Musical Experience in Contemporary Life
MATERIALS, FORMS, AND IDEAS
The story is told of a Chinese emperor who, when he heard the music of a newly improved lute with added strings made by one of his subjects, was moved to tears. After a time with great reluctance and resignation he proscribed and forbade the improvement and decreed that it should not be continued. He said, "It is not seemly that an emperor should weep, and if I, who am supported in my position by divine strength, weep, what will it do to my subjects who are weaker and less able to resist than I? No, put it away and let it no more be heard—lest the foundations of the empire be undermined."
This story has many lessons for us. First of all, it reflects an attitude which we as individuals or as a culture most conspicuously do not share. The point of view it illustrates may offer us a new perspective from which to view the role of music in our culture. The story is also but another illustration of the fascination that the effects of music have held for thinkers of all ages. It invites comparison with an observation by a representative of our own cultural stream, Boethius, who replaces the method of the parable by that of scientific observation and deduction upon which we fondly imagine our culture to be securely based. Boethius suppresses the essential element of the fable—currently, I believe, called (with a degree of censure) "value judgment." Boethius, writing as an early Christian heir and critic of classical culture, said: "Of the four mathematical disciplines, the others [arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy—you will recognize at once the quadrivium of the Medieval curriculum] are concerned with the pursuit of truth, but music is related not only to speculation but to morality as well." He says later, "Music is the dynamic aspect of truth; this becomes moral in action culminating in virtue."
The validity of this observation is given force by the currency among those lucid and critical people, the French, of the maxim to the effect that the role of music is to "sweeten the mores" ("adoucir les moeurs'').
Our effort must then be to proceed from measurement to morality, or to differentiate between the quantitative and rational, and the qualitative and intuitive, or between science and art. In order to do this we must inquire into the nature and uses of art in general, and of music in particular. The word "art" is defined as "skill," and derives its force from the implication of creation, or more simply, making. We habitually distinguish between two classes of art. Those which are utilitarian or practical in their application, and involve the less detached sentiments of mankind through their implication of survival, success, or material gain, are distinguished from those we call "fine," which have as their sign patent an essentially non-utilitarian application: their so-to-speak "sublime uselessness." These involve disinterested sentiments as they do not apply directly to animal needs. It is probably not too much to say that it is in the totality of sentiments expressed by the so-called "fine arts" that the dimension between man and animal is made apparent. Here is the basis and the expression of our claim to quasi divinity. Certainly the distinction delimits precisely the two worlds—the real, practical, undesirable but inescapable, and the unreal but perfectible to which man forever aspires. These are the here and the hereafter, the earth and the heaven which are the universal theme of religion.
The origins of the fine arts lie in the practice of utilitarian magic which historically precedes and has its ultimate social expression in religion. The practice of utilitarian magic arises from the essential nature of man, whose mark and sign is his itch to impose his will upon the phenomenological world, to escape the ultimate vanity of "reality" and identify himself with a Higher Force. The practice of utilitarian personal magic is what makes life in the unfriendly world, symbolized in the myth of the Fall and the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, possible. This is the forbidden knowledge, the "fruit of the forbidden tree." Personal magic, of course, is still with us and the efficacy and power of any given artistic expression is in direct proportion to its ability to stimulate the imagination and set man free—in other words, the value of its symbols and suggestions for the private magic of the individual. Here, of course, lies a clue to the difficulties of approaching contemporary art (as well as art from outside our culture, outside in either time or geography). The individual is in this as in all things a product of his environment, and the decreasing continuity or increasing speed of change within our culture has separated us as individuals to the point where our "personal magics" do not overlap as far as they once did, and our symbols and signs tend to be more private than ever. This does not mean they are less valid or interesting. It simply means that a different kind of personality is functioning as the interpreter or the artist than heretofore. If morality be regarded as continuity of social action, and the point at which mores become basis for individual action, it is clear that increased disassociation or decreasing continuity can only have as its effect profound psychic consequences which have their ultimate expression in artistic forms.
The trick, the skill, involved is ability to invent symbols and magical apparatus, entertain them as long as they amuse, return them to the melting pot, and fashion new ones. Invention, not preservation, is the order of the day. Individuals who are on the easiest terms with art in general and especially with contemporary art are those whose powers of invention exceed the press of circumstance. To invert a proverb, "Invention becomes the mother of necessity"—necessity to give life and significance to the creatures and ideas that inhabit our personal-magical world—and leads to pleasure and increased comprehension of the symbols and magic, the art, of others.
The comic strip and the expressionistic cartoon, animated or otherwise, and the works of contemporary painters have given us some insight into the use of the varied flora and fauna of the dream world in graphic arts. However, the connection to music being of longer standing and not involving a restylization in modern times may be a little less apparent. Here the essential connection is made through the function of incantation, an integral part of all magic. The magician's circle delimits a space in which the hated, natural, real forces cease to operate. The incantation is the corresponding feature in respect to time. It makes time "stand still" by imposing a more perfect "time world" upon the real "time world." In this more perfect time world, events adhere to a formal pattern, and if not actually predictable are of themselves apprehended as an order, which order we seek in vain in real events. This perfectible time supplants our real measure of time by a series of physical sensations to which we assign emotional values which are qualitative and not really measurable. This magic-incantation principle is the basis of our concern with the technical matters of music, both from the point of view of the virtuoso executant and the speculative philosopher and theorist. The force of the incantation lies in the correctness, the perfection of its execution, and all the features of music which refer to insistence, obsession, hypnosis, and legerdemain derive from this fact. Jazz, with its rigorous beat, is a conspicuous example which shares this property with the hypnotic rhythmic structures of Stravinsky or Bartok.
"Appreciating" music is the act of learning the incantations, of differentiating among the physical sensations provided, and their association into an emotionally convincing but entirely subjective continuity. This proceeds on two levels, the specific and the general. The specific consists in the organization of repeated hearings of a single work so that the projection into the scheme of the work, its "time structure," becomes automatic and remembered. The general consists in the abstraction from works of the same class of the similarities and differences and their enrichment on an ever increasing scale of refinement by a process of sympathetic resonance directly and emotionally perceived. It does not lie in any intellectual or verbal classification or technical comparison. This latter activity may, and, given our science-oriented monkey-minds, will almost inevitably happen and currently passes for culture. However, it consists in explaining the high, the sublime, in the terms of the low, the anatomical. In the process, the totality, which is the only magical, therefore the only "real" property of art works, escapes. It is another case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Boethius, and after him the Middle Ages, called music one of the arts of measurement. What does it measure? How does it measure?
The second question is easier to answer than the first. The concomitant of measure is number, and music is number. It has been called "mathematics made available to the whole man," and "the unconscious counting of the soul."
The physical dimension of music is time, which it shares with two other arts—dancing and poetry (as declamation). It will be seen at once that these taken together comprise the art of the theater, although each branch also leads an independent existence. Within the theater, which is, after all, real space, the essential relationships of time, space, and movement are integrated in their original, basic conditions and it is completely proper to refer to the three arts as the arts of movement, wherein music acts as the coordinator, the common denominator or timetable for spatial action. This is the point of departure for the Aristotelian definition of rhythm as "ordered movement," which may be amplified as "the coordinating factor between space and time in the dynamic arts."
Outside of the ideal situation of an actual theater the role of rhythm becomes more important. Rhythm in ideal space must maintain the rigor and tensions, the limitations which inform an actual physical space. Rhythm as the means of actual time and implicit movement becomes the space of the theater itself.
Rhythm is, in the words of Edith Sitwell, "one of the principal translators between dream and reality." It is how music measures.
To continue our inquiry we might attempt to clarify the relationship of music to number which we suggested a moment ago. The basic dimensions of art are unity and variety which derive directly from the psychological factors of habituation and fatigue. We know empirically, at least, that in order to create a rhythmic continuity—a measurement magic—or incantation that is sufficiently complicated to be intriguing (by which I mean "physiologically stimulating as directly apprehended") and yet not so complex as to be frustrating, the details of the structure—the motor impulses—the sonorous counterparts of gesture, by which movement or bodily measurement of time-space is suggested—are most effectively related with reference to the proportions among the first three whole numbers—1, 2, 3. All other more complicated patterns are perceived as combinations of these. The simplest numbers contain the strongest magic. How powerful it is may be seen in the illustration of the differences, objective and subjective, social and poetic, between a march and a waltz. The suggestion of bodily movement, and the concomitant space become physical sensation and "personal time" by reference to internal physiological facts, the heartbeat and respiration. Between these interior facts and the exterior stimulus of a rhythmic order we set up a subjective space-time based on a continuing comparison. These may be expressed by actual gestures (as in marching or waltzing) or felt by reference to memories of such activities, and all their combinations or associations conscious and unconscious, and therefore emotional. The entire act, which remains physiological and emotional, raises, not verbally, but physiologically (in the sense of seeking for equilibrium), the question: "What size gestures do I need to measure this space?" It is from this physiological response and its associations that the emotion arises. What one thinks about "two" or "three" is irrelevant, it is what is felt that matters. Number, the epitome of abstraction, has become feeling. The effect is not intellectual but moral.
