Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Philosophy And Music
26 April 2016
Because I love music, I was curious to know what influence ancient Greek philosophers had on music. Plato and Aristotle actually had a huge impact on western music. They shaped the way Europeans thought about music and played music for centuries. In some ways, their ideas about music are still with us.
The roots of western music go back to early Greek philosophy. The word music comes from muses, the word used by Greek mythology writers to describe the different arts. The most famous early musician was Orpheus from Greek mythology. Many ancients thought Pythagoras “invented” the system of music. His followed believed that Pythagoras discovered the musical intervals (perfect fourth, perfect fifth, octave) when he was working in a blacksmith shop (he struck the anvil with different sized hammers and heard different pitches). Pythagoreans though music followed the idea of harmonia, which meant the unification of parts in an orderly whole based on mathematical laws. The ancient Greeks though music was both a science and art. They believed it could be studied as a mathematical discipline (like astronomy or geometry) or enjoyed as entertainment.
Plato and Aristotle both wrote about music in education. Plato said that education had two parts: gymnastics toned the body, and music shaped the mind and built character. In the Republic, Plato stressed affected a person’s ethos or ethical character. Because music reflected the harmonia of the universe, it could be aligned with the harmonia in a person’s soul. Different scales and tones and rhythms produced different results on people’s soul and character. Plato warned that only two modes, Dorian and Phrygian, should be taught because they represented temperance and courage. Other scales and rhythms could harm a person’s character. Plato also thought music should not be changed because it could undermine the order in society. Aristotle was not as strict about music. In Politics he wrote that music was both educational and therapeutic because it purged negative emotions. Aristotle also warned that citizens should not practice instruments too much because it was vulgar.
Greek philosophy ideas about music are still with us. In recent years, some people were worried about the effect of music on people’s behavior (especially with rock n’ roll, heavy metal, rap, etc.). Also, the idea that music reflects the natural order was embraced by Mozart and other classical composers.