Music & Love


“If music be the food of love, play on!” With these opening words of Twelfth Night, Shakespeare captured an essential bond between love and music which no human being should have to do without. Nietzsche once observed that, without music, life would be aimless. So what is it about music, in all the arts, that makes it so indispensable for humans? So much so, that even those who are not loved can find solace in music.

Contemporary thinker, Heidegger, gives one clue to the answer to my initial question, why music is indispensable for people? He regarded the transient nature of music as an illustration of its intimate link of capturing essence of time in itself.

Human life, too, “unfolds in a continuous, transitory present”. In light of this, my first answer to the question of music’s never-ending allure for people would be that it is precisely its embodiment of the rhythm of time — its ebb and flow that speaks so powerfully to us. In this, it is a metonymy of life itself, which ineluctably consists in rhythmic alternations between birth, growth, decay and death. Hence one’s attraction to music probably derives from an intuitive awareness that, by listening or dancing to it, one is joining oneself to the wellspring of life. And every step of the way, life invites one to be more than one has been, to overcome previous stages of one’s development as an individual and, in striving to transcend these, give meaning to one’s life.

If anyone were to ask me what the connection between music and love is, one possible way I could answer is to say that, once one has discovered music that appeals to two lovers — that is, for which one shares a love with someone you love — sooner or later it dawns on you that, through the music, it is as if one touches one’s lover’s soul. This may happen when you are dancing together to a song or melody you both love, or just listening to it together. But if it is true that one way of conceiving of a meaningful existence is to say that it requires someone, somewhere, to have “found you” in a profound sense, to know your “real”, most secret name, I would add that this often happens through a shared love of specific music.

Bert Oliver claims that after accepting an invitation to attend a “musical” in which he had a singing role years ago — Romberg’s The Student Prince — an old friend of his was moved to remark that he believed the first verse of the Gospel according to John should be rewritten to read: “In the beginning was the music, and the music was with God, and the music was God.”

I can imagine how he should have thought so.


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