Our other question, "what is measured?" is more difficult to answer. "Time" is the obvious answer. However, a moment ago we equated time to space plus movement, by which, of course, in art, we mean human movement (however much mechanical, scientific measurements may depend upon the movement of objects for whatever validity they possess). Thus the dimension is immediately complicated by the inherent differences among humans. These differences, individual and aggregate, become the subject of art, as "psychic space." This is precisely "what is measured."
The means of evolution of personal magic into fine art is that of increasing the social dimension. Enter the witness—or participant—likewise experienced in personal magic and equally willing to entertain an emotionally satisfying illusion. A principal part of the fun of creating personal magic is that of impressing a witness so that the witness and the executant both take a heightened pleasure in sharing a magic which is the more powerful because it contains the force of two or more personal worlds.
Man requires the expression of both his continuity and his uniqueness. Music is the articulation, the measurement of such individual deviations; it measures this "psychic distance" between individuals. It contains the incantation and yet offers the suggestion and possibility of variation. It thus expresses both essential features, continuity and uniqueness. This property is at its highest expression in our culture in the features which make it possible for us to accept and recognize the unique properties of one composer or performer as distinguished from another while relating both to a social and cultural continuity.
Music in its capacity as incantation also measures one other aspect of time closely related to the uniqueness we have just spoken of. For each of us time is a one-way dimension with only one event certain; this is the knowledge that it will end. Music conceals or camouflages this fact, and it may well be that this is its truest function, of which the others are but reflections. By its superimposition of a perfected time sequence upon the real time sequence the evil (or welcome) hour is felt to be delayed—a moment is gained. It seems entirely likely that were we to live forever music could not exist. Death, which is perhaps the only dignified act, thus informs and imposes moral action upon our life as well, but this is the function of mysteries. The conception of Heaven as a prolonged choir rehearsal to a harp obbligato is untenable, if indeed in Heaven time ceases to mean anything. There will be more need for music in Purgatory.
Form, or the principle of formality, in (pure) music is the effect of a partial or complete loss of integration with actual declamation and movement. It is the consequence of the departure from, and the extension of, the real theatre. As we have said, this transplantation imposes upon rhythm a more specific version of its original function. This is precisely the function of replacing a physical space with an ideal space of which human movement is the measurement. Form, or really more properly the principle of formality in music, is the larger aspect of rhythm. It is the social articulation of rhythm by which the many patterns of movement of individuals are coordinated into that of the group of which a given music is a group magic. Given the fact of the transplantation from the theater and the removal from the controlling forces of the other two dynamic arts (declamation and dancing) it is not surprising to find that music in its independent state relies most heavily upon these two arts for its formal principles. All musical forms, as well as their component principles, can be traced to either dance or language, singly or in combination.
A striking simple example of how the variety of physical properties among humans contributes, through the principle of "deviation within incantation," to musical form as a social expression is afforded by the fugue. Here the pitch differences among human voices and the imitation of rhythmic gestures are exploited as the main structural principle. This social articulation survives even the denaturing process of performance by instruments and even retains its validity at the keyboard where the possibilities of real spatial measurement are practically nonexistent. In this the keyboard is like Kipling's cat—"all things were alike to him."
To continue with our explanation of the sublime by the mundane, we must approach another aspect of measurement of time. So far we have considered rhythm as "ordered movement," relating to number, and its physiological and moral effects. Our senses, sight, hearing, etc., seem to have evolved or to have been specifically designed for the perception of variations in periodic movement. Light, in all its manifestations, is the province of sight. Time is the domain of the ear, apprehended as sound (micromeasurement) and as rhythm (macromeasurement). As we have seen, movement plus space equals time. Our ear thus is the organ specifically designed to measure time. As to what sound is after it enters our bodies nobody is quite so sure. But in discussing the physiological effects of rhythm upon us we have observed and suggested some of its properties. Our ears are designed to register and differentiate with an extraordinary precision among sounds produced by the periodic movement of air, in waves, however produced, at frequencies of from twenty to twenty thousand per second. Any given sound is thus a time and space measurement and all sounds are classifiable by number. This classification we describe as pitch, and in colloquial speech we refer (although without authority) to "low" or "high" tones. Sound has other properties, namely, loudness or intensity, and timbre or "color," often called "quality." These three features, together with the fact that these dimensions may be exploited over a large scale of subjectively contiguous gradation, make sound a wonderfully plastic medium for artistic use, which, since it must be all things to all men, relies completely upon the stability and the order of its materials, because the completeness of control of the means, intimately bound up in the principle of incantation with the emotional satisfaction evoked, depends upon these.
The essential properties of art works are, as we have suggested, unity and variety. Sound provides this to a degree unparalleled by any other medium. Moreover, it has another very important feature. It is intrinsically valueless, and is the absolute property only of him who makes it, of him who can vary it at pleasure and make it again. It becomes the charm by which he measures time, measures his distance to the world and imposes his will upon the real but haphazard events of time. In our new language it is a "personal magic" of the highest order, because tone, coming as it does from the combination of the physiological, physical and psychic elements which is the individual, bears more of his mana, his "magic," than any other expression he can make. With it, by incantation, he can gain magical control over a time segment and place himself at the center of an ideal theater which transcends the limitations of real physical space.
Pitch and loudness are completely or at least subjectively completely variable throughout their range. The quality of timbre or color comes in "sealed compartments," as it were, and remains identified with the individual, or his extension, the tone he produces on an instrument. This is the principle of individualism, of uniqueness, which we have seen at work with rhythm and form.
As we have observed, pitch is number, number made directly, emotionally apprehensible, not intellectually perceived but felt. We relate sounds or rather their pitches by their number ratio. When sounds follow each other in time ("melody") this difference becomes a spatial phenomenon in which the element of movement between points understood as having a rational order dominates the subjective attention. If we perceive sounds simultaneously ("harmony") they articulate space in a static, ordered fashion. The process of apprehension is instantaneous and physiological, we "feel" the size of a given tonal relationship by an act of continuing comparison. Here again, simple numbers contain the greatest magic, and the artist's function is to create a pattern of sufficient complexity to intrigue and yet not so simple as to be boring—at either of which points he loses his moral ascendancy.
Again we are measuring time—what for? It is for the purpose of peopling our perfectible time-space with symbols of sufficient variety and unity to suggest the complexity of the real world, and yet of such an order that they may be controlled and given form in the way that real events cannot, and thus supplant the real world with a more emotionally satisfactory dream world. Rhythmic events and tonal events combine to become felt numbers, numbers with emotional values attached, or symbols.
There are no new sounds in the world. Contrary to rumor, contemporary musicians have not invented new dissonances to plague us. They have arranged new patterns in time, so that combinations of sounds common in the past have declined in importance, and combinations less frequent in the past occur more frequently and at different referential points than heretofore, having a different physiological, emotional and moral effect upon the listener. The new arrangements of tonal combinations are devised by persons of superior intuition to explore and measure the psychic distances prevalent in our time. The principle of uniqueness of the individual leads directly to a re-definition of time in which emotional freedom becomes as important a factor as mere chronological time. We all represent different time segments. None of us is at the same point as his neighbor, we all express a different measurement to the sun. Nor are all the nations and peoples of the world at the same point in this dimension of emotional time, or contemporaneity. It must be clear that the complexity and diversity among the musical manifestations as well as that contained within the music of the first half of our century are the expression of the varieties of spiritual and psychic distances which measure the world of today. Certainly the characteristic music of our times is eclectic and international in character and yet individualistic to a degree unparalleled. There can be no question but that the problematic position of religion in our culture is but corroboration of the need of the individual for an emotionally satisfactory system of personal magic. Of the same order must be considered the curious manifestations brought about by the radio and that latest version of Pandora's box, television. These seem to offer ready and convenient ways into the dream world, which, however, consists of the lachrymose and violent worlds of the soap opera and breakfast food western. What the effect of the impact of these upon our arts will be it is as yet impossible to say. They are but links in a long chain of evolution, each link of which has challenged the authority and strength of its predecessor, just as it has finally depended upon it.
