On Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Judgement’​: A Glimpse of Eternity — part three

‘The nightingale, it sings so beautifully’

by Georg Friedrich Daumer (1800–1875)

The nightingale, it sings so beautifully,

when the stars are twinkling.

Love me, my beloved heart,

kiss me in the dark!

Nachtigall, sie singt so schön,

wenn die Sterne funkeln.

Liebe mich, geliebtes Herz,

küsse mich im Dunkeln!

‘All stiff regularity (whatever approaches mathematical regularity) is of itself contrary to taste: the consideration of it affords no lasting entertainment, but rather, insofar as it does not expressly have cognition or a determinate practical end as its aim, it induces boredom. By contrast, that with which the imagination can play in an unstudied and purposive way is always new for us, and we are never tired of looking at it. … — Even the song of the bird, which we cannot bring under any musical rules, seems to contain more freedom and thus more that is entertaining for taste than even a human song that is performed in accordance with all the rules of the art of music: for one grows tired of the latter far more quickly if it is repeated often and for a long time. But here we may well confuse our sympathy with the merriment of a beloved little creature with the beauty of his song, which, when it is exactly imitated by a human being (as is sometimes done with the notes of the nightingale) strikes our ear as utterly tasteless’.

— Immanuel Kant, (1724–1804), ‘Critique of Judgement’

‘If we have regard to the continual, though comparative, failure of the copy compared with the original in nature, then there remains over as an aim nothing but taking pleasure in the conjuring trick of producing something like nature. And of course a man may enjoy himself in now producing over again by his own work, skill, and assiduity what otherwise is there already. But this enjoyment and admiration become in themselves the more frigid and cold, the more the copy is like the natural original, or they may even by perverted into tedium and repugnance. There are portraits which, as has been wittily said, are ‘disgustingly like’, and Kant, in relation to this pleasure in imitation as such, cites another example, namely that we soon get tired of a man who can imitate to perfection the warbling of the nightingale (and there are such men); as soon as it is discovered that it is a man who is producing the notes, we are at once weary of the song. We then recognize in it nothing but a trick, neither the free production of nature, nor a work of art, since from the free productive power of man we expect something quite different from such music which interests us only when, as is the case with the nightingale’s warbling, it gushes forth purposeless from the bird’s own life, like the voice of human feeling. In general this delight in imitative skill can always be but restricted, and it befits man better to take delight in what he produces out of himself. In this sense the discovery of any insignificant technical product has higher value, and man can be prouder of having invented the hammer, the nail, etc., than of manufacturing tricks of imitation. For this enthusiasm for copying merely as copying is to be respected as little as the trick of the man who had learnt to throw lentils through a small opening without missing. He displayed this dexterity before Alexander, but Alexander gave him a bushel of lentils as a reward for this useless and worthless art’.

- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), ‘Lectures on Aesthetics’

Note: Where that story of Alexander the Great, (356 BC — 323 BC), and Lentil Man (? — ?), comes from I do not know. The only food related Alexander story I know of is the one relating to where he got his name from, apparently he was inordinately fond of grilled eggs and after a battle having worked up an appetite once back at camp he would issue an order to the cooks: ‘All eggs under the grate’.

Art resembles nature which delights but a copy is never as interesting as the real thing. Apparently. Suppose, Hegel suggests, you are going about your business writing at your desk say when you hear what you take to be bird song coming from the next room which you then discover is some guy precisely mimicking bird song. Percy Edwards, (1908–1996), could do that, I am showing my age now. You may be amazed at the talent but in Hegel’s view a human being doing the same song as a bird does is just not as interesting as a bird doing it. Thoughts?

In the ‘Critique of Judgement’ Kant presents us with an account of the range of expressions of artistic creativity and the relation in which different arts stand to aesthetic judgement, and the highest ranking is given to those arts which present an object capable of evoking a pleasure based upon the formal activity of our minds, although somewhat unexpectedly Kant professes that all beauty, both artistic and natural, qualifies as an expression of aesthetic ideas:

‘Beauty (whether it be beauty of nature or of art) can in general be called the expression of aesthetic ideas: only in beautiful art this idea must be occasioned by a concept of the object, but in beautiful nature the mere reflection on a given intuition, without a concept of what the object ought to be, is sufficient for arousing and communicating the idea of which that object is considered as the expression. Thus if we wish to divide the beautiful arts, we can, at least as an experiment, choose no easier principle than the analogy of art with the kind of expression that people use in speaking in order to communicate to each other, i.e., not merely their concepts, but also their sensations’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

Are aesthetic ideas necessarily with the creativity of the artistic genius? By no means. Genius has at least two points of origin, first, an activity of the imagination that allows for an expansion of thought, and second, an expression of this in the production of an object. Hence there is a distinction between having aesthetic ideas and being able to express them in an artwork and only the latter is restricted to the artistic producer while the first is possible for every receptive judging subject. Kant goes on to suggest that even natural beauty counts as expression of an idea albeit in this case the idea comes from our response to a natural phenomenon, an assertion we can comprehend in the light of his contention that natural beauty is pleasing insofar as one views it as if it were a work of art.

‘In a product of art one must be aware that it is art, and not nature; yet the purposiveness in its form must still seem to be as free from all constraint by arbitrary rules as if it were a mere product of nature. On this feeling of freedom in the play of our cognitive powers, which must yet at the same time be purposive, rests that pleasure which is alone universally communicable though without being grounded on concepts. Nature was beautiful, if at the same time it looked like art; and art can only be called beautiful if we are aware that it is art and yet it looks to us like nature’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

Genius needs taste, Kant argues, (it is good that a great philosopher attended to the subject of taste. ‘It is all a matter of taste’, Oh is it really? well how do you understand taste? Is there good and bad taste? How do you distinguish them? See part one in this series), and so apparently genius and taste are closely related abilities and we may add that taste apes genius in seeing aspects of the natural world as if they were artistic creations. The identification of expression as central for beauty in general provides a key for Kant’s account of the relation between the different arts whereby he regards expression as principally the capacity to communicate in word, gesture and tone, and these correspond to the art of speech, visual arts and what he terms the ‘art of the play of sensations (as outer sense impressions)’, but all are modelled upon characteristics of verbal communication, a predilection for verbal rather than visual arts perhaps as a consequence of a belief that expression is more direct once communication is verbal. After all Kant established communicability of feeling as characteristic of aesthetic judgement, and while communication of beauty through determinate concepts is out of the picture there is no prohibition upon communication through the indeterminate connotation of words. Indeed poetry functions in precisely this manner and is the highest of the arts from Kant’s perspective, while by contrast oratory lies upon the margins of the fine arts because it is not free in virtue of it serving a purpose of persuasion.

The visual arts either present a figure in space as in sculpture and architecture or the illusion of figures in space as in painting, and with both an aesthetic idea provides the original image or archetype albeit a different artistic effect or what Kant calls an ectype or derivative image is produced in each case:

‘The pictorial arts or those of the expression of ideas in sensible intuition (not through representations of the mere imagination, which are evoked through words) are either those of sensible truth or of sensible illusion. The first are called the plastic arts, the second painting. Both make shapes in space into expressions of ideas: the former makes shapes knowable by two senses, sight and feeling (although in the case of the latter, to be sure, without regard to beauty), the latter only for the first of these. The aesthetic idea (archetype, prototype) is for both grounded in the imagination; the shape, however, which constitutes its expression (ectype, afterimage) is given either in its corporeal extension (as the object itself exists) or in accordance with the way in which the latter is depicted in the eye (in accordance with its appearanced on a plane); or else, whatever the former is, either the relation to a real end or just the appearance of one is made into a condition for reflection’.

- ‘Critique of Judgement’

And if sculpture is purely concerned with the expression of an aesthetic idea architecture always has to take into consideration the purpose for which the building has been constructed, so architecture like oratory is a candidate for inclusion within the fine arts and its status is likewise compromised by the unavoidable consideration of utility that arises. As for painting Kant subdivides it into painting proper and landscape gardening and even includes the decoration of rooms and fashionable dress within the category of painting, understood in a broad sense, just because these activities devise things that please the eye in their mere form. Well and why not? Recall Marcel Proust’s, (1871–1922), elevation of fashion to a fine art in his descriptions of the Fortuny dresses, (Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, (1871–1949), Spanish fashion designer), worn by Albertine:

‘Albertine had listened with the keenest interest to these details of costume, these visions of elegance that Elstir was describing to us. ‘Oh, I should so like to see that lace you speak of; it’s so pretty, the Venice-point’, she cried. ‘Besides, I should love to see Venice’. ‘You may, perhaps, before very long, be able’, Elstir informed her, ‘to gaze upon the marvellous stuffs which they used to wear. Hitherto one has seen them only in the works of the Venetian painters, or very rarely among the treasures of old churches, except now and then when a specimen has come into the sale-room. But I hear that a Venetian artist, called Fortuny, has recovered the secret of the craft, and that before many years have passed women will be able to walk abroad, and better still to sit at home in brocades as sumptuous as those that Venice adorned, for her patrician daughters, with patterns brought from the Orient. But I don’t know that I should much care for that, that it wouldn’t be too much of an anachronism for the women of to day, even when they parade at regattas, for, to return to our modern pleasurecraft, the times have completely changed since ‘Venice, Queen of the Adriatic’. The great charm of a yacht, of the furnishings of a yacht, of yachting dress, is their simplicity, as just things for the sea, and I do so love the sea. I must confess to you that I prefer the fashions of to-day to those of Veronese’s and even of Carpaccio’s time. What there is so attractive about our yachts — and the smaller yachts especially, I don’t like the huge ones, they’re too much like ships; yachts are like women’s hats, you must keep within certain limits — is the unbroken surface, simple, gleaming, grey, which under a cloudy, leaden sky takes on a creamy softness. The cabin in which we live ought to make us think of a little café. And women’s clothes on board a yacht are the same sort of thing; what really are charming are those light garments, uniformly white, of cloth or linen or nankeen or drill, which in the sunlight and against the blue of the sea shew up with as dazzling a whiteness as a spread sail. You very seldom see a woman, for that matter, who knows how to dress, and yet some of them are quite wonderful’.

