Twentieth Century Psychology: Recent Developments in Psychology

By Philip Lawrence Harriman | Go to book overview

THE EXPRESSION OF MEANINGS AND EMOTIONS IN MUSIC17

MELVIN GILLISON RIGG Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College


I

In formulating the rules for his ideal republic, Plato forbade the use of the Lydian and Ionian modes, since he believed them to be suggestive of sorrow and dissoluteness. On the other hand, the Dorian and the Phrygian modes were approved 'because they were thought to stand for courage and for temperance, respectively. Plato likewise sensed a moral difference in rhythms; a "good" rhythm typified the courageous and the harmonious, while a "bad" rhythm signified meanness, insolence, or fury.1

Plato is not alone in this assumption that music can suggest that which is beyond its immediate realm. It is almost universally assumed that a composition can express emotions, that it can be joyful or sorrowful, exciting or restful, that it can depict triumph or yearning. Many persons would go farther and claim that music can present definite meanings, that it can portray the spring, the early morning, a brook, a spinning wheel; or the composition may recount the various escapades of an outlaw, his apprehension, condemnation, and execution. Program commentators and music critics make their living by retailing such ideas, and so great is the trade demand that if the composer leaves no interpretation of his production, it is usually not long before one is invented.

____________________
1
Republic, Book iii.

-468-

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