Aesthetics of music

In the pre-modern tradition, the aesthetics of music or musical aesthetics explored the mathematical and cosmological dimensions of rhythmic and harmonic organization. In the eighteenth century, focus shifted to the experience of hearing music, and thus to questions about its beauty and human enjoyment (plaisir and jouissance) of music. The origin of this philosophic shift is sometimes attributed to Baumgarten in the 18th century, followed by Kant. Through their writing, the ancient term aesthetics, meaning sensory perception, received its present-day connotation. In recent decades philosophers have tended to emphasize issues besides beauty and enjoyment. For example, music’s capacity to express emotion has been a central issue.

Aesthetics is a sub-discipline of philosophy. In the 20th century, important contributions to the aesthetics of music were made by Peter Kivy, Jerrold Levinson, Roger Scruton, and Stephen Davies. However, many musicians, music critics, and other non-philosophers have contributed to the aesthetics of music. In the 19th century, a significant debate arose between Eduard Hanslick, a music critic and musicologist, and composer Richard Wagner regarding whether instrumental music could communicate emotions to the listener. Wagner and his disciples argued that instrumental music could communicate emotions and images; composers who held this belief wrote instrumental tone poems, which attempted to tell a story or depict a landscape using instrumental music. Hanslick and his partisans asserted that instrumental music is simply patterns of sound that do not communicate any emotions or images. Harry Partch and some other musicologists, such as Kyle Gann, have studied and tried to popularize microtonal music and the usage of alternate musical scales. Many modern composers like La Monte Young, Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca paid much attention to a system of tuning called just intonation.

Since ancient times, it has been thought that music has the ability to affect our emotions, intellect, and psychology; it can assuage our loneliness or incite our passions. The Ancient Greek philosopher Plato suggests in The Republic that music has a direct effect on the soul. Therefore, he proposes that in the ideal regime, music would be closely regulated by the state (Book VII).

There has been a strong tendency in the aesthetics of music to emphasize the paramount importance of compositional structure; however, other issues concerning the aesthetics of music include lyricism, harmony, hypnotism, emotiveness, temporal dynamics, resonance, playfulness, and color.

Scientific specification
At the present time, “musical aesthetics” is understood as a scientific discipline that, in its general research orientation, is close to the subject attributes of the philosophy of music, but differs from the latter with its methodological specifics: if the philosophy of music is one of the aesthetic sections and deals primarily with solving problems of ontological, epistemological and axiological character, then the musical aesthetics is to a much greater extent designed to solve purely musicological problems, and therefore it should be free and competently operate with specific (including the most complex) scientific concepts from the field of music theory.

And already because of this methodological orientation, musical aesthetics, as a specialized scientific discipline, should be attributed to the field of musicology.

Of course, such a course of reasoning retains its relevance also when comparing musical aesthetics with two other interdisciplinary disciplines close to it – the sociology of music and musical psychology.

History: Aesthetics and European classical music

Although the term has not been used before the 18th century, people have always reflected on their intellectual products, including the music they create. In the myths of antiquity, music and its effect often play a significant role, as in the myth of Orpheus. Music is of particular importance in the philosophy of the Pythagoreans: they considered harmony and number as the fundamental principle of beings, music and its interval relations as the paradigm of this all-embracing order.

For Plato, music in his dialogue ” Symposion ” as techné (in the sense of artistic craftsmanship) is merely a transit station to the knowledge of beings, because it can evoke the love of the sensually beautiful. In Plato’s ” Politeia ” (“The State”), music is seen as an instrument of education of the members of the community, but as such it is subject to narrow limitations in content and execution. In Aristotle, too, music is primarily a means for the purpose of influencing character and soul: since the eidos (the archetype) of art lies in the soul of the maker, mimesis is(the imitation) of works of art related to human soul movements and affects. Therefore music can influence people’s emotions, ideally for the better.

