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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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Empirical Approach to Musical Ethos


Actual music practice served, to a certain extent, as a source for the reflection on musical ethos as laid out in the previous section. Still, the authors seen so far ← 239 | 240 → have in common that their approach to musical ethos depends to a greater degree on general theoretical assumptions or principles and often also on a theory of cosmic harmony. For the authors represented in the current section, the point of reference lies more in the observation of reality as such; that is, they employ more an inductive methodology. In addition, there is a stronger line of dependence upon the following authors as a “school” in contrast to the previous who are often assembled into the Pythagorean-Platonic (or the “neos” of each) tradition. As said earlier, these classifications simplify, and cross-references between schools are frequent, but they help to identify general trends of thought.331 Not all authors included in this section expound theoretically on music; some are included because they provide interesting empirical material that illustrates ethically relevant effects of music.


Music receives little treatment in the Aristotelian corpus; the main relevant source for our purpose is the last book of his Politics. Here Aristotle reveals his empirical approach: he sets out from the observation of how people are dealing with music. In addition, his objective differs from Plato in that he seeks to clarify whether music has a place in education at all, and if so, for what purpose and within...

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