You can’t talk about music and modernism without mentioning Walter Pater, the prolific 19th-century man of letters who is largely remembered for a single sentence he wrote in 1877: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” One interpretation of Pater’s observation is that music is the only art whose form and content are not just inseparable, but the same. This makes music fundamentally different from traditional Western painting, in which the same content can take hundreds of forms. The reason painting and music differ, Pater went on to argue, is that painting is mimetic (i.e., it tries to approximate the appearance of the physical world), and music is not.
Pater was writing at the dawn of the modern art revolution when literal representation was being purged from art and literature like pests from an old, dirty house.
painters, abandoning the notion of a subject in favor of pure form, needed some rationale for their experiments. Small wonder so many of them looked to music.