- ‘In Search of Lost Time’

Kant regarded the beauty of English gardens particularly free, and he believed that landscaping arranged nature’s products, for instance, plants and trees, beautifully, evidently thinking that gardens display the design that is a necessary characteristic for beauty albeit only if the form achieved is purposive without there being a purpose and for this reason French formal gardens do not qualify as free beauties. And the third category of fine art, arts of the beautiful play of sensations, includes music and the art of colour, such arts producing a vibration in the senses. The tension or specific degree of attunement that arises counts as the senses tone by which Kant evidently means that these arts operate by producing a heightened activity of our senses. Tone is either aural or visual ands hearing and seeing are necessary for our apprehension of the external world yet through them we are also capable of responding to phenomena we like even when we are not seeking to determine something about objects. Do such special sensations operate solely at the level of sense or in addition can they be combined with reflection and hence qualify as potentially beautiful? Kant wavers here. At one point he apparently endorses Leonhard Euler’s, (1707–83), position that colour perception involves not only sense but also reflection yet he also considers the possibility that the sheer rapidity of tonal variation defeats our capacity for judging them which means that tone pleases us only agreeably and not aesthetically. Are tonal arts merely agreeable? Well, music builds upon a mathematical ratio of vibrations and hence must involve reflection and there are also those whose perception is unimpaired and yet they cannot discern tonal variation. Being tone deaf, Kant seems to be saying, is not merely based upon a deficiency of sense but also upon an inability to reflect.

‘Andante’, 1881, Harriet Backer

It may be objected to the objection that tone is simply too rapid to be captured by our judgement that the reflective ability in an aesthetic judgement is not of the sort that is implied here, for as we look at a painting or listen to a poem we discover it to be beautiful not in virtue of being able to measure its complexity but rather in virtue of our minds being expanded in an indeterminate way. It is not so much that we judge the number of associations that arise but rather that our power of judgement is encouraged not to make any conclusive judgement other than ‘this is beautiful’ but rather to exercise judgement as such in an open-ended fashion, and aural or visual tones are quite capable of achieving this. The expanse of colour presented by Mark Rothko’s, (1903–1970), paintings provide us with something to look at and reflect upon at the same time and such looking counts as reflective in virtue of it exploring beyond the field of what is actually given and expands our thinking to a level beyond what is immediately sensed, and granted the beyond may well be a sensory possibility and not a rational idea nonetheless aesthetic presentation of colour is not merely sensory, at the very least not sensory in an everyday manner, so that even the instances that Kant counts as reflectively pleasing do not achieve the standard that is presented by this objection to the aesthetic status of the tonal arts and that once the appropriate characterization of aesthetic reflection is established there is no reason why they too cannot reflectively pleasing.

Consider the lengthy pieces of Morton Feldman, (1926–1987), some of which can go on for 8 hours or so while seldom rising above a whisper, compositions barely imposing themselves upon you to declare their meaning or significance, resisting any endeavour to predict what might happen next, full of repetition while nothing quite repeats, that is to say, individual chords, textures and rhythmic ideas reoccur without ever quite being the same, patterns that do not progress in a predictable way, an aesthetic radically at odds with minimalists such as Steve Reich, (1936 — ), or Philip Glass, (1937 — ), an absence of an underlying system or structure to explain quite what is occurring, rather it requires one giving oneself over to absolute concentration. And the surface of the music changes subtly and slowly as if reacting to one’s attention, music going on for such a long time while neither hypnotising one nor immersing one in a comforting sonic bath but rather calling for one’s attention and through that changing you. Feldman himself said that his ‘patterns are complete in themselves and in no need of development — only of extension’. His concern is: ‘what is its scale when prolonged, and what is the best method to arrive at it? My past experience was not to meddle with the material, but use my concentration as a guide to what might transpire’. His secret? ‘I don’t push the sounds around’.

‘Black on Maroon’, 1968, Mark Rothko

A garden is aesthetic in that it pleases the eye alone and at one point Kant speaks about pleasing the eye while not contrasting vision to the other senses thereby suggesting that aesthetic pleasure arises for any of the senses in conjunction with a reflective activity of the mind, but this has its limits that becomes apparent as Kant goes on to say that only some sensory perceptions give rise to reflective activity and touch cannot uncover the form distinctive of beauty. Kantian formalism, you see, this is where it leads. Others may follow him in excluding touch from the range of aesthetic possibilities but Maurice Merleau-Ponty, (1908–1961), has contended that vision and touch are inextricably related to one another. How can Kant move from the view that touch gives us access to the forms of things to the conclusion that only vision can do so? May not his formalism accommodate the view that aesthetic form always stands in relation to aesthetic matter to which touch gives us access in a more immediate way than vision ever could? In his discussion of art he does suggest that the power of genius is that of going beyond merely formal considerations discovering a rich range of material for expression in an aesthetic idea.

Kant also considers the combination of different arts within one and the same artwork whereby oratory and drama may be combined, as may poetry and music in song, song and theatre in opera, and music and dance in ballet. He seems rather doubtful about the merits of such hybrids, while Richard Wagner, (1813–1883), and Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844–1900), later set up opera, in particular as the ideal of the total artwork or Gesamtkunstwerk. Kant’s objective apparently is to reinforce the formal status of fine art and the relative insignificance of matter albeit all that is required is that the material content of an artwork necessarily achieves a certain form if it is to be worthy of a liking that is purposive without purpose. No need for the addional step of suggesting as indeed he appears to do that formal considerations are sufficient and not merely necessary conditions of artistic creation, for one lands upon somewhat dodgy ground in seeking for a persuasive account of such a relation whereby form stands to matter albeit his principle account at the heart of the matter does not preclude the possibility.

Kant suggests that only if we associate beauty with moral ideas can we avoid being dissatisfied about its worth, which is an interesting thought and rather crucial to his theory of aesthetic judgement, for he believes that this is easiest to achieve with natural rather than artistic beauty thereby making the theory somewhat vulnerable through too strong a connection between beauty and morality given that he had at a prior stage resisted such a connection in his account of adherent beauty and in his account of the moral interest in beauty. It appears as though he is saying that works of art have to be moral in order to sustain their formal status and hence be worthy of aesthetic appreciation but is not all that is needed is merely to say that there is no beauty whether natural or artistic that can arise merely from the causal impact of the senses? For something to count as aesthetic it has to open up a space for reflection in a manner thatapes reason’s ideas of a super-sensible. The artwork takes us beyond the given but it must not be already and wholly determined by moral purposes though Kant gives the impression that he is now arguing that beauty ultimately has a moral basis.

Having set out a classification of the fine arts Kant then ranks them with poetry coming closest to pure expression of aesthetic ideas because it ‘expands the mind’ by discovering a form compatible with the greatest possible richness of thinking. According to Kant poetry makes use of illusion but it does not deceive from which the conclusion can be drawn that not all artistic illusion is deceptive which contrasts with his prior peremptory judgement of artistic semblance as equivalent to deception. As we are transported beyond nature Kant holds that we attain the level of the super-sensible which he appears to associate directly with morality but familiarity with his ‘Dialectic of Taste’ will alert us to the over-simplicity in such an equation.

Music, which is the subject I was wanting to focus upon in this article, stimulates the mind albeit it does so only at the level of sensation without giving us something to meditate upon (says Kant but see above about Feldman) and for this reason Kant concludes that it is the lowest of the fine arts (?! well what can you expect from someone impervious to its charms, with the exception of military marches?) Whereas previously Kant wavered over the role of reflection in the tonal arts and left open the possibility that music presents a temporal form worthy of aesthetic appreciation he now concludes that music operates solely at the level of emotion, hence the visual arts are far superior in that they give rise to a reflective liking sustained by the production of something that engages our contemplative attention. The visual arts’ capacity for holding our attention during an extended period of time is crucial for their superiority over music which in Kant’s view gives only a transitory pleasure (oh really? what about the music we can play over and over in our heads?) Among the visual arts painting is foremost because of its reliance on design (Zeichnung) and its ability to lead us tby way of sensory perception to the realm of ideas.

