Scarlet & Grey
Ohio State University
School of Music

Eduard Hanslick

Notes by David Huron

Music 829
April 10, 2001

Eduard Hanslick. (1854/1885) Vom Musikalisch-Schönen. Translated in 1891 by Gustav Cohen as: The Beautiful in Music. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1957.

Chapter 1: Aesthetics as Founded on Feelings

Hanslick opens his book as follows:

"The course hitherto pursued in musical aesthetics has nearly always been hampered by the false assumption that the object was not so much to inquire into what is beautiful in music as to describe the feelings which music awakens." (p.7)

Some further quotations from Chapter 1:

"Such systems of aesthetics are not only unphilosophical, but they assume an almost sentimental character when applied to the most ethereal of all arts; and though no doubt pleasing to a certain class of enthusiasts, they afford but little enlightenment to a thoughtful student who, in order to learn something about the real nature of music, will, above all, remain deaf to the fitful promptings of passion and not, as most manuals on music direct, turn to the emotions as a source of knowledge." (p.7)
"On the one hand it is said that the aim and object of music is to excite emotions, i.e., pleasurable emotions; on the other hand, the emotions are said to be the subject matter which musical works are intended to illustrate. Both propositions are alike in this, that one is as false as the other." (p.9)
"If the contemplation of something beautiful arouses pleasurable feelings, this effect is distinct from the beautiful as such. I may, indeed, place a beautiful object before an observer with the avowed purpose of giving him pleasure, but this purpose in no way affects the beauty of the object. The beautiful is and remains beautiful though it arouse no emotion whatever, and though there be no one to look at it. In other words, although the beautiful exists for the gratification of an observer, it is independent of him." (pp.9-10)
"An art aims, above all, at producing something beautiful which affects not our feelings but the organ of pure contemplation, our imagination." (p.11)
"Grant that the true organ with which the beautiful is apprehended is the imagination, and it follows that all arts are likely to affect the feelings indirectly." (p.12)
"So long as we refuse to include lottery tickets among the symphonies, or medical bulletins among the overtures, we must refrain from treating the emotions as an aesthetic monopoly of music in general or a certain piece of music in particular." (p.15)

Notes on Hanslick

Hanslick is commonly regarded as advocating an intellectualized form of aesthetic pleasure. Hanslick does not deny that listeners may be emotionally moved by listening to music, but he regards such feelings as a by-product of the music's beauty. Good music is beautiful, and in apprehending this beauty the listener may well be deeply moved.

Hanslick regards the purpose of aesthetic beauty to to be the gratification of the listener. ("the beautiful exists for the gratification of an observer") Yet Hanslick argues that beauty is independent of human emotion. ("The beautiful is and remains beautiful though it arouse no emotion whatever".) Moreover, beauty is not just independent of an observer's emotional state, beauty is altogether independent of the observer.

This view contrasts notably with the views of sages throughout the eons who have argued that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." This viewpoint is best illustrated, not by considering differences of opinion among people, but by contrasting the views of humans with other animals. Does a robin not take delight in eating a raw worm? Does the heart of a panda not jump for joy when spying a bamboo forest? Does a fly not regard dung with relish? Most writers have argued that each animal has its own criteria for what constitutes "beauty".

In what sense can we imagine a musical work being "beautiful" without understanding that it is a human notion of "beauty" that grounds this characterization? Hanslick would answer this question by saying that it is not human emotions which tell us what is beautiful, but human imagination -- "the organ of pure contemplation". Indeed, since Hanslick regards beauty as independent of humans, it follows that Hanslick's notion of the imagination is transcendental, and does not rely on the existence of human beings per se.

It is tempting to view Hanslick as an early cognitivist:

perception ---> appraisal of beauty ---> emotional response
However, it is important to understand that the "appraisal" component is an imaginative and transcendental phenomenon that occurs independent of the corporeal existence of human bodies or brains.

Neverthless, Hanslick's views have been highly influential in the area of musical aesthetics, and, in particular, among cognitivists like Peter Kivy.

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