Music and the Mind

by Anthony Storr
Ballantine, 1992; paper, 212 pages.

Here is a book for the mental musician. Anthony Storr has created a collage of history, analysis, observation, an d critique about the place of music in culture. Storr reflects on the innermost nature of the world in regard to sound through basic patterns, cultural comparisons, and even existential writings.

Quoting from a wide variety of musicians, scientists, and philosophers, Music and the Mind helps us to realize how vast and contrasting the intellectual approach to music is. By observing the origins and functions of music, Storr believes we can approach the significance of music in human life. From bird songs to Gregorian chant, there are functional attributes that signify the meaning of sound.

It is curious that spirituality and the simple release of beauty from an instrument are not considered within the book. There is a constant sense of referencing every idea to show the research and the historical awareness of other writers . Rather than weaving common threads that would inspire the reader to listen to music and experience it a non-critical way, Storr keeps the mind as the observer.

It is not until the end of the book that some of the quotations begin to touch on the rich inner quality of sound. Nietszche, for example, speaks of the life-affirming attributes of music:

What is it that my whole body really expects of music? I believe, its own ease: as if all animal functions should be quickened by easy, bold, exuberant, self-assured rhythms; as if iron, leaden life should be gilded by good golden and tender harmonies. My melancholy wants to rest in the hiding places and abysses of perfection: that is why I need music.

By the end of the book, there are fascinating observations such as Stravinsky's view of "psychological time" and "ontological time" as these relate to the listener.

Music and Mind may deepen your perception of how many musical minds work and think. With all its reflections and commentaries, music nevertheless is still a mystery, no matter how we approach it. What a glorious symphony of thought there is here for the mind and the ears.


Winter 1994