Our arts remain the bridge to the other world and it is as secure under our feet as we as individuals choose to make it. Progress in terms of the effectiveness of this bridge is achieved by the individual and is not a function of the mass. In any case we will pay dearly for any curtailment of our rights to this bridge, or any abuse or limitation of its magic, however insignificant it may seem at the moment of attack. The key to the arts remains sensibility disciplined by experience and unfettered by bigotry. In our "real" world, beset as we are by enervating forces, mechanical, electronic, and hi-fi, he who has the courage to assert his own magic may well be regarded as a minor miracle, and as such most welcome. But the profits will accrue principally to him. He has the protection of the strongest talismans that we know, the security, the serenity of spirit that can put himself in contact, at will, with God.
From this point it may be possible to re-examine the original connection, the dimension between measurement and morality. This, you will remember, derived from Boethius' statement that music was moral in purpose, culminating in virtue.
Numbers, in our culture, have lost a good deal of their original mystical and magical significance by continual association with mundane things such as money, prices, telephone numbers and addresses. This use of number can only be described as a secondary and inferior application to that of their original magical purpose. We suppress the mysteries of their relationships, their rhythms, properly speaking, in favor of their utilitarian aspects, which represent merely their purely static, cognitive, conceptual values. Music, on the other hand, retains and exploits the original magical properties. To a Greek of Plato's time a number greater than ten thousand was an almost unintelligible notion, yet we regard with more or less equanimity the news of a budget in the billions. The price for our complacence is higher than might appear. Morality in personal action finds detailed expression in propriety. Propriety in the sphere of action is cousin germane to proportion in the realm of number and its manifestations, among which we must include music. Propriety, morality and virtue are to personal action what proportion, consonance (symmetry), and rhythm are among numbers and numerically ordered things.
The ritual uses of music as in theater, dance and church (all of which were once integrated into our "ideal theater," now divided by our culture) to control and suggest action in time and space, are but the outward aspects of the effects upon the spirit—the total sentient being, as distinct from the intellect. The inner effects are those of the evocation of an individual, perfectible time-space, a more intense life, where things are not as they are but as they should be. Number, in its magical state, is the charm, the incantation, the connection between the two worlds and also the bridge, the common denominator between the separate, if overlapping, dream worlds, magic time-space continuities, of individuals whose totalities constitute the group magic or so-called "fine" arts of a given cultural milieu. Music, as directly felt number, regulates action and symbolic action, articulates physical space and psychic space, and organizes these into symbols, private and group, whose effect upon behavior as social action must then be considered moral. Music articulates time (chronological time) but measures contemporaneity (emotional time).
The term "personal magic" may require clarification. It is action based upon emotionally satisfactory premises rather than upon rationally determined departures. It is the result of the necessity for action or psychic measurement, in a situation where the clues of rational order imposed by the situation are not sufficiently binding or crucial to enforce action on the basis of prudence. The arts we call "fine," and of these most especially music, deliberately operate in this sphere. They offer the greatest possible freedom of action, the greatest flexibility of materials and the fewest conceptual limitations. Such limitations as remain inherent and inevitable in the specific material or medium at hand become, with discipline of use, symbolic and constitute suggestive and formative elements of rigor contributing to stylization of a medium and thus to creation of the bridge to the dream world. However, the limitations, the elements of rigor, necessary to give form or specificity to any single art work are therefore the deliberate choice of the artist. In most arts, and most particularly in music, these relate directly to number as controlling, integrating, and suggestive or magical factors. This choice reflects directly the power of the artist to invent, to perceive salient and suggestive relationships—in other words, to compose.
The homeliest and therefore probably the most effective illustration of this principle of selecting of limiting elements, self-imposed rigors, which occurs is that of the child (which we must all become at the moment of creation) who walks on a pavement marked off in squares. The structural meaning of the squares may or may not be clear to him, but they represent, to him, a useless element of rigor against which he must measure his own movement by inventing the age-old ritual of "walking without stepping on the lines." The lines are accepted as symbolic rigors, and the expression is a private rite, or game, complete with emotionally satisfying, even if actually nonexistent, penalties and rewards—complications and extenuating circumstances. This is personal magic, at its lowest level as art, since it creates but a single bridge to the dream world. The next step is a game or ritual such as hop-scotch where the symbols are developed into a social significance, complete with a magic ritual diagram (which persists as the maze and also as the ritual articulation of the floor plan of a church—processionals, recessionals, etc.) and amulets, charms and extensions of the personality, all devised for the measurement of psychic distances among the participants.
It is not my intention to discover just how much of our behavior is arrived at by just such emotionally derived means, but I suggest that this influence in our daily lives is far greater than we ordinarily suppose, or confess. It is at the basis of all myth making, an activity which in our present culture has its liveliest expression in advertising. Suffice it to say that music offers the most completely satisfactory of such transitions to the dream world, one in which the elements of rigor and freedom are in their purest states, most completely rigorous and most completely free. By offering the individual the most direct escape from the real world it confirms and reinforces his psychic measurements. It likewise requires for its complete realization the measurement of psychic distance to others, the social adjustment to others who inhabit and delimit his real space-time continuity and whose magic and symbols impinge upon his dream world. Thus its effect is moral, of and relating to uses—harmonizing the factors of uniqueness and continuity—creative of and demonstrative of—mores.
When Narcissus, the ill-fated youth of Greek mythology, was born, his mother took him to Tiresias, the seer of Thebes, and inquired as to her son's future. Tiresias replied that he would live, if he did not see himself. Of course, the sad sequel of Narcissus pining away watching his own reflection in a pool is more than just the working out of an arbitrary fate. It illustrates the process of mythmaking itself, namely, the embodiment of a transcendent idea in an emotionally satisfactory image, just as much as it suggests what may be a fatal flaw in European culture.
Ours is an age weighed down with a more complete and precise knowledge of history and a more complete technique for self-examination than any hitherto has been, or could have been. Psychoanalysis and carbon 14 are but the latest manifestations of our efforts to look further into the pool. Precise, epistemological knowledge kills myths by robbing them of their emotional value, not by simply declaring them to be untrue. Myths embody principles of relationship between man and the immutable circumstances upon which man is forever trying to impose his will. History records events. Myths provide basis for action. History evokes comparisons which inhibit action. Here lies the danger of seeing ourselves.
Not only history, but psychology, sociology and anthropology have enlarged the pool in which our reflection glimmers, to the enslavement of our creative vitality. The alarming frequency with which we employ the prefix "neo"—neo-classic, neo-baroque, neo-romantic, but to begin a long list—seeking to designate a style, is but the least significant symptom. The eclectic technique, based upon facsimile reproduction made possible by technicological means unknown to the creators of the original objects, has vitiated our creative powers, and replaced them with a passive "appreciation"—to say nothing of having undermined the authority of the original objects by a process resembling social degradation (familiarity breeds contempt).
The process of re-adjustment, of re-stylization of the means of communication between the real world, and the perfectible world of art is always in progress. Our time is no exception. This process is a continuing measurement of the psychic state of the individual and of the group to which he refers. We are too close to the events of our own times to be able to analyze them in these terms. However, certain dynamic forms, certain patterns, certain myths or plots underly all manifestations of this transliteration from real to dream world. These persist through chronological and human time and become restylized according to the psychic needs of each successive age. It is in the realm of art that these changes of style are most significant and revealing because they embody not what man thinks, which represents what he wishes to appear, but what he feels, which is what he really is.
The changes of musical style associated with crucial points in the history of European thought may suggest the meanings of the changes we see or rather hear around us. The actual changes themselves are a matter of observation and record and are the concern and the province of the historian. Our interest as aestheticians, properly concerned with "feeling," lies in what the changes mean, what they reveal of the psychic life of the time which produced them. Such a long view we may properly refer to as a perspective. A perspective requires a vanishing point. For most of us, the musical "vanishing point" lies about the year 1600. This is to say that this is about the earliest music that is accessible in some comfort to the average listener within our cultural milieu. It is no accident that special efforts of will and muscle are necessary to become familiar with music earlier than this, for it is at this moment—the last decades of the sixteenth century—that music takes a decisive turn, and to ears accustomed to the world evoked by the music since that date, music from earlier periods seems deficient in measuring principle, lacking alike in both unity and variety, until experience and association reveal its particular language of symbols and the suggestions of its dynamic patterns become incorporated in our repertoire of remembered gestures and symbolic emotions. When we have accomplished this, and learned the incantation, so to speak, older or exotic music becomes a satisfactory translation from the real to the super-world, although with certain limitations of the order suggested by the assumption of fancy dress or costume and deliberately archaic speech—both of which interfere with freedom of movement, or rhythm. These rhythmic matters, which have precise counterparts in architectural space and graphic design, are the essence of what we call the "style" or the "way of measuring" of a given period. Our eclectic culture takes a considerable pleasure in this kind of "fancy dress," more than any other to date. The parallel to Narcissus on the one hand and the historical fact of the vogue for classic Greek art among the imperial Romans (antiquarianism) may well be disquieting.
