2 References to this work are indicated henceforth by unprefixed page numbers in the
3 ‘Sound and Fury’, Prospect, no. 26, January 1998.
4 It is hard to see, in fact, how one could dissent from them while continuing, with
Levinson, to treat music as music rather than as a purely acoustic or sensory event,
which seem to be the only realist alternatives. (Deryck Cooke's
exhaustively-documented claim that music is substantially a language, with an
established vocabulary, is surely not ‘realist’ in any strict sense.) This is not to
say that ‘phenomenological-idealist’ assumptions must be valid across the entire
range of human experience. Only a post-modernist would think them applicable (e.g.)
6 Calling itself a ‘discourse on music’, the first half of Ch. 10 of Perictione in Colophon (South
Bend: St Augustine's Press,
illustrates many of the main ideas behind The Aesthetics of Music in
dramatically vivid and compressed form.
7 Mass delusions are shared too, but concern objective states of affairs from which
they are distinct, and against which they can be measured. The experiences of which I
speak are themselves the objective state of affairs.
8 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 13, 338
9 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 12, 10
10 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 19ff. etc.
11 When an actual tone is made to ‘slide’ up or down, it seems as
though we cannot continue to call it a tone (since we think of tones as having fixed
pitches). So what are we to call it? Glissandi in music are sometimes virtual, being
no more than very rapid runs (e.g. on the harp, or when swiped with a thumb- or
fingernail on the piano), in other words a blurred succession of tones. But there are
true glissandi too, where the initial tone is made to increase or decrease in
frequency without a break, as with a slide trombone, a violin, or even a clarinet, as
at the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue. ‘Sound’, though it is a sound,
will hardly do for such an effect. I think we must call it a note, as distinct from a
tone. (Or is that insufficiently distinct? The distinction does not exist at all in
German, where Ton serves for both, and Note only
for the written sign.) Both true and virtual glissandi exhibit ‘movement’ from one
discrete pitch to another. Vibrato, however, because it oscillates about a central
pitch, is named for that pitch (tone). (The latter is actually sounded, unlike the
mean pitch between the two tones of a trill. For some reason this unheard mean pitch
is not imaginatively ‘deduced’ or ‘averaged out’ from them by the mind's ear.) On the
other hand (but consistently), we generally speak of a note's, rather than a tone's,
being ‘bent’, e.g. by an acoustic guitarist's sideways finger pressure, or an
electric guitarist's ‘whammy bar’. (As in jazz we speak of a ‘blue note’, not a blue
tone, in the melody. This, though it may be accurately described, and written, as
fully flattened in relation to the the equivalent note in the harmony – E flat as
opposed to E natural, where the key is C major, say, and the instrument one of fixed
pitches, such as the piano – is still somehow perceived as being ‘bent’ away from its
normative pitch, and not as a separate, named tone in its own right.)
12 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 160ff.
13 By this criterion one might have to concede that the chimes of a clock or electric
doorbell were musical tones, though hardly that the result was music.
14 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 87, etc.
15 A Gestalt is defined inter alia as ‘an organized
whole’, or as one that, presented to our perception, is more than, and different
from, the sum of its parts (i.e. is supervenient). See, e.g. Christian von Ehrenfels,
‘On Gestalt-Qualities’ (1932): ‘The theory of Gestalt-qualities began with the
attempt to answer a question: What is melody? First and most obvious answer: the sum
of the individual notes which make up the melody. But opposed to this is the fact
that the same melody may be made up of quite different groups of notes, as happens
when the self-same melody is transposed into different keys. If the melody were
nothing else than the sum of the notes, different melodies would have to be produced,
because different groups of notes are here involved.’ (Psychological Review, Vol. 44
, 521–524.) See also Köhler, Wolfgang, Gestalt Psychology
(London: G. Bell and
Sons, 1930), 165, 212, 223 etc. As
can be seen at a glance from his index, Scruton leans heavily on the
Gestalt-idea, his use of it being admirably summarized and clarified
by Alison Denham on 415 of her outstandingly conscientious review article concerning
The Aesthetics of Music. See Denham, A.E., ‘The Moving Mirrors of Music’,
Music and Letters, Vol. 80, No.
