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Cool Quotations
Ideas on Music from some of the world's greatest minds of writers and musicians


Mozart as a boy  Painted by Jean Baptiste Greuze 1763-4

"I cannot write in verse, for I am no poet. I cannot arrange the parts of speech with such art as to produce effects of light and shade, for I am no painter. Even by signs and gestures I cannot express my thoughts and feelings, for I am no dancer. But I can do so by means of sounds, for I am a musician."  (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) 


"It is not difficult to compose, but what is enormously
hard is to leave the superfluous notes under the table."
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897); German composer.


Melody is a form of remembrance…. It must have a quality of inevitability in our ears.
Gian Carlo Menotti "On patrons of the Metropolitan Opera", Time  May 1950

"There is something about music that keeps its distance even at the moment that it engulfs us. It is at the same time outside and away from us and inside and part of us. In one sense it dwarfs us, and in another we master it. We are led on and on, and yet in some strange way we never lose control." Aaron Copland Music and Imagination

 "Out of my entire annual output of songs, perhaps two, or at the most three, came as a result of inspiration. We can never rely on inspiration. When we most want it, it does not come." 

George Gershwin

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society.."William Wordsworth (1770–1850), British poet

"The expressions of the poet cannot be analyzed; his sentence is one word, whose syllables are words. There are indeed no words quite worthy to be set to his music. But what matter if we do not hear the words always, if we hear the music?." Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher 

"The winds which passed over my dwelling were such as sweep over the ridges of mountains, bearing the broken strains, or celestial parts only, of terrestrial music. The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted; but few are the ears that hear it.." Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher 

 "If a song can't be written in 20 minutes, it ain't worth writing." Hank Williams:

"Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different, and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane.." Theodor W. Adorno (1903–1969), German philosopher, sociologist, music critic.

"We worked the medley on side two of "Abbey Road" out carefully in advance. All of those mini songs were partly completed tunes; some were written while we were in India a year before. So there was just a bit of chorus here and a verse there. We welded them all together into a routine."
George Harrison

"Take any noble musical air, and you find, on examining it, that not one even of the faintest or shortest notes can be removed without destruction to the whole passage in which it occurs; and that every note in the passage is twenty times more beautiful so introduced, than it would have been if played singly on the instrument." John Ruskin (1819–1900), British author

For the introduction of a new kind of music must be shunned as imperiling the whole state; since styles of music are never disturbed without affecting the most important political institutions. Plato (c. 427–347 B.C.), Greek philosopher.


The whole story of the universe is implicit in any part of it. The meditative eye can look through any single object and see, as through a window, the entire cosmos. Aldous Huxley (1894–1963), British novelist.


"Music at its best is not in need of novelty; indeed, the older it is, the more one is accustomed to it, the stronger its effect." Goethe (1749–1832), German poet, dramatist.

Image:Goethe (Stieler 1828).jpg

"Music is the sound of the universal laws promulgated. It is the only assured tone. There are in it such strains as far surpass any man’s faith in the loftiness of his destiny. Things are to be learned which it will be worth the while to learn." Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), U.S. philosopher

"Anything that is too stupid to be spoken is sung."  Voltaire, 1694-1778) Social Critic


"Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything."  (Plato, 427 BC-348)


"Music and silence … combine strongly because music is done with silence, and silence is full of music.." Marcel Marceau (US News & World Report 23 Feb 87)


"I have learned that there lies dormant in the souls of all men a penchant for some particular musical instrument, and an unsuspected yearning to learn to play on it, that are bound to wake up and demand attention some day." Mark Twain

"Ah, that shows you the power of music, that magician of magician, who lifts his wand and says his mysterious word and all things real pass away and the phantoms of your mind walk before you clothed in flesh."
Mark Twain - Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc


Keeping time, time, time
In a sort of Runic rhyme
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells.

The Bells,

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)


"The power of subtle orchestration is a secret that is impossible to transmit, and the composer who possesses that secret should value it highly, and never debase it to the level of a mere collection of formulae learned by heart."

Principles of Orchestration


Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord's anointed temple, and stole thence
The life o' the building!

William Shakesphere

Title page of the First Folio, 1623. Copper engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshout. 


Portrait of Diderot by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767 

There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge. . . observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination.

Genius is present in every age, but the men carrying it within them remain benumbed unless extraordinary events occur to heat up and melt the mass so that it flows forth.   

Only passions, great passions, can elevate the soul to great things.

 Diderot (1713 - 1784)  

I passionately hate the idea of being with it. I think an artist has always to be out of step with his time.
Orson Welles (1915 - 1985), 1966

Music is the space between the notes.

Claude Debussy

Claude Debussy, photo by Félix Nadar, ca. 1908. 

Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart

Pablo Casals


"Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale"

Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875)


"Silence is the speech of love, The music of the spheres above." Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903)Speech of Love.

"Music can, in a few moments, admit us through vast portals into avenues, courts and halls of infinite extent and variety. Music can suddenly raise up an entire structure and, by the device of modulation, lift it on to a podium, abruptly recess its facades and turn them bodily into the sunshine" John Newenham Summerson (b. 1904), British architect, author.

