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Absolute music

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Absolute music

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Absolute music, less often abstract music, is a term used within the classical music field to describe music that is not explicitly "about" anything, non-representational or non-objective. Absolute music has no words and no references to stories or images or any other kind of extramusical idea. It is also known in classical contexts as abstract music and is in contrast to program music. The view of absolute music as music "for its own sake" derives from Kant's aesthetic disinterestedness from his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment (Ashby 2004, p.7).

Carl Dahlhaus describes absolute music as music without a "concept, object, and purpose."

Is all music absolute music?

  • "Music has no subject beyond the combinations of notes we hear, for music speaks not only by means of sounds, it speaks nothing but sound."

-Eduard Hanslick, quoted by Wolfgang Sandberger (1996) in the liner notes to the Juilliard String Quartet's album of Janacek and Berg's program music, Intimate Letters. Sony Classical SK 66840.


  • Ashby, Arved, ed. (2004). "Introduction", The Pleasure of Modernist Music. ISBN 1580461433.
  • Dahlhaus, Carl, The Idea of Absolute Music, trans. Lustig, Roger. ISBN 0226134873

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

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