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Western Classical music is a broad swath of culture ranging from the sublime religious music of say, Palestrina to the personal emotiveness of Romantic era composers. Individuality, group feeling, attempts at objective beauty, personal preferences raised to universal standards all jostle in the mix. There are profoundly intellectual works and composers (such as Bach) and others of plainly proletarian appeal.
All these kinds of musics were created in the cauldron of European society as it also boiled up ideas of freedom, reason, unreason, capitalism, communism, alchemy, science, poetry, and empire.
It would be a foolish person who tried to pin down classical music or even attempted to name its salient features. At most one can speak of different aspects, different emphasises, different periods of preference.
But, through all these things, and with vast variety, Western classical music might (and I emphasise the word might) be said to have aimed at some kind of Beauty. What that was did vary -- now it was taste, now it was 'pleasing', now philosophical, now mythological.
But as a certain American poet once said, there is a connection between Truth and Beauty. Perhaps more or perhaps less depending on the day and the direction of the wind.
Could we say that Western classical music was touched by this connection of Truth and Beauty?
It is not a popular thought. No matter, keeping it in mind let us turn another face of the diamond.
We could instead try John Cage:
Cage was deeply impressed with a quotation from Thomas Mace: 'The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences.'
This seems to me to be the opposite of pop music which makes one, in the immortal words of a reviewer, 'want to commit murder and hump a couch'.
For the sake of the article that follows, if you don't like the Truth/Beauty couplet, substitute the Mace idea. They both serve the same purpose.
Copyright © 25 May 2008
Gordon Rumson, Calgary, Canada