 "Music has its own alphabet of only seven letters, as compared with the twenty-six of the English alphabet. ...Several words form a phrase, and several phrases a complete sentence, and the same thing is true in music." Sigmund Spaeth (1885–1965), U.S. musicologist.

 "Is there not
An art, a music, and a stream of words
That shalt be life, the acknowledged voice of life?" William Wordsworth (1770–1850), British poet.

"Since music is a language with some meaning at least for the immense majority of mankind, although only a tiny minority of people are capable of formulating a meaning in it, and since it is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods, and music itself the supreme mystery of the science of man, a mystery that all the various disciplines come up against and which holds the key to their progress." Claude Lévi-Strauss, "The Raw and the Cooked"

 "Music was invented to confirm human loneliness." Lawrence Durrell (1912–1990), British author

"Music … can name the unnamable and communicate the unknowable." Leonard Bernstein (1918-90) American Composer in The Unanswered Question 

"Truly fertile Music, the only kind that will move us, that we shall truly appreciate, will be a Music conducive to Dream, which banishes all reason and analysis. One must not wish first to understand and then to feel. Art does not tolerate Reason.
Albert Camus (1913–1960), French Philosopher in “Essay on Music", 1932

"Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture. The air in the performance is sculpted into something..
Frank Zappa (1940–1994), U.S. composer

"The musical emotion springs precisely from the fact that at each moment the composer withholds or adds more or less than the listener anticipates on the basis of a pattern that he thinks he can guess, but that he is incapable of wholly divining...."  Claude Lévi-Strauss (b. 1908), French anthropologist

"Keep it simple, keep it sexy, keep it sad". Mitch Miller

 "You could write a song about some kind of emotional problem you are having, but it would not be a good song, in my eyes, until it went through a period of sensitivity to a moment of clarity. Without that moment of clarity to contribute to the song, it's just complaining...I can't remember anything I ever wrote...Not to dismiss Gershwin, but Gershwin is the chip; Ellington was the block."
Joni Mitchell

"The soul of music slumbers in the shell
Till waked and kindled by the master’s spell;
And feeling hearts, touch them but rightly, pour
A thousand melodies unheard before!"
 Samuel Rogers (1763–1855)

"The feelings that Beethoven put into his music were the feelings of a god. There was something olympian in his snarls and rages, and there was a touch of hellfire in his mirth.."  H.L.Mencken (1880–1956), U.S. journalist

"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."  Pierre Boulez  (1925-) French Composer 

"I consider myself to be an inept pianist, a bad singer, and a merely competent songwriter."
Billy Joel

Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory;
Odours, when sweet violets sicken,
Live within the sense they quicken.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822), British poet.


Have you ever been up in your plane at night, alone, somewhere, 20,000 feet above the ocean?... Did you ever hear music up there?... It’s the music a man’s spirit sings to his heart, when the earth’s far away and there isn’t any more fear.  Dalton Trumbo (1905–1976), U.S. screenwriter

If mass communications blend together harmoniously, and often unnoticeably, art, politics, religion, and philosophy with commercials, they bring these realms of culture to their common denominator—the commodity form. The music of the soul is also the music of salesmanship. Exchange value, not truth value, counts. Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), U.S. political philosopher.

"For poetry was all written before time was, and whenever we are so finely organized that we can penetrate into that region where the air is music, we hear those primal warblings, and attempt to write them down, but we lose ever and anon a word, a verse, and substitute something of our own, and thus miswrite the poem" Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher.

"Music sets up ladders,
it makes us invisible,
it sets us apart,
it lets us escape;
but from the visible
there is no escape." Hilda Doolittle (1886–1961), U.S. poet.


"Music is the effort we make to explain to ourselves how our brains work. We listen to Bach transfixed because this is listening to a human mind." Lewis Thomas U.S. physician, educator  The Medusa and the Snail (1979).

Wide awake I can make my most fantastic dreams come true.  Lorenz Hart (1895–1943), U.S. songwriter

"It is precisely because he is continually taking the attitude of the listener that the composer becomes aware of his own self, his ego, in the process of creation. In this process of differentiation between himself as composer and himself as audience, the composer becomes self-conscious and objective." Leonard B Meyer, 1956, Emotion and Meaning in Music (in Tweak's bookstore)

"So I'm not too concerned with making new sounds, since I already have sounds that I like.  Honestly, I tend to use the same sounds over and over"" Moby, 2002, Keyboard Magazine (current issue)

"My best songs were written very quickly. Just about as much time as it takes to write it down is about as long as it takes to write it...In writing songs I've learned as much from Cezanne as I have from Woody Guthrie...It's not me, it's the songs. I'm just the postman, I deliver the songs...I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet." Bob Dylan

"Percussion music is revolution.  Sound and rhythm have too long been submissive to the restrictions of nineteenth century music.  Today we are fighting for their emancipation.  Tomorrow, with electronic music in our ears, we will hear freedom"  John Cage Silence (original quote1939)

"The pleasure which we derive from style...results from the arousal and suspension or fulfillment of expectations which are the products of many previous encounters with works of art.  H.D. Aiken (1950) "The Aesthetic Relevance of Belief"  Journal of Aesthetics IX


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