The change in needs in regard to means of measurement has a clear illustration in the history of music notation. Just as the history of European science is that of increasing refinement of means of measuring quantitative matters in time and space, so is musical notation the story of development of means of measurement of increasingly complex (quantitative) time relationships for musical purposes. Just as the history of science shows at each large restylization (Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque) a restylization of mathematical means (arithmetic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, calculus), so at each crossroads has musical notation received a new stylization. The greater the complexity of the psychic space the higher will be the common denominator needed to measure it.
To return to 1600, it is at this date that all our present formal principles (incantation formulae) undergo a definitive restylization. The instrumental sonata and the opera are born in this moment, and to them and the interactions between them are due all the forms we currently employ. Likewise, our present instruments date from this epoch, as does the modern concept of the orchestra, with its massed choirs and oppositions of sonorities illustrative of violent, symbolical articulation of space. These changes in form and material aspects of sound are accompanied at the same date, 1600, by a technical change of the greatest significance. This is most intimately bound up with the stylization and measurement of time-space. It is the invention of harmony and the appearance of the common scale which has dominated the intervening period and which we challenge only with difficulty even today.
Harmony is to music the sensuous counterpart of perspective in painting or pictorial representation. The illusion of depth or space as heightened by harmony greatly enhances the suggestive powers, the magical properties of music, since it has the effect of organizing, articulating, differentiating time-space by reference to three-dimensional real space and bodily movement, which we have described as the dimensions of our "ideal theater." Historically, harmony has always been important to dance music, music that is specifically designed to orient the body in space and suggest a sequence of movements. It makes direct reference to the uniqueness of man by placing him at the center of space-time, just as pictorial perspective places man at the center of the universe. The history of European music might be described as that of the coexistence of two organizing principles: harmony, whose nature we have just observed, and counterpoint, whose essential nature is antithetical to that of harmony. As harmony illustrates the uniqueness of man by referring him to a central point, counterpoint demonstrates it by articulating his distance to his neighbor in a hierarchical, political relationship. The period preceding 1600 was dominated by the technique of counterpoint, the weaving together of many independent melodic strands to create in the speculum mundi the requisite complexity and diversity of event to replace real time in the consciousness of the hearer with a convincingly ordered superior time. The new style after 1600, having harmony as its principal ingredient, set aside the elaborate etiquette of counterpoint for a free approach to the combination of sounds in time aimed directly at the pathetic response and rejoicing in the extravagant and violent, even as does the painting and literature of the period.
What were the causes of this change in style and what can they tell us of its significance? They are properly to be sought in the changes of shape of the psychic space surrounding the individual. These changes may be more adequately verbalized in the examination of the changes of the intellectual and spiritual climate, but they will be by no means as well described in their real significance as by the music of the epoch. The end product of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation had placed the responsibility for redemption directly in the hands of each individual, and thus greatly reduced his sense of security and cosmic importance. In addition, the sudden appearance of what we call the "modern scientific attitude" is the intellectual counterpart of the Reformation. It is the time of Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Kepler—all of whom, symbolically enough, contribute directly to the creation of new kinds of measurement of time. Their new rational, scientific methods, based on causality, challenged the existing myths—the existing personal explanations—and reduced the emotional space, so to speak, which surrounded the individual, and tied him yet more tightly to real time. It has been observed that this period, which we call the Baroque, dates from the moment that it became apparent that "infinity was an attribute of Nature, and not a prerogative of God." The reaction, the Baroque, was the creation of art in which the dimensions of time and space are subjected more completely to the will of man and treated in a more forceful, dramatic, and extreme fashion than ever before. The treatment of space and time, instead of being left at the ideal and naturally convincing is now turned to the theatrical and improbable. These effects are very apparent in painting and in architecture but achieve their highest expression in music, since it is the real art of space-time. Man, finding himself reduced to insignificance in the real world, hastens to create a dream world where he is master of the very dimensions just taken from him.
Herein lies the real reason for our continued acceptance of music this side of 1600, and for our difficulties with the music before that date. Music since 1600 has been created for the precise purpose of transcending a world, a psychic situation which, although changing, is still with us. It is for most of us a satisfactory charm for the purpose. Music antedating that time refers to another spiritual climate, another typical psychic distance. It is an inadequate measurement of contemporary psychic distances and is thus unsatisfactory for transcending the space-time which surrounds us today.
A principal exterior characteristic of music since 1600 is its instrumental nature. This is to be expected in a science-oriented world, if for no other reason than that the combination of empirical and speculative science would produce mechanical improvements. But this is only part of the reason. More important yet is the element of abstraction. It is at this time that instrumental music for itself begins—music without text, precise literary connotations, and most important, disturbing personal idiosyncrasies of voice and presence. Counterpoint, the principal technical device of the preceding epoch, derives its validity by reference to the human voice. We have seen the social implications based on human limitations of this means. The limitations include those of the voice, which is not able to define pitch as precisely as can an objective, stable instrument. Abstract formal instrumental music—the instrumental sonata—appears at precisely the same moment as the instruments (the members of the violin tribe) that will exploit it in the last two decades of the sixteenth century. In order to transcend the absolute world of fixed, objective number of the new science, a more powerful charm—absolute music—was required to move man's spirit to the chilly and lonely, if vast and exciting new time-space world left to him as the intellectual consequence of the new science. He requires, we have said, a greater freedom of symbolic movement, clearly demonstrated by the properties of Baroque buildings. The impersonality of number, and this greater freedom, militated against the use of the voice with its human limitations. It is from this moment that the development of the so-called "trained" voice, specifically developed for use in opera (as an over-compensation), dates. In addition to greater freedom a similar increase in rigor is required. This takes the form of an increasingly rigorous definition of pitch to exploit the new knowledge of number and turn it to magical uses.
Likewise, the properties of the characteristic form of abstract piece, the sonata, suggest the degree of necessity for greater freedom and more delicately ordered rigor. The sonata is actually manufactured from dance music. The formal social dances of the preceding, sixteenth, century which occupied real space-time and were a social articulation of it, are restylized. They become, in the sonata, abstract dances of far greater plasticity, in ideal time-space, transcending the limitations of actual bodily movement but deriving physiological, and therefore emotional force from the remembered steps and gestures which were the cultural experience and heritage of all.
We have referred to harmony as contributing to the illusion of space by a sort of aural-emotional parallax. Harmony is for music what systematic, illusionistic perspective is for painting. (It may be well to remember that our "mathematical" perspective is in itself but a symbol and remains quite incomprehensible to individuals, even most cultivated, from cultures outside our own. They regard our representations and suggestions of space quite as arbitrary as we do theirs. They likewise have the same reservations regarding European harmony, which, after all, is merely a projection of the European psychosis and is not necessarily a satisfactory measurement of any other. Indeed, both perspective and harmony, because of their obvious bodily appeal, are regarded as inimical to essentially artistic expression by cultivated observers such as the Chinese and Hindus.) It is no accident that harmony is, so to speak, "invented" and becomes the principal ingredient of music at the time when natural perspective has been exhausted as a principal ingredient of picture (visual dream world) design. Harmony and perspective, being two expressions of the same notion, evolve simultaneously throughout European art simply because they are the same thing. They are the concession to, the admission of the unique, disassociated, Romantic, subjective aspect of human nature. They illustrate the uniqueness of the individual and confirm his sentiment of being the single projection of a unique point in time. They suggest that the spectator or auditor is the center of the universe. (This is the reverse of Galileo's proposition, and of necessity is formulated at the same time. It is interesting to observe the greater delicacy of intuitive observation than of scientific formulation. Galileo discovered the pendulum [clock time] and the solar system; however his father had already discovered and practiced harmony, [new emotional time] as a professional musician.) Thus, when it became patently untrue that man was the center of the universe in the real world of 1600, it became more than ever necessary that it should be true in the dream world. It is music, organized about the combined temporal and spatial world of harmony, with its support of the first person singular, which is the most typical expression of the Baroque era. It remains so in our time because the essential methods of measurement then proposed, quantitative as opposed to qualitative, still dominate our thinking.
