We’ll start with Shakespeare, from that story of good women and bad lovers, Antony and Cleopatra:
“Music, moody food of us that trade in love.”
Dr. Samuel Johnson accelerates the definition:
“It is the only sensual pleasure without vice.” Think of that the next time when you’re making your mind up between Mozart and a Mars bar!
The English writer and clergyman Sidney Smith seems to be right with Samuel Johnson when he defines music as:
“The only cheap and unpunished rapture upon earth.”
Thomas Carlyle, on the other hand, sees it as much more redeeming:
“Music is well said to be the speech of angels.”
Sidney Lanier, on the other hand, takes it even further:
“Music is love in search of a word.” Do you think we could match him up with Thomas Carlyle and then we would know the words of the angels?
On the negative side, music can strike some people just the wrong way:
George Herbert is distinctly unhelpful in his definition:
“Music helps not the toothache.”
Henry Miller, in The Tropic of Cancer, knows what he doesn’t want to be doing:
“A polite form of self-imposed torture, the concert.”
Poor George Eliot feels out of the loop:
“Music sweeps by me like a messenger
Carrying a message that is not for me.“
On the other hand, Beaumarchais puts these words into the mouth of Figaro in the play The Barber of Seville:
“…what is not worth being spoken, is sung.”
So, what’s your definition of music: something that answers all problems or causes problems itself?