Such an account of music disregards the way in which a musical theme is capable of development over time and also betrays a quite reductive notion of an object of aesthetic attention. Why should not a musical work hold our attention as a phenomenon albeit it is not a material object? Kant contends that music moves from sensations to indeterminate ideas while the visual arts progress from determinate ideas to sensations but he previously dismissed the possibility that aesthetic judgement could be based upon determinate ideas. His position rather seems to be that beauty begins with the sensory but moves beyond to an indeterminate idea analogous to but distinct from a rational idea. Kant’s dismissal of music I would suggest stems from some aesthetic or intellectual blockage on his part, for his arguments hardly support his claims, perhaps his experience of music led him to believe that the pleasure arising from it is affective or corporeal in origin and that without an aesthetic sense for music himself he thereby concluded that music is not aesthetic. Kant does say that music extends its influence farther than people wish, (well he is not wrong there, this was long before headphones, and anyway even today extraneous music is a problem), and he is on record as having complained about nearby hymn singing disturbing his philosophical concentration.

At one point Kant links music to wit or humour as each requires a play of thought through the expression of aesthetic ideas and in both we experience pleasure due to an extended series of associations which principally affect us through our bodies. The joke sets up an expectation that is then defeated and we laugh as a result. Although our minds are engaged, music and wit give us bodily pleasure and are not instances of free explorations of thinking. A purpose dominates both, the intention of bringing about a pleasurable response. And the objective of attaining agreeableness is sufficient to disqualify these instances of the play of ideas for purely aesthetic status. Music and wit? Well they certainly can go together but neither are wholly reducible to bodily affects, and furthermore it is dependent upon a rather simplistic conception of the body, perhaps an alternative account could open up the possibility that the body is a way of being aware of the world and not just causally affected by it. This was the phenomenological position introduced by phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, (1859–1938), and by Merleau-Ponty, a new understanding of the body from which one could construct an argument to the effect that even if music and wit do have their impact at a corporeal level they may still be capable of going beyond the merely sensory and thus could count as a form of reflective awareness.

‘Emma at the Piano’, 1914, George Bellows

See my article Fabled by the Daughters of Memory — Part Seven for Hegel’s thoughts on music. If you have read it you will know that Hegel refers to ‘the elemental might of music’ which I think is enough to suggest a deeper more insightful critique from him than that of Kant concerning the art that at least he has an ear for. I will try not to repeat what I have already said there. Music theorists including Eduard Hanslick, (1825–1904), and Peter Kivy, (1934–2017), have defended formalism (the meaning of a musical composition is determined by its form) and one may suppose Hegel would go along with that given his contention that pure instrumental music is an acoustic arrangement that signifies nothing and in music as an art sound simply as sound is treated as an end in itself:

If we look now at the difference between the poetic and the musical use of sound, music does not make sound subservient to speech but takes sound independently as its medium, so that sound, just as sound, is treated as an end in itself. In this way, since the range of sound is not to serve as a sign, it can enter in this liberation into a mode of configuration in which its own form, i.e. artistic note-formation, can become its essential end. Especially in recent times music has torn itself free from a content already clear on its own account and retreated in this way into its own medium; but for this reason it has lost its power over the whole inner life, all the more so as the pleasure it can give relates to only one side of the art, namely bare interest in the purely musical element in the composition and its skilfulness, a side of music which is for connoisseurs only and scarcely appeals to the general human interest in art’.

- ‘Lectures on Aesthetics’

In particular successful art music need not be based upon any verbal text and music has the maximum possibility of freeing itself from any actual text as well as from the expression of any specific subject-matter with a view to ‘finding satisfaction solely in a self-enclosed series of the conjunctions, changes, oppositions, and modulations falling within the purely musical sphere of sounds’. But Hegel also contends that music that is simply self-enclosed development remains empty and meaningless:

‘… in that event music remains empty and meaningless, and because the one chief thing in all art, namely spiritual content and expression, is missing from it, it is not yet strictly to be called art. Only if music becomes a spiritually adequate expression in the sensuous medium of sounds and their varied counterpoint does music rise to being a genuine art, no matter whether this content has its more detailed significance independently expressed in a libretto or must be sensed more vaguely from the notes and their harmonic relations and melodic animation’.

- ‘Lectures on Aesthetics’

In order to defeat this threat ofmeaninglessness, music must acquire ‘spiritual content and expression’ and of it fails to acquire this content then it fails to be ‘a genuine art’, and so successful art music must be about something, a position held by Aristotle, (384–322 BC). As for what is now called the classical style of music of his own day Hegel contends first that by retreating from definite content it has ‘lost its power over the whole inner life’ and become something ‘for connoisseurs only’ but also ‘nowadays … miracles [in conception and in virtuosity] have occurred in music’ and ‘music carries [the] liberation [ofthe soul] to the most extreme heights’. So which is it? Formalism or anti-formalism. Contemporary music as decadently empty or contemporary music as miraculously ensouled. Well of course Hegel places such analyses within a historical framework that present-day thought concerning the arts may find rather strange and hard to understand. Music according to Hegel is ‘the second romantic art’ between painting and poetry where historical epochs are distinguished from one another by the significative salience of a particular medium of art. Architecture for the symbolic phase of art, sculpture for the classical phase of art, and successively painting, music, and poetry for art’s romantic, that is, modern or post-Roman, phase. But I hear you object surely works in various media existed at many historical times? The Greeks, Romans, and medieval Europeans all had music, as did other civilizations, and for what reason should poetry be thought to be more significant than music now? Well, he’s ahead of the game as usual, and his remarks on music provide a way to embrace the genuine insights present in the opposing camps, formalism and anti-formalism, classical style as a matter of empty connoisseurship and classical style as normatively authoritative and without the hyperbole and muddled thinking that often accompanies the simple taking of sides in such debates. Recall that a successful composer of art music must give attention to both structure and ‘content (true a rather vague one)’ and the essentially vague content in question turns out to involve standing, felt aspirations for a meaningful, unified life plus a sense of present circumstances as simultaneously inhibiting those aspirations, and this content of felt aspirations and a complex sense of circumstances can inherently be embodied in certain kinds of structures of developing sound, with certain open-ended degrees of latitude. But in order to make clear both the nature of the human content of music and how that content inherently permits embodiment in purely musical structures one must first delve into the more standard, more amenable to critical scrutiny, and yet ultimately one-sided philosophical views about music and meaning.

Hanslick, author of ‘On the Musically Beautiful’, 1854, made a sharp distinction between purely musical ideas and their development in musical form, on the one hand, and conceptions that are expressible in language on the other. A musical idea brought into complete manifestation in appearance is already a self-subsistent beauty, it is an end in itself, and it is in no way primarily a medium for the representation of feelings or conceptions. The content of music is tonally moving forms and Hanslick compares the self-contained, non-representational character of beautiful forms with visual arabesques that please the eye but represent nothing, adding that musical arabesques since they develop temporally are living rather than ‘dead and static’. Hanslick uses the term ‘epithets’ to describe music and so characterize musical motives as ‘arrogant, peevish, tender, spirited, yearning’, but we must ‘never lose sight of the fact that we are using [these terms] only figuratively and take care not to say such things as ‘This music portrays arrogance’. Music — at least beautiful art music- has nothing to do with any content that is either borrowed from the rest of life or capable of embodiment in other media. The beauty of a musical composition … is a specifically musical kind of beauty. By this we understand a beauty that is self-contained and in no need of content from outside itself, that consists simply and solely of tones and their artistic combination. Relationships, fraught with significance, of sounds which are in themselves charming — their congruity and opposition, their separating and combining, their soaring and subsiding — this is what comes in spontaneous forms before our inner contemplation and pleases us as beautiful’.

‘Young Woman Playing a Violin’, c. 1612, Orazio Gentileschi

Hanslick’s formalism has certainly been widely embraced in modernity where there has been special importance placed upon distinguishing different spheres of experience from one another and it appears important to many at least when musical works are strikingly successful not to confuse what appears to be distinctly musical experience with, for instance, sculptural experience or political experience or religious experience. Edmund Gurney, (1847–1888), author of ‘The Power of Sound’, 1880, declared that ‘the explanation of the essential effect’ of musical art ‘must be sought … in the independently impressive aspect of Music’. And furthermore: ‘The ground for the essential effects of the [musical] art must be sought … in the facts of mere note-after-note melodic motion’. Though music is sometimes emotionally expressive and sometimes calls up scenes by association such things are not what is important about it as an independent form of art, rather, its impressiveness is. When we search for expressiveness and representation,we frequently find nothing and we invariably miss what is of central and distinctive value, note after note melodic and harmonic and rhythmic motion. And given the supposed distinctiveness of musical experience it would then be a category mistake, (assigning to something a quality or action which can only properly be assigned to things of another category, for instance treating abstract concepts as though they had a physical location), to endeavour to read in to that experience meanings and values that are properly realized in other domains.

Such readings in tomusic would indicate ignorance of musical experience as opposed to insight into it and Kivy contends that though it is possible ‘to make a claim about what some piece of absolute music is ‘saying’ … making [that claim] good’ is impossible. We should rather accept the thought that ‘the blessing of absolute music [is] that it frees our thought to wander in worlds that are completely self-sufficient’, where we are concerned only with musical processes and structures, and with musical tensions and resolutions, altogether liberated from any thought about life otherwise. ]The genius of absolute music is to make you think of aught but itself and, in so doing, of its (and your) liberation from the world’. And coming up to our own time Stephen Davies declares that we are frequently merely ‘curious’ about things and ‘capable of finding enjoyment in attempting to comprehend … works in their particularity’. Our involvement with music arises out of nothing other than ]love of the activity’ that is engaged in ‘for fun’. Such formalist views may seem plausible at the surface level given that endeavours to discover narratives or messages in works of pure instrumental music frequently appear contrived while musical structures and processes of development are frequently the focus of attention apparently for their own sake.

