Three Years Ago

02008-02-12 | Music, Musings | 3 comments

Music does not express this or that particular and definite joy, this or that sorrow, or pain, or horror, or delight, or merriment, or peace of mind; but joy, sorrow, pain, horror, delight, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without accessories, and therefore without their motives. Yet we completely understand them in this extracted quintescence.
– Schopenhauer

Music is the only art-form which transcends symbols. Novels, even poems rely on symbolism. Even the three lines of a Haiku depend on such symbols. Cherry Blossoms represent the fleeting nature of beauty etc….

Painting uses symbols, unless it is abstract painting in which case it takes a certain amount of training to understand the meaning…

Music on the other hand is completely accessible to anybody – without using any symbolism at all. For me that beauty is destroyed by the words of a song. A song becomes about the lyrics, and for most people the words rule. I am one of those (fortunate) people who do not hear words. I will listen to a song and only hear the quality of the voice, the singing, but not the words. Just like the eyes rule over the ears – and a video is about cool visuals rather than the music – how could it be different when a TV is 99% screen and 1% sound coming from a tiny 5 inch speaker… I wrote more on the subject here.

It is almost as if music is a straight line to our brain – maybe even a programming language for our mind.


  1. LR

    Depends what sort of symbolism you’re talking about… denotative or connotative. All expression uses denotative symbolism to represent an idea, an emotion, an event. Aristotle’s famous definition “drama is the imitation of an action” can be applied to all art, especially music. Music is just a symbolic response. In writing, a journalist doesn’t use connotative symbolism, although he “denotes” an event with language. Mystical writers such as D.H. Lawrence use “connotative” symbolism, where certain objects are described in such a way symbolic inference can be taken. Painting, music & drama are the primitive forms, spacially subjective & all symbolism. Writing is intellectual, alas. Purely a mental form.

    Death to the crooner! Long live the poet!

  2. Carol

    I’m so glad you don’t depend on words to convey what you do in music. It says something different every time.. I am glad you use words here. You give so much to contemplate. Different lines to the brain.

  3. Adam Solomon

    Interesting post. I’d forgotten this one. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who doesn’t hear lyrics. They just pale in comparison to the music to me. Well, I’ve got some strong disagreements about that lately from some other students here, so I’m glad I’m in good company! :)


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