Quotations from top musicians

These quotations are mainly from top  musicians, a few are from other interested parties. They are significant information not because musicians are always great intellects (they are not always), but because they are deeply connected and sensitized about the musical environment. The statements from top musicians/artists – even when they are poorly articulated or even inaccurate – are an essential part of  “wisdom” about music.Comments in green are from Isaac Malitz (“IM”)


The end of all good music is to affect the soul.


Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.

Jean-Phillippe Rameau

To enjoy the effects of music fully, we must completely lose ourselves in it;  to judge it, we must relate it to the source through which we are affected by it. This source is nature.

Often we think we hear in music only what exists in the words that we wish to give them. We try to subject music to forced inflections, but that is not the way to be able to judge it. On the contrary, we must not think but let ourselves be carried away by the feeling that the music inspires.



Hans Christian Andersen

Where words fail, music speaks.


Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.

I am that which is. I am all that was, that is, and that shall be. No mortal man has ever lifted the veil of me. He is solely of himself, and to this Only One all things owe their existence. [This quote is not from Beethoven. Rather, it is an ancient Egyptian motto attributed to Isis; Beethoven kept this motto framed on his desk.]

Napoleon Bonaparte

Music is what tells us that the human race is greater than we realize.

Franz Liszt

Music embodies feeling without forcing it to contend and combine with thought, as it is forced in most arts and especially in the art of words.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Music is the universal language of mankind.

Felix Mendelssohn

People usually complain that music is so ambiguous, and what they are supposed to think when they hear it is so unclear, while words are understood by everyone. But for me it is exactly the opposite…what the music I love expresses to me are thoughts not too indefinite for words, but rather too definite. [see quote by Isaac Malitz below which elaborates on this]


Every kind of music is good, except the boring kind.

Eating, loving, singing and digesting are, in truth, the four acts of the comic opera known as life, and they pass like bubbles of a bottle of champagne. Whoever lets them break without having enjoyed them is a complete fool.

Camille Saint-Saens

There is nothing more difficult than talking about music.

Robert Schumann

Music is to me the perfect expression of the soul, while to some it is a mere intoxication of the sense of hearing, and to others an arithmetical problem.

Leo Tolstoy

“A terrible thing is that sonata [Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata], especially the presto! And a terrible thing is music in general. What is it? Why does it do what it does? They say that music stirs the soul. Stupidity! A lie! It acts, it acts frightfully (I speak for myself), but not in an ennobling way. It acts neither in an ennobling nor a debasing way, but in an irritating way. How shall I say it? Music makes me forget my real situation. It transports me into a state which is not my own. Under the influence of music I really seem to feel what I do not feel, to understand what I do not understand, to have powers which I cannot have. Music seems to me to act like yawning or laughter; I have no desire to sleep, but I yawn when I see others yawn; with no reason to laugh, I laugh when I hear others laugh. And music transports me immediately into the condition of soul in which he who wrote the music found himself at that time. I become confounded with his soul, and with him I pass from one condition to another. But why that? I know nothing about it? But he who wrote Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ knew well why he found himself in a certain condition. That condition led him to certain actions, and for that reason to him had a meaning, but to me none, none whatever. And that is why music provokes an excitement which it does not bring to a conclusion. For instance, a military march is played; the soldier passes to the sound of this march, and the music is finished. A dance is played; I have finished dancing, and the music is finished. A mass is sung; I receive the sacrament, and again the music is finished. But any other music provokes an excitement, and this excitement is not accompanied by the thing that needs properly to be done, and that is why music is so dangerous, and sometimes acts so frightfully.”  [From Tolstoy’s novella The Kreutzer Sonata, in which someone hears that sonata and later commits a murder. The above passage conveys an extreme reaction to music; let’s not blame the reaction entirely on the music!]


It is better to invent reality than to copy it.

Richard Wagner

I believe in God, Mozart and Beethoven, and likewise their disciples and apostles;
I believe in the Holy Spirit and the truth of the one, indivisible Art;
I believe that this Art proceeds from God, and lives within the hearts of all illumined men;
I believe that he who once has bathed in the sublime delights of this high Art, is consecrated to Her for ever, and never can deny Her;
I believe that through Art all men are saved.


