘music’ as much as we are about the reference of ‘philosophy’?
Philosophy of music, §V: Contemporary challenges
5. The present.
Perhaps the most significant challenge to the philosopher's engagement with classical
music has come from the mere fact of the present. For most of the history of the
discipline, philosophers who have thought about music have thought about the music
of their own time. Of course, they have compared it with a more or less idealized past
that sometimes they chose to favour but, on the whole, they were concerned with the
contemporary and present. To a large extent, and most especially among the Anglo-
Americans interested in classical music, the focus on the contemporary has become
increasingly opaque or, in some cases, has disappeared altogether. Over a century
ago, Dilthey (1985) called the modern age the ‘age of historical consciousness’, and

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what he noticed in that age was the extent to which ‘we feel surrounded by our entire
past’. Over a century later, the question is whether this feeling has become too great a
burden. Despite the abundance of forms of modern or contemporary music, many
philosophers seem much more comfortable focussing on examples produced in the
past, usually in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, engaging philosophically with
past examples produces a very distinctive kind of philosophy: sometimes a philosophy
of ideal types, sometimes a philosophy of too fixed or rigidified a past. The question
remains whether the idealization or fixity is justified and under what terms. What kind
of philosophy is produced when it treats its subject or examples as ahistorical products
that conform to static and general principles of classification? Under hermeneutical
influence, some theorists suspect that the attitude we take towards our past, whether
we idealize or reject it, always reveals more about the present than it does about the
past. This suspicion also pervades much of contemporary musicology, especially the
recent debate over authenticity (Kenyon, 1988).
Some theorists have suggested that our philosophical thinking about music always
seems to trail behind our thinking about other artistic and cultural forms. Some think
that this trailing positively symbolizes music's ability to resist the appropriative trends
of competing, contemporary theories. Others see the trailing negatively to reflect the
establishment's reluctance to subject music's purported mystery to commonplace or
worldly account. Others think very little about any of these issues and continue to hold
fast to the long established tradition of asking certain sorts of philosophical questions
about music: What is it? Does it express? How does it mean? Is it like language or any
other of the arts? Is its meaning tied to our emotional lives? Is it connected to
emotion? What is the relation between music and sound, music and tone? What is
musicality and musicianship? Can music teach or instruct? What is its role in
education? Can it tell the truth? What is listening? What kind of performance is musical
performance? Is it mental, is it bodily? What human or social interests does music
serve? Does it serve any interests uniquely? What is the role of technique and craft?
What are the proper preserves of philosophy and its philosophy of music? What is the
relation between music and language, symbolic form, and myth? What is music's
relationship to dance?
To a great extent, philosophers continue to develop models of investigation – analytic,
formal, hermeneutical, phenomenological, semiotic, post-structuralist, sociological,
cultural – to treat the seemingly perpetual questions of their discipline. The choice of
method often reflects the particular traditions of philosophy developed in different
languages and countries (Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Japan, China, India
and Scandinavia, to mention some of the countries not specifically considered above).
To an equally great extent, philosophers have recently been noticeably preoccupied by
the assumptions of the enterprise in which they engage. The most neutral conclusion
to draw is that the struggle between the two enterprises – the positive offering of
methods and claims and the sceptical self-reflection – continues to keep philosophy's
engagement with music most animated, and the philosophy most philosophical.
Philosophy of music
a: general
b: historical survey
c: anglo-american philosophy of music since 1960
d: contemporary challenges
Philosophy of music: Bibliography

