Music and Language: A Fragment – 2

2 abstract painting

It is customary to distinguish between language and music by asserting that concepts are foreign to music.
But music does contain things that come very close to the ‘primitive concepts’ found in epistemology.
It makes use of recurring ciphers.
These were established by tonality.
If tonality does not quite generate concepts, it may at least be said to create lexical items.
Among these we may start by singling out those chords which constantly reappear with an identical function, well-established sequences
such as cadential progressions, and in many cases even stock melodic figures which are associated with the harmony.
Such universal ciphers were always capable of entering into a particular context.
They provided space for musical specificity just as concepts do for a particular reality, and at the same time, as with language, their abstractness was redeemed by the context in which they were located.
The only difference is that the identity of these musical concepts lay in their own nature and not in a signified outside them.

Their unchanging identity has become sedimented like a second nature.
This is why consciousness finds it so hard to bid farewell to tonality.
But the new music rises up in rebellion against the illusion implicit in such a second nature.
It dismisses as mechanical these congealed formulae and their function.
However, it does not dissociate itself entirely from the analogy with language, but only from its reified version which degrades the particular into a token, into the superannuated signifier of fossilized subjective meanings.
Subjectivism and reification go together in the sphere of music as elsewhere.
But their correlation does not define music’s similarity to language once and for all.
In our day the relationship between music and language has become critical.

( T W Adomo)
(painting – carmen guedez)

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