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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 Five. Conclusion


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The study of Greek and Roman music traditions and theories reveals a complex and multi-faceted panorama, one so rich in human understanding that even our own advanced worldview and life experience—if somewhat numbed by acoustical overcharge—can still gain much insight by venturing into it. The Greeks deserve praise for their pioneering work in developing science as a rational, empirically backed penetration of reality. This rationality found expression in the attempt to define the world by means of the abstraction of numbers and mathematical principles; the discovery of music being essentially governed by numeric proportions lead eventually to suggest musical harmony as a, or even the, cosmic principle. Thus the status of music developed from an archaic-magical experience and interpretation of its almost coercive power into a force that can be understood and used, in addition to being enjoyed. Observing the impact that music has on human behavior and hence on their common life, Greek philosophers designed ways to employ it for influencing the human interior (soul) according to a preconceived ideal state (form), namely of harmony and balance, either forming it through education or redeeming deviations through therapy. This required evaluating the effects of individual musical parameters such as tone, pitch, melody, rhythm, and timbre (mostly through the choice of instruments and the use of the human voice) and the relationship between music, text (content), context, and the soul. The qualities responsible for those effects were...

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