Emotions of any kind are produced by melody and rhythm; therefore by music a man becomes accustomed to feeling the right emotions; music has thus the power to form character, and the various kinds of music based on the various modes, may be distinguished by their effects on character – one, for example – working in the direction of melancholy, another of effeminacy; one of encouraging abandonment, another self-control, another enthusiasm, and so on through the series. -- Aristotle
For years music lovers have listened to the oratorios of Handel, to the symphonies of Beethoven, to the etudes of Chopin, and to the operas of Wagner, and have realised that each of those master-musicians has created a special individual style. Nevertheless, not one of these music-lovers appears to have credited either Handel or Beethoven with exercising a definite and general influence on character and morals.
We purpose, in fact, to show that each specific type of music has exercised a pronounced effect on history, on morals, and on culture; that music — however horrifying this statement may appear to the orthodox — is a more potent force in the moulding of character than religious creeds, precepts, or moral philosophies; for although these latter show the desirability of certain qualities, it is music that facilitates their acquisition.
Whose Tune Are You Singing?*
A little reflection on the subject must bring us to the conclusion that music operates on the mind and emotions of man through the medium of suggestion. To paraphrase Aristotle’s statement, if we repeatedly hear melancholy music, we tend to become melancholy; if we hear gay music, we tend to become gay, and so forth. Thus the particular emotion, which a given piece of music depicts, is reproduced in ourselves; it operates through the law of correspondences. Furthermore, our researches have proved to us that not only the emotional content but the essence of the actual musical form tends to reproduce itself in human conduct; hence, we may with justification formulate the following axiom — as in music, so in life.
Psychological investigation has proved that by the repetition of a formula suggesting physical or moral qualities, those qualities can actually be acquired. A case in point is the application of M. Coué’s formula: “Day by day in every way I get better and better.” And it should be noted that the more quiescent the patient, the more efficacious the suggestion, for in the quiescent state, the spirit of opposition has no occasion to assert itself.
Getting in the Groove...
Music is so insidious that it suggests while the listener remains unaware of the fact. All that he realizes is that it awakens certain emotions, and that in degree those same emotions are always awakened by the same or similar musical compositions. Music, therefore, is constantly suggesting to him states of emotion and reproducing them in him, and as emotional habits are as readily formed as, or even more readily than, other habits, they eventually become a part of his character. It is obvious that Aristotle was aware of this when he wrote that “by music a man becomes accustomed to feeling the right emotions.”
But we do not intend to imply that music operates on the emotions only: there are several types of music that operate on the mind. Bach’s music had a very definite effect on the mentality — for, in accordance with our axiom — as Bach’s art is of an intellectual type, it produces an intellectual effect.
Get The Latest From InnerSelf
From Ancient Bards... to Zappa?
But the question arises, has music, at any rate in the past, been sufficiently disseminated to bring about such prodigious effects on mankind in general as are claimed for it in this book? How can music have influenced collective thought, unless so widely diffused as to operate directly on the greater bulk of humanity: have there not been vast numbers of people who seldom, if ever, heard music of a serious character? Yet although the question is pertinent, it is easily answered. History shows that rulers and leaders of thought have nearly always been in contact with some form of music. Kings, dukes, popes, and princes have had their “court musicians”; feudal lords and barons have had their bards, while the masses have at any rate had their folk music.
From the most ancient times, wherever there has been any degree of civilisation, music has played a role of more or less importance. And the following point should be emphasised: that wherever the greatest variety of musical styles has obtained, there the adherence to tradition and custom has been proportionately less marked.
We are fully aware that in stating this we would seem to be lending weight to the prevalent notion that styles of music are merely the outcome and expression of civilisations and national feelings — that is to say, that the civilisation comes first, and its characteristic species of music afterwards. But an examination of history proves the truth to be exactly the reverse: an innovation in musical style has invariably been followed by an innovation in politics and morals. And, what is more, as our chapters on Egypt and Greece will show, the decline of music in those two instances was followed by the complete decline of the Egyptian and Grecian civilisations themselves.
The Music is the Message
There is one more point to be noted in this preliminary chapter. We have to take into account that element in the masses which causes them to reflect or absorb the opinions of others, whether those others be leaders or merely characters more forceful than themselves. Thus, even in times when music of every description was not broadcast as it is today, assuming that a number of people never heard a note of music at all — which is unlikely — they were nonetheless influenced indirectly by it, and this also applies to the frankly unmusical.
To summarise: Music affects the minds and emotions of mankind. It affects them either consciously or subconsciously, or both. It affects them through the medium of suggestion and reiteration. It affects them either directly, indirectly, or both; hence, as in music, so in life.
I should finally add, that when describing the various effects that the music of the master-musicians had on humanity, that is not to say that every single piece they composed was instrumental in producing those effects; the latter were produced by their most inspired and individual works.
(*sub-titles by InnerSelf)
©2013 by the Estate of Cyril Scott.
©1933, 1950, 1958, 1969 by Cyril Scott.
Reprinted with permission of Inner Traditions, Inc.
All Rights Reserved. www.innertraditions.com
This article was adapted with permission from the book:
Music and Its Secret Influence: Throughout the Ages
by Cyril Scott.
Composer and author Cyril Scott explores the role of music in the evolution of humanity and shows how it has pushed human evolution forward. He shows how the music of great composers affects not only those listening but also society as a whole--from Beethoven’s influence on the creation of psychoanalysis to Chopin’s musical influence on the emancipation of women.
About the Author
Cyril Scott (1879-1970) was an English composer, writer, and poet. The youngest student of his time accepted to The Hoch Conservatorium in Frankfurt, Germany, Cyril Scott was hailed at the beginning of the 20th century as the father of modern British music. He wrote several other books, including An Outline of Modern Occultism, The Great Awareness, and The Initiate trilogy. (Portrait of Cyril Scott by George Hall Neale)