Music and the Mind, by Anthony Storr

This book is an attempt to explore the way that music can affect us so powerfully, and although I don't think Storr quite succeeds in explaining exactly what's going on with music (how is it that a piece of music can evoke such strong emotions in me?), he makes some interesting points along the way:

Although he does comment on the fact that some people don't seem to be blessed with the faculty of being moved by music - Freud is a notable example - he doesn't attempt to explore the implications of this. One thing that strikes me is that the love of music is something more often seen in men than women, and I wonder if this is just because the women I've known are not representative or whether something more fundamental is going on.

I think there may be a clue about this in the way that running through the book is a theme that music is about patterns. In the last chapter, when Storr mentions music and mathematics in the same breath, saying in both cases we are able to appreciate patterns for their own sake: "Aesthetic appreciation of this kind is not simply a cold, cerebral, intellectual exercise; it touches human feelings. We delight in perceiving coherence where there was none before; we take pleasure in contemplating perfect form." [p182]. There's a good quote from Yehudi Menuhin in the book: "Music creates order out of chaos; for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent; melody imposes continuity on the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous."

If it's true, as some have suggested, that men generally are to a greater or lesser degree autistic, then perhaps music appreciation is a side-effect of that. On the other hand, perhaps I'm totally wrong; the dedication at the front of the book is "for Sophia, Polly, and Emma who share my love of music".

Unfortunately, I can't write and ask him about this, because he died in 2001. See obituary.

Completed : 01-Mar-2004

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