Music and Its Secret Influence: Throughout the Ages

Cyril Scott
Inner Traditions (2013)
ISBN: 9781594774874
Review by Madeline Sullivan for Reader Views Kids (12/13)

In “Music and Its Secret Influence: Throughout the Ages,” Cyril Scott—a composer, writer, and poet from the early twentieth century—discusses the relationship between music and humans and music and culture. His main point is that while most music is certainly a product of and indicative of the cultures and humans that made it, some music goes beyond this and actually influences and redirects culture. 

On the one hand, humans are deeply influenced, in all sorts of ways, by music. As a basis for this view, Scott provides occultist beliefs in that music speaks on another plane and influences human’s emotional, physical, and mental states. While I don’t believe in reincarnation, high initiates who influence those whom they choose, the subconscious way in which ideas disseminate, or a host of other beliefs, Scott laid out his beliefs clearly and I was able to understand where he was coming from, and whether or not I accepted his explanation, I certainly agree that music is powerful in its influence over humans.

By influencing individuals in consistent ways, music also influences cultures, and some of the greatest compositions can be shown to have significantly directed culture. This point was largely supported by going through major composers (of whom most readers will be familiar) and then looking at some time periods and, in both cases, looking at the direct effects of music upon culture—and again, understanding this did not require accepting his occultist explanation for the correlation.

The writing was clear and easy to follow, without losing depth of meaning in simplicity. That said, the ideas were challenging and somewhat complex but Scott presented them in such a way that they were understandable and could be followed by most readers. In fact, I would recommend this book to a broad audience: “Music and Its Secret Influence” brings together a wide range of topics, including music, culture, social trends, religion, and philosophy, in a fairly light, easy, and engaging read.

I particularly enjoyed his chapter on “The Problems of Inspiration and Invention.” As a musician myself, I have experienced the novelty that comes from even mediocre creations, leaving great creations to the genius who has “the infinite capacity for feeling dissatisfied.”

“Music and Its Secret Influence: Throughout the Ages” by Cyril Scott was an engaging and light read not lacking some deep ideas to chew over. Aside from some basic assumptions I didn’t accept, Scott makes his point that music has influential power over culture convincingly and thoroughly.

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