Middle Ages
The musical aesthetic remarks of medieval thinkers relate exclusively to liturgical music. In the early Middle Ages (eg Boethius) thoughts are in the foreground to interpret music as a mathematical science and to attribute its beauty when it depicts the harmony of the cosmos. Later, music-practical considerations also come to the fore: With the introduction of the Roman liturgy into the Franconian service in the 9th century, the position of singing in worship was considered. All thinkers agree that the song is the word of Godcan transmit more effectively than language alone. But that also means that music is seen as a “means of transport” and can not exist on its own. Only in connection with liturgical text does music have its right to exist. Just as there are no individual composer personalities in the Middle Ages, neither does the idea of “absolute music” exist independently of a purpose. With the emergence of musical notation and polyphonic singing in the 11th century is increasingly reflected on the nature of the composition. Among others Guido von Arezzo designed a theory based on the grammar of the language, like melodieshave to be built so that they are perfect. Numerous are the reflections on the practice of Organum singing, the most famous is the ” Musica enchiriadis ” from the 9th century. The dispute between representatives of the Ars antiqua and the Ars nova in the 14th century, between the “new” kind of music, which developed from worldly-practical needs (development of the motet as a sociable form of music making with greater rhythmic freedoms) and music, became significant of the “old” kind, which relied on the strict liturgical musician way.

18th century
In the 18th century, music was considered so far outside the realm of aesthetic theory (then conceived of in visual terms) that music was barely mentioned in William Hogarth’s treatise The Analysis of Beauty. He considered dance beautiful (closing the treatise with a discussion of the minuet), but treated music important only insofar as it could provide the proper accompaniment for the dancers.

However, by the end of the century, people began to distinguish the topic of music and its own beauty from music as part of a mixed media, as in opera and dance. Immanuel Kant, whose Critique of Judgment is generally considered the most important and influential work on aesthetics in the 18th century, argued that instrumental music is beautiful but ultimately trivial. Compared to the other fine arts, it does not engage the understanding sufficiently, and it lacks moral purpose. To display the combination of genius and taste that combines ideas and beauty, Kant thought that music must be combined with words, as in song and opera.

19th century
In the 19th century, the era of romanticism in music, some composers and critics argued that music should and could express ideas, images, emotions, or even a whole literary plot. Challenging Kant’s reservations about instrumental music, in 1813 E. T. A. Hoffman argued that music was fundamentally the art of instrumental composition. Five years later, Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation argued that instrumental music is the greatest art, because it is uniquely capable of representing the metaphysical organization of reality.

Although the Romantic movement accepted the thesis that instrumental music has representational capacities, most did not support Schopenhauer’s linking of music and metaphysics. The mainstream consensus endorsed music’s capacity to represent particular emotions and situations. In 1832, composer Robert Schumann stated that his piano work Papillons was “intended as a musical representation” of the final scene of a novel by Jean Paul, Flegeljahre. The thesis that the value of music is related to its representational function was vigorously countered by the formalism of Eduard Hanslick, setting off the “War of the Romantics.”

This fight divided the aesthetics into two competing groups: On one side are formalists (e.g., Hanslick), who emphasize that the rewards of music are found in appreciation of musical form or design, while on the other side are the anti-formalists, such as Richard Wagner, who regarded musical form as a means to other artistic ends.

ETA Hoffmann
The early romantic aesthetic of music dates back to the time of the Viennese Classic and finds its starting point there. The essential feature of romantic thinking, the conviction that “pure, absolute sound art” is the actual music, can already be found in ETA Hoffmann’s review of Beethoven’sSymphony No. 5 (1810), which for him represents the historically most effective manifestation of the Romantic spirit in the aesthetics of music. Hoffmann describes absolute instrumental music as the most romantic of all arts. It overcomes the imitation of an outer, conceptually determinable sense world as an aesthetic substance, pointing to the “inexpressible” and thus going beyond language. In contrast to the specific affects of vocal music, the aesthetic substance included indefinite feelings that Hoffmann heard out of Absolute Music as the “spiritual realm of sounds”. A rapturous, metaphysical exaggeration of the music occurs both in Hoffmann and in other early romantics,

