What Is Humanism in Music?

A discussion of what humanism is in music, and how it is applied to create beautiful, expressive works.

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What is Humanism in Music?

Humanism, as a philosophy, stresses the importance of individual freedom and human dignity. In music, humanism refers to a style of composition that emphasizes the emotional and spiritual aspects of human experience. This type of music often includes themes of love, loss, and hope, and it is typically presented in a more intimate setting than other genres.

The History of Humanism in Music

Humanism in music is a philosophical and aesthetic stance that emphasizes the inherent worth of humans and their ability to discern truth and beauty. The term has its roots in the Renaissance, when scholars and artists began to look to the classical world for inspiration and to challenge the dominant Christian worldview. In music, humanism is often manifest in a focus on emotional expression and the individual experience, as opposed to the transcendent or spiritual.

The history of humanism in music can be traced back to the Renaissance, when scholars began to rediscover the musical writings of ancient Greece and Rome. This resurgence of interest in classical antiquity led to a new appreciation for the expressive potential of music, which was seen as a means of conveying human emotions. This concept was further developed in the Baroque era, when composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel wrote works that were designed to elicit an emotional response from their listeners.

The idea of music as an expression of human emotion continued to gain traction in the Romantic era, when composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert sought to capture the innermost thoughts and feelings of their characters through their music. This trend continued into the 20th century, with composers such as Arnold Schoenberg exploring atonality as a way of express his own psychological state.

Humanism in music has been a powerful force throughout history, shaping both the content and form of many great works. It remains an influential force in contemporary music, with composers often using it as a tool for personal expression.

The Different Types of Humanism in Music

Humanism in music is the idea that music should depict or express the human experience, rather than celebrate thedivine or the supernatural. This can manifest itself in many different ways, depending on the composer’s beliefs and preferences. For instance, some composers may choose to write music that focuses on human love and relationships, while others may write music meant to express the more ugly aspects of humanity, such as war or hatred. Still others may take a more abstract approach, writing music meant to evoke certain emotions in listeners or to provoke thought about important topics such as morality. Ultimately, there is no single correct way to approach humanism in music; it is up to each individual composer to decide what aspects of humanity he or she wishes to depict through their work.

The Benefits of Humanism in Music

Humanism in music is the belief that music should be created for its own sake, and that it can be a source of enjoyment and enrichment for both the composer and the listener. This philosophy has its roots in the Renaissance, when artists and musicians began to break away from the Church’s control over the arts. Humanism in music is marked by a focus on beauty and expression, rather than on religious or political message.

Humanist composers believed that music should be expressive and emotional, and should be able to reach all people, regardless of their social class or education. This philosophy led to major changes in the way music was written, performed, and heard. Humanism also had a significant impact on the development of opera, which became one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Today, humanism in music is still evident in many different genres and styles. Composers continue to write music that is meant to be enjoyed by all, regardless of their background or level of training. And while there are many different types of music that fall under the humanist umbrella, all share a common focus on beauty, emotion, and expression.

The Importance of Humanism in Music

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence over acceptance of dogma or superstition. The term “humanism” can also refer to a perspective that affirms some notion of human perfection or excellence.

In music, humanism is concerned with the study of the music of antiquity, particularly that of Greece and Rome. This field of study is important for understanding the development of Western music, since many of the musical traditions and styles of the present day have their roots in these ancient cultures.

Humanism in music is also concerned with the idea of returning to Nature, or what some call “the natural state.” This means avoiding artificiality in both composition and performance, and instead striving for a more organic and emotional connection with the music. In this sense, humanism in music often overlaps with Romanticism.

The Impact of Humanism in Music

Humanism in music is a philosophical and social movement that emphasize the dignity and value of the individual. The humanist movement began in the late Renaissance, and by the Baroque period, it had gained significant momentum. The ideas of humanism were influential in shaping the course of Western music, and they continue to be relevant today.

