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Formalism, Gestalt Theory, Aristoxenus, Descartes, Meyer, Music Philosophy, Esthetics


In every age, philosophers deal with inquiries concerning musical meaning and the effect of music on the listener. Instead of answering the formidable question of musical meaning, this essay demonstrates the parallel aspects of three musical theories from ancient, Enlightenment, and modern times. Using the two criteria of musical formalism and Gestalt Theory, this essay systematically connects the philosophies of Aristoxenus of Tarentum, René Descartes, and Leonard Meyer. Musical formalism holds that music’s nature is innate, self-evident, able to be systematically deduced, and rational. According to formalism, musical meaning is defined by things objectively ‘there’ in the music, musical experience relies on cognition, and music is less a matter of sense than of mind. Gestalt Theory asserts that music is a unified totality—the whole gives meaning to the parts. This project demonstrates that three seemingly dissimilar musical philosophies include and prefigure the same foundational principles, although the theories reach different conclusions about musical meaning. In the research process, this essay utilizes documentary evidence. This essay concludes that the philosophies of Aristoxenus, Descartes, and Meyer are united by tendencies toward musical formalism and strands of the Gestalt view of music.





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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


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