Arthur Schopenhauer

The World as Will and Representation,


The close relation that music has to the true nature of all things can explain the fact that, when music suitable to any scene, action, event, or environment is played, it seems to disclose to us its most secret meaning, and appears to be the most accurate and distinct commentary on it. Moreover, to the man who gives himself up entirely to the impression of a symphony, it is as if he saw all the possible events of life and of the world passing by within himself. Yet if he reflects, he cannot assert any likeness between that piece of music and the things that passed through his mind. For music differs from all the other arts by the fact that it expresses the metaphysical to everything physical in the world. This is the reason why music makes every picture, indeed every scene from real life and from the world, at once appear in enhanced significance, and this is, of course, all the greater, the more analogous its melody is to the inner spirit of the given phenomenon. It is due to this that we are able to set a poem to music as a song, or a perceptive presentation as a pantomime, or both as an opera. Such individual pictures of human life, set to the universal language of music, are never bound to it or correspond to it with absolute necessity, but stand to it only in the relation of an example, chosen at random, to a universal concept.

Theodor Adorno

Notes for a book on Beethoven,

 c. 1940

The dispute whether music can portray anything definite or is only a play of sound patterns in motion no doubt misses the point. A far closer parallel is with dream, to the form of which, as Romanticism well knew, music is in many ways so close. In the first movement of Schubert’s Symphony in C major, at the beginning of the development, we feel for a few moments as if we were at a rustic wedding; an action seems to begin unfolding, but then is gone at once, swept away in the rushing music which, once imbued with that image, moves onward to a quite different measure. Images of the objective world appear in music only in scattered, eccentric flashes, vanishing at once, but they are in their transience of music’s essence. The program is, so to speak, the musical residue left over from the day’s dealings. While the music lasts we are in it, much as we are in dream. We are at the rustic wedding, then are carried away in the musical flood, heaven knows where (it may be similar with death—perhaps the affinity between music and death has its locus here). I believe the images flitting past to be objective, not mere subjective associations.

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