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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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Ethos and Cosmos Revisited


Three authors conclude the classical segment on musical ethos. Until now, we have not encountered a single author who would make ethos the object of systematic reflection. Many authors have commented on particular aspects driven by specific interests or just touched on it in a cursory or eclective way. At this point, we find three writers who attempt to pull together all or at least most the different lose ends that have been around for centuries. Aristides Quintilianus does this in form of a comprehensive synthesis, which goes even far beyond what previous theorists have laid out at least in the texts that have come down to us; Martianus Capella ← 314 | 315 → and Boethius also summarize the existing material but in a less original way: the former in a narrative, the later in a philosophical setting.

Aristides Quintilianus631

The three books of “Περὶ μουσικῆς” by Aristides Quinitilianus, an author of uncertain date and only known from this work, could justly be called the Summa of ancient music theory; Aristides seems to be correct in claiming that no one before him had written such a complete treatise on music (1.2 3.12–14). His exposition also contains the most material to establish “what is fitting/proper” (τὸ προσῆκον) in music.632 His system is an amalgam of a wide range of previous theories, even though there are very few literal quotations from other authors, at least from texts that are preserved. He seems to have drawn from those whom he considered most...

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