Rameau opened his Treatise on Harmony by defining music as the science of sounds. But when music is regarded as one of the fine arts it is more accurate to define it not as the science, but as the art of sounds. And if this definition is understood in the sense in which it is intended, it draws into its net just the subject it is meant to capture. For music is essentially the art of uninterpreted sounds. It is not the art of sounds understood as signs with non-auditory meanings and composed in accordance with syntactic rules: it is not the art of speech. And it is not the art of sounds arranged in such a way that something not composed of sounds is to be heard in them: it is not the auditory analogue of the art of pictorial representation. It is the art of sounds that are not given a non-auditory interpretation.
Music is based upon the human capacity to hear sequences of bare sounds in various ways: to hear a rhythm in a series of sounds; to hear two simultaneous rhythms in a series of sounds; to hear a series of sounds as a melody; to hear one melody as a variation of another; to hear sets of sounds as chords; to hear a later chord as resolving an earlier chord; and so on. And these modes of hearing sounds do not possess thought-contents: to hear a rhythm, a melody, a chord, a cadence is in each case to be aware of a form of sounds or a form in sound, and each form can be perceived without anything else being present to or grasped or thought of by the mind than sounds that are experienced in that form. Accordingly, the fundamental appeal of a musical work is as a structure of sounds that is its own raison d’être: the experience in which the work is appreciated—the experience that realises its value as music—is both non-propositional and non-representational, and if the work is