'If it's sound, it's music'

'If it's sound, it's music'


norman lebrecht

July 02, 2011

That’s the entire text of the shortest letter in the Guardian today.

It was written by Howard Burrell, emeritus professor at the University of Hertfordshire.

Mahler said much the same. So did John Cage.

But it’s good to be reminded.


  • And if no one is listening?

  • George says:

    According to Rodgers and Hammerstein – Only if the hills are alive with it

  • Paul Mann says:

    If Mahler had lived to hear his symphonies punctuated by mobile phones and all the other aural impedimenta of modern life, he might have had a rethink. All sound is not music, any more than all prose is poetry.

    • George says:

      Paul Mann is generally right, but, if a cell phone went off during a performance of John Cage’s 4′ 53″, it would fit right into the concept of the piece.

  • Norman says:

    Oh dear…yet another academic imperative…please be quiet.
    My morning gaseous expulsions are not music to my ears.

  • Eric Benjamin says:

    Unable to find the letter…curious about what article or review the writer was responding to. Context?

  • John Rea says:

    “My God! What has sound got to do with music!”
    Charles Ives (Essays before a Sonata (1999) p.84)