The Experimental Psychology of Beauty

By C. W. Valentine | Go to book overview
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Is music "the language of the emotions"?

Music has long ago been called "the language of the emotions", and the meaning of music has sometimes been interpreted as consisting in the emotions or even ideas expressed. Such interpretations have seemed to be implied in the sayings of some great composers themselves, and of some music critics. Another familiar interpretation is that of Schopenhauer, that music is the "objectification of the will", a view said to have been followed by Wagner. On the other hand there have been those who have said music expresses nothing but itself, and that it would not be music if it tried to do so.

To some extent the division of opinion is due to the attaching of different meanings to the term "expressive". All would agree, I imagine, that fine music is and should be impressive. Whether it is expressive presumably depends upon whether it expresses something other than itself, in the sense of communicating an idea or an emotion as intended by the composer.

No one that I know of has discussed this general problem with such thoroughness and acuteness as Edmund Gurney.1 So that the reader may know at once my own view and be on the look-out for any bias revealed in later discussion, I may say that I gladly subscribe to Gumey's two statements' first, "expressiveness of the literal and tangible sort is either absent or only slightly present in an immense amount of impressive music"; and second, "to suggest describable images, qualities, or feelings, known in connexion with other experiences, however frequent a characteristic of music, makes up no inseparable or essential part of its function". A third very fundamental point made by Gurney is the following". A tune is

See his book The Power of Sound, London, 1880.


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The Experimental Psychology of Beauty


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