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a: general
F. Nietzsche: Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (Leipzig, 1872/R;
Eng. trans., 1993)
H. Ehrlich: Die Musik-ästhetik in ihrer Entwickelung von Kant bis auf die Gegenwart
(Leipzig, 1882)
J. Legge, trans.: ‘Yo Kî or Record of Music’, The Sacred Books of China: the Texts of
Confucianism, iv: The Lî Kî, The Sacred Books of the East, xxviii (Oxford,
1885/R), 92–131
W. Wiora: Die vier Weltalter der Musik (Stuttgart, 1901/R; Eng. trans., 1965)
B. Croce: Estetica come scienza dell' espressione e linguistica generale (Milan, 1902,
11/1965; Eng. trans., 1909, 2/1922/R)
P. Moos: Die Philosophie der Musik von Kant bis Eduard von Hartmann (Stuttgart,
F. Gatz, ed.: Die Musik-Ästhetik grosser Komponisten (Stuttgart, 1929)
F. Gatz, ed.: Musik-Ästhetik in ihren Hauptrichtungen (Stuttgart, 1929)
R. Schäfke: Geschichte der Musikästhetik in Umrissen (Berlin, 1934, 3/1982)
W.D. Allen: Philosophies of Music History (New York, 1939/R)
P.H. Lang: Music in Western Civilization (New York, 1941/R, 2/1997)
P.O. Kristeller: ‘The Modern System of the Arts’, Journal of the History of Ideas, xii
(1951), 496–527; xiii (1952), 17–46
H.J. Moser: Musikästhetik (Berlin, 1953)
J. Portnoy: The Philosopher and Music (New York, 1954/R)
E. Fubini: L'estetica musicale dal Settecento a oggi (Turin, 1964, 3/1987; Eng. trans.,
H. Pleasants, ed. and trans.: Schumann on Music: a Selection from the Writings
(New York, 1965)
D. Zoltai: A zeneesztétika, i: Ethosz és affektus [A history of the aesthetics of music, i:
Ethos and affect] (Budapest, 1966, 2/1969; Ger. trans., 1970 as Ethos und Affekt)
C. Dahlhaus: Musikästhetik (Cologne, 1967; Eng. trans., 1982)
W. Kaufmann, ed.: The Basic Writings of Nietzsche (New York, 1968)
J.M. Masson and M.V. Patwardhan: Aesthetic Rapture (Poona, 1970)
S. Bimberg and others, eds.: Handbuch der Musikästhetik (Leipzig, 1979)
P. le Huray and J. Day, eds.: Music and Aesthetics in the Eighteenth and Early-
Nineteenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1981, 2/1988)
E. Lippman, ed.: Musical Aesthetics: a Historical Reader (New York, 1986–90)
C. Dahlhaus and R. Katz, eds.: Contemplating Music: Source Readings in the
Aesthetics of Music (New York, 1987–93)
B. Bujic, ed.: Music in European Thought, 1851–1912 (Cambridge, 1988)
A. Bowie: Aesthetics and Subjectivity from Kant to Nietzsche (Manchester, 1990)
L. Goehr: The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works (Oxford, 1992)
E. Lippman: A History of Western Musical Aesthetics (Lincoln, NE, 1992)
P. Alperson, ed.: What is Music?: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Music
(University Park, PA, 1994)
W. Bowman: Philosophical Perspectives on Music (Oxford, 1998)
Philosophy of music: Bibliography
b: historical survey
(i) Hellenic and Hellenistic
H.S. Macran, ed. and trans.: The Harmonics of Aristoxenus (Oxford, 1902/R)

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I. Düring: Ptolemaios und Porphyrios über die Musik (Göteborg, 1934/R)

