No society on Earth is devoid of music. From the flutes and rattles of isolated Amazonian tribes to the mass gatherings of modern festivals like Lollapalooza, music is found everywhere that humans themselves are found. The origin of music, however, will forever remain a mystery, as it occurred long before recorded history.
The first musical instrument was almost certainly the human voice itself, whether humming or whistling or making some other musical sound. As for constructed instruments, they have been around for an astonishing amount of time. The oldest known musical instrument is quite likely the Divje Babe Flute, discovered in 1995 in Slovenia. If this cave bear femur — pierced by evenly spaced holes — is indeed a Neanderthal flute, then we know that humans have been playing musical instruments for at least the last 50,000 years. The oldest known melody, meanwhile, is the Hurrian Hymn, discovered on a clay tablet inscribed with cuneiform text. It’s over 3,400 years old, and we can still listen to it.
Today, the importance of music is widely acknowledged. It is taught in schools around the world, and is used in everything from advertising to psychotherapy. And anyone who has listened to their favorite song while feeling sad or lonely knows how music can lift the spirits. The following quotes — from philosophers, scientists, musicians, and more — all attest to the transformative power of music: to its strange and wonderful ability to make life better.
My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.
– Martin Luther
Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to the infinite.
– Thomas Carlyle
Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit lives, thinks, and invents.
– Ludwig van Beethoven
Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
– Victor Hugo
I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.
– Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest times, and to the latest.
– Henry David Thoreau
If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in my life out of my violin.
– Albert Einstein
Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter — to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way, as if we were sitting by a mountain lake and contemplating hills and woods and clouds in the tranquil and fathomless water.
– Albert Schweitzer, theologian, philosopher, physician, organist, and Nobel Peace Prize winner
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
– Aldous Huxley
Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident
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