Music is a kind of language

When we say music is a kind of language, in fact we are propounding it as a means of expression whose substratum is time. A musical composition is a ' new existence' that goes beyond itself to an extent that words cannot express. In an encounter whit this phenomenon, we are released from all the usual restrictions, such as words, metaphors, definitions etc. which burden artistic expression. I am surprised at the extent with which Heidegger emphasizes poetry, which after all has the above mentioned restrictions, as a means to seek the truth. (See thesis 5)

I myself as a composer find it very difficult to inform my audience of a process, which I believe is a musical composition of the contradictions that Adorno tried to explain. Expressing musical thoughts in words is so difficult that except for very rare cases, I have not been able to explain these 'moments' to my satisfaction. Among all my theses about music, this first one is indeed the most difficult to convey to others. We are actually in a contradictory state, because we want to 'speak' by 'the other side of language'.

The permanent change of the definition of art

The definition of art changes depending on historical and cultural factors.

There are examples from periods of history in which ideologues or philosophers, influenced by a certain system of thought, viewed art in specific ways that have restricted artists and have damaged the dynamism of art. Two of these important examples are the Communist and Nazi eras. In both of these cases ideologues wanted to define art for artists and in each case the result was a tragedy in the history of art. Discussing the third thesis, we will mention one of the main problems of the rulership of the ideologues in the philosophy of art. The only thing we point to now is a historical error that took place in totalitarian societies but was also not avoided by some great philosophers; and that is the inclination to have a 'final definition of art'.

As soon as you present an everlasting prescription, you get into a contradiction with the dynamism of art, because the implements of creating art are always influenced by many factors in particular the continual science and technology. The only system of thought that can endure this change is one which anticipates change. For example, the ideas of some art experts at the time of Stalin, like Godunov, do not offer any opportunity to understand the history of art. In the USSR, great music personalities had to repeatedly ask for forgiveness, because they could not adapt themselves to the ruling definitions of art in their country. Many of them were targets of Stalin's persecutions. The same happened in Germany. Hindemith, Bartok, Adorno, Stephan Zweig and many others escaped from Europe to save their lives and artistic integrity. As we said before, totalitarian governments and their cultural 'musts' were not the only restrictions for artists. There are many great artists and philosophers in history who themselves bring artistic thought to a dead end by their adherence to a particular philosophy.

Let us look at some examples. Plato's 'Ideas' were designed to continue to guide the philosophy of art for several centuries after his death. This manifested itself in Plato's desire to exclude poets from his utopia, thus establishing him as a pioneer in censorship. The artistic cognition of Hegel also disables us creatively by taking us to the past instead of opening a door to the future. Tolstoy's attitude towards the philosophy of art was one of the most culturally damaging to be held by a prominent writer. Whit his moral viewpoints and moral preconceptions, he reached a stage of thought that even allowed him to comment on the technical problems of music for which he was clearly not qualified. Great personalities like Lukacs and Sartre, who have managed to save themselves from the restrictions of communist ' musts' have also entangled artists by their analysis of the rules of class warfare.

The nobility of the existence of music

The philosophical thoughts of Adorno were strongly influenced by the genocides of the Third Reich, while he did not pay attention to all the genocides that happened before Hitler. Or why does he blame the masses for 'Culture Industry'? Neither Adorno's aversion of the masses' ignorance nor the artistic commitment defined by socialistic realism are the answers to the advanced cultural crisis of capitalism. The solution for this problem is to focus on the 'commitment' of artists towards society instead of trying to create works of art which are supposed to have social messages. We get back to this subject when discussing the seventh thesis.

Philosophical and ideological 'musts' forces artists to impose a meaning upon the piece of art before its creation. Music is affected more then other branches of art. Defining the identity of a musical piece before its existence is a contradiction. Earlier we said music is a kind of language. If this 'kind' of language is pure, it is not able to 'describe'; so we can not create an identity before its origination. History proves this claim with an incomparable decisiveness. At the time of Stalin in the USSR, many pieces were composed with predetermined identities in honor of Marxism and Leninism by the request of the governmental authorities or by the artist's own whishes. Among these pieces those with artistic rightfulness remained and they were honored in both East and West, but the political weight of the other ones did not succeed to help them survive. For example those compositions of Shostakovich that were accepted by the official policies of the USSR and were supposed to honor the ideals of communism and negate those of capitalism were as much glorified in the western countries as they were appreciated in the USSR. Many other compositions that got to the same peaks of honor at the same time in the USSR were completely forgotten later on. Why? Because the identities, that were imposed on these pieces before their existence, could not bring them artistic rightfulness. Therefore, being judged from the artistic viewpoint after their origination, these compositions were often forgotten after being conceived.

Apart from the composer, a composition finds an independent life; no piece can ever stay alive merely because of its composer's wishes and thoughts. The existence of a musical work is much more independent and powerful than what someone has planned for it.


Several centuries of development elevated music to an academic field. Noticing the relation between music and the growth of culture, we realize that academic methods became instrumental for approaching what I like to call the 'unknown element' in art. Other terms may be used instead of 'unknown element', for example 'truth', which was in fact the ultimate goal of art for some twentieth century philosophers. Hafiz and Rumi used other terms for this purpose. I personally prefer to use the phrase 'unknown element'.