Eduard Hanslick
Eduard Hanslick, a major music esthetician of the 19th century, calls for a scientific aesthetic, based on the given work of art, instead of the romantic transfiguration with its subjective feelings and reactions. Hanslick clearly positions himself against the aesthetics of feeling that sees the essence of music in the emotions aroused by it. According to Hanslick, the object of musical aesthetics is only the objective given of the musical work: its tones and the peculiarities of its connection through melody, harmony and rhythm. Thus, Hanslick regards the content and object of music as the individual result of compositional work of the mind “in spiritual material”.and calls this pure part of the music “sounding moving forms”. Only pure instrumental music can be considered as a musical art. Hanslick’s special achievement can be seen in the synthesis of form and content aesthetics, above all in the emphasis on the importance of a formal analysis of the musical work for its aesthetics. Hanslick does not deny the process of emotional expression and excitement to music, but wants to keep it out of the analysis of the music, because there is nothing for its aesthetic consideration that is outside the artwork itself.

Friedrich Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche’s musical aesthetics does not follow a consistently uniform line of development. Under the influence of Richard Wagner and Arthur Schopenhauer, later Eduard Hanslicks, Nietzsche’s music-aesthetic reflections move between the two extremes of feeling and form. With getting to know Wagner’s end in 1868, Nietzsche accordingly moves to the position for the anti-Formalist camp. Admitting himself to Wagner and his conception of music, as an expression of feeling understood by the recipient, and under the influence of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, at the time of his birth of the tragedy, argues that the essential achievement of music is the “greatest possible mediation of emotional content.” But already in 1871 he formulated in the fragment 12 moments of a radical rejection of the aesthetics of feeling. In view of the opposition between Wagner and Hanslick, however, these first signs of later criticism of Wagner are subject to a strict self-censorship of Nietzsche. With the departure of Wagner and Schopenhauer, he develops a formalistic perspective that closely approaches the aesthetics of Hanslick. Feeling grateful as Nietzsche’s authoritative analytical authority, while form comes to the fore.

20th century
A group of modernist writers in the early 20th century (including the poet Ezra Pound) believed that music was essentially pure because it didn’t represent anything, or make reference to anything beyond itself. In a sense, they wanted to bring poetry closer to Hanslick’s ideas about the autonomous, self-sufficient character of music. (Bucknell 2002) Dissenters from this view notably included Albert Schweitzer, who argued against the alleged ‘purity’ of music in a classic work on Bach. Far from being a new debate, this disagreement between modernists and their critics was a direct continuation of the 19th-century debate about the autonomy of music.

Among 20th-century composers, Igor Stravinsky is the most prominent composer to defend the modernist idea of musical autonomy. When a composer creates music, Stravinsky claims, the only relevant thing “is his apprehension of the contour of the form, for the form is everything. He can say nothing whatever about meanings” (Stravinsky 1962, p. 115). Although listeners often look for meanings in music, Stravinsky warned that these are distractions from the musical experience.

The most distinctive development in the aesthetics of music in the 20th century was that attention was directed at the distinction between ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ music, now understood to align with the distinction between art music and popular music, respectively. Theodor Adorno suggested that culture industries churn out a debased mass of unsophisticated, sentimental products that have replaced more ‘difficult’ and critical art forms that might lead people to actually question social life. False needs are cultivated in people by the culture industries. These needs can be both created and satisfied by the capitalist system, and can replace people’s ‘true’ needs: freedom, full expression of human potential and creativity, and genuine creative happiness. Thus, those trapped in the false notions of beauty according to a capitalist mode of thinking can only hear beauty in dishonest terms (citation necessary).

Beginning with Peter Kivy’s work in the 1970s, analytic philosophy has contributed extensively to the aesthetics of music. Analytic philosophy pays very little attention to the topic of musical beauty. Instead, Kivy inspired extensive debate about the nature of emotional expressiveness in music. He also contributed to the debate over the nature of authentic performances of older music arguing that much of the debate was incoherent because it failed to distinguish among four distinct standards of authentic performance of music (1995).

