Philosophy of Music


Music is a universal form of expression that can convey a wide range of emotions. It can evoke memories, inspire dreams and create moods. It can even affect our physical well-being. For example, research has found that listening to music can improve blood pressure and heart rate.

The articles in this section discuss various aspects of music, including counterpoint, harmony, instrumentation, mode, music criticism, composition, performance, music recording, musical sound, and tuning and temperament. They also provide information on the history of different types of music, such as classical music, folk music, rock, jazz, and opera.

Although philosophers have disagreed on the exact nature of music, most agree that it is a perceptual phenomenon. The great Italian composer and theorist Benedetto Croce believed that it involves an immediate, intuitive cognition. Henri Bergson, a French composer and philosopher, disagreed. He argued that an innate musical faculty exists, but need not be located in either the mind or the heart. Henri-Gautier de Saint-Sans likewise emphasized the importance of intuition, while the English composer Herbert Howells maintained that a knowledge of the laws of music is primarily an intellectual act.

Most theorists believe that music arouses emotional responses. Its emotional effect is one of the factors that make it a powerful art form. Some theorists have compared it to poetry, in which words can be used to evoke emotions, and even to drama. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) ranked music low among the arts, considering it only useful for pleasure and social purposes, but he remarked that allied with poetry it may acquire conceptual value. Kant’s views were influenced by German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, who saw in music a kind of mystic symbolism.

Nietzsche distrusted blatantly programmatic musical allusions to mythical events, but appreciated the power of music to create myths. Like Schopenhauer, he decried mere tone painting as a betrayal of its essential character. For humanist psychologists Gordon Allport and Abraham Maslow, music is a step toward self-fulfillment and integration. For aesthetic and spiritual existentialists (such as the composer-philosophers Karl Jaspers and Martin Buber) it transmits transcendent overtones.

Scientists have found that music has a direct link to our emotions, which is why it is so powerful. They have also discovered that certain songs have the power to touch people across generations, as evidenced by the fact that the same song can enthrall audiences decades apart and win multiple awards at music festivals. For example, John Lennon’s magnanimous vision of a divisionless world captured audiences in the 1960s and remains an inspiration for people today. It is no wonder that this dream has been immortalized in such classics as Roberta Flack’s “You Never Knew Love Was So Easy” and The Fugees’ version. In addition, researchers have discovered that when we listen to music, our brains activate regions associated with movement control. As a result, adding music to standard rehabilitative therapies has shown promise in treating strokes and Parkinson’s disease.