Soulful Aesthetics: Music of the Spheres (Part II)
What is it, really, that we have forgotten? There is great temptation to take the above as a romantic critique of the modern world. For example, we think of modern technology - the atomization, the mechanization, the dehumanization - and we compare those things to mental images of ancient civilizations and indigenous cultures; of graceful Grecian art and natural Navajo pottery. Then, we say, "woe to our fellow man; see how distant he has become and how far he has fallen!" We long for a return to 'simpler times' and the 'old ways'. Ironically, and despite the overall optimistic tune I am attempting to carry here, this romantic view is not nearly sour enough. It is not only that the modern human soul has lost touch with her past, but also that she finds it mind-numbingly difficult to imagine her future. To get a sense of what I mean here, let's listen to a clip from 20th century Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, who sought to avoid "tone-decay" by incarnating "atonal" music from the future into the present (click image below to play in new tab).
What is happening in this Schoenberg piano piece that strikes us as so strange and perhaps even frightening? It is not the so-called dissonance between the tones, but rather it is the lack of any familiar pattern to their unfoldment in the Melos. That is what many people do not realize about the greatest composers of the last few hundred years - even the most sophisticated symphonies and operas are chock full of routine measures and tonic progressions which appeal to our emotional and sensual experience. These are soul-experiences which have been laid down within us over the course of many millennia, not merely a single lifetime. So when Schoenberg presents us with something genuinely novel, we naturally recoil in horror. That is especially true if we have not imaginatively explored this musical territory before. After several hearings, and hopefully with the assistance of this essay, listeners should begin to perceive the fierce individuality which goes into both composing and imaginatively contemplating such novel "atonal" music.
Eventually, we must go beyond our sparse intuitions of music's direct soul-access if we want to remember the true musical aesthetic in its fully enriched content. We must dwell within the tones, rhythms, melodies, and harmonies in full clarity of consciousness. We should ask ourselves - what is our own role in perceiving music in contrast to all other artforms? Do not confuse "deeper" knowledge with "more complicated" knowledge. That is another error of the modern age we should work on reversing away from. Many times the deepest knowledge is revealed to us in the most simple observations and chains of logic, if only we approach them with good will and clear thinking without prejudice. The simple observation here is that we perceive music through the ears while we perceive all other artwork through the eyes. So what is the significance of this difference?
Our eyes represent the phenomenal world around us in very specific ways - mathematically precise ways - so we can navigate that same world without information overload. With our eyes we behold what is directly relevant to our existence, which is a good many processes, but still a very restricted set from the entire range of natural processes occurring around us at any given moment. As J.J. Gibson put it in his seminal paper on the Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, "to perceive is to be aware of the surfaces of the environment and of oneself in it... the full awareness of surfaces includes within perception a part of memory, expectation, knowledge, and meaning - some part but not all of those mental processes in each case". The eyes must significantly transform what they perceive, but our ears which perceive musical tones are much less restricted in that regard. They remain sensitive in a manner that the eyes do not.
There is structure in the human ears which limit their capacity during normal sensation, but they are also tuned to specific tones by way of their delicate fibers. Those tones are only minimally altered when they are 'received' and 'transmitted' to the human soul. We also know the inner ear is intimately connected with a person's sense of balance and therefore a very ancient sense of spatial orientation. In connection with the orienting sense, the hearing sense is also closely tied to the mathematical sense. That is how we come to have individuals with great mathematical sense also possessing great musical sense, and to have music which so directly kindles the flames of our souls. Modern exoteric philosophy and science - only focusing on exterior appearances - will also notice this relationship but come up with the most abstract, tangled, and inelegant reasons for why it should exist and what it means.
Spiritual science and aesthetics, on the other hand, will find the proper harmony amongst each other through the ideal reasoning and imaginative knowing of man. It will recognize the archetypal principles in the natural processes which are perceived by our minds. That must be the fundamental task of both science and aesthetics going forward - to travel through the physical so that the spiritual may be rediscovered and laid bare in the minds of all men and women. That is how body, soul, and spirit are realigned with each other in their essential relations. Music is the cornerstone of all other artistic endeavors, and therefore it, more than any of those artforms, must work to maintain the soul-balance between our Tri-Unity of willing, feeling, and thinking activity, leaving all three intact and in harmonious relation. Each individual member has its unique role to play in the Spirit's conducting of the Soul's orchestra.
