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Throughout history the soulful language of music has used overriding influences on individuals and cultures equally. Felix Mendelssohn (a famous German musician and composer of the early Romantic period) once stated that music is more explicit about what it expresses than words written about those expressions could ever be (Simon Frith). The fact that music has the power to express and convey powerful emotions is without question, however the issue of music's moral and ethical authority, and how that power affects individuals and societies, is one that receives little attention in our post-modern world. Ancient cultures such as Chinese and Greek held strong beliefs in the moral and ethical power of music, as well as the society of the 20th Century. These three time periods will evaluate the societal influences music has had on their society and how it changed civilization.
Like the Chinese, the Greeks held the view that music controlled influential possessions. Greek theories and sociologists were similar to that of the ancient Chinese in that the Greeks believed that the nature of music, its relevance to the cosmic order and its power to effect individuals and society, was as important as the basic materials, structures and patterns of musical composition (Brian Longhurst). A single Individual cannot understand the depth of Greek thought with regards to music without contemplating their understanding of the relation of melody and poetry. To the Greeks these two languages were one in the same. When the society of today speak of the music of poetry, todayâ€™s culture is conscious of using a figure of speech; but to the Greeks such music was actual melody whose interludes and rhythms could be surely described (Donald J. Grout). Grout points out that the marriage of spoken word and music, as demonstrated by the Greeks, reappeared in other ways throughout the history of music; most notably in other theories about musical drama in the nineteenth century. The concept of music as a language which, like the spoken word, can exert influence over human actions and thought gave growth to one of the most insightful and significant policies of Greek musical thought - the policy of character. With this understanding the Greeks believed that once an artist became aware of music's power there was an obligation to use that power with a certain moral responsibility. Many Greek philosophers and sociologists believed that society was based on the dual principles that music has an effect on moral and ethical behaviour and that certain types of music affects people in different ways. The Greeks credited certain mythological characteristics to the basic character of music: Apollonian -- music that was considered classic, characterized by its clam, tranquil and uplifting qualities, and Dionysian -- music that was considered romantic, characterized by its excitement and enthusiasm (Christopher Small). In contrast to modern culture, Greek society focuses more on the power and responsibility of music towards a society, whereas music of the 20th century emphasises more toward the social aspect of music.
It has become apparent that in the twentieth century the condition of art music in Western culture has experienced a transformation that few could have been envisioned one hundred years ago. The motives for this transformation are varied including the technologyâ€™s influence on the media and the subsequent exposure to new cultures and ethnic traditions (multiculturalism), commercialism, as well as the increased emphasis on visual media and various political, cultural and social changes. Religion, for so long was the moral compass of society, is no longer the strong force in guiding society in the matters of morality and ethics, resulting in a state of moral and cultural relativism (Allan Bloom). The composers of the 20th Century push the tonal envelope to its limits in an attempt to achieve greater individuality and expressiveness. The move away from the conventions of tonality and the cultural values it represented, to the conventions of serialism and the unconventional, has resulted in a cultural trauma that continues to have adverse effects and causes one to wonder if these effects on the public's aversion to modern music is permanent. This is mainly because the traditions of society have changed immensely. In addition, individuals prefer to listen to music for other purposes besides religion and other formal factors. Most present teens want to listen to songs that will keep them in a prosperous mood. Pop music, for example is becoming extremely popular because of this effect. The billboard charts have been dominated by the rising genre, and consequently changed the way we view music.
Through the example of our history, the intricate power of music has influences on individuals and societies alike. Music has always been a significant factor in society through many time periods, as well as conducted on how humans governed each other, judged, and even felt about themselves. Due to this fact, it is evident to see the relations to sociology, as well as aspects of anthropology. This is revealed through the societies of ancient Chinese, Greek, and the modern 20th century. These periods in time discover the drastic influences their music has had on their society and how it changed societyâ€™s evolution.