3 (August 1999), 411–432.
16 In an interesting, sympathetic review of The Aesthetics of Music
(Music Perception, Vol. 15, No.4
, 412–422), the experimental psychologist Bruno H. Repp notes that ‘the
purely auditory properties of speech sounds … are less important and partially
inaccessible in the context of coherent and meaningful speech’ (414). I was puzzled
as a child (and still am) by the curious fact that, try as one will, one cannot see a
printed word simply (or even) as – what it is – a series of black marks on a white
background, but is invariably compelled not only to see it as that word but even to
‘hear’ it in one's head. (By contrast, as I remark in both this and the following
paragraph, and though we normally hear music simply as music, we do seem also to be
able, at will, to hear it purely as sound.)
17 H.P. Grice, ‘Meaning’ (1957), reprinted in Grice, Paul, Studies in the Way of Words
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1989),
213–223. This is not to say, of course, that what is ‘communicated’ in
music is anything like a declarative utterance (i.e. propositional), let alone a
piece of emotional autobiography (‘this is how I feel’), though it may well resemble
(e.g.) fictional utterances.
18 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 17
19 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 16, 17, 39, 94, etc.
20 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 44, 90, 94
21 See Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, §240. He calls the Prelude ‘a
piece of magnificent, gorgeous, heavy, latter-day art’, but of course that is exactly
how Wagner means us to regard the Mastersingers' theme with which it
opens. Later in the paragraph Nietzsche seems visited by a fleeting suspicion to this
effect, but ignores it and ploughs on with his denunciation regardless.
22 They would also be inconceivable among the genuinely tone-deaf, whose misfortune it
is to be unable to perceive a theme as expressing anything very much, since they
cannot clearly distinguish the pitches, and sometimes not even the general ‘upness’
or ‘downness’, of its component notes. (Tone-deaf people, however, are often
responsive to rhythm, which plays an important part in expression.)
23 Diary of Comte Charles de Zinzendorf et Pottendorf (Staatsarchiv, Vienna), Tuesday
5th October 1762: ‘L'ambassadrice trouva la musique de l'air Che farò senza
Euridice? trop gaie pour un homme qui veut se tuer, elle dit cependant
que l'ensemble faisoit un fort beau spectacle.’ (Quoted in Brown, Bruce Alan, Gluck and the French Theatre in Vienna
[Oxford: Clarendon Press1991], 369. I am grateful to Dr Guy Dammann for
tracking this distantly-remembered reference down for me.) The point was later picked
up by the French writer Pascal Boyé, as reported by Hanslick: ‘At a time when
thousands were moved to tears by the air from Orpheus … [quotes ‘Che
farò’ in French, and the music in piano score] … Boyé, a contemporary of Gluck,
observed that precisely the same melody would accord equally well, if not better,
with words conveying exactly the reverse' (Eduard Hanslick, Vom
Musikalisch-Schönen, Ch. 2, in Lippman, E.A., ed., Musical Aesthetics: a Historical Reader
[New York: Pendragon
Press, 1986-], Vol. II,
275–6). Boyé's essay (1779) is aptly summarized in
its title, ‘L'Expression musicale, mise au rang des chimères’, the burden being that
expression is not intrinsic to the music but is essentially a feature of performance.
An extract is given in Lippman, Vol. I, 285–294, the comment on ‘Che farò’ being on
290. As part of his proto-Hanslickian argument, Boyé claims that because, according
to him, music cannot express hate or rage, neither can it other emotions. He had not
the advantage of having heard the episode in Act 1 of
Götterdämmerung known as ‘Hagens Wacht’, nor the Prelude and first
scene of Act 2 (Hagen's subliminal visitation from Alberich), nor the Prelude to Act
2 of Parsifal (introducing Klingsor).
