Many scholars regard music as the most important of all temporal arts. In ancient Greece music was the art of the muses, or music drama, as it consisted in a combination of dance, singing, and instrumental music. The word music can still refer to musical genres like opera or music drama. There are, however, scholars who employ the notion “music” to refer solely to instrumental, or absolute music. For two reasons, a wider notion of music will be used in this entry, one that includes not only instrumental but also noninstrumental music. First, operas, musicals, and songs are usu­ally referred to as music. Second, the etymology of the word music is such that the word has usually been connected with a broad meaning.

If they wish to define what music is in a short and specific phrase, scholars have to face many prob­lems, as there are always musical pieces that are clearly musical but that do not correspond to the definition given. On the other hand, if they put for­ward a wider definition, it is usually the case that too many examples are included. Are bird songs music? The safest way to define music is to hold that music is everything that experts such as composers, musicologists, or music critics regard as music.

A central idea about music is that it is a tempo­ral art, which implies that music needs to be per­formed in order for it to exist. All arts that need to be performed for their realization are temporal arts. Drama is a temporal art based upon a text, dance is one based upon corporal movement, and music is one based upon sounds. In temporal arts, an interplay between objective, intersubjective, and subjective time exists. Objective time refers to the time from God’s perspective or from the per­spective of an eternal realm of ideas in which musical works might exist. The existence of objec­tive time can certainly be doubted.

Intersubjective time, on the other hand, is the time a watch tells us. This kind of time is based upon an interhuman agreement concerning the duration of intervals and how we calculate the duration of time. Human beings agreed to relate time to contingent natural constants like the period of time taken by the earth turning around the sun orthemoonturningaround theearth.Intersubjective time can be found on musical scores as tempo, which is discussed later in this entry.

Another type of time relevant for temporal arts is subjective time. Subjective time depends on our per­ception of something. If we perceive a musical piece as boring, instants seem to have a longer duration than when we regard the music as entertaining. Another kind of subjective time is related to the stage of life in which the maker or the listener hap­pens to be. Human interests differ significantly between, say, a teenager and an adult in midlife. Concerning the difference between music makers and listeners, some distinctions need to be presented. In the case of music, there are makers of various orders. The first-order maker is often the composer who is responsible for the score. The score needs to be read and interpreted directly by the makers of the second order, whether musicians or a conductor. If the conductor is on the second level, then on the third order would be musicians. Even though the maker of the first order creates the music, the maker of the third order performs it and enables the audi­ence, the receivers of music, to listen to it.

The following section presents some definitions of musical terms concerning the relationship between music and time, such as tempo, meter, and rhythm. Next follows a description of what the philosophers Plato and Schopenhauer put forward concerning the relationship between words and rhythm. Third is a short summary of the history of rhythm in music, and finally comes a discussion of the importance of time for the concept of the musical work.

Musical Notions and Time


The tempo (plural form tempi; Italian for time; from the Latin word tempus) determines the basic pulse of the musical piece. Traditionally the tempi were described as follows (from slow to fast): grave, largo, larghetto, lento, adagio, andante, andantino, moderato, allegretto, allegro, vivace, vivacissimo, presto, prestissimo. When adjectives are added, the descriptions of the tempi became more precise, for example, ma non troppo (but not too much), con fuoco (fiery), and molto (much). In addition, there are terms specifying the change of tempo. If the tempo is supposed to become faster, the following expressions can be used: accele­rando, stringendo, piu mosso, poco piu. If the tempo is supposed to become slower, the following expressions can be used: poco meno, piu lento, calando, allargando, rallentando, ritardando, rite- nuto. Even though most of the time Italian tempo markings have been used, they can also turn up in French, German, or English.

By using words to specify the tempo of a musical piece, the subjective understanding of the respec­tive notions of musicians, conductors, and the composer of a piece become more relevant. In order to fix the tempi, the metronome was invented. By means of the metronome, musical time is related to intersubjective time so that the tempo of a musi­cal piece is specified by clarifying the amount of beats per minute (BPM). As minutes are defined on the basis of a human decision, the tempo of a musi­cal piece that is specified by means of a description of beats per minute includes a relationship between musical and intersubjective time.

Meter and Rhythm

There are two further terms that are important for the temporal structure of a musical piece: meter and rhythm. The musical term meter (psrpov, ancient Greek for measure) is used to describe the organization of beats within a regular pattern. One single entity of such a pattern is called a bar. A beat, on the other hand, is the basic temporal unit of a piece—it is a type of pulse that may or may not be heard.

