Music and Philosophy

Music talks without words; it expresses the inexpressible, where there is no sufficient word. Yet, its language is universal. “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent” says Victor Hugo. Music can heal, motivate, inspire and even more… Whereas anything produced by human being has the human quality more or less, music seems to be beyond that. Correspondingly, in all religions and ancient (Persian, Chinese, Japanese, etc.) theologies and philosophies, music has a special place and is a medium to attain the unattainable. The example of this can be found in the legends, stories and books that have remained from them.

What gives music this capacity? In the materialistic world, music is not materialistic. Nonetheless it is heard through the physical ways. But yet, it’s not an object. “Music is the only thing that, without using any materialistic instruments, takes us to the world beyond human knowledge” says Beethoven. Perhaps the great power of music stems from this contrast. Although, as words can tell lies or the truth. The music has these dimensions too, to be misused. The unspeakable profundity of music flows through our consciousness, though fully understood but yet so inexpressible. Music restores to us all the emotions of our deepest nature. This reason alone has been enough to join most, if not all philosophers, religious men, scientist, thinkers with the music (regardless of composers and musicians). It challenges each person depending on his interest and field of studies to understand music and what is behind it. On the other hand, some employ its powers to impress or make money. For instance, while many scientists have joined psychologists/psychiatrists in examining the effect of music on people and the magical healing aspect and power of it; the film makers and directors seek help from composers and musicians to make music for their film/movie, so they can have the maximum effect on the viewers. And so forth.

Music has a deep relation to the true nature of everything and everyone. It can be found anywhere in the nature, some may say everywhere. It’s hard to imagine the world without music. But not every sound has the capacity to be called music after all. Nature’s music has always been a great source of inspiration for music composers such as Mozart, Beethoven and so forth. Along these lines, music is based on the harmony of sounds, which is inseparable from the nature. This harmony can be recognized through the music theory studies, yet, there must be something beyond this apparent knowledge that attracts so much care, attention and precise examinations. The harmony that can harmonize human body, mind and soul with the divine world or/and speak of the facts, feelings, realities or even tell stories in a way that words are incapable of. It’s this harmony that makes philosophers like Schopenhauer to call music the superior of all arts and say “Music is by no means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas, but the copy of the will itself, whose objectivity these Ideas are. This is why the effect of music is much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, but it speaks of the thing itself” and he continues “Thus, whoever has followed me and entered into my mode of thought will not think it so very paradoxical if I say, that supposing it were possible to give a perfectly accurate, complete explanation of music, extending even to particulars, that is to say, a detailed repetition in concepts of what it expresses, this would also be a sufficient repetition and explanation of the world in concepts, or at least entirely parallel to such an explanation, and thus it would be a true philosophy.”

Moreover, another contrast that defines music is the silence. If not impossible, it would be very hard to achieve any sort of balance in music without silence. “The relationship between sound and silence is the equivalent of the relationship between a physical object and the force of gravity” says Daniel Barenboim. Each note comes out of silence and start to die right away unless it’s being sustained, however it ends in silence as well. This is so true for instruments e.g. piano, classical/acoustic guitar, but other instruments e.g. cello, violin can sustain a note much longer with their bow.  Some step further and say, the relationship of words and music is similar to the relationship of music and silence. In the sense that, music speaks of things that words are incapable of, and the silence speaks where the music is unqualified.

Music has the capacity to take one’s soul to a great journey. This journey is a subjective matter, it depends on the listener. Thus, if one free his mind from the distractions and let the music take him, he can feel what the music is about is taking place in him. So he can actually feel and sense that. But if he neglects, he would miss this journey. Then, he will not find anything familiar in terms of expression of emotions and feelings or/and thoughts.  During the journey, one’s soul undergoes through changes, physically, mentally and spiritually. In a way that, if one listen to a piece of music lasting some minutes, it is likely that he can understand and feel more deeply than participating in a speech session about the subject which may take hours. Beethoven describe it this way, “music enters the inside of human beings, advances to remote lands and reaches the depth”. And Daniel Barenboim this way “when I finish playing one of the books of the well-tempered clavier in one evening, I have the feeling that is actually much longer than my real life, that I have been on a journey through history, one that begins and ends in silence”.

Throughout the history, there have been two different holistic attitudes toward music. There have been and are people who believed/believe music is sacred, and there have been and are people who only used/use music for more humble and fancy purposes which were/are not very pleasing to great composers. As Beethoven once mentioned that, “our life and our art must be devoted to a divine purpose” and “music is an intermediary between our spiritual and emotional life”. After all, music is to express our thoughts, feelings, emotions and observations. Other than this criteria music would be incapable of its current power and effect. As we witness that only the music that has certain discussed qualities survived throughout the history and are still being appreciated. While the popularity and excitement of the other music (of singers/musicians with millions of fans) doesn’t last more than a short period of time and doesn’t have any artistic value. What differs these two types of music (other than technical aspect of it) is the thought behind each one. Unfortunately, despite all this, music has lost its true artistic place nowadays. Mostly, it is used for entertainment, and for many it always remains as an object for entertainment and nothing more than that.

Ultimately, philosophers, religious men, scientists and thinkers have found a great link between the nature (include the nature of human being) and the music. Moreover, they always tried to discover what makes music so special and powerful. This quest is being continued for centuries. They all have come to a more or less unique answer; music is a divine gift in our materialistic world. As words are incapable of describing music, it’s only the experience of music that can be the best description of it. As Beethoven says “Music is a country where my spirit moves in it. There, everything blossoms beautiful flowers, and there, no weed grows, but there are few people who understand what a joy is hidden in a piece of music”. What makes music, music, is the wisdom behind the music and the feeling or the emotion which music leaves in our heart that was made of knowledge of music theory and harmony. “Real art is incorruptible, and the artistic reaches deep light by achieving purity and sincerity” says Beethoven. Some magical aspect of music such as the healing power of it (at some extend) is now scientifically recognized but the rest of it is still a mystery.

By Arash A.

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