24 See, e.g. Cumming, Naomi, ‘Metaphor in Roger Scruton's aesthetics of
music’, in Pople, Anthony, ed., Theory, Analysis and Meaning in Music
(Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1994), 3–28; Boghossian, Paul, ‘On Hearing the Music in the Sound: Scruton on
Musical Expression’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art
Criticism, Vol. 60, No. 1, Winter
2002, 49–55; Budd, Malcolm, ‘Musical Movement and Aesthetic
Metaphors’, British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol.
43, No. 3, July 2003,
209–223; Roger Scruton, ‘Musical Movement: a Reply to Budd’, ibid., Vol.
44, No. 2, April 2004, 184–7. Naomi Cumming's essay is based on
Scruton's earlier musical aesthetics, as expounded in his The Aesthetic
Understanding (Methuen, 1983), but is equally relevant to The
Aesthetics of Music, into which they are largely incorporated. If these
commentators are perplexed – as who is not? – it is due as much to the slipperiness
of metaphor as a concept, as to Scruton's treatment of it. (An example of such
slipperiness: ‘length’ is predicated of both space and time, and sometimes of both at
once, as in ‘a long journey’. Unless we are students of rhetoric, do we ever ask
ourselves which usage, the spatial or the temporal, is metaphorical and which
literal? Does it really matter? If so, how would we set about deciding the issue?
Could each perhaps be ‘half-and-half’, or is that idea ridiculous? Cannot both be
literal? And so on.)
25 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 80–96, 239, etc.
26 Words such as ‘harmony’, ‘consonance’ and ‘dissonance’ possess a literal meaning in
their own right. Those were musical terms to start with, and, so far from being
metaphors themselves, are the source of metaphorical applications outside music, as
in ‘harmony’ to mean peace or agreement, and ‘dissonance’ conflict, as in the
expression ‘cognitive dissonance’. In Greek harmonia, for musical
harmony, actually is a metaphor, the word literally meaning ‘joining’ or ‘fitting
together’. But in English the first recorded use of ‘harmony’ is in the musical
sense. See OED, ‘harmony’, etymology and senses 4 and 5.
27 Derrida himself admits that ‘to read within a concept the hidden history of a
metaphor is to privilege diachrony at the expense of system’, i.e.
is etymologically deterministic and thus illegitimate (Margins of Philosophy, tr. Bass, Alan [Brighton: Harvester
Press, 1982]). 215). It is
current, not past, use that determines meaning. If I use, say, the words
concetto or Begriff in their everyday senses,
while being quite unaware of their roots in a (presumably) once-live ‘grasping’
metaphor, then I am not speaking metaphorically. Moreover, neither am I doing so even
if I use them knowing their derivation: ‘It is use in discourse that specifies the
difference between the literal and the metaphorical, and not some sort of prestige
attributed to the primitive or the original’ (Ricoeur, Paul, The Rule of Metaphor, trans. Czerny, R. [London: Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1978], 291).
28 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 49ff
29 The observation seems to have originated in Zuckerkandl, Viktor, Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World
UP, 1969), 83.
30 An impressive attempt, from the standpoint of ‘conceptual metaphor’, to answer this
and related questions comes to my attention just as I submit the present piece in
typescript. It is ‘“Something in the Way She Moves” – Metaphors of Musical Motion’,
by the philosopher Mark Johnson (co-author with George Lakoff of Metaphors We
Live By) and the musicologist Larson, Steve, in Metaphor and Symbol, Vol. 18,
No. 2 , 63–84. They conclude that movement in music is both real
and metaphorical, and ‘no less real for being a product of human
imagination’ (77). It is also grounded, they say, in our experience of physical
movement. Astonishingly, they make no reference to Scruton, with whom they have so
many points of contact.
31The Meaning of Conservatism
32 As any dictionary entry shows, words acquire new applications by what looks like
metaphorical extension. But, proper nouns apart, since a word's original application
already covers a diversity of particulars perceived nevertheless to possess enough in
common to deserve the same name, there is nothing anomalous about bringing further
phenomena under the same semantic umbrella whenever it seems appropriate to do so,
whether we call the process metaphorical or not. An ordinary designation flatly
assumes or asserts the similarity pro tanto of the various items it
denotes, whereas metaphor, rather, invites an imaginative perception of similarity.
