Aesthetic Pleasure as a Value “Barometer” of Art

I’m surprised every time I see how aesthetic pleasure is not the measure by which each and every one of us determines the value of any art, especially music! I surely do estimate its value based on aesthetic pleasure and I just cannot grasp how one enjoys music solely as a form of intellectual fulfilment.

Of course, we are all wired differently; some people being very cerebral, others are much more sensual and there are others sharing a combination of both. These characteristics are reflected in our life choices as well and that’s ok as long as that doesn’t make one into classifying music as either “art” or “entertainment” in terms of broad generalization on music genres.

ART OR ENTERTAINMENT (classical vs pop)

Often, in those classifications classical music falls into art group, and pop into entertainment and although in some extent (and cases) that might be the truth let’s just leave all the differences which doesn’t resonate within us – to someone with whom they do.

Otherwise, with that kind of mindset there will always be yet another and even more illogical “music religions” and their separations such as:


Have you ever stumbled upon music critic Henry Pleasant’s “The Agony of Modern Music” publication (1955.) in which he claims that no serious music after The Rite of Spring has caught on in concert halls, and none ever will. He also said: “Serious music is a dead art. The vein which for 300 years offered a seemingly inexhaustible yield of beautiful music has run out. What we know as modern music is the noise made by deluded speculators picking through its slag pile. Jazz is the “true” master music of the time.”


But you’ve surely heard opinions such as “Isn’t jazz merely a clever entertainment in form of endless noodling that never comes to any satisfactory conclusion? It’s nothing but a musical gibberish.” or “Jazz harmonies are always so dissonant and they never resolve, no matter how they are voiced. Jazz is all modal: so it takes only a brief length of time for before its harmonies become just too ‘vague’. etc. etc.


Some perceive (orchestral) Film Music as a modern version of classical music and say that film music tries to be more “accessible” and in doing so it’s dumbing the “classical” part of it down. However, while both valid art form of their own, they are totally different styles of music.

(Btw, note that orchestral music does not mean it’s classical in style.  You can orchestrate rap and you won’t get classical out of it.)

So, yes, film music stems from Classical but with the different art form. In film music technique is known as leitmotif is often employed, using a recurring theme that represents a character, thing or event. Actually, that is a technique used in Operas. Erich Wolfgang Korngold called Film Music “An Opera without words.”  Classical is music for the concert stage and includes a vast portion of genres including Symphonic works, Chamber Works, Concerti, and functional music (religious, opera, ballet etc).  

Many classical composers today are also film composers or vice versa. I’m completely sure that if Mozart was alive today he would be composing for movies as much as working with Symphonic Works.

Aesthetic approach (classical vs film music) differences nowadays

Ability to create diverse musical moods and emotions (by manipulation of harmony, melody, rhythm and orchestration) is a basic requirement of the art of music. However, many contemporary classical composers believe that should only be of concern to film composers.  Then, how come master composers have been exploiting these properties for hundreds of years and now supposedly classical music has to sound like some complex intellectual theorem without any feeling and no one to enjoy composer’s piece of work but his academic ego?

I mean, yes, if you have a strong urge in alienating the public and destroying classical music’s place in the popular world, feel free to continue.

See how again there is a rigid separation between the genres even in such a common ground?


– only how it is for you

Science has recently discovered that we don’t experience music in just one part of our brain, rather we experience it in receptors throughout. One part of the brain might experience the rhythmic elements of music, while another part of the brain is experiencing the pitch. We know from our own life experience that people’s brains assimilate the same information differently. How else could one explain people’s varying opinions on art, food and even politics? Our individual brain wiring might explain why heavily rhythmic music might appeal to some while richly melodic music might appeal more to others.

So, to classify music as either “art” or “entertainment” is simply absurd, don’t you think?

However, if we must let’s classify it into these two categories, being music that:

  1. enriches your soul and discovers a portion of you that you would not discover otherwise
  2. does not do 1)

On separative nature among composers & musicians themselves.


Did you ever fell into the trap of placing a value judgment on a musician based on his musical training?

Learning composition, harmony, counterpoint, compositional techniques, arranging, orchestration, dynamics, texture etc. is not easy but I’ve never understood how that makes anyone underrestimate someone who makes beautiful music without any significant musical training.

For instance. You know how Paul McCartney can’t read music? Ok, so what? Has that affected anyone’s enjoyment of his incredible melodic gifts, vocal or instrumentall skills? Is he a less of a musician than classically trained composer who writes music without any emotional impact on a listener? Yet, I’ve usually found on many classical forum’s Paul being labeled “musician” not musician.

Or self-taught film composer Danny Elfman? From super heros to monsters, from innocence to malevolence, Elfman adds a mystical touch to his music that distinguishes him from any other film composer. What if lack of any formal training was precisely a trait that made his thematic expression distinguishable from every other major composer of his era? You can expect the unexpected from Elfman and that is a refreshing change from the majority of composers who repeat themselves more often than not. Elfman isn’t afraid to take a chance and break the rules. Maybe because he didn’t know them?

Oh, I almost forgot! We all know how orthodox critics are always sceptical on the subject of self-taught genius, but what about Schubert?

So where is the line between real musicians and “musicians”? Is Music theory training enough for a label or is that aesthetically pleasing result?



Honestly? I don’t think so. Or maybe. If you already did it, then I guess – yes. But if you didn’t – don’t use that as an excuse!

If you have amazing ideas, if you hear complex musical tweaks in your head – knowledge will help you do that “translation” to the paper or on an instrument! That’s the sole purpose of music theory and training in my opinion. And that was the only reason why I was so thirsty to learn all the time and still am and always be. Because behind the walls of my inner radio, there is always some incomprehensible idea to my temporary level of understanding and it moves me further. It motivates me to search and to learn just as any music detective would. 😀

However, sometimes I find myself going into circles where I end up into being too intellectual and that is the main obstacle of any creative expression. That is when your ideas stop coming and when it’s better to go for a hike on a mountain and only after come back to your piano (or whatever instrument is your main canvas of expression) and let your fingers do the work.

I think Bill Evans got it to the point:

“Intuition has to lead knowledge, but it can’t be out there alone.” 

“Technique is the ability to translate your ideas into sound through your instrument. This is a comprehensive technique…a feeling for the keyboard that will allow you to transfer any emotional utterance into it. What has to happen is that you develop a comprehensive technique and then say, Forget that. I’m just going to be expressive through the piano.”


Music is, first and foremost, a sensual experience. Don’t think so? Although it was exactly the experience that made you want to pursue a musical path in a first place, isn’t it? (At least I hope it was.)

Even after you learn all about math in music it all translates to easy to comprehend (if you are trained musician) quantifications and even then, at least my, intellectual hunger couldn’t be eased as it would with just, for instance, grabing a book of Plato. It’s just not the purpose of music.

“I think some young people want a deeper experience. Some people just wanna be hit over the head and, you know, if then they [get] hit hard enough maybe they’ll feel something. You know? But some people want to get inside of something and discover, maybe, more richness. And I think it will always be the same; they’re not going to be the great percentage of the people. A great percentage of the people don’t want a challenge. They want something to be done to them — they don’t want to participate. But there’ll always be maybe 15% maybe, 15%, that desire something more, and they’ll search it out — and maybe that’s where art is, I think.”

– Bill Evans



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