Music conveys the same categories of emotions to listeners who hold widely divergent views of life. As a rule, men agree on whether a given piece of music is gay or sad or violent or solemn. But even though, in a generalized way, they experience the same emotions in response to the same music, there are radical differences in how they appraise this experience—i.e., how they feel about these feelings.
On a number of occasions, I made the following experiment: I asked a group of guests to listen to a recorded piece of music, then describe what image, action or event it evoked in their minds spontaneously and inspirationally, without conscious devising or thought (it was a kind of auditory Thematic Apperception Test). The resulting descriptions varied in concrete details, in clarity, in imaginative color, but all had grasped the same basic emotion—with eloquent differences of appraisal. For example, there was a continuum of mixed responses between two pure extremes which, condensed, were: "I felt exalted because this music is so light-heartedly happy," and: "I felt irritated because this music is so light-heartedly happy and, therefore, superficial."
Psycho-epistemologically, the pattern of the response to music seems to be as follows: one perceives the music, one grasps the suggestion of a
certain emotional state and, with one's sense of life serving as the criterion, one appraises this state as enjoyable or painful, desirable or undesirable, significant or negligible, according to whether it corresponds to or contradicts one's fundamental feeling about life.
When the emotional abstraction projected by the music corresponds to one's sense of life, the abstraction acquires a full, bright, almost violent reality—and one feels, at times, an emotion of greater intensity than any experienced existentially. When the emotional abstraction projected by the music is irrelevant to or contradicts one's sense of life, one feels nothing except a dim uneasiness or resentment or a special kind of enervating boredom.
The Objectivist, Ayn Rand, p. 1014-5