At the hands of modern physics time-space has received a re-definition. The music of recent times constitutes the reconciliation in emotional terms of man and this newly defined time-space and its mysteries of number, numbers that are now seen to be a becoming and not a being, restoring man to the function of process instead of consigning him to the Hell of life within a static series of dimensions. However, despite these challenges of recent times, the basic tendency of our culture and the flaw which raises tensions between its sensitive and its insensitive members is that of replacing qualitative judgments (which are infinite in their implications) by quantitative measurements (which are by definition limitations, fetters at the heels of angels). This is but a "re-stylization" of our observation that we have lost the sense of mystery in number by having set it to do book-keeping and housekeeping. We are in the position of the sorcerer's apprentice, who, having invoked a force he did not fully understand, cannot escape its consequences.
From our examination of the phenomena attendant upon one very palpable change of style, we may be able to infer the meaning of some of the changes in style which have taken place around us. Our choice of moment, namely, the change from Renaissance to Baroque, or Modern thought was deliberate. Its music lies within the experience of most of us. Examination of other radical changes in direction of European thought would reveal their reflection in the same kinds of dynamic changes in the arts. Our own crossroads, at 1900, is not the less confusing for being the nearer at hand. In order to explore it I should like to project one single psychic symbol into it, and radar-fashion from its echoes attempt to determine the shape of the new psychic space. That symbol must be, of course, man.
Those of us who cannot draw, when we are obliged to represent the human figure, draw little stick men. The stick men of children always contain more of life than do those of adults. We lose our powers of re-stylization as our connective tissue ages. Also, we are acquainted with the symbolic characters who inhabit our comic strips and cartoons. Finally, we have seen an increasingly intense subjective stylization of man in painting and even in photography. Music also has slowly evolved a symbol for man and his trouble. Its clearest expression is a single interval between two tones, the most complex and yet rational tonal relationship that our current (harmonically oriented) system admits. Technically, this relationship is known as the Tritone. Its two tones lie in the two halves of our scale without defining either half as a dominant or resolving force. Their ambivalence suggests man's desire to be here and somewhere else too, and their subjective nature his desire to impose his will on the real world. Historically, its two tones are the latest to be added to the scale, are considered as derived and subjective. In the basic scale of truly popular (Oh, Susanna), impersonal and therefore undifferentiated, music, they do not exist.
To approach the mysteries of this interval, the Tritone, we must again refer to number. Musical sounds are the sensuous, directly apprehended counterpart of number ratios—pitch being the sensory aspect of number. The only valid objective description of sounds and their combinations is by means of number ratios. These, in their varying complexities, suggest as ideas the varying properties of sound combinations, or intervals, as aurally perceived. In their order they resemble the colors of the spectrum—and, like the colors, intervals may be arranged in their natural, acoustical, numerical order "spectrum" for classification, or in other orders for artistic purposes. The dimension along which we arrange intervals for classification is dissonance, by which we mean simply the subjective counterpart of complexity. Thus we progress from 1:1, 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, 4:5, 5:6, 8:9, 9:10, 15:16, to 32:45. (Omitted ratios are not useful for artistic purposes in our musical culture, although used in others.)
Like colors, these intervals as perceived have both denotive and connotive properties, they have both structural and coloristic properties—and logical and emotional effects. They are the raw material of musical symbol, and by virtue of their two sets of properties can pass easily for both universal language and private symbol, which measure—a proper function for numbers—the psychic distances, the emotional parallax among individuals. They effect the translation into the dream world of emotional values which are the product of social and moral tensions of our social fabric.
The series 1:1 through 15:16 can, in these terms, be described as representing varying degrees of relationships expressed between and among individuals, 1:1 representing unanimity to the point of futility, 1:2 agreement with a difference, etc. However, the last ratio of the series, 32:45, which is the Tritone (so-called because it spans three whole tones of our scale), it will be observed, lies far beyond the simple ratios of the rest of the series. It is so complex as to approach being irrational, and as such is not the expression of relationship between individuals, but must derive its meaning as the symbol for the conflict within the individual. As we have said, both of its members are the subjective, unstable, sensitive, least exact, derived elements of our scale, and the properties of the interval derive from this fact in addition to the actual complexity of the number ratio. It is the riddle, the puzzle whose complexity is at the borderline of our comprehension. It is the "divine discontent," the "first disobedience," and represents man's desire to transcend his animal nature and raise his claim to divinity. This interval is classified throughout the Middle Ages by theorists as diabolus in musicus, the precise theological counterpart of the dimension we have been discussing, man's internal conflict. Throughout the Renaissance it is treated with human attention, and assimilated. However, at 1600, with the arrival of the pathetic intention, this sweet-sour, sad-gay interval is suddenly invested with a new dignity. As we have said, it is dissonant (meaning complicated) but by now its symbolical meaning is so clear, that, like the ritual act whose original significance has been forgotten, its emotional values far outweigh its inconveniences. If harmony is tonal perspective, the Tritone is one of the strongest distance clues possible. Its opposed attractive tendencies delineate, "fix," as it were, with an "X" a single central tonal point just as surely as do the converging lines of a pictorial perspective. Whereas this interval has been approached and left with the greatest care as a mechanical necessity in the preceding stylistic epoch, just after 1600 it begins to be invoked freely, as a unit, as a symbol, and not as a contrapuntal fact between two or more voices.
This interval, then, is at the borderline of comprehension, rational fact as expressed by simple numbers; and of myth, the emotional, qualitative judgment, the intuitive fact, expressed by numbers of such complexity as to be irreducible to rationality. Such facts are the basis of all myth and all art; they hold mysteries, and as such are most satisfactorily apprehended directly and in their totality, and are not reducible to a sum, product or quotient of simpler ratios.
Our interval, the Tritone, when used within the tonal perspective is of the highest organizing power. It is like the small box drawn with six lines whose power of representing perspective can locally overcome the effects of a larger perspective into which it is introduced. The Tritone becomes the symbol for tonal reference itself and like the little box it is also the means for destroying tonal perspective in a large sense by its invocation in a series of local applications. The history of music since 1600 is that of the increasingly free use of the Tritone as an adjunct and local irritant to tonal perspective, and as a symbol of inner conflict. It is invoked cumulatively to lend new enchantment, new physiological sensation, new thrills to the ever-fading, ever-cloying illusion of tonal perspective, and thus results in the destruction of harmony as an integrating device, just as the use of violent local perspective destroyed the efficacy of pictorial perspective in the late sixteenth century.
The "vanishing point" here is the year 1859. In the creation of Tristan and Isolde Richard Wagner establishes once and for all the meaning of our interval, the Tritone, as the symbol of man and all his troubles, and the measure of the distance between what he is and what he wishes to be. By the application of a series of local perspectives outlined by the Tritone, reference to tonal perspective is all but destroyed. The subjectivity of music is complete. Narcissus bends dangerously near the pool, threatening to shatter his own image in his fall, the result of his long, intoxicated look. The water ripples, but the image does not disintegrate.
Subsequent music history is the story of increasingly systematic use of the anarchistic principle of the Tritone, and of efforts to create tonal systems which transcend its complications, and escape from the aesthetic consequences of acoustical fact which we have expressed by relating number ratios and social relationships. All systems of tonal organization devised by man and not based upon natural functions of number must come to terms with this enigmatic interval. It is only by reference to the series of simple and natural facts, 1:2, 2:3, etc., that the final ratio can be resolved and given meaning. Our time is beset with experimental ventures which embrace the principle of the Tritone and the willful negation of tonality as their creed. These are symbolic of man's increased desire to transcend physical limitations and to impose his will upon the universe, while he forgets that in order to push he must have a place to stand. These represent the private, personal worlds of symbol, which must always refer to the common experience of humanity for whatever they may represent as art. The pool into which Narcissus looks has been too long a-making and such limited systems which exclude the old magics of simple numbers shatter the pool, wake Narcissus from his dream and return him rudely to the real world; set him counting again to numbers which have lost their internal rhythm and therefore their magic.
This does not mean to say that we do not have much to learn or that we can escape the necessity of exploring the arbitrary world we seem to have conquered in the sign of the Tritone. However, when the explorations are finished it is equally certain that the only inhabitable areas of that presently arid land will be those in which the great laws of number and order still prevail, if in forms that are not yet clear to us because they do not as yet correspond to our emotional needs. There can be no doubt that these are changing, together with the psychic space that surrounds us, and the composer whose time and number magic is stronger than our own offers us more delicate measurements, new incantations trembling occasionally at the brink of perfection and sometimes completely inept. They may more often confuse and annoy than add the magical dimension, but we cannot afford to ignore them—for we must remember each of us is, after all, Narcissus and each looks into his own pool.