Something is missing here though. To immerse oneself in such structures and processes may well be transcending and self-sustaining but also dismissive of the significance of pure instrumental music to regard it only as a pure acoustic structure for formal attention, for music arises from and contributes to human life more generally than that (think of kant’s regard for military marches). Composers even if they deny it are undertaking to say something concerning human life, though perhaps abstractly and symbolically, and purely musical processes seem to many listeners to echo and allude to processes of action. Paul Shorey, (1857–1934), said that Plato and Aristotle regarded ‘music [as] the most imitative ofthe arts’ in virtue of its ‘communication of a mood or feeling’ whose pattern it shares’. Gurney too located the essential power of music in melody alone conceding that ‘the general bearing ofspeech on melody’ is responsible for ‘the vivid effect, which a fine melody produces, of being something said — a real utterance of transcendent significance’. And Edward T. Cone, (1917–2004), suggested that the performance of music involves taking up a role or persona that functions as a source of utterance. Performers of musical works, that is to say, do something that is like acting from a verbal script, they play a role. ‘All music, like all literature, is dramatic; … every composition is an utterance depending on an act of impersonation which it is the duty of the performer or performers to make clear’.

Even in text-based music according to Cone musical personae ‘express themselves at least as much by melody as by speech, and as much by tone-color as by phonetic sound’, the music itself, that is to say, speaks. To be sure, purely instrumental music ‘has no content that can be paraphrased in other music, or in words, or in any other medium; and its elements — notes, chords, motifs — normally have no referents’, but verbal language too ‘has a gestural as well as a strictly semantic aspect’, and ‘especially in dramatic poetry … words … can be used to produce almost purely gestural effects that depend less on the specific meanings of the words than on the mode of performance … they imply’. The meaning of music is bound up with this gestural dimension of communicative utterance, and Kendall Walton, (1939 — ), similarly suggests that musical expressiveness can be regarded as a species of representation. ‘To be expressive is to bear a significant relation to human emotions or feelings or whatever it is that is expressed. Why doesn’t this itself amount to possessing extra-musical ‘meanings’, and why shouldn’t expressiveness count as a species of representation?’ According to Walton purely instrumental music prescribes imaginings, we are to hear in it imaginatively certain courses of emotional development, in something like the way in which even abstract paintings frequently prescribe that we see one figure behind another. Like Cone Walton suggests that these courses of development are frequently to be ascribed to an implied persona set up by the compositional action of the actual composer, just as a lyric poet sets up an implied speaker functioning as a locus of certain thoughts and feelings, as itself a role into which its readers are to enter. Kivy objects against this suggestion that Walton has conflated two quite distinct concepts of imagining, Kantian productive or constructive imagination, through which we come to notice anything at all, and fictional imagination whereby we take ourselves to follow a story about non-existent characters. Kivy concurs that we must imaginatively attend to the piece of music before us but it by no means follows that in doing so we are taking the music to be about any characters or actions.

Maybe, but Walton observes that works of music do not present us with images of or claims about definite objects, persons, or actions that we can identify elsewhere apart from the music and in this sense there is as Walton puts it no ‘workworld’ presented by a piece of purely instrumental music but this fact does not stop the musical work from offering us auditory experiences that we ‘use … as props’ for imagining courses of emotional life, and when we thus imaginatively use props, as the work prescribes, then the work is functioning communicatively: it says something to us or represents to us what certain courses of emotional development are like by inducing us imaginatively to undergo them. Jerrold Levinson, (1948 — ), defends a similar view while adding an account of why we play such games of dramatic musical imagination. Musical structure alone can be worth our attention as an object ofpure enjoyment just as Davies argues that is one of its benefits but musical structure as a prop for imagining also offers the further rewards of participating in emotional resolution (feeling emotions to have courses of temporal development, like the development of plot in Aristotelian terms from beginning to middle to end), of cultivating expressive potency, and of communing emotionally with another mind. Quite other than mere escape from the world, experiencing music imaginatively functions as the catharsis, the clarification and the cleansing, of the emotional lives we may share with other human beings. Taking the opening of Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 95 as his example Fred Everett Maus contends not only that it is natural to hear in it ‘a succession of dramatic actions’ but further that we cannot even develop and apply the technical terminology of formal musical analysis, cadences, suspensions, dissonance, resolution, and so on, as manifested in certain harmonic relations and successions, without relying upon hearing the drama in the music.

Structural description presupposes dramatic description in order to identify the units of the musical language of formal analysis and the relations of sequential consequences among them within a work. ‘A satisfactory account of structure must already be an aesthetically oriented narrative of dramatic action’. We hear the musical drama before we attend to the formal structure in itself, and a second strategy for characterizing the content of purely instrumental music focuses less immediately upon the workings of the imagination of the individual auditor and more on the social uses of works of music. Generally speaking those who have developed this strategy are all interested in works of music as instruments of signification and the term ‘signification’ is significant for rather than specifying a definite, capable of being paraphrased, single thought that a musical work encodes such theorists instead look at how the production of certain kinds of musical works both proceeds from and refigures norms for the development of subjectivity that are already in circulation in their cultures. In thus turning their attention on the social uses of music in encouraging and inhibiting certain courses of identity development within the framework of the reproduction of social life such theorists are turning the techniques of ethno-musicology originally developed to study music in non-Western cultures on Western art music.

Rose Rosengard Subotnik, (1942 — ), developed a distinction between structural (formal) listening and style (sound-surface) listening whereby structural listening is foreign to most music in most cultural settings. ‘Only some music strives for autonomy. All music has sound and a style. Only some people listen structurally. Everyone has cultural and emotional responses to music’. Furthermore, Subotnik argues that formal analysis presupposes stylistic listening. ‘Style is not extrinsic to structure but rather defines the conditions for actual structural possibilities; … structure is perceived as a function of style more than as its foundation’. Building upon work by Leonard Meyer, (1918–2007), Subotnik argues that when people do learn to listen structurally to absolute music they are entering into a course of development aimed at the cultivation of self-conscious, distinctive, putatively autonomous individuality, the kind of being-in-the-world that has been cultivated in the West, but not so clearly elsewhere, since the Renaissance. Structural listening requires ‘in its pure state … the renunciation of premises, organizational principles, purposes, meanings, values, and meanings derived from outside of a musical structure’ for the sake of focusing instead on structure alone as an object of purely contemplative attention.’ This requirement is part of post-Renaissance Western art music’s social meaning, a social meaning that is bound up with the project of Western individualism. Susan McClary, (1946 — ), develops a similar reading of the social functions of post-Renaissance Western art music focusing specifically however on its roles in furthering certain conceptions of gendered identity (well of course we’d have to get there eventually).

For instance, Claudio Giovanni Antonio Monteverdi’s, (1567–1643), invention of the stile representativo in inaugurating modern dramatic opera in the 17th century rested upon his development of distinct styles of musical expression for female and male characters. The dramatic action of an opera requires women and men doing things and the musical task of the composer in setting the action requires writing music that cornments on and deepens the representation of character of the women and men presented. And so Monteverdi wrote music for men that is lyrical, transcendent, dominated by well-organized stepwise melodic motion and clear I-V-I harmonic development with strong final cadences and re-wrote music for women that is much more chromatic, there are more passing tones, more suspensions, less sense of a governing key center and weaker cadences so that the music is almost against teleology, (purposive without purpose, Kant should approve, I am not sure if he refers to Monteverdi anywhere though or even if he knew who he was). And Monteverdi did this because he was both drawing upon and re-inforcing a sense already circulating in his culture of how men and women respectively mostly do and mostly should think and feel and act.

‘Kobieta z gitarą’, Szymon Buchbinder, (1853 — c.1908)

Men control their passions, and they set and achieve goals, while women are emotional, seductive, and unstable (I am merely the messenger here). According to McClary and much to her disapproval there is a standard use in the formal analysis of purely instrumental music of the terminologies of masculine and feminine themes and masculine and feminine cadences. Masculine themes and cadences have a strongly marked direction of motion while feminine themes and cadences in contrast are more wandering. It is evident enough that the composition, performance, and consumption of so-called absolute music, supposedly a set of structures designed for the absorption of any reflective intelligence, are cultural practices bound up with the rest of culture, where rights, powers, and roles of all kinds are constructed and contested. In its cultural settings music does significative work and Lawrence Kramer, (1946 — ), has presented three radical presuppositions for studying music that generalize the strategies of Subotnik and McClary. ‘Music participates actively in the construction of subjectivity’, that is to say, composing, performing, and listening to music are activities through which specific senses of a self and its interests are developed. ‘We hear music only as situated subjects and hear as music only that acoustic imagery which somehow ‘expresses’ part of our situatedness, our ensemble of ways to be’. That is, what makes a piece ofmusic intelligible as music is not a function of form alone for all subjects, rather different subjects respond to and take an interest in different forms, and which forms they respond to (and which they do not) is in part a function of what they in particular care about and do within specific cultural settings. Music can also teach us some new things to care about and do. ‘The processes of subject formation that include processes and practices of music construction and of music performing and listening always further some ideologies and undermine others’. That is to say, no conception of what it is worthwhile for subjects to do and to care about effectively articulates everyone’s interest, all conceptions of interest are contested and all are effective for some but not for others. Specific ways of composing, performing, and listening to music are always caught up in a play of contesting of conflicting interests.