The object, at least of the first, is to give us a handle on specifics, more
especially to enable us to communicate them, by successively narrower qualifications
of items within an agreed general category. (Not just ‘a table’, but ‘the new pine
table in John's kitchen’; not any old cat, but ‘the black cat we saw in the garden
yesterday’.) The system of reference in language is (let us hazard) not unlike that
used in a library, and has a similar purpose, of enabling us to locate things.
33 So does simile, but the rhetorical logic differs. Simile says that X is
like Y, which may be true; metaphor, in effect, says that X actually
is Y, when it is literally and manifestly not. The imaginative
force, or so-called ‘truth’, of a successful metaphor may derive from its literal
falsehood. It is a kind of exaggeration to say that X is Y, when it
is only like Y, but the hyperbole, as in other contexts, lends
emphasis. Further, a simile is an assertion, to be accepted or rejected; but a
metaphor, being literally untrue, and understood to be so by both speaker and
listener, demands interpretation, a cognitive effort which may well prove more
enlightening than a mere statement of resemblance.
34 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 86
35 There seems to be some evidence that ‘height’ and ‘depth’, as applied to pitch, are
universal human usages, independently of cross-cultural influence, and thence
effectively ‘natural’. (Not that this explains anything. Rather, it demands
36 It may be asked in what sense Schiller's Ode to Joy is ‘fictional’,
since, although people do not normally speak in verse, this is pretty clearly the
poet speaking in his own person. The ‘thought’ contained in the poem is evidently not
entertained, as in fiction generally, but
asserted (to use Scruton's distinction on pages 88–9). The poem is a
kind of manifesto, like Wordsworth's Immortality Ode. But I cannot
pursue this question here.
37 The point was, through symbolism, to make apprehensible something thought to exist
but to be apprehensible by no other route. See, in general, Edmund Wilson,
Axel's Castle, Ch. 1: ‘What the symbols of Symbolism really were,
were metaphors detached from their subjects.’ A near-perfect illustration is Kafka's
The Castle, in which, though something is clearly being
allegorized, it is not quite clear what. (Who is the elusive castellan? God? And so
on.) Contrast this with The Pilgrim's Progress, which is generically
very similar, but in which Bunyan even tells us, through their names, what his
symbols mean: Giant Despair, the Slough of Despond, Doubting Castle, etc.
38 Though he gave each movement of his most pictorial composition a programmatic title,
Beethoven himself said of the so-called Pastoral Symphony that it
was ‘more the expression of feeling than painting in sound’. His titles for the two
outer movements stress the ‘feeling’ element, an element which, to the listener,
predominates even in the storm scene (4th movement), despite its striking ‘realism’.
(By ‘realism’ I mean that even without the programme one might easily guess that the
music was intended to suggest a storm, with rain, wind, thunder, lightning, etc.)
39The World as Will and Idea, Vol. I, Book 3, §52. One need not accept
Schopenhauer's metaphysics to see that these few pages contain some remarkably
profound, detailed and informed reflections on the least readily explicable of the
arts (yet also, as he rightly observes, the only one which is immediately and
universally understood). It should however be added that if music, as Schopenhauer
claims, is either the Will itself or a ‘direct copy’, it can hardly deliver us from
our blind servitude to it, in the manner alleged of the other arts, viz. through
aesthetic contemplation. (How far, then, can it really be called an
40 It would not be unreasonable, however, to claim that the representational arts also
‘present’ something, but do so by means of representation.
41 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 452
42 In a TV interview broadcast during his lifetime, whose details I have tried in vain
to retrieve. Someone other than I will remember it, and doubtless them too.
43 Leavis's original formulation of this principle (which some would deny that he
himself consistently observed) was in his notorious Richmond Lecture ‘Two Cultures?
The Significance of C.P. Snow’, first printed in the Spectator,
March 9th, 1962, and subsequently reprinted elsewhere.
