Conceptions of musical beauty changed markedly in the period 1550–1850. Beauty had always played a role in commentary on the arts, but not until the eighteenth century did it become the defining element of a new category: the fine arts. A work of fine art, by definition, exists solely for the sake of its own beauty. The proper attitude toward beauty, in turn, was one of disinterested contemplation: the beholder must attend to the work at hand without any expectations of utility. In the wake of Kant, beauty was a quality closely associated with reflection, contemplation, and thought, all of which are activities that privilege the intellectual and spiritual elements of the aesthetic experience over the merely sensuous. The perception of beauty, in this line of thought, is predicated on personal detachment, abstraction, and the faculty of imagination. Nonrepresentational, purely instrumental music lent itself particularly well to this mode of perception.
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