With regard to these opposed formalist and anti-formalist stances in the philosophy of music it does seem important to stress that we typically listen to music with engaged imaginative attention and not through ambient perception alone and it appears plausible to suppose that composing, performing, and listening to music are practices through which subjective identities, certain routes of interest and feeling, are developed, always within a particular culture as an ensemble of practices. The interest of works of purely instrumental music as objects of imaginative attention and as signifiers within cultural practices appears readily to transcend simple escape, enjoyment, and fun however much these are present, at the same time, however, readings of emotional and depictive plots of works of instrumental music can seem contrived. Dancing sugar plum fairies are certainly a cultural phenomena associated with Christmas but were we even to imagine them dancing we are hardly likely to engage with the music as being expressive of our own emotional states but rather we just listen or envision something else entirely. What is required in order to mediate the formalist and anti-formal intstances is a deeper and more complete theory of subjectivity, its cultural situation, and its prospects, and such a deeper and more complete theory must focus in detail upon how purely musical content, tonally moving forms, can be employed to articulate and address subjectivity’s situation and interests and do so in ways that are both parallel to and yet specifically different from other forms of articulation and address. And this deeper and more complete theory of subjectivity in relation to music is precisely what Hegel delivers in the section on music in his ‘Lectures on Aesthetics’.

Hegel develops a theory of subjectivity in relation to musical practice, perhaps his whole philosophy is about the mystery of subjectivity. So what are the principle lines of Hegel’s theory of subjectivity within his theoretical philosophy? In the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ Hegel observes that when we stop thinking about ourselves as essentially bearers of representational awareness but instead also think of ourselves as agents then we think of ourselves as in a situation in which our ‘certainty is to itself its own object [Gegenstand], which is to say as emerging agents coming to take up various practical repertoires afforded within a cultural situation, we have an initial inchoate sense, a subjective certainty, of being this or that, the child of one’s parents, the class joker (I remember one, sad really, he was totally unfunny), the possessor of a musical ear, a middling runner, and so on, and this, to begin with, diffuse subjective certainty is an object of our awareness, it is something to be tested and worked through, as one develops one’s ear, enters into new ways of being with one’s parents, gives up running, or begins to take schoolwork more seriously (yes that latter is one of the examples he gives, something I never did, by which I don’t mean I was the class joker I mean I was bored and under-achieved at school). We are capable of reflecting upon the different skills and ways of being that we take ourselves to possess hence we can say that there is across the different things we do a ‘unity of self-consciousness with itself’ yet this unity is initially only implicit in the sense that how and why we turn to doing now this and now that remains opaque to us and determined by circumstantial contingencies rather than by reasons. If things go well as we grow up (both individually and historico-culturally I use my imagination here because for me they never did), then ‘self-consciousness exhibits itself as the movement in which this antithesis [between its turning to now this, now that and its being articulately and rationally self-identical throughout its different activities] is removed,and the identity of itself with itself becomes explicit [wird: comes about, becomes, or is made manifest]’. As Merleau-Ponty puts it:

‘All of the Phenomenology of Spirit describes man’s effort to re-appropriate himself. At every period of history he starts from a subjective certainty, makes his actions conform to the directions of that certainty, and witnesses the surprising consequences of his first intention, discovering its objective truth. He then modifies his project, gets under way once more, again becomes aware of the abstract [i.e., merely conceived; unrealized] qualities of his new project, until subjective certainty finally yields objective truth [i.e., comes to fulfillment] and in the light of consciousness he becomes fully what he already obscurely was’.

- ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’

The ideal but actualizable and even self-actualizing end of this process of growing up is free human life construed as the reasonable expression of both one’s particular talents and one’s shared human, rational-reflective nature within a cultural setting of mutual recognition and endorsement. We come to both agentive and representational subjecthood from within a specific culturally afforded ensemble of practices and we then develop a point of view both on these practices and on ourselves as capable of this and that in relation to practices and we linger in some practices as we catch on to how things are done and practice at them while we withdraw from other practices in frustration and disappointment. Historically practices are themselves modified through this play of engagements and withdrawals until a culture of freedom is reached whereby each person can live both freely and reasonably, in ways whose worth is evident to all. As Hegel formulates it elsewhere:

‘Freedom lies neither in indeterminacy [withdrawal from all repertoires, techniques, and immersions in content] nor in determinacy [simply given contingently, without reflection and reflective endorsement], but is both at once. … Freedom is to will something determinate, yet to be with oneself [bei sich] in this determinacy and to return once more to the universal.’

- ‘Philosophy of Right’

All possessors of an apperceptively unified, judgmental consciousness must be committed to pursuing a free life thus construed. Is it even so? Well perhaps the project cannot be completed by everyone in and through the formation of a culture of rational freedom that is on the verge of appearance iswell founded. According to Robert Pippin, (1948 — ): ‘Human beings may simply be the unhappy consciousness; Hegel may be right about their ‘self-diremption’ but wrong about its possible resolution’. They may be capable of reflection on their subjective certainties and committed therein to the project of expressive rational freedom in shared cultural life but be incapable of completing the project.

‘Music’, c. 1895, Thomas Dewing

Such minor details present few problems for Hegel’s systematic theoretical philosophy and his philosophy of fine art in particular his philosophy of romantic art. His treatment of music as a central romantic art especially is faithful to, indeed stresses, the thought that rational expressive freedom in and through cultural life remains an ideal that is neither empty for us nor yet quite perfectly possible of actualization at the very least insofar as there is compelling art. For musical development abstractly models our continuing efforts to attain expressive rational freedom and unity with ourselves across our various social roles, and that this modeling is abstract rather than socio-historically and semantically concrete suggests that this ideal is not or not yet wholly actualized throughout personal and social life. Musical development of a certain kind is an anticipation of freedom and not its concrete socio-historical achievement, and our participation as auditors in the process of musical development directly indicates our involvement in the actualization of this ideal insofar as musical hearing requires us to be aware of ourselves as actively listening to sustained musical development over time.

In listening to music we exercise and develop the same power of reflective self-awareness aiming at satisfying closure on which our commitment to expressive rational freedom depends. As Hegel observes together with painting and poetry music is one of the romantic arts or ‘the arts whose mission it is to give shape to the inner side of personal life’. In contrast to the symbolic arts, exemplified by architecture, and the classical arts, exemplified by sculpture, the romantic arts do not undertake centrally to present something external for its own sake as a ‘free individuality’ but involve instead ‘spirit’s innerself-apprehension and its preoccupation with the sphere of its own circumstances, aims, and actions’. This turn away from external free individuality is manifested even in depictive painting for the objects presented in a painting are presented from a point ofview and for an actively observing intelligence that must take up a particular point ofview, both narrational and perspectival, in order to grasp the painting, unlike a sculpture of a recognizable object that may typically imply no narrative and be seen from many spatial points of view.

Music goes beyond painting however in refusing all depiction of definite objects and unlike painting, which continues to depict albeit by presenting three dimensions indirectly in two music ‘keeps firmly to the inner life without giving it any outward shape or figure’. It is, as formalists contend, in this sense depictively about nothing, non-representational, and yet music’s reduction of externality to temporality alone has a significative purpose. Music ‘takes the subjective as such for both form and content’, it is about what it is like to apprehend and have experiences as a subject in general, with a subject’s general reflectiveness and associated aim. It is, as anti-formalists contend, in this sense significative. Sounds succeeding one another in time are the appropriate medium for inviting reflection upon having a point-of-view-having and pursuing an aim in general. Sounds ‘cannot…. portray [objects] as they actually exist’. Thus they are suited to sustain both having a point-of-view in general and reflection upon it without being tied to the presentation of any specific object, and even beyond the abandoning of all spatiality (the abandonment of the painterly surface, beyond painting’s own abandonment of three-dimensional form), music further involves a ‘double negation’ of externality as first we listen ‘to the results of the inner vibration’ focusing our attention upon the quality and development of the sound, not on the violin or horn as physical objects, and second sound itself either decays once produced or it is sustained only through further effort and up to a limit set by breath or length of bow. This latter point and how music typically has exploited it explains why we tend to hear exclusively electronically generated music, where these physical limits do not exist, more as soundscape than as genuinely felt melody, even not quite as music at all (not my view though, electronica is the wonderful new musical instrument to have been invented in the 20th century and has allowed new sound worlds never before capable of realisation and musical dexterity if that’s the right word of which human performers are incapable and one has to wonder quite how it fits into musical aesthetic theory formulated before its invention).