Now our physical bodies are genuinely being ensouled by the musical aesthetic. We are laying the solid foundation of our Soul by way of the primal Tone so that the Spirit can build it up by way of its primal Word. Remember to keep in mind, though, that all of these relations are contiguous and overlap, and they will not be absorbed by the mere intellect of modern man, especially when we treat them as a rigid system of "rules". We are not dealing with the static 'objects' of the physicalist word-conception; all of those fixed 'entities' and 'laws' that most people take for granted. Instead, we are dealing with the living and ceaseless processual flows of the human soul within the spiritual realm, where we all truly exist in every single measure of our lives. It is that realm where the archetypal imaginations and intuitions reside, fluidly planting the seeds of meaning in our experience by the power of their noble and selfless activities, so that we may come to experience how they inwardly reveal their universal meaning to us.
Musical aesthetics bridges our soul's feeling activity with our activity in the domains of willing and thinking. When we are immersed in the pulsating beat and rhythm of music, we inwardly reach down towards the ever-present potentiality of our willing activity. And when we are immersed in the sweet melody (Melos) of music, we inwardly strive up towards our integral thinking activity. These strivings should be constrained, however, so that the musical tonic does not fully penetrate into either willing or thinking. If that were to happen, then the feeling musical soul would be appropriated by willing or thinking and lose its connective power. The Cross above provides a very useful symbol here, as it does with all dynamics of the human body, soul, and spirit. The horizontal is the beat, rhythm and Melos; the vertical is the pitch and harmony added for more depth. At the intersection, we strike the delicate balance where the fullness of our soul is expressed through Nature's silent spiritual symphony.
Musical experience is undergirded by percussion instruments expressing the inner rhythm of our will striving forward. The wind instruments of an orchestra will carry a melody as it flirts with the soaring images of our lofty thoughts. String instruments express the harmony which deepens the musical experience with chords - it carries a full spectrum of experience from birth to death to rebirth. When we develop a sense of these relations between musical experience and inner soul-activity, we come to see how the human being is herself an orchestra of instruments played by her Soul - her limbs ( rhythm-willing), her torso and chest (harmony-feeling), and her head (melody-thinking) all partake in her Soul's orchestra. Keeping these dynamics in mind, and listening with "soft ears" tuned to an imaginative frequency, let us listen to how this musical experience unfolds from within. Each piece below features a different instrument and/or aspect of the Triune musical aesthetic.
RHYTHM-BEAT (PERCUSSION-ENSEMBLE): SCHEHERAZADE (Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1888)
MELODY (FLUTE): JESU, JOY OF MAN'S DESIRING (Johanne Sebastian Bach, 1723)
HARMONY (WIND AND STRINGS): THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO OVERTURE
(Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1786)
We mentioned before the human being, by way of her organic structure, is herself an instrument to be played by her eternal Soul. She has actually, however, become an upside-down instrument in the course of her development. Her passions and desires - her rhythmic will - face down towards the physical Earth, while her intellectual and melodic thoughts face up towards the Sun. In that sense, she is the reverse of a plant with its reproductive organs and blossom facing towards the Sun and its roots shooting down into the Earth. This reversal was necessary if she was to become clearly conscious of the world and conscious of herself in the world during the daytime. If we allow these images to dwell in our imaginative thought, then we begin to see why Plato wrote, "God took of the unchangeable and indivisible and also of the divisible and corporeal... out of the two he made a third nature... the entire compound was divided by him lengthways into two parts, which he united at the centre like the letter X".
Every artform must suffer its death on the cross [X] so that it may also experience its resurrection within the soul. It must restore the original orientation of the human instrument so that she turns her Soul to face the Sun-Spirit, but now in full clarity of waking consciousness. Her beats, rhythms, and melodies must be transfigured so that they may keep tempo with her eternal Spirit. Her soul-tones must be given depth by harmony and embedded within the dramatic gestures of symphony, opera, and dance, so they may rise from the ashes of the modern age. That is the soul-mood from which Richard Wagner, the German philosopher-composer, took his start. In the next installment, among other aesthetic considerations, we will partake in Wagner's epic music drama, Der Ring des Nibelungen ("The Ring of the Nibelung"). We will see how, through imagination and hard work, Wagner brought together ancient mythology and dramatic epic in the singular vision of a Spiritual symphony which is born from the musical spheres of the World Soul.
"Music is the heart of man; the blood, which takes this heart for starting-point, gives to the outward-facing flesh its warm and lively tint, — while it feeds the inward coursing brain-nerves with its welling pulse. Without the heart's activity, the action of the brain would be no more than of a mere automaton; the action of the body's outer members, a mechanical and senseless motion. Through the heart the understanding feels itself allied with the whole body, and the man of mere ' five-senses ' mounts upwards to the energy of Reason." - Richard Wagner, The Artwork of the Future (1895)