A Social Compound

Maria Mitterbacher, a 19th century noblewoman from Vienna, describes in a letter a Viennese chamber music gathering: “Since, at these concerts, there were neither beautiful premises, nor fine attire, nor vanity but only the deepest reverence for the art of arts, it was really just one family”.

Intellectual proximity, physical proximity, and blood relationships are what make up the communal for sociologist Ferdinand Toennies. This tripartite ideal type is what he called Gemeinschaft. It is what organizes small groups of people together and keeps their connections strong.

What is intriguing about Mitterbacher’s account is how, in terms of Gemeinschaft, intellectual proximity (all shared the “deepest reverence for the art of arts”) along with physical proximity (group of people meeting in intimate location) creates a feeling of the closeness of blood relationships (“it was really just one family”). This compound produced a unique element. It is not an isolated incident in history.

Musical gatherings have the power to make those present not only intimates but intimates to the point of seeming like family. It is all thanks to that combination of bringing people close together to share in something that they all cherish.

It is imperative for us to keep this in mind as we examine and develop music over time. We cannot forget music’s social significance.


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