Material media are used in the romantic arts not simply as objects of sensory apprehension, but markedly as vehicles of constructive power of arrangement speaking to constructive power of apprehension. Post-medieval music makes use of equal temperament non-natural tuning, initially developed by Vincenzo Galilei, (1520–1591) in Florence in the 1580s, precisely in order to extend the possibilities of temporally sustained constructive arrangement, thereby breaking from the medieval musical practice of the monodic replication of what had been thought to be the music of the celestial spheres. In post-medieval music emphasis on the constructive power exercised in ordering the material and in hearing its order is carried to its greatest height, as it exploits inherently ideal and dispersing sonic material in time. Hence in purely instrumental music there is no depiction of external objects and events, music does not possess a natural sphere outside its existing forms, with which it is compelled to comply. The range of its compliance with law and the necessity of its forms fall principally in the sphere of the notes themselves which do not enter into so close a connection with the specific character of the content placed in them and in their use mostly leave a wide scope for the subjective freedom of the execution. Though there are certain associations that are called up by certain sounds (hunting by horn calls, the pastoral by woodwinds), even these associations are matters of history and convention, and a work of music is successful as art not simply insofar as it evokes such associations, but rather insofar as it achieves, as a result of ‘the subjective freedom ofthe execution’ (the composer’s constructive power), ‘necessity … in the sphere ofthe notes themselves’. In order to succeed distinctively as music, music ‘must free itselffrom any given text’. Hegel observes that in opera and song ‘the text is the servant of the music’ and that great scripted drama and poetry often do not make for great opera and song.

In the pursuit of musical necessity ‘sound,just as sound, is treated as an end in itself’, and ‘artistic note-formation [is] its essential end’. ‘The real region [of the musician’s] compositions remains a rather formal inwardness, pure sound; and his immersion in the topic becomes not the formation of something external but rather a retreat into the inner life’s own freedom, a self-enjoyment’. This retreat into inner freedom and self-enjoyment that purely instrumental music is to accomplish is not, however, for the sake of either pure auditory delectation or immediate sense-based pleasure only. Ideas, particularly the idea of completely accomplished individuality in its achievement of expressive rational freedom, are to enter into the composition not discursively but in and through the arrangement of sound alone. ‘The difficult task assigned in music is to make [the] inwardly veiled life and energy [of the subject] echo on its own account in notes … and to immerse ideas into this element of sound, in order to produce them anew for feeling and sympathy’.

Arrangements of notes may well depart from the effort to embody the inner life of the expressive rational subject and so become merely decorative, for instance the more ordinary movements of Antonio Vivaldi, (1678–17410, or Johann Pachelbel’s, (1653–1706), ‘Canon in D’. Music ‘may easily become something utterly devoid of thought and feeling’. Freedom from any fixed content, either external or conceptually articulated, ‘will therefore always more or less carry on into caprice’, at least in comparison with the definiteness of presentation in painting and in most poetry. The composing of purely instrumental music carries with it an inherent risk of collapsing into an activity of thoughtless fancy yielding an arbitrary or merely decorative product. As Carl Dahlhaus, (1928–19890, observed: ‘Hegel’s philosophy of music is stamped, in every phase of its development, with his apprehension that emancipating music [from text and from representation], and emancipating a soul that returns into itself in ‘pure sounding’, will lead off into sterility’. And furthermore for Dahlhaus one way, according to Hegel, for music to embody ideas is to make use of a text, dramatic libretto in opera or lyric poetry as a point de depart for song. ‘From the start the libretto gives us distinct ideas and tears our minds away from that more dreamlike element of feeling which is without ideas’, and so helps to overcome a tendency of music toward caprice and mere sonic decoration, but while the risk of caprice is inherent in composing absolute music the outcome of caprice is not.

‘La musicienne Italienne’, 1874, Pierre Paul-Léon Glaize

Absolute music can embody content abstractly without text and it must do so if it is to be successful as significant art and even music as accompaniment ‘must not sink to such servitude [of the text] that … it forgets the free flow of its own movements and thereby, instead of creating a self complete work of art, produces merely the intellectual trick ofusing musical means of expression for the truest possible indication of a subject-matter outside them and already cut and dried without them. Every perceptible compulsion, every cramping of free production, breaks up the impression [to be made by music]’. Instead, the composer can and must produce a strictly musical development, either in setting a text or in producing music alone. Only in this way can ideas, and in particular the idea of being a subject capable of expressive individuality, be immersed in sound for feeling and sympathy directed at the developing sound itself. Music then ‘claims as its own the depths of a person’s inner life as such’. And it achieves this first as the sounds that compose a musical work exist only as an ideal phenomenon, that is, as something essentially realized in experience, we hear the bounded vibrational results of the use of the violin or horn rather than attending to the violin or horn as physical objects. Second as the music as composed, developing sound exists inherently in recollection, as we follow the succession of the notes and their connection with one another. Roger Scruton, (1944–2020), has noted that works of music are tertiary objects composed not simply ofsounds (as either physically measurable pitches or pure momentary qualia) but also of tones, heard as leading to one another. It requires memory and attention to hold developing motives, themes, and harmonic and rhythmic patterns in mind as patterns, not all of whose elements are present at any single moment, and the pattern that is the music must be followed from within recollection. As Scruton puts it: ‘We might say that a work of music is a tertiary object, as are the tones that compose it. Only a being with certain intellectual and imaginative capacities can hear music, and these are precisely the capacities required for the perception of tertiary qualities’. Hegel makes the point in his terminology by noting that a work of music ‘is a communication which … is carried by the inner subjective life, and is to exist for that life alone’. Only a being capable of recognitive recollection can follow and apprehend the work which itself exists essentially in being apprehended and the composer produces a temporal arrangement of tones through which marked differences (changes of pitch, of motive, of theme, of harmony, of rhythm) are both encountered and overcome, housed within an overall intelligible, recollectable ensemble or pattern. In this way composers explicitly test and develop their powers to encounter and organize difference thereby establishing that they themselves are coherent subjectivities across time who have survived and flourished through an encounterwith difference. Hegel writes:

‘Recollection [Erinnerung] of the theme adopted is at the same time the artist’s inner collection [Er-innerung] of himself, i.e., an inner conviction that he is the artist and can expatiate in the theme at will and move hither and thither in it.’

- ‘Lectures on Aesthetics’

Through this recollection of a developing pattern, expressive unity of the self with itself is tested and developed, abstractly across time, in and through the occurrence of different experiences (markedly new pitches, motives, themes, rhythms, harmonies) that are nonetheless experienced as forming a unified whole (established by overall harmonic development and rhythmic and instrumental consistency). The self in general has the possibility and task of ‘maintaining itself in its other as the self and only the self as such. The self is in time, and time is the being of the subject himself’. Initially its self-identity is ‘wholly abstract and empty and it consists in making itself its object’, that is, in having an accomplished, difference-embracing unity with itself as its task. An empty succession of unrelated mere nows must be organized so that I can recognize my life in relation to my experiences as mine. The identity of the self with itself must, in the terminology of the Phenomenology, come about or be made explicit. By organizing divergent materials into a unified pattern essentially displayed in a subject’s apprehension, music overcomes the incoherence and fragmentation of the self and achieves, within its sphere of tones, expressive freedom and unity with oneself. It ‘carries this liberation [from abstract, empty subjectivity and mere unintelligible temporal succession and into the experience of meaningful, differentiated totality and selfhood] to the most extreme heights’.

‘The self … only becomes a self by concentrating its momentary experiences and returning into itself from them. … The self is what persists in and by itself, and its self-concentration interrupts the indefinite series of points of time and makes gaps in their abstract continuity; and in its awareness of its discrete experiences, the self recalls itself and finds itself again and thus is freed from mere self-externalization and change’.

- ‘Lectures on Aesthetics’

This achievement of the self is brought about initially through the composer’s act of construction but is likewise carried out in and through the listener’s attentive following of the musical development. Composers are, after all, the first auditors, often in imagination alone, of their own work as they monitor the course of the musical development that they are attempting to achieve, thus checking on“how it is going. As Julian Johnson, (1963 — ), puts it the self whether composer or listener ‘experiences the temporal progression as its own’. Or as R. K. Elliott, (1924–2006), puts it, we experience the music from within ‘as if it were our own expression’. There is neither definite representation here nor, frequently, is there definite expression of emotion, but there is significance for the subject, the accomplishment and reinforcement of its life as a subject, in this participation. Gurney the formalist makes the same point: ‘The deep satisfaction felt in winning our way from note to note, or phrase to phrase, continually gives us a sense of inward triumph [even] in music whose general expression, so far as it is describable, would not be called triumphant. … In poor music, note after note and phrase after phrase seem to present themselves trivially and pointlessly; but in music we enjoy, as we progressively grasp the form, the sense of absolute possession, of oneness with it, the cogent and unalterable rightness of every step in our progress, may produce the most vivid impression of triumphal advance’. (Side note: ‘poor music’? ‘music we enjoy?’ Well I agree that on matters appertaining to the arts it is not ‘all a matter of taste’ however we define taste but taste does play a part. I am rather fond of Krautrock, as it is affectionately called, German progressive rock, and as a German female friend of mine once told me progressive rock is a rather male thing so maybe ‘gender identity’ does play its part in music after all. Listen for instance to the great Ash Ra Tempel, one wonders what Kant or Hegel would make of them):

The key to a liberating establishing via attentive listening of the unity of the self with itself is musical development, the coherent, re-collectable integration of various musical elements with one another across time. In describing the achievement of unity of musical pattern across differences Hegel offers a short account of what Adolf Bernhard Marx, (1795–1866), later christened and codified as sonata form.

‘In a musical composition a topic can be unfolded in its more specific relations, oppositions, conflicts, transitions, complications, and resolutions owing to the way in which a theme is first developed and then another enters [exposition: first theme, second theme], and now both of them in their alternation or their interfusion advance and change [development], one becoming subordinate here and then more prominent again there, now seeming defeated and then entering again victorious’.