I deeply believe one should search a lot for the truth which lies on the border between 'specified' and 'unspecified'. This is exactly like distinguishing between 'perfection' and 'imperfection'. What is the difference between them? The fuzzy border that separates 'truth' from 'untruth' is another example of this. What lies beyond Harmony, Counterpoint, Serial and etc. which are studied to learn composition? It is what I call the 'unknown element'. What is the link between knowledge and the 'unknown element'? That is what I call inspiration. So inspiration is the lost link that connects artists to the 'other side' or 'what is beyond knowledge'.

The transformation of art values; an end to the existential necessity of decrepit aesthetics

The various approaches of artists towards the vague limit between truth and their self - consciousness before the addressee, together lay the ground for a specific way of expression, which we can call 'style'. At the beginning of the twentieth century there existed the option of employing a variety of styles which in the second half of the century became a necessity due to the wide ranging background social revolutions in the modern world.

Prior to that development, the profound influence of aesthetics on artistic consciousness, including the consciousness of both artist and art expert, caused many art lovers to make wrong value judgments. In the nineteenth century, the homogenization of the components of a piece of art inspired by the expression of different artistic viewpoints gave cause for a superficial approach to evaluations and definitions. Aesthetics had changed the artist into a machine that sought predetermined meanings. Nevertheless, artists under pressure from the necessity of simultaneously moving towards the unknown world and bounding themselves to defined rules, were achieving discoveries that were forbidden by aesthetics. In fact, aesthetics was an obstacle to discovery.

At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of twentieth century, a few uprisings formed against aesthetics and in fact Nietzsche's 'Transformation of Values' was its downfall. Moussorgsky , Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Webern and Debussy each in his own way found faults in the ruling values. Gradually, with the acceleration of discoveries, there were more opportunities to encounter different, various and even contradictory problems. Now we know better why Brahms and Bruckner were both right. If they had known Adorno's ideas, they would not have rejected each other so much.

I myself have experienced ten different styles over several decades. If I were imprisoned by Tolstoy's thought, I would have experienced only one style or maybe through several decades, I could manage to move from one style to a second one. But now, not only am I able to experience different styles in various pieces but I can also talk to my audience via different styles in the same piece. I think one of the most tragic results of aesthetics was limiting the listener to look for pre-analyzed issues. I believe that we can discover truth through multilogical structures of artistic thought, this being the only way we can encompass the contradictions that 'truth' carries in itself. I argue that by abandoning sequential problem solving that has indisputably dominated 'logic', especially since Newton, we are able to pursue simultaneously a number of X's. I therefore call my own way of structuring music the 'quest for meta X'.

Music and the Audience

What Adorno calls 'Culture Industry' is in my opinion caused mainly by the manipulation of strong multinational economic institutions. It is important to see the roots of manipulation before mentioning the mass understanding. Adorno insists on the rupture of Schoenberg from the past, while many other researchers and composers noticed the fact that by letting go of tonality, Schoenberg got back to the classical form with more intense obsession. Adorno did not notice that there were still many more events to take place before we could talk about a rupture, if there indeed was one. If Schoenberg had not been separated from the masses by the new manipulation techniques the split between modern music and the masses would not have happened the way it did.

In the first thesis I explained that music is a kind of language. This thought obliges us to study music and its relation to the listener. Just as Sartre separated prose from other arts while studying the relation between art and society, it is at times preferable to study music independently. Sartre talks about 'word', while music goes beyond 'word'. The reader receives directly the writer's thought while music reaches the listener through the performer. Whereas the composer is somehow separated from the listener and the performer is always independent from the composer, the performer is in direct contact with the audience through his/her performance. The origination of a musical piece is a sudden event and we can never replicate such an event; therefore we have to accept that a complete understanding of the composer's original thought is almost impossible. Considering what we called musical inspiration ( thesis IV) we can take a step further and say that it is even impossible for the composer himself to 'understand' his piece completely. This should be very tranquilizing for us as listeners. It means that if a composer has been able to put some secrets into a piece, they might remain undiscoverable in the future. Thus a musical piece is always alive and always generating questions about itself; questions that can only be answered musically and only by the listener. The composer makes a musical statement and the listener will have a musical reaction.

We should be able to distinguish between the two main methods of approaching a composition: the technical approach and the pure approach. Naturally, the musical background of listeners varies tremendously. Since time, place, environment, musical knowledge and level of awareness are different from person to person, it is difficult to specify where a particular listener falls within the spectrum of listening abilities. Technical approach is a professional approach that musicians usually use to evaluate compositions. Pure approach, which hardly received any attention in the philosophy of art, is the listener's perception at the time of the live performance of a piece depending on the quality of the performance as well as the time, place, environment, musical knowledge and level of awareness. As a composer, I have clearly experienced that only a good performance can convey the message of the ' unknown element' to the listener.

While we find music separated form the composer and view aesthetics as no longer fruitful and we define music as 'a process of formation', we come to a fundamental question: what will be the relationship between an 'artist' and 'society'? This relationship can be a humanistic one in which case it would be possible to say that the artist has a moral commitment towards society. At the same time the artist should not try to use art as a platform to expound on his social or political opinions (thesis III). Just as inspecting the rightfulness of the opinion of a scientist is not the duty of the government nor of society, we should leave the 'technical' judgments of music to the experts. As we said before in thesis II, we have the right to expect from a composer a moral commitment to society, but we cannot expect that a musical composition reflect its creator's commitment, because of a simple reason: it will never be possible (thesis III).

Copyright © 2015. Alireza Mashayekhi, Des. & Dev.: Tehran Studio