E. Barker, ed. and trans.: The Politics of Aristotle (Oxford, 1946, 2/1948/R)
R.G. Bury, trans.: ‘Against the Musicians’, Sextus Empiricus, iv (London and
Cambridge, MA, 1949/R)
C. Bailey, ed. and trans.: Titi Lucreti Cari De rerum natura libri sex (Oxford, 1950)
F. Lasserre, ed.: Plutarque: de la musique (Olten, 1954)
A.J. Neubecker: Die Bewertung der Musik bei Stoikern und Epikureern (Berlin, 1956)
E. Hamilton and H. Cairns, eds.: Collected Dialogues of Plato (New York, 1961/R)
E.A. Lippman: Musical Thought in Ancient Greece (New York, 1964/R)
W.D. Anderson: Ethos and Education in Greek Music (Cambridge, MA, 1966)
K. Meyer-Baer: Music of the Spheres and the Dance of Death (Princeton, NJ, 1970/R)
(ii) Early Christian and Medieval
PG, lv, 3552-7 [St John Chrysostom, commentary on the psalms]
Augustine: ‘De musica’, Writings of Saint Augustine, ed. R.C. Tagliaferro, Fathers of
the Church, ii (New York, 1947)
Boethius: De institutione musica; ed. and Eng. trans. in C.M. Bower, Fundaments of
Music (New Haven, CT, 1989); extracts in StrunkSR1
Guido of Arezzo: Regulae rhythmicae, in GerbertS, ii, 25–42; ed. J. Smits van
Waesberghe (Buren, 1985)
Franco of Cologne: Ars cantus mensurabilis, in CoussemakerS, i, 117–36; ed. F.
Gennrich (Darmstadt, 1957); extracts in StrunkSR1
Johannes de Grocheio: De musica (c1300); ed. and Eng. trans., A. Seay in
Johannes de Grocheo: Concerning Music (Colorado Springs, 1967)
Jacques de Liège: Speculum musicae; ed. R. Bragard, CSM, iii (1955–73)
Jehan des Murs: Notitia artis musicae (1321), in GerbertS, iii, 256–7, 292–301, 312,
J. Tinctoris: Complexus effectuum musices (c1472–5), in CoussemakerS, iv, 191; ed.
in CSM, xxii (1975–8); ed. and Eng. trans. in R. Strohm and J.D. Cullington,
Egidius Carlerius, Johannes Tinctoris: On the Dignity and the Effects of Music
(London, 1996)
J. Tinctoris: Liber de arte contrapuncti (1477), in CoussemakerS, iv, 76–153; ed. in
MSD, v (1961)
H. Abert: Die Musikanschauung des Mittelalters und ihre Grundlagen (Halle, 1905/R)
E. de Bruyne: L'esthétique du Moyen Age (Leuven, 1947; Eng. trans., 1969)
T. Dart: The Interpretation of Music (London, 1954, 4/1967/R)
N. Goodman: Languages of Art: an Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis,
1968, 2/1976)
C.V. Palisca and W. Babb, eds. and trans.: Hucbald, Guido and John on Music:
Three Medieval Treatises (New Haven, CT, 1978)
(iii) Renaissance and Baroque
H. Glarean: Dodecachordon (Basle, 1547/R); Eng. trans., MSD, vi (1965)
G. Zarlino: Le istitutioni harmoniche (Venice, 1558, 4/1589/R; Eng. trans. of pt iii,
V. Galilei: Dialogo della musica antica et della moderna (Florence, 1581/R)
J. Case: The Praise of Musicke (London, 1586)

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G. Zarlino: Sopplimenti musicali (Venice, 1588/R)

T. Morley: A Plaine and Easie Introduction to Practicall Musicke (London, 1597/R); ed.
R.A. Harman (London, 1952/R, 2/1963/R)
P. Rosseter: A Booke of Ayres (London, 1601/R)
R. Hooker: Of the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie (London, 1617/R, 7/1639)
J. Kepler: Harmonices mundi libri V (Linz, 1619; Eng. trans., 1997)
R. Descartes: Les passions de l'âme (Amsterdam, 1649/R; Eng. trans., 1911–12)
A. Kircher: Musurgia universalis (Rome, 1650/R)
F. Raguenet: Parallèle des italiens et des français en ce qui regarde la musique et les
opéras (Paris, 1702/R; Eng. trans., 1709/R)
J.L. Le Cerf de la Viéville: Comparaison de la musique italienne et de la musique
françoise (Brussels, 1704–6/R)
J. Mattheson: Das neu-eröffnete Orchestre (Hamburg, 1713/R)
J. Mattheson: Der vollkommene Capellmeister (Hamburg, 1739/R; Eng. trans., 1981)
J.J. Quantz: Versuch einer Anweisung die Flöte traversiere zu spielen (Berlin, 1752/R,
3/1789/R; Eng. trans., 1966 as On Playing the Flute, 2/1985)
C.P.E. Bach: Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (Berlin, 1753–62/R,
5/1925; Eng. trans., 1949)
J.A. Scheibe: Abhandlung vom Ursprunge und Alter der Musik (Altona, 1754/R)
M.C. Boyd: Elizabethan Music and Musical Criticism (Philadelphia, 1940, 2/1962/R)
M.F. Bukofzer: Music in the Baroque Era (New York, 1947)
P. Nettl: Luther and Music (Philadelphia, 1948/R)
M.F. Bukofzer: Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Music (New York, 1950/R)
H. Lenneberg: ‘Johann Mattheson on Affect and Rhetoric in Music’, JMT, ii (1958),
47–84, 193–236
E. Bodky: The Interpretation of Bach's Keyboard Works (Cambridge, MA, 1960/R)
F. Blume, ed.: Renaissance and Baroque Music (New York, 1968) [trans. of MGG
C.V. Palisca: The Florentine Camerata: Documentary Studies and Translations (New
Haven, CT, 1989)
(iv) Rationalism and Enlightenment
R. Descartes: Musicae compendium (Utrecht, 1650/R, 2/1656; Eng. trans., 1653)
J.B. Dubos: Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et sur la peinture (Paris, 1719,
7/1770/R; Eng. trans., 1978)
J.-P. Rameau: Traité de l'harmonie réduite à ses principes naturels (Paris, 1722/R;
Eng. trans., 1971)
C. Batteux: Les beaux-arts réduits à un même principe (Paris, 1746/R, 2/1773/R)
D. Diderot: Lettre sur les sourds et les muets (Paris, 1751)
J. le Rond d'Alembert: ‘Discours préliminaire des éditeurs’, Encyclopédie ou
Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, ed. D. Diderot and
others, i (Paris, 1751; Eng. trans., 1965)
C. Avison: An Essay on Musical Expression (London, 1752, enlarged 2/1753/R,
J.-J. Rousseau: Lettre sur la musique française (Paris, 1753)
G.E. Lessing: Laoköon (Berlin, 1766/R; Eng. trans., 1957)
J. Beattie: Essays: on Poetry and Music, as they Affect the Mind (Edinburgh, 1776,
J.-J. Rousseau: ‘Essai sur l'origine des langues’, Traités sur la musique (Geneva,