Humanists believed that every person has unique worth and should be treated with respect. They championed individual expression and creativity, and they valued emotional sincerity over formal technicality. These ideals found their way into music through the works of humanist composers, who sought to write music that would resonate with listeners on a personal level.

Humanism also had an impact on musical aesthetics. The goal of humanist composers was to write beautiful music that would please the ear and touch the heart. They sought to imbue their works with expressive power and melodies that would stay in the listener’s mind long after the music ended. In many ways, humanism was responsible for ushering in an era of increased artistic feeling and sensibility in Western music.

While humanism is no longer as widespread or influential as it once was, its impact on music is still evident today. Many modern composers continue to be inspired by humanist ideals, and their works often reflect these values. Ultimately, humanism has left a lasting mark on Western music, and its influence can still be felt in the works of many contemporary composers.

The Future of Humanism in Music

The notion of “humanism” in music is complex, and there is no one agreed-upon definition. In general, humanism in music can be understood as a return to traditional values and musical practices that were prevalent before the rise of modernism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This return to tradition is often motivated by a desire to create music that is more accessible and expressive, and that reflects the lived experiences of real people.

There are different approaches to humanism in music, and not allhumanist composers or musicians would necessarily agree with each other on all points. However, there are some key elements that are common to many humanist musical works. These include a focus on melody, tonality, and formal structure; a rejection of atonal or serial techniques; a use of traditional instrumentation and musical forms; and a concern for the human emotional experience.

Humanism in music is sometimes seen as a reaction against the intellectualism of modernism, which was often seen as too cerebral or academic. However, it is important to note that many humanist composers were also highly educated and well-versed in contemporary musical trends. They simply chose to use different compositional techniques in order to achieve their own aesthetic goals.

Today, humanist values are evident in a wide range of music, from popular genres like rock and folk to classical styles like opera and chamber music. In many cases, humanist composers are working within traditional genres but using contemporary techniques to create something new and fresh. As the world continues to change, it is likely that the definition of humanism in music will continue to evolve as well.

The Pros and Cons of Humanism in Music

Humanism is the philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). The meaning of the term “humanism” has fluctuated according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it. Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective which affirms some notion of human freedom and progress. In modern times, humanist movements are typically aligned with secularism, and today “humanism” is frequently used as an umbrella term for a variety of non-theistic approaches to ethical thinking.

Humanism in music is the theory that music should represent humanity, rather than supernatural forces. Music that adheres to this ideal is said to be “humanistic.” This concept has been controversial throughout history, with some music theorists arguing that humanism in music is possible, while others contend that it is impossible or undesirable.

The Debate Over Humanism in Music

Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition. The term “humanism” can be used to refer to a perspective that affirms some notion of human freedom and progress. In philosophy and ethics, humanism is a perspective that may be unfavorable to theistic or supernatural worldviews.

In music, humanism is a debate about the role of music in society. There are two main camps in this debate: those who believe that music should be an expression of the individual composer’s emotions and creativity (often called “art music” or “absolute music”), and those who believe that music should be accessible to as many people as possible and used as a tool for social change (often called “popular music” or ” utilitarian music”). Each side has its own definition of what humanism in music means, but they all agree on one thing: that musical works should be evaluated on their own merits, without reference to external factors such as the composer’s nationality, race, religion, or political beliefs.

The debate over humanism in music is really a debate over two different ways of looking at the relationship between art and society. One perspective sees art as primarily an expression of the individual self; the other sees it as primarily a tool for social change. Each side has its own view of what it means to be human, and each side has its own definition of what humanism in music means.


Though humanism in music has taken on many different forms over the years, the common thread between all of them has been a focus on the emotional and personal aspects of music making. Whether it’s emphasizing the role of the performer in bringing a work to life, or composing music that tells a specific story or paints a picture, humanist composers have always sought to connect with their audiences on a personal level. In an age where music is increasingly produced by machines and consumed through digital platforms, the humanistic approach to music making can be a refreshing change of pace.

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