1900 – 1950

Ferruccio Busoni

Architecture, sculpture, poetry, and painting are old and mature arts. …  Music, compared with them, is like a child that has learned to walk, but must  still be led. It is a virgin art, without experience in life or suffering. It  is all unconscious as yet of what garb is becoming, of its own advantages,  its unawakend capacities.


But music, don’t you know, is a dream from which the veils have been lifted. It’s not even the expression of a feeling, it’s the feeling itself.

Aldous Huxley

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.


My need to express myself in music symphonically begins precisely where dark feelings hold sway, at the gate that leads into the “other world”, the world in which things no longer are divided by time and space.


And I say again and again that music must first and foremost be loved; it must come from the heart and be directed to the heart.

Pierre Reverdy (poet)

Only silence flows into the stream of eternal time.

Arnold Schoenberg

I feel air from another planet.

I lose myself in tones, circling, weaving,
With unfathomable thanks and unnamed praise,
Bereft of desire, I surrender myself to the great breath.

Swimming in a sea of crystal radiance–
I am only a spark of the holy fire
I am only a whisper of the holy voice.

(The above lines, composed by the poet Stefan George, were used in Schoenberg Quartet #2)

Alexander Scriabin

I am God! I am nothing, I’m play, I am freedom, I am life. I am the boundary, I am the peak.  [An extreme evocation of the transcendental aspect of music]

In love’s godlike breathing, there’s the innermost aspect of the universe. [Another evocation of the transcendental aspect of music]

Wallace Stevens (poet)

Just as my fingers on these keys
Make music, so the selfsame sounds
On my spirit make a music, too.


In music, more than in any other branch of art, undersanding is given only to those who make an active effort. Passive receptivity is not enough. The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music; they should be taught to love it instead.

Music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all. Music expresses itself.

We have a duty towards music, namely, to invent it.

Edgard Varese

The very basis of creative work is irreverence !

My experimenting is done before I make the music. Afterwards, it is the listener who must experiment. [See the Lachenmann quote below.]

Many of the old masters are my intimate friends – all are respected colleagues. None of them are dead saints – in fact, none of them are dead – and the rules they made for themselves are not sacrosanct, are not everlasting laws. Listening to music by Machaut, Monteverdi, Bach, or Beethoven, we are conscious of living substances; they are “alive in the present.”

William Butler Yeats

Music is the most impersonal of things and words  (probably meaning  poetry) the most personal …      [Of course some people would consider music the most personal]


NOW (Post-1950)

Maya Angelou

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.


All pianists are idiots. (said by an eminent pianist)  [This remarkable quotation is both self-refuting and at the same time highly informative! It provides guidance on how to interpret and make use of statements by top musicians.]

Roy Ayers

The true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers.

Albert Ayler

Music is the healing force of the universe.

Milton Babbitt

There are enormous hazards in a composer attempting to invoke words in explication of his music.

Tony Bennett

The bottom line of any country is, what did we contribute to the world? We contributed Louis Armstrong.

Leonard Bernstein

Music can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.

Pierre Boulez

[Music is] an organized delirium.

Just listen with the vastness of the world in mind. You can’t fail to get the message. [A wonderful statement about the Transcendental aspect of music.]

The musical world is indeed one of the most conservative of all and almost the most enclosed. … There is a great deal of talk about free music, music in a state of “becoming”, … but as soon as this music … reaches the stage of practical performance, we all come up against the fatal rigidity of structures. [The concert world is a bureaucracy ! I.M.]

The aim of music is not to express feelings but to express music. It is not a  vessel into which the composer distills his soul drop by drop, but a labyrinth with no beginning and no end, full of new paths to discover, where mystery remains eternal.

In a 2014 interview, Boulez was asked “Is contemporary music for an elite ?”. His response:  “Of course. But the elite should be as large as possible.”