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1781), ed. C. Kintzler (Paris, 1993); Eng. trans. (New York, 1966)
A.E.M. Grétry: Mémoires, ou Essais sur la musique (Paris, 1789, enlarged 2/1797/R)
I. Kant: Kritik der Urteilskraft (Berlin, 1790/R; Eng. trans., 1952/R)
J.G. Herder: Kalligone (Leipzig, 1800/R)
D. Diderot: Le neveu de Rameau (Paris, 1823; Eng. trans., 1964)
H. Scherchen: Vom Wesen der Musik (Winterthur, 1946; Eng. trans., 1950)
(v) 18th Century
C. de. Saint-Evremond: Oeuvres meslées (London, 1705); Eng. trans. (London,
1728; selection repr. in The Letters of Saint-Evremond, ed. J. Hayward, London,
A. Baumgarten: Aesthetica (Frankfurt, 1750/R)
J.-P. Rameau: Démonstration du principe de l'harmonie (Paris, 1750)
J.G. Hamann: Aesthetica in nuce (1762); ed. J. Nadler, Johann Georg Hamann:
Sämtliche Werke, ii (Vienna, 1950), 195–217
J.N. Forkel: Musikalisch-kritische Bibliothek (Gotha, 1778–9/R)
I. Kant: Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Riga, 1781 and many other edns)
I. Kant: Kritik der Urteilskraft (Berlin, 1790/R; Eng. trans., 1952/R); ed. W. Weischedel,
Werkausgabe, x (Frankfurt, 1974)
W. Heinse: Hildegard von Hohenthal (Berlin, 1795–6)
L. Schubart, ed.: C.F.D. Schubart: Gesammelte Schriften und Schicksale (Stuttgart,
F. von der Leyen, ed.: W.H. Wackenroder: Werke und Briefe (Jena, 1910)
L. Schneider, ed.: W.H. Wackenroder: Werke und Briefe (Heidelberg, 1967)
H.J. Mähl, ed.: Novalis: Werke, Tagebücher und Briefe, ii: Das Philosophisch-
theoretische Werk (Munich, 1978)
F. Schlegel: Literarische Notizen, 1797–1801, ed. H. Eichner (Frankfurt, 1980)
P. le Huray and J. Day, eds.: Music and Aesthetics in the Eighteenth and Early-
Nineteenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1981, 2/1988)
F. Schlegel: Kritische Schriften und Fragmente 1–6, ed. E. Behler and H. Eichner
(Paderborn, 1988)
R. Otto, ed.: J.G. Herder: Kritische Wälder (Berlin, 1990)
(vi) 19th Century
A. Schopenhauer: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (Leipzig, 1819, enlarged
3/1859/R; Eng. trans., 1958, 2/1966/R)
G.W.F. Hegel: Ästhetik (Berlin, 1835, 2/1842/R; Eng. trans., 1965, 1975/R, as
Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art)
F. Schleiermacher: Hermeneutik und Kritik (Berlin, 1838; Eng. trans., 1977)
F.T. Vischer: Ästhetik oder Wissenschaft des Schönen (Reutlingen, 1840–57/R)
F. Schleiermacher: Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik, ed. C. Lommatzsch (Berlin,
R. Wagner: Oper und Drama (Leipzig, 1852/R; Eng. trans., 1913)
E. Hanslick: Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (Leipzig, 1854, 17/1971; Eng. trans., 1891/R);
ed. D. Strauss (Mainz, 1990)
A.W. Ambros: Die Grenzen der Musik und Poesie (Leipzig, 1855/R, 2/1872; Eng.
trans., 1893)
F.W.J. Schelling: Philosophie der Kunst (1802–3) (Stuttgart, 1859; Eng. trans., 1989)
C. Darwin: The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (London, 1871; repr.
C. Darwin: The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (London, 1872)
W. Pater: Studies in the History of the Renaissance (London, 1877, 6/1901 as The