The term "poetics" is, in our ordinary use, applied to the art of versifying. However defined in the end it means the capturing of an idea in a mesh of words, an idea which transcends the actual sum of the word meanings themselves. Usual definitions refer to the inclusion of musical properties, sonorous and organizational, as an ingredient. This is but an expression of a fact which must by now have become familiar to us. This is that music has the property or indeed the function of rendering the emotional, imaginative dream world, which contains the sum of our intuitive and directly apprehended knowledge, more accessible. It is the magic which allows the real, and therefore limited, to be seen for the moment (or more properly within the space-time of the incantation) as the unreal, which is limited only by the extent of our experience and capacity to enrich by association. This is the dimension we usually refer to as the imagination, where, as we have seen, important, determining parts of our life take place.
However, all definitions of the term "poetics" contain in an implicit form the general function of the original Greek—poesis—which refers to the act of creation.
Man in his efforts to "play God" essays creation and seeks to impose his will upon the universe. We say that we "create"—telephone, electric light, or atomic fission; actually in the sphere of the real world of physical facts and phenomena we "create" nothing. We simply rearrange what already exists. The only real creation of which man is capable takes place in the world of the imagination we have described. This places art before science as the organizing principle in human activity. At the lowest order we have seen that art, music in particular, refers to and creates morality, by which we mean not goodness or badness, but social continuity. At the highest level the life of the spirit arrives at what Boethius describes as "virtue," the concept of a higher order than that which prevails in our fortuitous, haphazard, real world. This higher order is God.
With this thought before us we are in a position to understand Glauber, the Monk of Cluny, who wrote, in 1047, "God, creator of all things, differentiated what He made by manifold forms and appearances, that through what the eye perceived or the mind apprehended He might raise the learned man to the simple (direct) intuition of the God-head."
In respect to "poetics" we are, of course, concerned with the general or total function of the term. We do not mean merely verse or poetry-making in language, but refer to Poesis, or creation, in the only possible real sense.
Music, because of the dimension of time which it occupies and its evanescent character, partakes more intensely of this act of creation than any of the arts. Creation here involves a "making" more complete than is necessary with the graphic and representational arts of durable substance. It also requires, more than do the arts of literature, whose materials, words, have the substance of mundane use, the act of re-creation or poetic participation. Music must be made anew each time it is to be experienced. It requires the presence of the executant, his existence in time, and, in case the executant is not what we call the composer, it requires the spiritual presence of the composer as well. In this case the executant becomes to some extent an actor playing a part where he is representing two time continuities, not necessarily contiguous. He is both himself and the stand-in for the composer. The whole process is given significance and raised above the level of private symbolical magic by the presence of the auditor, or witness, who may also be included in the person of the performer. This, however, is not, as we have seen in our "ideal theatre," the ideal situation. We know that the force of music, the power of the incantation, is in direct proportion to the number of competent witnesses present and willing to participate to the extent of sacrificing a segment of their "real" time, in the hope of gaining a more vivid experience in a segment of "unreal" time created by the efforts of the performer. The talent of the public performer lies in his ability to size up at once and in the course of the performance to continue to measure, as a dynamic changing factor, the competence of his group of witnesses. His skill consists in exploiting the psychic space which surrounds each individual and combined, produces the psychic space of the group as a whole. This is the principal aspect of his creative act, a delicate and continuing-in-time measurement. His so-called technique as a performer, his ability to play loud and soft, fast and slow are but the means, disciplined almost to the point of being automatic, which must be subservient to the greater perception. What is usually referred to as "expression"—especially in view of our concern for the pathetic element in our music—is the recognition of this fact. A performer who remains concerned with what is colloquially referred to as "technique" as opposed to "expression" is usually deficient in this greater perception. He will chill his audience because he ignores them. He does not create the bridge to the dream world for others by taking possession of their time-space mirror; he is Narcissus looking into the mirror for himself. Chances are strong that his rhythmic force (we remember Edith Sitwell's remark, "Rhythm is a principal translator between the real and the dream worlds") is wanting as well, however completely it may be replaced by accurate, metronomic (chronological) time. It is the intuitive perception of these properties in a performer, offered to witnesses by his deportment, his purely physical grace, his "sense of timing," which, quite independent of his technical abilities as executant, are referred to as "presence."
The concern of the performer with a greater psychic space than that between him and his immediate reflection proceeds from social use and so is the direct expression of morality. Likewise, his acceptance of the responsibility for the social uses to which his abilities are put is a question of morality. The possession of great gifts as executant, and even of presence, does not insure the realization of the highest power of morality, which, as Boethius said, is virtue. Is this the meaning hidden behind our overworked (but, you will notice, still foreign) word "virtuoso"? In this sphere the penalty for inadequacy is terrible. The artist inadequate in moral principle attracts audiences whose competence as witnesses is equally faulty. What should be fame is reduced to notoriety and morality falls somewhat short of virtue.
In our times the living performer tends to be supplanted by various transformations of Pandora's box—the disc and electronic apparatus. This feature of our life has some curious effects on our cultural existence, most of which have little or nothing to do with music. The most alarming feature is probably that we are wearing out music faster than we are able to create it, to compose it—unless some new and presumably electronic method is found for this also. But we need have no fear, the Gods have ways of protecting their own. The direct result of this electronic activity in the interests of an industry instead of in the service of an art will be, if it continues, a change of style so rapid that all but those whose sensibilities are really developed, and by that I mean disciplined by training and work, will be left completely on the fringe of a new world. I repeat, we are wearing out music faster than we can write it. The music industry, as distinct from music as art, is scraping the barrel even now for new titillations and fussier antiques.
A recording is an interesting document, like a photograph. Like a photograph it is not art. It is like refined and processed foods robbed of their essential vitamin contents (to quote another myth), however palatable they may have become in the process. If music is an incantation or magic of which the perfection of execution is an essential dimension, the disc or the tape becomes a kind of secondary practice in which the essential magical element, uniqueness of time, is missing. Like prayers on paper in spinning wheels I fear that our spinning turntables are but another version of the prayer wheels of Tibet.
A real, live performance represents a measurement of a unique time segment—and by time I mean complete time invested with all its properties including emotional contemporaneity, and most especially irrecoverability. Time goes "one way only," and "plays for keeps," and it is precisely this emotional sense of risk which is lacking in the preserved performance. One may argue that the omission is slight. I agree it is slight, but it is the absolute essential. It is what breath (another measure of time) is to the body, the difference between a corpse and life.
On a purely quantitative basis the possibility offered by mechanical means of projecting the approximate effect of an orchestra or chorus into a space which could not hold them physically raises severe questions referring to ritual use and of the order of proportion, therefore of propriety, and ultimately of morality. Likewise, the projection of music of ritual validity for one situation into the emotional dimensions of another aspect of human activity poses great questions of ritual use, proportion, propriety and morality.
We need have no fear. The Gods protect their incantations and their true devotees. The sin may be subtle but we may be sure that the punishment will be more subtle still. The resolution of these problems will become one of the myths of our time, and, as I say, the muse will awake and suddenly pull herself beyond the reach of all but the truly faithful.
So much for the performer. The next party to our contract is the composer, who may or may not be resident in the same person as the performer. In our times this is seldom the case; in other times it was far more often so. This fact is a symptom of psychic dimensions of our time, but need not concern us unduly here, because at the moment a composer becomes a performer he approaches his own work in the same way as he would that of another. However, this discrepancy (the infrequency with which the composer and performer are the same person) does measure something quite different. It is expressed by the difference between improvisation and the reading of an established text. Beethoven was the last great composer to improvise systematically in public, although the tradition continues throughout the nineteenth century and even into our own, as a proper expression of the "virtuoso." Improvisation has almost completely disappeared from all save organ recitals, in the realm of art music. However, very significantly it remains an essential feature of popular music, and perhaps is the one which defines the distinction between popular music and art music. Improvisation for witnesses or an audience is, of course, the final admission of the role of the performer which we have just described. It consists in the sounding out and exploitation of the competence of an audience and its continuing measurement in terms contrived on the spot to articulate this unique and emotional time-space. Thus improvisation is the most sensitive, direct, and intuitive exploration of the psychic space-time in which audience and performer are contained. It remains, even for us, the touchstone of true musicality and is perhaps the only real test of creative musical talent. We have said, it is a feature of popular music which is its natural and currently undisputed domain. This fact derives from the uses and purposes, the morality, of popular or folk music. Popular music is anonymous, undifferentiated, impersonal. In order to be performed it must be invested with the properties by which the performer can "project himself"—take possession of time-space. It must be newly stylized and related to here and now in a much more complete fashion than art music, whose "heres" and "nows" are completely prescribed by the ritual use (church, concert-hall, salon, etc.) and fixed to greater or less extent by the precise conditions imposed by a composer's written score. Popular music is a universal solvent, and can and must be adapted on the spot to the precise degree of sophistication, experience, agility of imagination of the witnesses present.
