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Gurney, Edmund (1847–88)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-M025-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved December 05, 2022, from

Article Summary

Edmund Gurney was an English psychologist and musician. His major work, The Power of Sound, is a vast treatise on musical aesthetics, ranging from issues in the physiology of hearing to the question of the relation of music to morality, but is mostly devoted to central questions of form, expression and value in music. It is the most significant work of its kind in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Commentators often couple Gurney with Hanslick as a supporter of musical formalism, but his views on the expressive dimension of music are neither as restrictive nor as doctrinaire as Hanslick’s. Hanslick insisted on denying specific emotional content to music, allowing it only to convey dynamic features, which emotions, among other things, might exhibit. Gurney, on the other hand, grants that some music possesses fairly definite emotional expression, and discusses at length the grounds of such expression; he is primarily concerned to deny that musical impressiveness, or beauty, is either the same as or depends on musical expressiveness.

Gurney maintains that overall form in music is not of primary relevance to the appreciation of music. This is because the central feature of musical comprehension is the grasping of individual parts as they occur, and the grasping of connections to immediately neighbouring parts, whatever the overarching form of a piece might be. The value of a piece is directly a function of the pleasurableness of its individual parts and the cogency of sequence exhibited at the transitions between them, not a function of its global architecture.

Citing this article:
Levinson, Jerrold. Gurney, Edmund (1847–88), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-M025-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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