The Power of Beauty

Years ago a somber-minded composer urged me to stop writing beautiful melodies. He felt that beautiful melodies gave audience members too much immediate pleasure, which made music too easy to enjoy, as if pleasure and enjoyment were sinful.

Beauty can have an extraordinary power to please, which leads some austere people to mistrust it. Some of them feel that immediate pleasure is superficial and may blind us to obscure abstractions like “underlying realities.”

Yet extraordinary surfaces, surfaces that attract and hold our attention, can have immense depth when we respond to them powerfully. A beautiful surface that fully captures our awareness can pull us away from inattention and move us toward a meaningful personal experience. When that happens, the captivating surface becomes an inseparable aspect of the overall aesthetic experience.

Beauty’s power to enthrall can make it a powerful expressive weapon, far too powerful to avoid just because some strait-laced people distrust sensuous pleasure. So I continue striving to compose beautiful melodies and textures, even in passages when a work’s expressive mood turns dark. For me, the rhetorical power of beauty—whether light or dark—is integral to my desire to create moving experiences.

So, rather than turn away from Beauty, I asked her to move in with me. I can’t imagine composing music without Beauty’s help. If she wakes up feeling groggy, I offer her some coffee and hope she’ll soon be feeling magical.