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Renaissance); ed. K. Clark (Cleveland, 1961)

F. Nietzsche: Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (Leipzig, 1878; Eng. trans., 1986)
E. Gurney: The Power of Sound (London, 1880/R)
F. Nietzsche: Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (Leipzig, 1882; Eng. trans., 1974)
G. Engel: Ästhetik der Tonkunst (Berlin, 1884)
E. von Hartmann: Die deutsche Ästhetik seit Kant (Berlin, 1886)
F. Nietzsche: Der Fall Wagner (Leipzig, 1888; Eng. trans., 1899)
C.G. von Maasen, ed.: E.T.A. Hoffmanns Sämtliche Werke (Munich, 1908, 2/1912)
M. Schröter, ed.: F.W.J. Schelling: Die Weltalter (Munich, 1946/R; Eng. trans.,
A. Schopenhauer: Sämtliche Werke (Frankfurt, 1966)
G. Colli and M. Montinari, eds.: F. Nietzsche: Sämtliche Werke (Berlin, 1967–82)
[critical edn]
(vii) 20th Century
H. Riemann: Die Elemente der musikalischen Ästhetik (Berlin, 1900)
H. Kretzschmar: Musikalische Zeitfragen (Leipzig, 1903)
H. Schenker: Neue musikalische Theorien und Phantasien (Vienna, 1906–35/R; Eng.
trans., 1979)
W. Hilbert: Die Musikästhetik der Frühromantik (Remscheid, 1911)
A. Halm: Von zwei Kulturen der Musik (Stuttgart, 1913, 3/1947)
E. Bloch: Der Geist der Utopie (Munich, 1918/R, 2/1923)
P. Moos: Die Philosophie der Musik (Stuttgart, 1922/R) [enlarged edn of Moderne
Musikästhetik in Deutschland (Berlin, 1902)]
H. Besseler: ‘Grundfragen des musikalischen Hörens’, JbMP 1925, 35–52; repr. in
Musikhören, ed. B. Dolpheide (Darmstadt, 1975), 48–73
H. Besseler: ‘Grundfragen der Musikästhetik’, JbMP 1926, 68–80
B.V. Asaf'yev: Muzïkal'naya forma kak protsess [Musical form as process] (Moscow,
1930–47, 3/1971; Eng. trans., 1977)
I. Stravinsky: Poétique musicale (Cambridge, MA, 1942; Eng. trans., 1970)
Z. Lissa: O specyfice muzyki [On the specific qualities of music] (Warsaw, 1953; Ger.
trans., 1957)
Z. Lissa: Podstawy estetyki muzycznej [Questions of music aesthetics] (Warsaw,
1953; Ger. trans., 1954)
L. Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations (Oxford, 1953, 3/1968/R)
T. Georgiades: Musik und Sprache (Berlin, 1954, 2/1974; Eng. trans., 1982)
K. Huber: Musikästhetik, ed. O. Ursprung (Ettal, 1954)
T.W. Adorno: Musikalische Schriften (Berlin, 1959)
T.W. Adorno: Ästhetische Theorie (Frankfurt, 1970/R, 6/1996; Eng. trans., 1984)
J. Cage: M: Writings '67–'92 (Middletown, CT, 1973)
R. Ingarden: Utwor muzyczny i sprawa jego tozsamosci (Kraków, 1973; Eng. trans.,
1986 as The Work of Music and the Problem of its Identity)
R. Scruton: Art and Imagination (London, 1974/R)
J.J. Nattiez: Fondements d'une sémiologie de la musique (Paris, 1975)
A. Schoenberg: Style and Idea, ed. L. Stein (London, 1975)
H.H. Eggebrecht: Musikalisches Denken (Wilhelmshaven, 1977)
H. Besseler: Aufsätze zur Musikästhetik und Musikgeschichte (Leipzig, 1978)
C. Dahlhaus: Die Idee der absoluten Musik (Kassel, 1978, 2/1987; Eng. trans., 1984,
A. Halm: Von Form und Sinn in der Musik (Wiesbaden, 1978)
P. Kivy: The Corded Shell: Reflections on Musical Expression (Princeton, NJ, 1980)

