The “Logic” of Music

A few years ago it occurred to me that a good piece of music presents an argument, not in the adversarial but the rhetorical sense — a line of thought, or in this case sound. That’s what holds our attention, or should, draws us in, creates suspense, anticipation, surprise, resolution — or, and even at the same time, frustrates all of these. We listen as we might to a public speaker or an essayist, not to be convinced of something we might have been skeptical about or opposed to but for the pure pleasure and edification of the experience.

Montaigne’s best work does this as does a great symphony, though the close “reasoning” of a musical composition is no more evident than in an essay. But it’s there nonetheless and, I suspect, operating in and on us in much the same fashion. It’s what holds our attention and affords the rich pleasure that never ceases to please even after hundreds of hearings. It’s what a really good piece of music yields gradually and usually after the charms of the main themes have lost their initial attractions. It’s the same delight we get from a worthy painting or novel, repetition being the test and the reward of its presence, as boredom is the consequence of its absence.

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