The specific temporal organization of a musical piece is referred to as rhythm (pvOpoq ancient Greek for flow). The surface structure of a piece, which is called meter, is more constant and regular than the rhythm. However, meter and rhythm are not independent of one another. There are several theories that try to describe their relationship. It can be the case that both meter and rhythm are something similar, that rhythm is subordinate to meter, as rhythm is a meter come alive or that meter is regulated rhythm, which implies that it is a basic structure necessary for rhythm taking its proper shape.

Rhythm and Words

There are several possibilities for how rhythm can come about. In the history of music philoso­phy, two positions concerning the relationship between rhythm and words have been dominant. On the one hand, there is Plato’s position. He defends the superiority of words over sound. His position had an enormous influence on the Florentine Camerata, whose members invented the opera genre. A similar position was also put for­ward by the composer Richard Wagner in Opera and Drama. On the other hand are thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer, who defend the superiority of sound over words. Concerning other musical aesthetic questions, such as that of the effect of music, those thinkers dis­agree significantly. Kant stresses the pleasure music provides listeners, whereas Schopenhauer regards the brief liberation from the personal will as the most important effect of great music. A more per­manent kind of salvation can only be reached by means of asceticism, according to Schopenhauer.

According to Plato, a song (melos) consists of word (logos), harmony (harmonia) and rhythm (rythmos), whereby the word is supposed to be fundamental; that is, rhythm and harmony are sup­posed to follow the words, because words specify the content of a musical piece. Without words we would not understand the piece and would not know what it is about. It is important that we know what it is about, because music is supposed to convey the idea of the good, and only if words are at the basis of a song can it fulfill this task.

Even though Schopenhauer’s philosophy of art includes many Platonic elements, he disagrees with Plato concerning the relationship of words and melody. According to Plato, words come first and determine harmony and rhythm. According to Schopenhauer, the instrumental sounds come first. The genius composer transcends the personal will and gets an understanding of the will in itself, which can directly be represented in the artistic genre of instrumental music. In order for music to have the highest kind of quality, the laws of instru­mental music have to be dominant, and the words simply have to follow those laws as in the case of the composition of an opera. Here the aesthetic laws of sounds are supposed to be responsible for rhythm, melody, and harmony.

History of Rhythm

Rhythm has been dealt with theoretically as well as practically since antiquity. This entry pro­vides a summary of the history of rhythm since the baroque era, because the history of music from that time onward includes most of the music we still listen to today. A significant notion in baroque music is the “monody,” which then meant music for one voice which is accompanied with chords. The words of the one voice were supposed to bring about the sounds and with it the rhythm. The monody became popular together with the inven­tion of the music drama by the Florentine Camerata at the end of the 16th century. Instead of simply entertaining the audience, music was also sup­posed to convey values. The members of the Florentine Camerata thought that music can achieve this best by means of the monody. They were inspired by a reading of ancient texts on philosophy of music, especially Plato. It was their intention to revitalize ancient Greek tragedies. They believed that ancient dramas were sung from beginning to end, a concept that scholars now regard as false. As a consequence, the opera genre was invented. Another important aspect of baroque music is its dancelike character. Hence, the general rhythmical stream was more important than each single beat, which had to be embedded in the general, overall structure.

In classical and romantic music, however, the rhythmic aspect within music became more com­plex. The tension between musical periods and meter became stronger. The meter of a musical piece represented its body, but the rhythm was an expres­sion of the human spirit. Consequently, the rhythm was supposed to represent and deal with the variety of affects that human beings can have. Music was therefore far less schematic than in the baroque era. A particularly impressive representative of that period is Richard Wagner. He developed the concept of the “infinite melody,” whereby rhythm also devel­oped into something undetermined and unlimited.

In contemporary music we find an immense vari­ety of rhythmic concepts. According to Adorno, one can distinguish two traditions within 20th- century music. The first is the avant-garde tradition, which is associated with Schoenberg. Various con­cepts of musical time turn up in this tradition. Here Luigi Nono has to be mentioned, because some of his scores contain no bars. The second is the neo­classical tradition, to which Stravinsky belongs; it consists mostly of linear music in which the rhyth­mic element is similar to that of 18th-century music, as often the rhythmical figures remain constant throughout a movement. Bartok is another com­poser who is representative of this tradition.

One might wish to add a third tradition to which one could refer as the postmodern one. It unites elements from various cultures and plays with these elements. The most important postmod­ern musical movement is called minimal music, and its leading representatives are Philip Glass and Michael Nyman. It is mostly tonal music based on simple harmonies. Of particular importance is the rhythmic element. Very often a type of polyrhythm is used, which means that various rhythms over­lap. Polyrhythmic elements are usually associated with jazz and have their origins in African and Indian music. In minimal music, a simple pattern is repeated very often, whereby only simple varia­tions occur. A piece of minimal music is in many cases constituted by uniting various such patterns and variations. Once a pattern is played at a differ­ent speed, phase shifting or phasing occurs.