Eric Clapton

From the beginning, I knew intuitively that if nothing else, music was safe, and that nobody could tell me anything about it. Music didn’t need a middleman, whereas all the other things in school needed some kind of explanation.

Jacqueline du Pre

But also, as [the pianist Stephen] Kovacevich recalls, she [Jacqueline du Pre] had something more significant to offer than precision. “Once I raised some pedantic point in a rehearsal — the composer had written forte and she was playing something else. She responded, ‘Once the composer has finished the piece, it’s mine!‘ ”

Duke Ellington

If it sounds good, it IS good. [Compelling support for the OMS point of view.]

Morton Feldman

The composer makes plans, music laughs.

I feel that music should have no vested interests, that you shouldn’t know how it’s made, that you shouldn’t know if there’s a system, that you shouldn’t know anything about it … except that it’s some kind of life force that to some degree really changes your life … if you’re into it.

Wonderful aphorism – but we can’t take refuge in aphorisms.

Virgil Fox

Musical purists are barnacles on the ship of Music.

Evelyn Glennie

Hearing is basically a specialized form of touch.

Keith Jarrett

Music always turns into music. As soon as I play a key, push a key down, there’s no theory any more. When I go and I hear a sound on the keyboard, all theories go out the window.

Helmut Lachenmann

It’s true that I’m trying to search for new sounds, but this is not my aesthetic aim or credo as an artist. With conventional or unconventional sounds, the question is how to create a new, authentic musical situation. The problem isn’t to search for new sounds, but for a new way of listening, of perception. [So Lachenmann’s view is that  listening is potentially a highly-creative and difficult activity. I think the OMS model substantiates that view.] I don’t know if there are still new sounds, but what we need are new contexts.

Witold Lutoslawski

Artistic creation may be thus viewed as a hunt for human souls resulting in a cure for the most acute of human sufferings, a sense of loneliness.

Isaac Malitz

Music is extreme acupuncture – 10,000 stimulation points ! – by means of sound.  [This is a forward-looking conception of music, we aren’t quite there yet.]

(sadly) The only way we can “touch” music is with words[an elaboration on the Mendelssohn quote above]

Barry Manilow

When I am in the studio, I am completely focused on creating the music. I do not know what will happen when the music leaves the studio and people listen to it. Sometimes people tell me how my music has affected them, I am always surprised and humbled. [Paraphrase of some remarks by Manilow in a radio interview with Julie James 11/2014]

Thelonious Monk

Jazz is freedom. Now, you think about that.

Karlheinz Stockhausen

All of the commentaries that have ever been, and those yet to be written, all the thoughts and dreams and impressions and visions and actions that my music arouses in its hearers, all these, no less, add up to the meaning of this music – somthing that must always remain largely a mystery, never to be comprehended by a single individual. The resonance is different in every person, for each stands on a different rung of the ladder of spiritual self enhancement.

Toru Takemitsu

First, devote yourself to a simple act of listening. Only then will you understand the purpose of music.

The fear of silence is nothing new. Silence surrounds the dark world of death. Sometimes the silence of the vast universe hovers over us, enveloping us. There is the intense silence of birth, the quiet silence of one’s return to the earth…

Confronting silence by uttering a sound is nothing but verifying one’s own existence. It is only that singling out of one’s self from the cavern of silence that can really be called “singing.” That is the only “truth” that should concern artists, otherwise we will never really face the question of art’s reality. It is in silence that the artist singles out the truth to sing or sketch. And it is then that he realizes his truth exists prior to everything. This is the love of art, and at the same time is something that could be called “the world”. These days too many arts have left the meaning of silence behind.

Kurt Vonnegut

Virtually every writer I know would rather be a musician.

Stevie Wonder

Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand

Iannis Xenakis

Human beings are bound by their own perception of time and space. Is it possible to escape from the labyrinth of  this sad glass box, and be awakened to Being which envisages the ‘now’ as the ‘forever’, and the ‘here’ as two-hundred-million light-years away?”

Frank Zappa

Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is THE BEST…