(To survey other elements and author quotes, visit the Elements of Fiction home page)

(All quotes by Diane Ackerman unless otherwise indicated)

“Music, the perfume of hearing.”

“From the outset, our brains and nervous systems have led us to prefer certain intervals between sounds.”

“Our instruments have evolved from a deep inner delight in music, but one that has boundaries. Much of what we hear strikes us as dissonance or as noise, and what falls within a certain range we find sweet, intellectually satisfying, and mellifluous.”

“Many violinists and violinmakers insist that violins grow into their beautiful throaty sounds, and that a violin played exquisitely for a long time eventually contains the exquisite sounds within itself. . . . The wood remembers.”

“The odd thing about music is that we understand and respond to it without actually having to learn it. Each word in a verbal phrase tells something all by itself; it has a history and nuances. But musical tones mean something only in relation to one another, when they’re teamed up.”

“Don’t you realize, my dear fellows, that music is a language which communicates experience?” Paul Badura-Skoda

“Say what one will, words rarely capture the immediate emotional assault of a piece of poignant music.”

“Music heard so deeply, that it is not heard at all, but you are the music while the music lasts.” T.S. Eliot

“How closely does this emotion . . . resemble the original emotion of Beethoven? . . . There can only be one answer to this . . . about as closely as the emotions of one human being can ever resemble those of another.” Deryck Cooke

“Music speaks to us so powerfully that many musicians and theorists think it may be an actual language, one that developed about the same time a speech.”

“No matter how far back in history we look, we find human beings making and listening to music, but how and why did our passion for it begin? Why do we feel driven to make music? Why does music differ so much between cultures?”

“How do we understand the language of music without learning it?”

“In recent times, science fiction has proposed music as the Esperanto of the universe.”

“There has always been a connection between music and mathematics, which is why scientists have often been inordinately fond of music, especially of composers such as Bach.”

“Why is music mathematical? Because, as Pythagoras of Samos discovered in the fifth century B.C., notes can be precisely measured along a vibrating string, and the intervals between notes expressed as ratios. Of course people sang what pleased them; they didn’t decide to sing in ratios.”

“This revelation, that mathematics was secretly determining the beauty of music, must have seemed just one more indisputable proof to the mathematically minded Greeks that they universe was an orderly, logical, knowable structure.”

“The deaf often enjoy music, which they perceive as attractive vibration.”

“Countries speak their own unique languages, but whole civilizations enjoy certain forms of music.”

“According to the composer Felix Mendelssohn . . . music is too . . . precise to translate into other tonal idioms, let alone into words. Words are arbitrary. There’s no direct link between them and the emotions they represent. Instead, they lasso an idea or emotion and drag it into view for a moment. We need words to corral how we feel and think; they allow us to reveal our inner lives to one another, as well as to exchange goods and services. But music is a controlled outcry from the quarry of emotions all humans share.”

“Both awaken in the hearer an emotional response; the difference is that a word awakens both an emotional response and a comprehension of its meaning, whereas a note, having no meaning, awakens only an emotional response.” Deryck Cook

“For Mozart, music was not only a passionately intense intellectual medium, it was one through which he felt, indeed conducted, precise emotions.”

“Of course, there is an odd sense in which music can’t really be heard at all. Much of musical composition is tonal problem solving on a very complex scale, an effort undertaken entirely in the mind of the composer.”

“When words and music meet in poetry or song, each enhances the effect of the other.”

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast.” William Congreve

“Music seems to produce specific emotional states that all people share, and as a result, it allows us to communicate our most intimate emotions without having to talk about or define them in a loose net of words.”

“Music is not like vision. If you mix blue and yellow together, you lose the individual colors and make a new one; tones, on the other hand, may be combined without losing their individuality. What you end up with is a chord, something new, which has its own sound but in which the individual tones are also distinct and identifiable.”

“A chord is something of a different order. A chord ‘is something like an idea,’ philosopher of music Victor Zuckerkandl writes, ‘an idea to be heard, an idea for the ear, an audible idea.’ For colors to stay separate without blending, they have to occupy space next to each other. They can’t occupy the same space. But notes can occupy the same space and remain separate.”

“Any space is as much a part of the instrument as the instrument itself.” Pauline Oliveros

“Who is man, that this almost-nothing, this ‘nothing but tones’ could become one of his most significant experiences.” Victor Zuckerkandl

“Without music, life would be a mistake.” Nietzsche