Art music does not share this; its conditions are presupposed. The principle is again moral. Popular music is anonymous, and all moral responsibility for the effects of its magic refer to the performer, who assumes the right to stylize it according to the requirements of the situation, or more properly to his estimate of the requirements of the situation, by which connection the element of morality is made explicit. Art music is not anonymous and the composer, in placing his name upon it, takes credit and responsibility for whatever magic may be evoked (not to mention the royalties). Here the performer's job is to execute as precisely as possible the indications of the composer, to act out the scenario, but to adhere to the literary stylization of the text of the plot.
One of the most interesting aspects of European music history and aesthetics is this dynamics of the interrelation between art music and folk music. It is a pattern of constant borrowing and cross-fertilization. At every big change in style attendant upon a crisis in European thought (such as that of 1600 which we considered earlier), the process comes to a crisis and the re-stylization of the dream involves a readjustment of the relationship between art music and folk music. In general, the tendency is at each such crisis for the material of the two types of art to exchange places, as the process of re-stylization depends upon a body of fresh material. However, the Romantic notion that all creative energy flows from popular art forms to official or learned art forms is simply untrue. Thanks to the process described in our discussion of "electronic" music we are witnessing today the vulgarization at an incredible rate of speed of what were once called "the classics." Their unique forms and precise dictions are being liberated from the examples in which they are contained, and the elements of syntax and rhetoric are reverting to their original condition independent of context and are available for regrouping, reassociation into new art works. In order for this to happen artistic language must pass through the limbo of popular language, and this popularization is a principal function of our cheap and easy methods of mechanical reproduction. However, the dimension between popular music and art music is indispensable, and if what has hitherto been art music suddenly becomes the language of popular music, art music will of necessity and certainly find means to maintain this distance.
One dines publicly these days, in places whose chronological time is in such relationship with contemporaneity or emotional time as is characteristic of our larger urban centers, to the Beethoven Symphonies, Strauss Tone Poems and Mozart Overtures. These, performed to be sure by electronic means, not as music, but as "Muzak," were the standbys of the symphony programs some twenty years since. At that time appropriate music for dining included Johann Strauss, Victor Herbert, and Rossini, then played by a live orchestra—a last symbol of bourgeois elegance. These latter have long since passed into the limbo of popular music (Rossini by way of the "Lone Ranger"). It is to misunderstand completely an important process of musical evolution—and incidentally to betray one's lack of contemporaneity—to observe and deplore the use in a popular idiom of the well-worn popular classics of the past. It is a continuing feature of European music history and an essential part of the re-stylization of the dream world that the tired classics are enjoying a rest from the reception rooms of the house and are deservedly going about in carpet slippers.
I leave you to imagine my delight at first hearing some thirty-seven years ago, a "swung" version of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto which was certainly no funnier than many performances I've heard since in dead seriousness. This is the process of re-stylization at work. The pompousness was rendered slightly grotesque, and the bombast burlesqued. The performer no longer believed, or could no longer utilize the original measuring units, the composer's original moral contract to his audience, not to mention his legal contract with his publisher, having long since been set aside and invalidated by new psychic events.
Having defined the job of the performer we may approach the role of the composer. He too is concerned with the bridge from the real time world to the dream world. He is subject to the same moral laws and the same necessity for sensitive analysis of the competency of his audience as is the performer. Actually, in practice, the composer usually acquires his initial experience of this dimension as a performer, which then, by virtue of a higher synthesizing power, he is able to explore in another direction than the virtuoso, who remains limited by the demands of technical competency in his chosen means of expression.
Here the touchstone is experience, in support of courage, resulting in freedom—all the things which add up to originality. It is the composer's job to invest a given time-space segment with enough symbols, enough abstract ordered activity, with enough incident and anecdote, with enough details of sonorous and rhythmic event, to supplant the real world so that the events of super-time become more interesting than the events of real time, and so that our sense of real events and their haphazard order is replaced by a perfected time in which events have a felt or perceptible order. This order need not be, indeed usually is not, completely discernible, even to the composer, working intuitively, not rationally. (R. Bacon, "There is no excellent beauty without some strangeness in the proportion.") It is felt, emotionally apprehended—physiologically, somatically apprehended—just as the habitual, physiological measures of time, hunger and sleep are experienced.
What is the nature of these symbols? What is the principle of their organization? They are ordered by number against a basic pattern of conditioned physiological response whose dimensions are habituation and fatigue. Sounds bear mathematical relationships in respect to pitch and temporal duration, and that part of the composer's job which he does with his conscious mind—his overt technical skill—rests securely upon his knowledge of the facts of number as translated into and directly apprehended as sound. His intuitions will guide, and even force him beyond this area of conscious knowledge into the domain of real creation. He becomes as the simple amateur, he will write down "what he likes" at the promptings of his subconscious mind which recognizes an order it cannot and need not be able to explain. At this moment he takes the same risk as does the performer, the same direct measurement of a unique combination of time segment and emotion, and creates—creates a new measurement, traces the shape of a new psychic space. We said, he needed freedom, experience and courage. His observations, or his music, are as good as the skill and honesty of his measurement—his emancipation from prejudice—the sensitivity of his inner ear—his intuition.
The symbols which he uses may be of several orders. They derive principally from kinesthetic sensation, from remembered gesture, from remembered motor sensations, of which the most obviously applicable are those of dancing. These are also, of course, controlled by number. These are the purest, most abstract and completely musical starting points for the internal combustion which is composition. There are, however, others. The relationship between music and literature is likewise rich in symbolic spare parts. Music shares with literature the device of onomatopoeia, the imitation of natural sounds, and has descended even to the incorporation of natural sounds into a composed work (via the disc; Respighi, "Pines of Rome," nightingales). This marks the nadir of the resolution of the dilemma posed by the pathetic sentiment.
In the realm of gesture, kinesthetic memory may be synthesized and gestures and sequences of gestures derived by extension of the principle of remembered dance steps. Music abounds in these, both conscious and unconscious.
The plastic, graphic image on the page which constitutes the actual design of the notes as drawn on the paper ("Augenmusik") likewise serves as starting points for the creation of symbols.
These things in combination and together with the conceptual analogies, of which the equation of dissonance and pain or cruelty is perhaps the most common, serve as symbolic springboards. Such things, completely objective in their composition but contrived for the purpose of physiological and subjective effect, fill the literary Renaissance madrigal with objective experiments in tonal combinations in the attempt to express the conceptual content of a lyric text. However, these things, these concepts, or as they were known to the Elizabethans, "conceits," once used as literary illustrations, immediately become available to the abstract tonal vocabulary and are applied as abstract symbols with diminished and diminishing reference to literature or text. We see here the progress from illustration to design.
A typical and suggestive illustration of the role of these several features together with their associations with the element of a distinctive tone-color is offered by the use of the horn, the French horn, whose voice in the orchestra brings romantic echoes of European history. Its traditional association with chivalry refers probably in the last analysis to the echoes of Roland's horn in the chasm of Roncevaux, ringing in the ears of Europe ever since. In addition, we find its power of evocation heightened by more recent references to the hunt and to the post horn. We need only to look at the song of Schubert, "Die Post," or the opening of the Sonata in E flat by Beethoven, "Les Adieux," to see precise examples of how this concrete sound, together with its emotional response, becomes the symbolic and tonal material for a composition. In our times a whole new set of such symbols has grown up around the movies and the soap opera. Curiously enough, many of these have been cribbed from their first and happiest uses, worn thin as art music, and are now being given currency, or are approaching limbo as popular music.
These are all springboards for the composer's creative flight and are to be recognized in more or less distinguishable form in the work of all composers, past and present. However, their recognition and tabulation are not the function of listening and do not constitute a musical experience. They are simply the composer's and the public's musical syntax. They are not the subject of the music—music is not "about" anything. The essential meaning of music is still the formal, dynamic structure by which it measures time, movement, and ultimately, psychic distance. Such concrete symbols, when they are understood as concrete, are to music what the "subject" of a painting is to painting. A painting of a nude is not "about" the nude. It is still "about" the art of painting. No matter what is portrayed or what the subject matter of a painting is, the real meaning, the subject of a painting, is its execution and its design, in other words, the "painting." Likewise with music. No matter what the symbolical syntax might be, the subject of music is still its design, its structure, its form. This is clearly suggested by the fact that we can and do appreciate and enjoy the truly significant part of paintings (and music) whose subject matter is completely unfamiliar or unknown to us today. There are many such pictures from Gothic and Renaissance times which contain, clearly, iconographical meaning in terms of subject matter, allegory and history which are unknown to us, but whose real essence as painting remains to delight us. Likewise, it is possible to enter into music of whose symbolism—overt and absolutely explicit to the composer and his time (one could quote Bach works alone by the hundreds)—is unrecognizable and incomprehensible to us.