- ‘Lectures on Aesthetics’

Dahlhaus observed Hegel’s explicit condemnation Carl Maria von Weber’s, (1786–1826), mosaic technique of presenting persons on stage via unintegrated characteristic musical motives, without thematic interweaving and development, as in von Weber’’s ‘Der Freischutz’ whose Berlin premier Hegel attended in June 1821. (See the comment I have just made concerning taste. Weber is a composer I am rather fond of. Well he could certainly write a good tune .. have you noticed how very little of this discussion focusses on a good tune, the kind of thing we can hum to ourselves?) In his Freischutz critique Hegel displays a normative classicism or preference for the integrative formal techniques of the classical style. Thematic contrast and development is, however, not the only device for achieving unity of musical pattern across variation. Hegel’s most general term for the overall structure of successful music is ‘cadenced interjection’, [kadenzierte Interjektion]. ‘Music is itself art only by being a cadenced interjection’.

Interjection here implicates something between a mere immediate cry and the putting forward of a conceptually formed judgement for contemplation, it is more formed than ‘a natural shriek of feeling’ and something less formed and more specific to its material medium than a thought that can be assessed as true or false. Interjection implicates the insertion into a structure of a compositional unit, a new theme or motif (melodic, rhythmic, or harmonic), as a marked new focus of attention. And cadenced then implicates that interjections must lead toward some culmination, toward a resolution of the material that has been interjectively introduced, and closure or consummation, rather than simple cessation, must be achieved, it is devoutly to be wished. The unavoidable means, according to Hegel, for establishing musical unity over significant stretches of short-term attention is rhythm. Introduction of a bar or measure functions ‘to establish a specific temporal unit as the measure and rule for the marked contemplation of the previously undifferentiated temporal succession’. Without bars, that is to say, musical events cannot be readily marked for hearing by having beginnings and endings come on strong rather than weak beats (and from what I have heard musicians are especially fond of bars at musical events in another sense especially those in English orchestras). One needs a system of regular strong and weak beats in order to achieve this marking of thematic and melodic material for hearing. ‘Only if the definiteness of the measure conquers and regulates what is arbitrarily unlike [i.e., specifically different pitches and sonorities] is that definiteness proved to be the unity of accidental variety and the rule for it’, said Hegel. Over significant stretches of short-term musical attention rhythmic patterning is necessary for musical hearing of what is significant.

Over longer stretches of development there must be governing ‘deeper relations and secrets of harmony which have a necessity of their own’. A successful musical piece must, in some way, move from consonance into dissonance and then into resolution. Successful (?) music:

‘… abandons a purely consonant progression, goes on to oppositions, summons all the starkest contradictions and dissonances and gives proof of its own power by stirring up all the powers of harmony, it has the certainty nevertheless of being able to allay the battles of these powers [i.e., to achieve resolution] and thereby to celebrate the satisfying triumph ofmelodic tranquility [in the coincidence of melodic closure with harmonic closure]’.

- ‘Lectures on Aesthetics

In general as the music develops, melody, or what Hegel designates ‘the poetic element in music, the language of the soul’, ‘float[s] independendy above the bar, rhythm, and harmony’. It has its own contour. ‘And yet on the other hand it has no means of actualization except the rhythmical measured movement ofthe notes and their essential and necessary [harmonic] relations’. Rhythm is required to mark significant melodic musical events (beginnings and ends of phrases), and harmony is required in order to lend to the melody a significant place in an overall, longer-term harmonic development, where in the end harmonic closure and melodic closure coincide.

‘Sapho jouant de la lyre’, Léopold Burthe, (1823–1860)

In focusing upon the importance of the coincidence of harmonic and melodic closure within a rhythmic structure, Hegel mediates the classic opposition between Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s, (1712–1778), advocacy of melody as the natural locus of the life of music and Jean-Philippe Rameau’s, (1683–1764), emphasis upon the necessity of properly developed harmonic development in a successful work. ‘In [its] close link with harmony the melody does not forgo its freedom at all; it only liberates itself from the subjectivity of arbitrary caprice in fanciful developments and bizarre changes and only acquires its true independence precisely in this way’. The freely achieved substantive and meaningful unity of the melody requires appropriate harmonic cadencing as its closure. Melody, one might say, stands to harmony as Willkur (choice or subjective particularity) stands to rational necessity (reasonable rules for selfformation and expression in social life), the former finds its significance in relation to the latter and only therein, and vice versa. ‘We have a battle between freedom and necessity: a battle between imagination’s freedom to give itself up to its soaring [in melody] and the necessity ofthose harmonic relations which imagination needs for its expression [as opposed to mere unburdening, discharge, or shrieking] and in which its own significance lies’

Hegel’s account of music as a fine art applies most obviously to classical style music (Franz Joseph Haydn, (1732–1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, (1756–1791), Ludwig van Beethoven, (1770–1827). True to its norms Hegel laid stress upon the importance of thematic developmental structure (exposition and development), overall harmonic organization, the use ofregular rhythms, and the working-through of motivic materials in overall compositional unity. When appropriate formal structure is achieved, then music is properly freed from dependence on any text, and it displays a value for the life of a subject that is independent ofliturgical or other extramusical cultural uses. Hegel observes that ‘nowadays … two miracles have occurred in music: one in the conception, the other in the genius of virtuosi in the execution. … The result is that. … the notion of what music is and what it can do has been more and more widened’, as though it has just recently been discovered what art music properly can be and is. Hegel even reportedly remarked in dinner table conversation, after having heard the revival of Johann Sebastian Bach’s, (1685–1750), St. Matthew Passion by Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, (1809–1847), in Berlin in March 1829: ‘That is no proper music; we have really gotten further than that now’.

Dahlhaus, who cites this remark, goes on to speculate that Hegel may here have been endorsing Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann’s, (1776–1822), thought, in his review of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in the 1810 ‘Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung’ that Beethoven’s purely instrumental music is itself of direct religious significance so that we need not revert any longer to textually based Passion music. Though it is unclear whether he has Haydn, Mozart, or Beethoven explicitly in mind, Hegel does remark that ‘especially in recent times music has torn itself free from a content already clear on its own account and retreated in this way into its own medium’. This retreat comes with a price in that loss of textual content means that purely instrumental music ‘has lost its power over the whole inner life, all the more so as the pleasure it can give relates to only one side of the art, namely bare interest in the purely musical element in the composition and its skillfulness, a side of music which is for connoisseurs only and scarcely appeals to the general human interest in art’. As a consequence of this retreat from textual content there has arisen in relation to music a division between amateurs and experts: ‘An essential difference begins to arise between the dilettante and the expert’. Amateurs continue to prefer text-based ‘music as accompaniment’ and are tempted to try ‘snatching a meaning’ out of what is to them an ‘apparently insubstantial procession of sounds’.

Experts, in contrast, have at ‘their fingers’ ends the inner musical relations between notes and instruments [and] love instrumental music in its artistic use of harmonies and melodious interactings and changing forms’. They are ‘entirely satisfied by the music itself’. Yet although Hegel, as Dahlhaus has emphasized, worries about the inherent risk of musical emptiness and about a tendency of musical development itself to become capricious, there is, for him, no going back to arty earlier text and ritual based musical culture, and he identifies more with the experts than with amateurs (despite his own admission that he is ‘little versed in this sphere’. Fine art music must develop as music alone, and in virtue of the most natural and obvious application of Hegel’s views to classical style music, one might well wonder whether those views amount only to a preference for purely instrumental music in the classical style. Is such preference at heart a matter of Hegel’s class identification with educated experts, musical and otherwise? Or can Hegel’s views offer any insights into post-classical style musical life? Hegel himself argued that ultimately the threat of empty, formal, and merely decorative virtuosity in both composition and execution could be met not within music alone, but only by poetry. Art, according to Hegel, cannot remain ‘exclusively [in] the element ofthe inner life’, as purely instrumental music does, but must go on ‘to bring to our contemplation not only the inner life but also, and equally, the appearance and actuality of that life in its external reality’. It must show in particular how intellectually formed ideas are lived, how the ideas we have of ourselves do or can give a particular shape to our form of social life.

In order to do this art ‘must use the sensuous material of its disclosure as simply a means of communication and therefore must degrade it [the sensuous material] to being a [conventionalized] sign which has no significance by and in itself’. That is to say, poetry, not music (which attends only to the sensuous sound-material in itself and for the sake of the inner life alone), must become the more salient form of art, the form that is more adequate to art’s vocation. But then what should we say about music after the heyday of the classical style? Dahlhaus remarks that Hegel’s turn toward poetry and verbal-ideational content, away from music alone, as the most salient form of art in later modernity can be understood as embodying Hegel’s recognition of a genuine problem that classical style music and post-classical style music confront. There is a risk attaching to the emancipation of music from all textual content in order to concentrate on the musical development of instrumental sound alone, and this emancipation sets up real possibilities of empty, merely decorative formalism and of a musical art for experts that has lost all contact with vernacular life, in relation to which merely popular music remains allied more closely with song, dance, and social use.

‘… at this passing moment by localoption in the birds’ lodging, me pheasants among, where I’ll dreamt that I’ll dwealth mid warblers’ walls when throstles and choughs to my sigh hiehied, with me hares standing up well and me longlugs dittoes … ‘ James Joyce, (1882–1941), ‘Finnegans Wake’. ‘Give me some music; music, moody food Of us that trade in love’, William Shakespeare, (1564–1614), ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, Act II, Sc. 5.

