The Perception of Music

The Perception of Music

The Perception of Music

The Perception of Music

Synopsis

This translation of this classic text contains a balance of cultural and biological considerations. While arguing for the strong influence of exposure and of formal training on the way that music is perceived, Frances draws on the literature concerning the amusias to illustrate his points about the types of cognitive abstraction that are performed by the listener.

Excerpt

Relationships between man and works of art can be studied both from the point of view of creation and the point of view of contemplation. Man develops through contemplation as well as through creation. A work of art is at once a manifestation of a highly organized form of activity indicative of a particular time and place--often conveying a sort of epiphany of a person of genius--and a manifestation of how the person at present hears, sees, and understands, a manifestation of how the work satisfies ageless artistic needs. There is a dialectic of creation and contemplation. The human importance of a work depends on its generative power, power that permeates the form and content of the object, provided that social forces converge to bring it to life. Its ultimate destiny is to enter into the Pantheon from which the souls of diverse peoples draw spiritual sustenance. As Nietzsche said somewhere, "Tell me what you eat; I shall tell you what you are." This nourishment has always had a variety of aspects.

But this discussion of art works involves more than great artists and their masterpieces. The latter exist only in the context of a multitude of anonymous yet effective productions--effective within a society both in creating and in teaching that ever-changing language of sounds, colors, and gestures that constitute the cultural personality of man in a century or several centuries. We are prepared to enjoy and assimilate perfection by these daily acquisitions, these automatic reactions born of constant unreflective exposure to a mass of secondary works embedded in a historicalcultural cycle. Revolutions in harmonic usage and the visual arts are slow, progressive processes, with occasional decisive crises that lead to changes long dammed up. Never before has an acceleration as rapid as that of our own era been experienced. Those caught up in this process tend to focus on it to the exclusion of all else. For many of us, including many welltrained nonprofessionals, music is defined by the continuum running from Bach to Wagner. It has been remarked--and this is profoundly true--that . . .

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