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R. Scruton: The Aesthetic Understanding (London, 1983)

C. Dahlhaus and M. Zimmermann, eds.: Musik zur Sprache gebracht:
musikästhetische Texte aus drei Jahrhunderten (Munich, 1984)
M. Budd: Music and the Emotions (London, 1985/R)
A. Bowie: ‘Music, Language and Modernity’, The Problems of Modernity: Adorno and
Benjamin, ed. A. Benjamin (London, 1989), 67–85
M. Frank: Einführung in die frühromantische Ästhetik (Frankfurt, 1989)
T.W. Adorno: Beethoven: Philosophie der Musik (Frankfurt, 1993, 2/1994; Eng. trans.,
A. Bowie: From Romanticism to Critical Theory (London, 1997)
Philosophy of music: Bibliography
c: anglo-american philosophy of music since 1960
S.K. Langer: Philosophy in a New Key (Cambridge, MA, 1942/R, 3/1957/R)
L.B. Meyer: Emotion and Meaning in Music (Chicago, 1956/R)
N. Goodman: Languages of Art (Indianapolis, IN, 1968, 2/1976)
R. Scruton: Art and Imagination (London, 1974/R)
T.C. Mark: ‘On Works of Virtuosity’, Journal of Philosophy, lxxvii (1980), 28–45
M.C. Beardsley: ‘On Understanding Music’, On Criticizing Music: Five Philosophical
Perspectives, ed. K. Price (Baltimore, 1981), 55–73
T.C. Mark: ‘Philosophy of Piano Playing: Reflections on the Concept of Performance’,
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, xli (1981), 299–324
P. Alperson: ‘On Musical Improvisation’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, xliii
(1984), 17–29
P. Alperson, ed.: What is Music?: an Introduction to the Philosophy of Music (New
York, 1987, 2/1994)
S. Davies: ‘Authenticity in Musical Performance’, British Journal of Aesthetics, xxvii
(1987), 39–50
P. Kivy: Sound Sentiment (Philadelphia, 1989)
P. Kivy: Music Alone: Philosophical Reflections on the Purely Musical Experience
(Ithaca, NY, 1990)
J. Levinson: Music, Art, and Metaphysics (Ithaca, NY, 1990)
K. Higgins: The Music of our Lives (Philadelphia, 1991)
L. Goehr: The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: an Essay in the Philosophy of
Music (Oxford, 1992)
P. Kivy: The Fine Art of Repetition: Essays in the Philosophy of Music (Cambridge,
M. Krausz, ed.: The Interpretation of Music (Oxford, 1993)
D. Raffman: Language, Music, and Mind (Cambridge, MA, 1993)
P. Thom: For an Audience: a Philosophy of the Performing Arts (Philadelphia, 1993)
S. Davies: Musical Meaning and Expression (Ithaca, NY, 1994)
J. Robinson: ‘The Expression and Arousal of Emotion in Music’, Journal of Aesthetics
and Art Criticism, lii (1994), 13–22
A.H. Goldman: Aesthetic Value (Boulder, CO, 1995)
P. Kivy: Authenticities: Philosophical Reflections on Musical Performance (Ithaca, NY,
A. Ridley: Music, Value and the Passions (Ithaca, NY, 1995)
L.B. Brown: ‘Musical Works, Improvisation, and the Principle of Continuity’, Journal of
Aesthetics and Art Criticism, liv (1996), 353–69
M. Budd: The Values of Art: Pictures, Poetry, and Music (London, 1996)
T.A. Gracyk: Rhythm and Noise: an Aesthetics of Rock (Durham, NC, 1996)

