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November 11, 2019 / Congau

Philosophy of Music

Art must always have a meaning; it must express something. Since art is creativity, it makes something out of nothing, and then obviously it can’t remain nothing. Anything that is not entirely empty must have a message, and so it is necessary that all art in some way is trying to tell us something.

But with such a claim I immediately run into a problem. Some forms of art appear to be saying nothing, at least not in the overt sense that can be translated into: “This is what the artist thinks about the world.”

Music, for example, what can music possibly be trying to inform us about? If there’s lyrics, sure, but just the music, symphony or jazz or any tune, it doesn’t seem to mean anything at all.

That’s right, it doesn’t. At least nothing that can be translated into English or any literary language. The language of music is unique and isolated because it has taken possession of one of the human senses all by itself, the sense of hearing, and it cannot be naturally transferred to any other.

That also makes music the purest of the arts, in that it only expresses itself aesthetically.

Literature usually has a definite message beyond the ornamental combination of words, and a painting can somehow be described in plain language (although very imperfectly). But try to convey the content of a piece of music without music. All you can do is replay it with different instruments, or hum or whistle the tune. Even written notes can only transfer a melody from one head to another in the form of a melody.

Still a message is present, for ideas of emotion are indeed transmitted from the composer to the listener. It expresses ideas of beauty and harmony (even when frightful and distressing), always pure aesthetics, always pure music.

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