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The Power and Value of Music

Its Effect and Ethos in Classical Authors and Contemporary Music Theory


Andreas Kramarz

Nobody doubts that music has a special, somewhat mysterious power. Less clear is how we can evaluate that power. What makes music good or bad? Are there objective criteria for such a distinction? What impact can or should music have on individuals and on society as a whole? What are the factors responsible for the effect of music? This book summarizes and discusses how authors of classical antiquity addressed these questions on musical «ethos» and how they can be approached from a modern-day perspective.
After systematically assembling and assessing the value-carrying characterizations of music in poetic literature, the author reviews all noteworthy Greek and Latin writings which enlighten musical «ethos» from the theoretical-philosophical perspective. He then carries the intuitions of the ancients into our time by proposing a coherent model to explain the relationship between music, ethos, and emotions based on the results of contemporary research in the disciplines of music psychology and philosophy. The concept of harmony, understood as the appropriate measure or as the balance of opposites and so central to the reflections of the ancient authors, plays a key role in shedding light on the value and impact, both positive and negative, of music in human existence.
This book provides the most comprehensive overview available about the effect and ethos of music in antiquity and discusses many related questions of scholarly interest. It includes numerous references provided in the original language with translation, ample empirical material for further research, and an extensive bibliography.
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Chapter Three. The Impact and Value of Music According to Ancient Theorists


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The Impact and Value of Music According to Ancient Theorists


Prefatory Remarks

In the first Pythian Ode Pindar evokes the lyre of Apollo, reminding us that music is god-given, and hated by the beings to whom the love of Zeus does not extend. Music soothes, cheers and pacifies; it threatens the power of the monsters, who live by violence and lawlessness. Those lonely, antinomian beings are astounded by music, which speaks of another order of being—the order, which “the footstep hears, as the dance begins”. It is this very order that is threatened by the monsters of popular culture.1

What Roger Scruton says here about ancient Greece, he means for our time. But indeed, the Greeks fought their own battle about “good” and “bad” music. Tastes and artistic preferences differ, and change is natural and necessary for any development of culture. But aesthetics cannot always remain neutral. A piece of music, like any piece of art or literature, happens within the cultural context of politics, philosophy, and religion, and any such piece may either promote or obstruct certain ideas, values, and objectives. As the ancients become increasingly conscious of ← 137 | 138 → the capacity of music to move the human heart, due to its deep emotional impact, they begin to reflect on the moral value of the effect that these psychic motions, with their influence on the intellect, could or should have,...

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