44 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 362, 376
45The Aesthetics of Music contains some lengthy, highly technical
discussion of Schenker's theories (see esp. pages 313–329). In music theory the Roman
numerals I, IV, V etc. represent standard triads (three-note chords made up, when in
so-called ‘root position’, of two stacked thirds) built on the corresponding degrees
of the diatonic scale, so that in the key of C major (the piano's white notes)
I = C-triad, V = G-triad, and so on. Capitals are used for major triads, small
letters for minor, so the D-triad is ii and the E-triad iii, because their harmony
(on the white notes) is minor.
46 I am informed by Guy Dammann, however, that ‘Murray Perahia swears by Schenker,
although he is unusual’ [in so doing].
47 An analogy: suppose the theme, by the publisher Anton Diabelli, of Beethoven's
towering, sublimely inventive Diabelli Variations had been lost, but
(impossibly) that some brilliant musicologist such as Schenker had accurately
reconstructed it from Beethoven's variations, and was then vindicated by its
subsequent discovery. It would still be the mere ‘cobbler's patch’ that Beethoven
described it as being, despite the wondrous things, like gold from straw, that
Beethoven had spun out of it. And similarly, perhaps, for the
Ursatz, even if, like Schenker, we see it as the fundamental
structure of the finished work rather than, like Scruton, as an a
posteriori abstraction from it (Scruton, The Aesthetics of
Music, 321–4). Of course, Diabelli's clunky but robust little waltz really
does ‘underlie’ Beethoven's piece, by definition – that is what variation form is
‘about’ – and, if you like, constitutes its ‘fundamental structure’; but even so, the
whole point of the work (again, as with any variations) is not the theme, but what
the composer has made of it. As Diabelli himself modestly observed, its sheer
ordinariness only makes Beethoven's achievement the more spectacular.
48 The post-modernist twist on this is (perhaps one can now safely say ‘was’) that since
everything is a ‘narrative’ – unsurprisingly enough, given that every thought,
sentence and proposition has a narrative structure – everything must also be a
fiction (except, presumably, post-modernism itself). Of course this is a total
non sequitur, due to assimilating all narratives to the literary
kind, which are fictional.
49 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 338-9, 354ff., 438-9
50 In Dryden, however, that true classicist, even the baser passions – fury, anger,
jealousy – once expressed in music, are raised to a certain dignity. (As, one might
add, is the horrific, irresistible lust of Racine's Phèdre for her innocent
51 Mann, Reflections of a Non-Political Man (1918), trans. Morris, Walter D. (New York:
231–3. Mann's somewhat bellicose nationalism at this
period, his ‘organicist’ musical notions, his anti-Enlightenment Francophobia, and
his scornful polemical bluster were all shared, incidentally, by Schenker. (See, e.g.
Schenker's ‘Rameau or Beethoven? Paralysis or Spiritual Life in
Music?’, Ch. 3 of his Das Meisterwerk in der Musik, 1930, reprinted
in Lippman, cit., Vol. III, 71–86.) None of those things, I hasten to add, is found
in The Aesthetics of Music, except the postulated and very plausible
connection between a society's musical and its general culture.
52 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 338-9, 355-7, 391, etc.
53 Nor (he reminds me) does Scruton positively claim that it does. What he seems to
suggest (The Aesthetics of Music, 357) is that the ‘latent dancing’
in our response to some music indicates ‘a sublimated desire to “move with” the
music’ generally, whether it ‘dances’ or not. In this way, as doubtless in others, we
identify ourselves with it and make it our own.
54Nietzsche contra Wagner, III (‘Wagner as a Danger’), §1 (an extract
from Human, All-too-Human).
55 In his Communist pamphlet The Art-Work of the Future (1849), II,
56 After writing those sentences I listened to the world barber-shop champions, The
Acoustix, on YouTube. Their performance (or perhaps I should say ‘act’) was so
breathtakingly brilliant that I really didn't care whether the actual music was any
good, or even notice what it was. (Hence, perhaps, the appropriateness of their
57Critique of Judgment, Book II, §53 (‘Comparative estimate of the
aesthetic worth of the fine arts’).