Since about 1920, the term expressionism has also been used in relation to music in order to explain and classify the appearance of new aesthetic phenomena at the beginning of the 20th century. As an antithesis to musical impressionism, musical expressionism is expression art, the art of the expression of the (inner) interior. It distorts the aesthetic ideals and norms of the 19th century – sound, diatonics, metrics. His basic idea of establishing expression as a counter-concept to form is found in Expressionism in the conception of the New German SchoolHowever, he reverses further conceptual approaches to the opposite. In the compositions of Expressionism, the idea that an understanding of the hearer belongs to the essence of the expression of music itself is no longer present. Thus, compositions are not aligned with the demands or expectations of the listener. On the contrary, they show attempts to realize possibilities of the musical expression of feelings. Exceeding the limits of consciousness, one should approach one’s own being, which is beyond consciousness.

In the practice of composition, these attempts become audible when they exceed tonality. Also, in Expressionism musical genres (symphony, symphonic poetry, chamber music, song, ballad, opera, cantata) are mixed in a work-immanent manner and their limits are exceeded. Arnold Schoenberg tries to realize the idea of synesthesia by using different art genres in “The happy hand” (1924). Important composers of musical expressionism are u. a. Charles Ives,Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, Arthur Honegger and Paul Hindemith.

Beginning in the 1920s, the genre term Neoclassicism in the field of free-tonal and atonal music refers to the use of forms that have emerged in the field of tonal music of classical validity. These adopted forms were used in neoclassical works as a formal element and in the form of sheaths in a new arrangement of tonesbe reflected aesthetically. The musical elements are made clear by the emphasis on formal qualities and their arrangement by the principle of alienation. The properties of the tone set do not merge into unity, but function as freely composed mechanisms. This formalistic method was first developed on the basis of predefined works, sonic movements, or types of classical or pre-classical music, and later applied in free compositions. Again, the origin is mostly in the classical period, but as such is no longer unique to name. In the further development of Neoclassicism, contemporary works by Schoenberg or Webern are also usedused in formalistic-neoclassical procedure.

Especially with Stravinsky, the application of the method should make the reception of the music more aware. The aesthetic appearance of a matter of course or naturalness of the musical process should be withdrawn from the reception. Theodor W. Adorno saw reactionary tendencies in Neoclassicist practices due to his restorative practices, which Adorno generically called “music over music.” Contrary to this view, neoclassicism can also be classified as a productive eclecticism in contrast to the subjectivist claim to authenticity of Expressionism.

From about 1908, atonality describes musical developments that elude the prevailing ideal of tonality and its formation of sound and form. Atonality in these musical developments denotes the further development or negation of tonality. In the context of this term, the terms tonality and atonality are to be understood as relative. Atonality is not an opposing principle to tonality, but tonality is the musical historical prerequisite for an idea of atonality. Composers such as Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg or Anton Webern, who used the principle of atonality, saw their works themselves embedded in a tradition of musical history.

Atonality does not mean the mere exclusion of tonal relationships – although the arrangement of tones need not be related to tonality – but the resolution of a tonal center and the leittönigkeit. The sound itself remains tonal but beyond the principle of tonality. The different pitches of a chromatic scale appear as equal. Schoenberg sees in this principle the “emancipation of dissonance”: the qualitative distinction of consonance and dissonance becomes an equivalence of all interval combinationscanceled. Also, this principle can be regarded as a lack of function in the sense of a defunctionalization of musical phenomena in the harmonic course. Atonality serves the possibility of experiencing tonal relationships outside of tonality. The expected as well as the familiar become unexpected and unfamiliar musical aesthetic phenomena. Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Alban Berg and Josef Matthias Hauer develop different compositional techniques in the field of atonality. Musicology distinguishes between free atonality and atonality bound to the twelve-tone method, but these do not differ fundamentally.

The principle of atonality finds practical application in compositional techniques of twelve-tone technique. The term twelve-tone technique is used to summarize musical works that derive their foundations from the programmatic writings of Arnold Schoenberg (Reihentechnik) or Hauer’s Tropentechnik. The elementary principles of the twelve-tone technique is the complete abstraction of the chromaticization of the musical language to the equality of all tones as well as the ubiquity of certain interval relations. Through these principles, the individual tones solve their seemingly natural characteristics.