As Dahlhaus puts it: ‘The dialectic of emancipation and estrangement, of autonomy and loss of substance — which one could say really became evident in the new music of the twentieth century — is already recognized [by Hegel, in his response to instrumental music, especially to Beethoven] as a central problem’. Can these problems of estrangement, loss of textual and social-liturgical substance, and of the fragmenting of musical culture into high expert culture and low popular art be addressed by music alone, in Hegel’s terms? (As a Joyce devotee of course the division into high and low art is not one I simply accept, they can feed off each other). Meyer argues that they cannot, we live, he says, at the end of the Renaissance. Once upon a time, from roughly 1450 in Italy to roughly 1950 in the United States and Western Europe, the cultivation of individuality mattered as a central cultural project. People, or at least some people at the center of culture, thought that it was important to have a free and independent personality and to determine the shape of one’s own life from one’s own resources of personality, rather than passively inheriting one’s life from one’s forebears.

They further thought it important that the life thus freely shaped should be rationally intelligible to others, as opposed to living in what Hegel calls a ‘mush of heart, friendship, and enthusiasm’. Instead, subjective particularity would find objective fulfillment in a shared and self-consciously willed life of social freedom. But alas, Meyer argues, that Hegelian project is no longer on the books for us. As a result of the modern conditions of industrial work, spectacular commodity production and consumption, and the bureaucratically regulated reproduction of culture, no one has time or interest any longer in such cultivation of self and society toward social freedom and accomplished individuality. Once upon a time, when that Hegelian project was on the books, the most valuable and central form of music was absolute, purely instrumental music that moved from initial statement to complication to some kind of surprisingly necessitated resolution, as itself an abstract parable of the centrally valuable path of development to which subjectivity is or was thought to be open, just as Hegel argues.

Meyer defines maturity as ‘self-imposed tendency inhibition and the willingness to bear uncertainty’, and the music that was most valued from 1450 to 1950 abstractly displayed, according to Meyer, development toward maturity. As opposed to a music of less structured sound surfaces, Meyer favours the music of syntactic development. ‘It is because the evaluation of alternative probabilities and the retrospective understanding of the relationships among musical events as they actually occurred leads to self-awareness and individualization that the syntactical response [to music] is more valuable than those responses in which the ego is dissolved’. But now, Meyer contends, such responses are typically not open to us, for we no longer have the project of individualization available to us. Increasingly, from 1900 to 1975, ‘the idea that progress is inherent in the processes of history no longer seems credible’. As a result, in the music world there is now ‘a coexistence of a number of alternative styles’ in ‘a kind of dynamic steady state’. That is, pluralism reigns, many alternative styles are available. But none of these alternative styles is central for significant music in relation to a significantly shared cultural project, for there is now no significantly shared cultural project. Things happen. People write this and that. But the works that are thus produced are receivable only as bits of formal organization that might be liked or not by different people, as may be, not as abstract patternings of the valuable development of subjectivity as such.

A sybaritic presentism-cum-consumerism dominates, just as Hegel feared could happen. As the major alternative styles that are now circulating in culture, Meyer lists the following. Academic serialism in the style of Milton Byron Babbitt, (1916–2011), largely an intellectual coterie music, dependent upon government and university support for its continuance, and not really finding any audience, because not producing any hearable structures of significance. Primitive or tribal music, that is, rock, dominated by repetitive rhythms and motifs, by verbal text, and by a simple verse and chorus structure, with no syntactic development comparable to that of Western art music. Ambient music or elevator music, the light music of distraction while we work in our cubicles or dine with our friends. Transcendental particularism and aleatoric music, or music as unstructured sound, in the style of John Milton Cage’s, (1912–1992), definition of music as ‘sounds heard at a bus stop’. (Milton Cage? Byron Babbitt. I wonder if anything can be read into that, concerning nominative determinism?) Zen-like, Cage urges, we are to open our ears to the being of sound as sound, without worrying much about compositional development. And that’s about it. Various intermediate compromises are possible, for instance, the minimalism Glass and Reich combines bits of the repetitiveness of rock with the sound surfaces of ambient music with aleatorism’s rejection of development. But music no longer plays the central cultural role once fulfilled by Western art music and explicit returns to the structures of Western art music in the style of the new Romanticism of David Leo Diamond, (1915–2005), or Alan Hovhaness, (1911–2000), can be heard merely as either pastiche or empty melodism (whatever empty melodism is supposed to mean. A good tune?).

All of which reminds me of Marxist philosopher and one partly responsible for critical theory nonsense still causing us so much annoyance in this present age Theodor W. Adorno’s, (1903–1969), remarks about jazz: ‘Improvisation is a type of freedom as such, and being able to get paid demonstrating that freedom in front of those who wish to deny you of it, is what jazz means’. His ideological prejudices are showing. There is absolutely nothing in the least enlightening concerning the aesthetics of jazz or how it works as a form of musical expression. Give us a rest with all of that Marxist/class struggle/oppression underlying all artistic expression shallowness. Just have a read of what he says about bach: ‘Bach .. renounced his obedience, as antiquated polyphonist, to the trend of the times, a trend he himself had shaped, in order to help it reach its innermost truth, the emancipation of the subject to objectivity in a coherent whole of which subjectivity was the origin. Down to the subtlest structural details it is always a question of the undiminished coincidence of the harmonic functional and of the contrapuntal dimension. The distant past is entrusted with the utopia of the musical subject-object: anachronism becomes a harbinger of things to come’).

They are certainly not the only available alternatives. Hegel’s account of absolute music as significantly embodying the inner life through cadenced interjection in fact usefully suggests further alternatives that have not gone unexploited. Recall that Hegel argues that purely instrumental music must have development, it cannot simply linger in continuous consonance, there must be interjections or marked musical events, further housed within an overall cadential structure. This account suggests a number of techniques of composition that draw upon the normative authority of classical style music but without simply replicating it. The rate of harmonic development (so-called harmonic rhythm) can be increased, that is, the tonic can be moved away from at a more rapid rate, as in the music of Louis-Hector Berlioz, (1803–1869) , for instance. The range of dissonant sonorities that are introduced can be increased, as in Wagner, Gustav Mahler, (1860–1911), and Claude Debussy, (1862–1918), thereby making available their introduction within a new work as a marked musical event. Folk melodic motives (particularly previously unexploited modal motives) can be picked up and subjected to thematic variation, as in Béla Viktor János Bartók, (1881–1945), and Igor Stravinsky, (1882–1971), or as in Olivier Messiaen’s, (1908–1992), use of modal motifs taken from birdcalls (see above). New instruments with new sonorities to be explored can be introduced, as in the exploitation of percussion in twentieth-century works from Bartok and Stravinsky through George Crumb, (1929–2022), and contemporary investigations of Javanese Gamelan music.

‘La Musica’, 1880, Antoine Auguste Ernest Hébert

Hegel himself notes that ‘freedom from the pedantry of meter and the barbarism of a uniform rhythm’ may help to keep the melody from sounding ‘humdrum, bare, and lacking in invention’. Bartok, Stravinsky, Copland, and Shostakovich have significantly exploited the possibilities of introducing accents on offbeats, using more complicated rhythmic figures, and varying the time signature from measure to measure. To be sure, each of these compositional possibilities carries risks. Increased rate of harmonic development, greater dissonance, borrowed melodic motives, new instrumentation, and rhythmic variation all tend to call attention to the local sound surface and away from an awareness of overall harmonic development. But then, this is just what it means to have a marked musical event: an interjection. Given the compositional achievements of the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries, from Bartok and Zoltán Kodály. (1882–1967), to Stravinsky and Aaron Copland, (1900–1990), Dmitri Shostakovich, (1906–1975) on to Sofia Asgatovna Gubaidulina, (1931 — ), Chaya Czernowin, (1957 — ), and many others albeit attention is often gained slowly. There is no reason to think that it is impossible to house interjections within an overall cadential structure in absorbing ways that continue to engage the inner life of subjectivity.

What we hear as musical achievement continues to be describable in the Hegelian terms of cadenced interjection. Adorno remarked, (not that we care), ‘Hegel’s thesis that art is consciousness of plight has been confirmed beyond anything he could have envisioned’, (I don’t know where he gets that from), and it continues to be confirmed in purely instrumental art music as powerfully as anywhere. At the conclusion of the Gospel of John, the writer assumes explicitly the role of witness to something sacred that has gone on to play itself out in further events beyond the framework of his narrative.

‘This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen’.

- St. John’s Gospel

Hegel’s final words on music that one may fancifully suppose to be understood as a distant echo of John are: ‘These are the most essential things that I have heard and felt in music and the general points which I have abstracted and assembled for consideration of our present subject’. Many more things, words and music, might be and would be written, but it appears apt to regard Hegel’s account of instrumental music as a fine art as itself a form of witness to ‘the elemental might of music’ that displays itself even unto our own time.

‘A Melody’, c. 1904, John William Godward

The nightingale, if she should sing by day,

When every goose is cackling, would be thought

No better a musician than the wren.

How many things by season season’d are

To their right praise, and true perfection!

— William Shakespeare, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Act V, Sc. 1.

To be continued …



David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.

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David Proud

David Proud

David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.