156—Can music be sad?
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It’s universally acknowledged that music affects our emotions. But does it actually make sense to talk about music “expressing”, emotions in any intrinsic sense (that is, can music itself be happy or sad)? And even if it does, should we treat emotional expression as the essential purpose of music, or the criterion by which we judge musical beauty? If music doesn’t literally contain emotions, how does it still manage to affect our feelings so powerfully? And what is music expressing, imitating or reflecting, if not emotions?
If we want to understand the nature and purpose of music, much less its relation to our moral and spiritual lives, we have to give some answer to these questions. Thomas Mirus, drawing on the thought of the 19th-century music critic Eduard Hanslick and psychologist Edmund Gurney, argues against the conventional view that music is essentially a vehicle for emotion.
Theme music: “Franciscan Eyes”, written and performed by Thomas Mirus. Download the Catholic Culture Podcast soundtrack.
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