Quotations on Music



Click to read Swiss novelist Robert Walser's (1878-1956) essay about music (I scanned the relevant 1.5 pages from his short stories book titled "Masquerade and Other Stories". In fact the essay belongs to his young hero Fritz Kocher. A real delight!

There are two kinds of music: good music and bad music.
Cemil Gandur suggested that I add this qoutation. He said that it is from Duke Ellington. Another source claims it to be a popular saying. Any other views?

I am still finding more sound in small changes. I am a long way from what I suspect is possible. There is no hurry, no urgency, just vast promise.
Alan J. Marcy (during an interview with Adnan Arduman on 28 October 2001. See more)

Without music life would be an error.


Conductors must give unmistakable and suggestive signals to the orchestra, not choreography to the audience.
George Szell

There are more love songs than anything else. If songs could make you do something we'd all love one another.
Frank Zappa

Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.
Frank Zappa

It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty
of loneliness & of pain: of strength & freedom. The beauty of
disappointment & never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature, &
everlasting beauty of monotony.
Benjamin Britten (1913-76), British composer. Letter, 29 June 1937
(published in Letters from a Life: Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten,
vol. 1, "A Working Life," 1991). Britten wrote this while listening to the
"Abschied"-the finale of Mahler's song cycle Das Lied von der Erde.

A verbal art like poetry is reflective; it stops to think. Music is immediate, it goes on to become.
W. H. Auden (1907-73), Anglo-American poet. The Dyer's Hand, pt. 8, "Notes on Music and Opera" (1962).

Truly fertile Music, the only kind that will move us, that we shall truly appreciate, will be a Music conducive to Dream, which banishes all reason and analysis. One must not wish first to understand and then to feel. Art does not tolerate Reason.
Albert Camus (1913-60), French-Algerian philosopher, author. "Essay on Music," in Sud (Algiers, June 1932; repr. in Youthful Writings, 1976).

Great music is that which penetrates the ear with facility and leaves the memory with difficulty. Magical music never leaves the memory.
Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961), British conductor. Quoted in: Sunday Times (London, 16 Sept. 1962).

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.
Walter Pater (1839-94), English essayist, critic. Studies in the History of the Renaissance, "The School of Giorgione" (1873).

It is the stretched soul that makes music, and souls are stretched by the pull of opposites-opposite bents, tastes, yearnings, loyalties. Where there is no polarity-where energies flow smoothly in one direction-there will be much doing but no music.
Eric Hoffer (1902-83), U.S. philosopher. Reflections on the Human Condition, aph. 108 (1973).

There's a basic rule which runs through all kinds of music, kind of an unwritten rule. I don't know what it is. But I've got it.
Ron Wood (b. 1947), British rock musician. Independent (London, 10 Sept. 1992).

People whose sensibility is destroyed by music in trains, airports, lifts, cannot concentrate on a Beethoven Quartet.
Witold Lutoslawski (b. 1913), Polish composer. Independent on Sunday (London, 13 Jan. 1991).

It is better to make a piece of music than to perform one, better to perform one than to listen to one, better to listen to one than to misuse it as a means of distraction, entertainment, or acquisitiuon of "culture."
John Cage (1912-92), U.S. composer. "Forerunners of Modern Music; At Random," in Tiger's Eye (New York, March 1949; repr. in Silence, 1961).

Alas! all music jars when the soul's out of tune.
Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), Spanish writer. Altisidora, in Don Quixote, pt. 2, bk. 6, ch. 11 (1615; tr. by P. Motteux).

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils.
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus.
Let no such man be trusted.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist, poet. Lorenzo, in The Merchant of Venice, act 5, sc. 1, responding to Jessica's remark, "I am never merry when I hear sweet music."

Music is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work. We listen to Bach transfixed because this is listening to a human mind.
Lewis Thomas (1913-94), U.S. physician, educator. The Medusa and the Snail, "On Thinking about Thinking" (1979).

I think no woman I have had ever gave me so sweet a moment, or at so light a price, as the moment I owe to a newly heard musical phrase.
Stendhal (1783-1842), French author. Letter, 29 Oct. 1808, to his sister Pauline.

The most perfect expression of human behavior is a string quartet.
Jeffrey Tate (b. 1943), British conductor. New Yorker (30 April 1990).

If anyone has conducted a Beethoven performance, and then doesn't have to go to an osteopath, then there's something wrong.
Simon Rattle (b. 1955), British conductor. Guardian (London, 31 May 1990).

The musical emotion springs precisely from the fact that at each moment the composer withholds or adds more or less than the listener anticipates on the basis of a pattern that he thinks he can guess, but that he is incapable of wholly divining. . . . If the composer withholds more than we anticipate, we experience a delicious falling sensation; we feel we have been torn from a stable point on the musical ladder and thrust into the void. . . . When the composer withholds less, the opposite occurs: he forces us to perform gymnastic exercises more skillful than our own.
Claude LÈvi-Strauss (b. 1908), French anthropologist. The Raw and the Cooked, "Overture" (1964).

It is the only sensual pleasure without vice.
Samuel Johnson (1709-84), English author, lexicographer. Quoted in: "Anecdotes by William Seward," in European Magazine (1795; repr. in Johnsonian Miscellanies, vol. 2, ed. by George Birkbeck Hill, 1897, p. 301).

The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes-ah, that is where the art resides.
Artur Schnabel (1882-1951), German-born U.S. pianist. Quoted in: Chicago Daily News (11 June 1958).