For centuries music has been a means of cultural definition, a social bonding agent, a vehicle for political expression, a language which can communicate love, death, terror, beauty, industry, machinery, mountains, seas. Through Bach, music showed religious reverence and a cosmic awe; through Mahler it was an outlet for the fin de siecle fear for humanity; through Shostakovich only music could provide an outlet for a repressed nation; Hitler found in the music (and writings) of Wagner the consolidation of his own anti-Semitic views.
People everywhere perceive such meanings in the music they hear, and that alters (however slightly) the way they think and, thus, act. Thom Yorke of Radiohead (interview, 16 May) is right to be wary of commercial success - after all, music cannot run an economy. What it can do is to give sound to feelings we otherwise do not realise we possess. If we really give ourselves a chance to listen and understand, then a sonata can change the world.
Gonville and Caius College