The twelve-tone technique is by its refusal of beauty and harmony for Theodor W. Adorno the only authentic composition practice in view of the world-historical development at the beginning of the 20th century. In its solitary subjectification, the twelve-tone technique contains emancipatory potential and thus shows the possibility of a change in social relations. Music also has utopian character for Ernst Bloch. It can show utopian ideas in its language, but not realize them. Bloch recognizes these utopian qualities of music above all in Schönberg’s twelve-tone technique.

Serial Music
The term serial music is used from the end of the 1940s. Serial music attempts to structure the sound materials in order to order Schoenberg’s series principle on all musical parameters (sound duration, volume, timbre)) expand. This structuring of the individual musical areas by row arrangement as well as the methodology, to put just those areas by linking into mutual dependence, is based on the music aesthetic approach, that by a total organization of all musical parameters also a musical sense could be produced. Serialism is thus the attempt to establish music as a sensory reflex of a lawful order of all sound phenomena. Through a critical examination of the principles of serial composition, modifications and corrections were made in the compositional practice. While at the beginning of serial music in the development of a compositionfrom a structured material to a structured form, later superordinate design features were a fundamental principle. Important representatives of the serial music are above all Olivier Messiaen and Pierre Boulez.

Electronic Music
Electronic music is music from electronically generated sounds. Forms of electronic music developed already in the early 20th century, but did not fully develop until the 1950s. Causes for the emergence were both technical developments (invention of the electron tube and development of the magnetic sound method) as well as musical aspects. The deconstruction of established concepts of form as well as the differentiation of sound and rhythmicCharacteristics could develop only in the limited possibilities of technical feasibility. On the basis of electronic music an attempt was made to dissolve the contradiction between intentional structuring of the material and the material actually used.

The music-aesthetic approach in the field of electronic music was to undertake an elementary structuring of musical processes according to the serial concept. The fact that the pitches could now be arranged arbitrarily, also eliminates regulatory schematics. Different methods of electronic sound generation by various devices enabled a high degree of flexibility in composition practice. In the context of electronic music production also disappears the border between composer and performer. In composer practice, the composer can equally perform as an interpreter. The initial autonomy of electronic music is offset by the incorporation of vocal and instrumental sounds. In their development, electronic music differs in individual disciplines. Worth mentioning here are the names Musique concrète, tape music, electronic music in the form of the Cologne school to Karlheinz Stockhausen and live electronics.

Aleatoric as a generic term means compositional procedures that lead to an unpredictable musical result through a controlled random process. The arbitrary selection of the musical material is limited by the given possibilities of material supply. Nonetheless, aleatoric music is defined by variable, indeterminate and ambiguous patterns that discourage the prevailing ideal of causality in the musical process. In contrast to serial music, aleatorism is non-systematic. Although aleatoric music is determined by the variable interaction of momentary events, a clear demarcation from the principle of improvisation is necessary.
Aleatorik has a changing impact on the practice of interpretation through its compositional process. Due to the fact that aleatoric music and its notation must open before interpretation due to its random procedure, the independence and the co-responsibility of the interpreter are significantly increased. The interpretation of aleatoric works is therefore also to be considered as an extension of the composition, as the score and interpretation do not necessarily have to agree.

In the field of aleatoric music, various compositional practices have developed. Aleatoric methods by Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez are understood as a continuation of serial compositional methods. Boulez refers to his procedure as a controlled coincidence. John Cage, on the other hand, consciously dispenses with the notion of aleatorism and counters it with the concepts of coincidence and indeterminacy. In summary, three types of aleatoric procedures can be determined:

Aleatoric as a composition of substructures and individual moments in music. The arrangement, sequence and completeness of the musical process is thereby left to the interpreter. Form, duration, beginning and end of the composition are thus free.
The composer adheres to a binding structure of the whole composition. Details of the composition can have different meaning here.
The piece as a whole and its substructures are of equal importance. The interpreter receives here the greatest possible interpretational freedom.

Minimal Music
The term Minimal Music has been used since the beginning of the 1970s. Mostly it is used synonymous with the music of La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. This contradicts that the composers of minimal music represented different compositional approaches and they also developed their compositional procedures.