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J. Levinson: The Pleasures of Aesthetics (Ithaca, NY, 1996)

J. Levinson: Music in the Moment (Ithaca, NY, 1997)
J. Robinson, ed.: Music & Meaning (Ithaca, NY, 1997)
R. Scruton: The Aesthetics of Music (Oxford, 1997)
S. Godlovitch: Musical Performance: a Philosophical Study (London, 1998)
D. Matravers: Art and Emotion (Oxford, 1998)
L. Addis: Of Mind and Music (Ithaca, NY, 1999)
Philosophy of music: Bibliography
d: contemporary challenges
F. de Saussure: Cours de linguistique générale (Paris, 1916/R, 5/1955; Eng. trans.,
T.W. Adorno: Dissonanzen: Musik in der verwalteten Welt (Göttingen, 1958, 6/1982)
D. Cooke: The Language of Music (Oxford, 1959/R)
R. Jakobson: ‘Musikwissenschaft und Linguistik’ (1932), Selected Writings, i (Monton,
1962, 2/1971)
C. Lévi-Strauss: Le cru et les cuit (Paris, 1964; Eng. trans., 1969/R)
S. Cavell: Must we Mean what we Say? (New York, 1969/R)
N. Ruwet: Langage, musique, poésie (Paris, 1972)
J. Blacking: How Musical is Man? (Seattle, 1973)
M. Asch: Analyse générative de la mélodie des chorals de Bach (Rome, 1974)
M. Pagnini: Lingua e musica (Bologna, 1974)
J.J. Nattiez: Fondements d'une sémiologie de la musique (Paris, 1975)
B. Gasparov: ‘Le fonctionnement sémantique des musiques vocales et
instrumentales’, Versus: Quaderni studi semiotici, xiii/1 (1976), 11–18
P. Faltin: ‘Musikalische Bedeutung: Grenzen und Möglichkeiten einer semiotischen
Ästhetik’, International Review of the Aesthetics and the Sociology of Music, ix
(1978), 5–33 [incl. Eng. summary]
S. Frith: Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock 'n Roll (New York,
F. Lerdahl and R. Jackendoff: A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (Cambridge, MA,
W. Dilthey: Poetry and Experience, v: Selected Works, ed. R.A. Mackreel and F. Rodi
(Princeton, 1985)
R. Leppert and S. McClary, eds.: Music and Society: the Politics of Composition,
Performance, and Reception (Cambridge, 1987)
N. Kenyon, ed.: Authenticity and Early Music: a Symposium (Oxford, 1988)
L. Kramer: Music as Cultural Practice, 1800–1900 (Berkeley, 1990)
S. McClary: ‘Towards a Feminist Criticism of Music’, Canadian University Music
Review, x/2 (1990), 9–18
R. Middleton: Studying Popular Music (Philadelphia, 1990)
C. Abbate: Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century
(Princeton, NJ, 1991)
S. McClary: Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis, 1991)
M. Arkad'yev: Vremennïye strukturï novo-yevropeyskoy muzïki [Temporal structures
of new European music] (Moscow, 1992)
S. McClary: Georges Bizet: Carmen (Cambridge, 1992)
R. Leppert: The Sight of Sound: Music, Representation, and the History of the Body
(Berkeley, 1993)
D. Raffman: Language, Music, and Mind (Cambridge, MA, 1993)
M. DeBellis: Music and Conceptualization (Cambridge, 1995)

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L.B. Brown: ‘Musical Works, Improvisation, and the Principle of Continuity’, Journal of
Aesthetics and Art Criticism, liv (1996), 353–69
R. Scruton: The Aesthetics of Music (Oxford, 1997)
L. Goehr: The Quest for Voice: Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy (Oxford
and Berkeley, 1998)

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