Symbolism of musical instruments

Nowadays music is considered somewhat neutral, as a pure art or as entertainment, but in the past it was much more embedded in wider life, with functional and symbolic significance.

One big reason for that was that before the rise of recordings, all musical acts were necessarily done in real time by a live human performer. This meant that the music was done for something, for someone, and not (as often now) just happening as background noise.

Because of this intentionality of performance, all aspects of music had purpose and meaning. I was particularly thinking of the significance of musical instruments recently. I think that certain instruments still do retain these symbolisms and resonances, but in a less clearly articulated way.

2 thoughts on “Symbolism of musical instruments”

  1. Hi Simon

    I read somewhere that early Celtic music was considered good or bad depending on how well it functioned and not how catchy the tune was. Maybe it was Karen Ralls-MacLeod. This idea has become stuck in my mind and I ponder it from time to time.

    Peter Wilson

  2. Thanks Peter, yes it is in Karen's book. This is I think a universal thing, worldwide, except for the particular and unusual culture of 19th and 20th century Western Europe… and its ever spreading inheritance.

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