The term minimal music includes two of its most basic principles: the reduction of musical material and the simplicity of the formal idea. But only through the principle of repetition does the schema of reduction serve as a sufficient characterization of music. But as repetition always involves change, as even minimalist musicians have realized, the repetitive pattern changes in the musical structure of a piece. In the development of Minimal Music, the idea of harmony as a form of coalescing musical events is replaced by a sound structure as modality characterized by the simultaneity of the polyphonic lines. The melodyMinimalist music is no longer understood as a temporal or intentional idea, but as the result of a musical process. The rhythm serves as a carrier of the musical process. Reich, as a musical aesthetic approach, coined the idea of music as a process, while Glass conceives music as a mosaic. Together, both conceptual approaches have their potential infinity, which ultimately overcomes the musical form of the work in overcoming temporal limits.

Popular music

Bad music
Simon Frith (2004, p. 17-9) argues that, “‘bad music’ is a necessary concept for musical pleasure, for musical aesthetics.” He distinguishes two common kinds of bad music: the Worst Records Ever Made type, which include “Tracks which are clearly incompetent musically; made by singers who can’t sing, players who can’t play, producers who can’t produce,” and “Tracks involving genre confusion. The most common examples are actors or TV stars recording in the latest style.” Another type of “bad music” is “rock critical lists,” such as “Tracks that feature sound gimmicks that have outlived their charm or novelty” and “Tracks that depend on false sentiment, that feature an excess of feeling molded into a radio-friendly pop song.”

Frith gives three common qualities attributed to bad music: inauthentic, bad taste (see also: kitsch), and stupid. He argues that “The marking off of some tracks and genres and artists as ‘bad’ is a necessary part of popular music pleasure; it is a way we establish our place in various music worlds. And ‘bad’ is a key word here because it suggests that aesthetic and ethical judgements are tied together here: not to like a record is not just a matter of taste; it is also a matter of argument, and argument that matters” (p. 28). Frith’s analysis of popular music is based in sociology.

Philosophical aesthetics of popular music
Theodor Adorno was a prominent philosopher who wrote on the aesthetics of popular music. A Marxist, Adorno was extremely hostile to popular music. His theory was largely formulated in response to the growing popularity of American music in Europe between World War I and World War II. As a result, Adorno often uses “jazz” as his example of what he believed was wrong with popular music; however, for Adorno this term included everyone from Louis Armstrong to Bing Crosby. He attacked popular music claiming that it is simplistic and repetitive, and encourages a fascist mindset (1973, p. 126).

However good or bad it sounds to its audience, he believed that music is genuinely good only if it challenges society through its role as an inaccessible Other. This function is advanced by musical structure, rather than lyrics. In his opinion, although many popular musicians seem to superficially oppose the political status quo, the use of familiar song forms and the artist’s involvement in capitalism results in music that ultimately encourages the audience to accept things as they are – only radically experimental music can encourage audiences to become critical of prevailing society. However, the mass media cannot handle the confrontational nature of good music, and offers instead a steady diet of recycled, simplified and politically ineffective music.

Besides Adorno, Theodore Gracyk provides the most extensive philosophical analysis of popular music. He argues that conceptual categories and distinctions developed in response to art music are systematically misleading when applied to popular music (1996). At the same time, the social and political dimensions of popular music do not deprive it of aesthetic value (2007).

In 2007 musicologist and journalist Craig Schuftan published The Culture Club, a book drawing links between modernism art movements and popular music of today and that of past decades and even centuries. His story involves drawing lines between art, or high culture, and pop, or low culture. A more scholarly study of the same topic, Between Montmartre and the Mudd Club: Popular Music and the Avant-Garde, was published five years earlier by philosopher Bernard Gendron.

In Germany, the musicologist Ralf von Appen (2007) has published a book on the aesthetics of popular music that focuses on everyday judgments of popular records. He analyzes the structures and aesthetic categories behind judgments found on concerning records by musicians such as Bob Dylan, Eminem, Queens of the Stone Age etc. In a second step, von Appen interprets these findings on the basis of current theoretical positions in the field of philosophical aesthetics.

Source from Wikipedia