Music Aesthetics: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Music Aesthetics
  • 1:01 Classical Music
  • 2:17 Beethoven's Fifth
  • 3:12 Popular Music
  • 4:53 ~''I Will Always Love You~''
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachel Matz

Rachel teaches acting and voice. She has an MFA in Acting and an MBA in Business Administration.

Explore the philosophy of music aesthetics in the context of classical and popular music. Learn about how aesthetics play a role in a listener's interpretation of a piece of music.

Musical Aesthetics

Music can tap into how we feel, how we perceive life, and what we think. When we listen to a piece of music, we respond to certain characteristics that provide value to our musical sensibilities. This artistic value is aesthetic, and also, independent.

As aesthetics is often linked to artistic beauty, music aesthetics is a philosophy that considers the source, type, development, intention, performance, perception, and significance of a musical composition. Although sound is a primary component of music, the composer's musical structure, culture, and desire for expression all feed into the aesthetics of a musical piece. From a philosophical standpoint, existence, knowledge, musical ethics, relationships, and sociology are all aspects of music aesthetics. The aesthetics of classical music differs from the aesthetics of popular music. Let's explore both!

Classical Music

Plato philosophized about music as an art form and as a doorway into our inner life. Classical music aesthetics focus solely on the music, and not the words, visuals, or any other non-musical component.

When listening to a classical piece, a person experiences an internal reaction, which, in turn, provokes a philosophical inquiry into the auditory nature of the music. Classical music engages the aural sense as opposed to the visual, and the aesthetic of the music is internalized through hearing.

From the Medieval to the Renaissance to the Baroque to the Common Practice periods, classical music developed as a form of art, and musical composition evolved through tonal dimensions and structures. Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer discuss the effect of music in terms of beauty, emotions, and expression of will. In addition, philosophers examine the structure, pattern, and movement of sounds in a piece of music as they aesthetically relate to the listener.

For example:

  • Does a musical composition build in an aesthetically intuitive fashion?
  • Can you extract the composer's intention from the music through hearing the piece?
  • And, do you have an emotional response to the composition?

Beethoven's Fifth

We're all familiar with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, especially its famous opening. Although Beethoven began writing it in 1804, he took four years to finish his masterpiece, which gained in popularity throughout the 19th century.

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is a terrific example of music aesthetics. In addition to appreciating the technical proficiency of the piece with the modulation from the major to minor key and the distinctive rhythm, we experience an emotional response to the music and an innate understanding of the composition's strength.

From the strong opening to the last movement, the four movements of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony are rooted in the distinct moments found at the beginning of the piece and take us on an emotional journey that reflects the composer's feelings, life, and musical style. Beethoven poured himself into this novel composition, and the impact his Fifth Symphony made on the world is substantial.

Popular Music

Popular music began in the 20th century with a change in focus to commercial and entertainment interests, designed to appeal to the masses, and a change in format from compositions and symphonies to songs. Classical music is considered a higher art, due to the accessibility of popular music, which is also criticized for its lack of complexity.

However, American philosopher Richard Shusterman argues that popular music can offer aesthetic complexity and true artistic significance. He notes that rap and hip-hop, which have complex rhythms, intricate lyrics, and a life philosophy, fulfill an artistic and intellectual sensibility on an aesthetic level.

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