The relationship between the notions of “music” and “world” can be considered in terms of the history of ideas. While music has always been linked to one or more worlds, it is also important to ask which music and which worlds we mean here. Between antiquity and the nineteenth century, there was a shift away from the single vision of “music of the world”—a functional music reflecting the harmony of the spheres—toward a more pluralistic conception. This newer conception can be neatly summed up using the expression “there are as many musics as there are worlds.” The emphatic conception of the works and composers of the nineteenth century stood in stark opposition to the harmony of the spheres. Since then, these worlds and musics have continually been diversified by globalization.
Can we even imagine two expressions further apart than those of “world music” and “musica mundana”? In its most common usage—i.e., that adopted by the music industry—“world music” is a marketing concept, used to describe non-Western music. Meanwhile, “musica mundana” refers to the mathematical ratios that govern the harmony of the spheres. Even so, both these terms mean “music of the world.” It is clear that they have vastly different meanings in Latin and English, and that they are situated intime in the same way as the linguae francae that convey them. But is this difference in meaning not also linked to the polysemy of the notions of “music” and “world”?
“Music” describes an art, a production, and a practice, but it is also one of the four divisions of the liberal arts of the quadrivium, alongside arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy. “World,” on the other hand, is more ambiguous. From an astronomical and planetary perspective, the term applies as much to the universe as it does to planet Earth, and all that is found and lives there. Socially, the word “world” describes the public, the people around us, secular life, fashionable society, and life as perceived by each one of us. Lastly, when used to refer to size and totality, it indicates something vast (“a whole world”)—but also a region or a milieu as a whole (the world of politics, the New World). The result of this is a distinction between a general meaning associated with a whole and a more specific meaning that concerns individuals, social groups, and cultural spheres in equal measure…
- Music as a reflection of the harmony of the world (from antiquity to the Renaissance)
- Music as a connection between the harmony of the spheres and human affects (the Renaissance and the early Baroque period)
- Composers and their work as worlds (the Enlightenment to the twentieth century)
- Music of the world versus musical worlds
- The diversification of musical worlds (late nineteenth century onward)
- In conclusion
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