Show Less
Restricted access

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.
Show Summary Details
Restricted access



The question of whether music could be considered “good” or “bad,” not just as a matter of taste but due to its powerful impact on the human psyche, has fascinated me for many years. In the course of my studies I realized that a respectable number of the ancient authors had elaborated on this issue. Many of these writers claimed that the effect of music on individuals and society stems from specific characteristics (also called “ethos”) of musical features. Unfortunately, the various positions and their underlying arguments were not easy to find but scattered throughout many different works. Excellent scholarship has explored individual authors, texts, and issues, but only a few monographs, the majority of them written decades ago, addressed the theme in a more comprehensive fashion. Even these, however, remained limited in the historical skope, and I found it difficult to gain from them a sufficiently clear and concise description of each author’s position and its implications. They also dealed little with the question of how the ancients’ observations would relate to modern-day considerations about the power and effect of music within music psychology and philosophy.

So I decided to combine my preparation in classical languages and philosophy on the one hand with my experience in music theory and practice on the other and began, at first as a doctoral thesis, to put together the book that I had been missing: a systematic study of what the ancient Greek or Latin texts have...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.