Many non-Western traditions of music are even more challenging concerning the variety of rhythms. Within the Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and African traditions, irrational and polyrhythmic patterns were developed that have recently had an impact on Western minimal music. In India, the talas are of particular interest in this respect, as talas are rhythmical patterns that determine a composition of classical Indian music. The tempo of most talas, which are the basis of their classical compositions, can vary.

Musical Works and Time

In musicology one distinguishes between musical works and other musical pieces. A musical work is determined by means of the following qualities: it is autonomous, original, and unchangeable; was created by one composer who is regarded as its origin; is the center of attention when it is being performed; and was created for eternity.

When musical works first came about is a mat­ter of controversy. Some scholars think that the beginning of the musical work is connected to the first formulation of the concept, which was done in the 16th century. Then Nicolaus Listenius used the phrase opus perfectum et absolutum. However, many scholars regard the beginning of the musical work tradition as related to its histori­cal representation, and most scholars agree that around 1800 the tradition of the musical work became particularly strong.

There are various reasons for this position: First, before 1800, music was performed on the occasion for which it was written. From then on, older music was performed again; for example, in 1829, more than 100 years after its first perfor­mance, Bach’s “St. Mathew Passion” was per­formed again. Second, before 1800, composers were considered not very important, but the occa­sion for which a piece was written or the person for whom it was composed was of significance. From 1800 onward, for at least 150 years, musical works were the dominant kind of music. After 1950 music became extremely diverse. Musical pieces were composed that were heteronomous (John Taverner, Arvo Part) or involved chance ele­ments (John Cage, Iannis Xenakis), which cannot therefore be regarded as proper musical works. Most composers in the Western tradition before 1800 composed heteronomous music. Their music was created for a particular purpose, such as a coronation or a specific religious or royal celebra­tion. These musical pieces were usually performed solely at the event for which they were made. The composition of a musical piece was, therefore, mostly related to a specific contemporary event in the here and now.

Autonomous music, on the other hand, is usu­ally composed for eternity. Composers are some­times seen as geniuses who manage to put together eternal music, maybe even by having access to an eternal realm themselves. What makes this music autonomous is that the music comes about via a composer who decides for himself which pieces he wishes to realize and which not. Antonio Vivaldi is an exemplary composer of heteronomous music who clearly did not write musical works; he composed about 300 concerts that all sound fairly similar. When he was alive this was not a problem, because then musical pieces were sup­posed to represent the type to which they belong in an exemplary matter, which is what his pieces did. A musical work, on the other hand, repre­sents a specific solution to a detailed aesthetic problem. In the 20th century the development went so far that many works represent a type of music in itself.

Another aspect of a musical work is that it is original and unchangeable. After it has been cre­ated, it remains identical with itself. Iannis Xenakis, however, composed stochastic music, which means that it involves chance elements. It might include the demand that the audience makes a specific sound when the conductor tells them to do so. As the size of the audience is different at each perfor­mance, it is clear that his compositions involve chance elements, which is the reason why his works are not musical works. Magical music includes the Indian raga, a series of notes upon which a melody of classical Indian music is founded, and the tala, which knows only some vaguely given rules on the basis of which one has to improvise. As improvised music is not eternally fixed, such musical pieces are by definition not musical works. Until the 19th century, German folk songs (Volksmusik) were such as to enable people to have a pleasant or cozy evening together, and they were not written by a single composer. Both are reasons for their not being considered musical works.

The musical work represents a means of uniting objective, intersubjective, and subjective time. The composer grasps eternal music (objective time) and puts it together in a score so that it can be per­formed (intersubjective time), and listened to (sub­jective time). In any case, the relationship between music and time is a complex one, and it also has to be stressed that this relationship has been neglected by many modern and postmodern musicologists and philosophers of music.

Stefan Lorenz Sorgner

See also Kant, Immanuel; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Plato;

Presocratic Age; Pythagoras of Samos; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Wagner, Richard

Further Readings

Begbie, J. S. (2000). Theology, music and time. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hamilton, A. (2007). Aesthetics and music. London: Continuum.

Kramer, J. D. (1988). The time of music: New meaning, new temporalities, new listening strategies. New York: Schirmer.

Sorgner, S. L., & Fuerbeth, O. (Eds.). (in press). Music in German philosophy: An introduction. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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