Site Search

New Members

Other Resources
News Archive

Search Forums:
  What is Beautiful Music?  nickscott at 14:52 on 01 July 2009

I was wondering on your thoughts on this subject. In my time at my local conservatoire, this topic comes up often, and I was wondering what other, less local, composers of various ages would think.

Obviously a big can of worms, but in your opinion, what is beautiful music? Is there even such a thing? What makes music beautiful or otherwise, to your ears? What pieces of music do you think are beautiful?

Personally, for me, the thing I find most beautiful when a composer gets right (probably because it happens so infrequently) is pacing. When the right thing happens at exactly the right time, regardless of whether that thing is a loud and aggressive sound, or the quiet resolution of a cadence, I think that can be the most satisfying thing in music.

Another thing I find extremely satisfying is when the musical material is developed in a mature and intelligent way. One of my favourites of this example is when composers can get into the recapitulation without it sounding too clunky.

Among the composers whom I feel get this (generally) right are (and I know this can be contentious, so feel free to argue): Morton Feldman, Steve Reich, John Adams, Arvo Part, Ligeti, Kurtag and Bartok.

Pieces not by these composers which I also feel are beautiful are:

Alban Berg's Violin Concerto
Britten's First Cello Suite
Ives' Unanswered Question
Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto
Mahler Symphony No 10 (can't remember which 'complete edition'
Nicholas Maw's Violin Concerto
Ingram Marschall's Fog Tropes
Knut Nystedt's Immortal Bach
Carl Stone's Shing Kee
Vaughan Williams' Fifth Symphony, final movement

and though it isn't classical or "high art" music (whatever your thoughts on THAT subject are), Connie Francis' rendition of "I Will Wait for You" is, I think, utterly heartwrenching, though the ending is seriously overcooked.

Any thoughts?

  Re: What is Beautiful Music?  piargno at 23:59 on 01 July 2009

For me, beauty in music is just as indescribable as love. It's a feeling one receives that sounds so divine, so celestial, that it can't help but move the soul in an other-worldly, positive manner. Beauty can be found in moments of pieces, in entire works, or in the logic of pieces. Examples of these for me include the falling chord progression in Debussy's piano prelude "Feux d'artifices" (moment), Reich's "Music for 18 Musicians" (entire work), or the workings of the counterpoint in Chopin's Concerto No. 1, mvt. 1 (logic). Beauty can also be found in the story of the piece or what the piece has done for music. Some examples include Messaien's "Quartet for the End of Time" (story) and Schoenberg's "Pierrot Lunaire." It's really impossible to define the beauty of music in words. No matter how much we say, words can only skim the surface. I'm sure we all on this forum can write over 10 pages of pieces which we find beautiful. The key is to apply our own personal definitions of beauty into our music in our own unique way, with our own personal stories. :-D

(This is a happy subject, finally! Yay!)

  Re: What is Beautiful Music?  panic at 13:17 on 07 July 2009

Music that leaves me feeling more like me. Whatever that is. It doesn't scare me, annoy me, make me feel scratchy or bore me. It has enough surface that it's not too hard to get into, and enough depth to bear repeated listening. It makes sense like a path that goes somewhere interesting without throwing you off a cliff, or turning you into an alien just to survive it.

Something that finishes, and I open my eyes and feel like I haven't been here and it's all new and familiar, and I don't remember closing my eyes.

Structurally, from my relatively limited theoretical perspective, I guess that comes down to being mostly tonal, with identifiable theme(s), a fairly repetitive rhythmic structure, and a macro structure that caters for a fairly strong sense of closure. Although I don't believe beautiful music can be created formulaically.


  Re: What is Beautiful Music?  Misuc at 14:20 on 12 July 2009

I would just like to say that I like Panic's description of music which throws you off a cliff and turns you into an alien. What better description of the effect of the St Matthew Passion, the Missa Solemnis, or other great works?

There is far too much music going on too much of the time and it is far too accessible - not to say unavoidable- today. This has evidently devalued the currency. It is a condemnation of our culture that there are so few of us who are capable of accepting being thrown off a cliff musically speaking. This, and nothing else is what music is for.

  Re: What is Beautiful Music?  Jim Tribble at 21:48 on 12 July 2009

There always has been too much music going on. In the past every town, lord and king had there own music makers and composers. For me the music has to be satisfying to me. Learning what to do with the material, ie when to stop or add an extra bit is the whole point about being a composer.
It is all about choices and what you are selling is set of responses to the original musical stimulus.
Which can be being thrown off a cliff or guided to another place.
It is only beautiful to those in a particular culture. Have you heard an Iranian love song, from the persian mountains, it doesnt sound very loving, although it is beautiful to me.

  Re: What is Beautiful Music?  Misuc at 22:50 on 12 July 2009

Yes, I have been knocked off my head by amazing music from the top of the Caucasus and been thrown off the cliffs of the Zagros mountains


I was in a hurry when I wrote this. It was almost literally true for Jean Jenkins, the music researcher who first recorded these blood-curdling songs from the heights of the Caucasus. The singer was so loud - intending to call across the chasms - that there was a danger that the primitive recording equipment of the time would shatter. She had to go out of the hut, shut the door, and record from outside on the edge of a cliff.

I don't believe it is true that there was always too much music. Music takes time to play and listen to.Music is the aural division of time. Kings, lords, villagers, the church etc. did indeed have their own music for dancing, celebrating, to be awe-struck, dumb-struck, energised etc. That was when kings, lords, villagers etc. owned their own time and before it was cut up and sliced into bits to be sold off for someone else's profit.

  Re: What is Beautiful Music?  The Wild Monk at 09:05 on 28 July 2009

Anything that comes from the heart? And not a bloody record company that dresses peple up to look good and play pop crap (just for comercial purposes only).


The best music ever written, and most beautiful, was done by people that wrote for the love, and not the money eg. Jimmy Hendrix guitar, John Bonham drums. They were masters, but didn't really give a shite about the money. As soon as money becomes a priority, you music will lose its beauty.