For many writers in the period between 1550 and 1850, form was the central quality by which to relate music’s essence to its effect. Most adhered to the principles of Pythagoreanism, either in a “hard” version based on the theory of isomorphic resonance or in a “soft” version that related the fundamental nature of music to number without necessarily equating it to the structure of the micro- and macrocosms. In its more extreme manifestations, formalism denies the category of expression altogether: a work does not “express” anything other than its form, and there is no idea “in” or “behind” the music to be expressed in the literal sense of being made external. A more accommodating line of thought acknowledged music’s capacity to reflect ideas or emotions in some manner (often unspecified) through the element of form.
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