Thinking About Music by Rowell

Lewis Rowell. Thinking About Music: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Music. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1983. Paperback, xi + 288 pp.

Even though this work was published over two decades ago, it remains an incredible resource, and I thought it was worth writing a brief review of it for the music-loving contingent of our readers.

Lewis E. Rowell, a professor of music at Indiana State University, composer, and performer, has authored several publication on music theory and history, including the music of India. In 1993, he received the prestigious Otto Kinkeldey Award from the American Musicological Society for his seminal work Music and Musical Thought in Early India. Not surprisingly, he deals with Indian music also in the present work, in a chapter on comparative aesthetics.

After an introductory chapter explaining the basic terms and themes of music, Rowell takes the reader straight into a case study of Mozart’s menuet K 355 to illustrate philosophical categories and questions. He follows this with a chapter that furnishes the reader with a brief history of the development of music as art and artifice, again examining fundamental philosophical/phenomenological categories.

The fourth chapter, entitled “ Dionysos and Apollo,” addresses the contrast between ecstasy and order, rhapsody and harmony, which define the space in which music moves. Next the author takes the reader on a historical excursion into the mythos of music, while the sixth chapter zeros in on the development of music and musical notions from early Christianity to the European tradition up to 1800. The subsequent chapter caps this intellectual history with a consideration of what Rowell calls the “Romantic synthesis”—the era in which music, through public performances, entered into the world of business, and thus underwent a profound transformation.

The eighth chapter examines the role of perception in music, which is a basic consideration of aesthetics. The following chapter looks at the “slippery ground” of value and evaluation, and here Rowell’s own musical sensitivity is most strikingly obvious from his careful judgments. His discussion of aesthetics and valuation leads quite naturally to a consideration of the music of India and Japan in the tenth chapter, which sports some rare insights. The concluding chapter focuses on new music and its implications for philosophy, which puts the capstone on his penetrating ruminations and offers the reading a connecting point to present-day reality.

Rowell proves an immensely knowledgeable, precise, and perceptive guide through a vast territory, which under his expert guidance becomes navigable even for the lay reader. His love for philosophy infuses Thinking About Music with a singular depth and breadth, and his extraordinary clarity and focus on relevance make this book a joy to read for music aficionados, philosophers, and cultural historians alike, as well as those curious minds who simply would like to get a better sense of the nature of music and its place in human culture.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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