58 The novelist L.H. Myers (1881–1944), a man of exceptionally scrupulous and demanding
tastes, had nevertheless such an aversion to music that he forbade his wife, a
first-rate pianist – and also, it is said, the model for Henry James's Maggie Verver
– ever to play when he was in the house. (Needless to say, he was also something of a
domestic tyrant.) Latterly, however, his daughters persuaded him to listen to, and to
tolerate, the late Beethoven quartets. (See ‘The Case of L.H. Myers’ in my
Imagining the Real
59 One might adduce these lines to support the point made earlier concerning
‘x-ing in’ and ‘x-ing
as’ (where x = hear, see, etc.), and how one hears
not the sound of the words, but the words themselves (and so on). One can become so
absorbed in a sensorily-mediated experience that the medium itself, the sensory
component, drops out of consciousness, leaving one face-to-face simply with the
experience, or even identical with it. Cf. Perictione in Colophon,
212: ‘To Archeanassa's ears it [Perictione's novel polyphonic composition,
prefiguring “Western” music by two millennia] was more like thought than sound, and
seemed to echo within her as though she herself were producing it.'
60 It is unlikely, to say the least, that there could have been any ‘ego-ideals’
properly so called to be found in the primal horde, and not merely because the leader
had engrossed them all to his own use. One might accuse Freud of anachronism, were
the whole story not so speculative to start with.
61 During the public protests of December 2011 concerning the Russian parliamentary
elections, the chairman of the electoral commission, Vladimir Churov, was widely
reported as having said, in an interview with Kommersant magazine,
that his ‘No.1 law’ was that ‘Putin is always right’. (See Google.)
62 The spectacle is nowadays reckoned to have been injurious to the animals' dignity,
but, at least to my childish perception at the time, that never worried them greatly,
or at all.
63 By ‘serialism and the like’ I mean Modernist music that, whatever its structural
principle, is radically atonal. Much Modernist music from The Rite of
Spring onwards, including works as different as Honegger's Pacific
231 and the first movement of Bartók's Music for Strings,
Percussion and Celesta, is atonal in the sense of being in no particular
key, either locally or overall; but there is always a centre of gravity, a particular
note, say, around which the composition rotates and on which it typically converges
and comes eventually to rest. In both the Bartók and the Honegger we sense what the
final note – we might call it the virtual tonic – must be some time before it
arrives, and are harmlessly pleased when our expectation is fulfilled. Almost
uniquely for an atonal and authentically Modernist work, then (1923) or subsequently,
Pacific 231 achieved worldwide popular success, doubtless for the
‘wrong’ reasons (its brilliant sound effects, imitative of a steam locomotive), but
one shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, and it is a fine piece about which much
more could be said.
64 Scruton has written many magazine articles in this vein. Here are two:
Culture's Lament’, City Journal, Autumn
1998; ‘Soul Music’, The American, 27th February 2010.
Both are readily available online. In ‘Soul Music’ he notes ‘the collapse of music
into sound… both in the world of pop and in the concert hall’ (www.american.com/archive/2010/february/soul-music).
65 At the risk of superfluity, perhaps I should mention that the distinction was first
explicitly drawn by the pioneering German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies
(Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft, 1887).
66 ‘Without It man cannot live. But he who lives with
It alone is not a man.’ (Martin Buber , trans. Smith, R. Gregor, I and Thou
67 Scruton, The Aesthetics of Music, 485ff.
68 I am quoting, from memory, an article by Mellers in Scrutiny which I
have tried, but failed, to locate. A later, less resoundingly-phrased formulation of
the same idea can be found in Harman, Alec and Mellers, W.H., Man and his Music
(London: Barrie and
Rockliff, 1962), 626.
1 I am most grateful to Roger Scruton and Guy Dammann for their comments on the
penultimate version of this article. They are not to blame for any remaining
Recommend this journal
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.