Such things are not the subject of art. They are the points at which art touches directly upon the so-called real world. They are, therefore, easy and legitimate areas for discussion and instruction, and just as they serve as springboards for the creative impulse of the composer, so may they serve as springboards for the co-creative act of the listener. They are not in themselves enough. The true dimensions, as we have seen, lie beyond this point, where the direct stimulus is reduced in concrete form for the sake of increasing its possible associations and therefore its emotional form. It is in this area that a concrete design becomes reduced to absolute number and becomes the common denominator which it must be to serve an artistic purpose. Preoccupation with precise data as to origins of stimulus, to these points of reference to the real world, is even inimical to genuine emotional participation. Epistemological knowledge drives out intuitive knowledge. Knowledge "about" and knowledge, or "knowing," are not the same thing. If one is preoccupied with the naturalness of the imitation of the horn's sound one will not hear the thousand echoes by which it measures the psychic space which lies between the composer, the performer and the listener, and their relationship to their common culture and history.
So much for the composer and his problems. We turn now to the interested bystander, more or less innocent, the more or less competent witness of our ideal theatre. What are his problems? For we just defined listening as participation, an aspect of creation, an active "poesizing"—making.
When we say we "know" a piece of music what do we mean? A performer "knows" how to play a piece, the mechanical matters required for its execution, as well as grasping, at least intuitively (all that is really necessary), its form and the logic of its construction. A composer "knows" the numbers by which his work is made, its proportions, the equations of real stimulus to dream symbol; he knows how the seams and joints are put together. The listener may know and, what seems to be more significant, can be taught a certain amount, of peripheral information—names and dates of composers, all sorts of technical information about instruments and orchestration, music notation, etiquette of harmony and counterpoint. This kind of information when assembled into a meaningful perspective can provide the same sort of inspiration or stimulus to the listener as do the actual sounds of the real world for the composer. But the contact remains squarely with the real world, and such knowledge "about" is of no real assistance in transcending the real world and moving into the dream world which is the true space and time of music. This may go so far as the ability to catalogue completely and verbalize the technical details of harmony, counterpoint and orchestration, even at the rate at which they actually take place in time. However, this remains peripheral knowledge, useful in the training of musical technicians, but it is not the direct apprehension that we know to be the true essence of the response to art. In other words, those of Boethius, to be exact, one of our fundamental definitions of music was as "an art of measurement." In all this peripheral, but non-muscular, non-visceral activity no measurements have been taken. The tools have been gotten out and polished but there has been no personal activity. The magic of number has not been invoked, there has been no incantation. Number remains inert, as on a rule, and has not been reconciled with morality as on a dance floor or in our ideal theater.
Then what does a competent listener know? How does he know it? We have observed, music is measurement—measurement of time and space by movement, whose stylistic features reveal other dimensions of time as a social experience as opposed to clock time. Movement then is of the essence. A listener must know how to move, or more properly understand how to enlarge, accommodate, and vary the ways and means of his moving. How well this was understood by Havelock Ellis when he said that "to dance is to participate in the cosmic control of the Universe"!
Of course, by the time music arrives at the stage of an independent art, the overt act of movement, the gesture, has fallen away leaving a kinesthetic memory, an emotional symbol. This, once it is freed from the limits imposed by actual execution, can be combined in new ways, in abstract patterns, practically impossible, transcending physical space and possibility. The imagination then imposes the emotionally and symbolically satisfying conditions, as in the child's game of lines and squares, which then in art become socially conditioned, as in hop-scotch. The symbolic, remembered, gesture-sensation is in the same relationship to the actual overt gesture as ritual is to practical action.
Ritual is an act performed whose practical significance has been forgotten. It takes on new dimensions of a symbolic order since the act is no longer dictated by prudence or rational thought but by emotional necessity deriving from social continuity (of which the various aspects of time are the most delicate measurement), therefore from morality.
Movement, which is, after all, life itself, is the clue, and it is interesting to observe that our very habits and means of physical locomotion, so greatly increased in modern times, have, of course, changed our space-time orientation, and in recent years have also revealed a startling difference of contemporaneity (social continuity, morality) in the world. Our grandfathers were far less restricted than we in their movements in a political sense. We have become doubly aware of a shrunken world, reduced on one hand by technology and on the other by differences in emotional time, or morality.
Our movement patterns are different. Our personal repertoire of remembered kinesthetic experience is different. Their symbolic values are altered. Consider the size of the average dwelling of forty years ago with what we are now constrained to content ourselves. Nor is this difference to be explained completely by economics. Then the difference in ordinary rates of movement—50 mph on the ground, 300 mph in the air—is likewise significant. It is hardly to be wondered that we who live by new ways at new speeds of movement and in a new morality require new units of measurement for our new time-space and the resulting psychic distances. It is not to be wondered that our music-magic must be restylized to compete with a new order of real events so that it may translate us to the dream world we seek and require.
Experience in movement is supplied abundantly by life itself. Its translation into symbol and emotional value is automatic. What the competent listener needs to be able to do is to recombine these symbolic values into a super-dimension, a super-experience, a ritual activity beyond the demands of the practical, the expedient and the prudent. What is required is ritualistic freedom, the emotional satisfaction afforded by the tensions of rigor inherent in the child's game of lines and squares together with the parallel freedom and rigor in the game of social continuity or morality. He needs to learn to play with these patterns, these kinesthetic sensations, and to elevate the symbols they leave behind in the unconscious, from imperfect practical action to perfectible symbolic action, or art. This experience is gained in all types of creation, not musical ones alone. The essential fact is creation, namely, the exercise of the intuition and imagination. Here the transfer is the result of an awareness of the nature of the creative act and not of the nature of the thing created. True creation requires and results in disciplined sensibilities. Quality and intensity are the touchstones here. The eye of a fine cabinet maker or a gifted carpenter, whose hand output may be small, is more perceptive because more disciplined than that of a machine worker whose output is large but whose sensibilities are brutalized by the conditions of his employment. It is not a question of how much, or even of what, but of how good and how completely achieved by natural, disciplined sensibilities.
Spiritual freedom of this order in the realm of morality, we begin to realize, is a product of the impact of the total individual with his mysterious inherent gifts, physiological and intuitive, (these are, in mystical terms, the projection of his awareness of the unique time segment he represents) and his environment. This produces a set of working symbols by which the individual operates. As the environment changes these symbols become inadequate and the insensitive individual (non-creative individual) tends to become outdated. He is the bane of adolescents and octogenarians alike. His chronological time and his contemporaneity are significantly out of kilter. However, the creative individual who knows how to play in the sense of which the act of musical participation, co-creation, listening, suggests, retains his competency as a witness to life itself. His act of creative measurement is really re-creation. He creates an ever new and continuing self—a social continuity—a morality, which in action becomes virtue. He transcends time and approaches the immortality and the divinity which he claims.
It is said that when Calvin Coolidge, not especially noted for esthetic judgment, was first made aware of the extended possibilities of radio broadcasting, he observed "it must never be allowed to fall into the hands of commercial interests." The story is probably apocryphal, but it would appear to be difficult to invent. In any case we have had ample opportunity since, first with radio and then with television, to observe the astuteness of his remark and the strength of its moral premise.
Dr. Lee de Forest, the man whose inventions made broadcasting and electronic transmission and reproduction of sound possible, died embittered and disillusioned, having lived long enough to witness the unworthy uses to which his labors were already put. He was spared the enormities which have ensued. It will hardly be necessary here to rehearse the constant decline and degradation by commercial exploitation of what was to have been a cultural boon. The musician, once a bilateral link in the chain of social communication, has been reduced to a unilateral element of a commercial transaction. The almost complete disappearance from the "media" of anything but the most abject appeal to the unredeemed instinctual-sensual level, shown among other things by the systematic and sensational exploitation of "loaded" "ethnic" elements with their social and emotional overtones, is more than sufficiently the experience of all.
The counter-efforts, subscription, academic, and educational broadcasting are carried on only precariously, or in the face of condescension. As I write, a local half and half station plays an admirable Chopin recording (but why not live?) completely unannounced, to fill the commercially "vacant" (unsaleable?) half-hour preceding the Metropolitan broadcast. This itself is probably a quaint survival made possible only by prestigious and substantial (tax deductible?) commercial subvention. The saturation of and by the media is in any objective terms complete, protected by the answering service and ranks of buck-passing secretaries. The organized entertainment industry proceeds on its lucrative service to soap, cars, laxatives, and life insurance (indulgences all), and the public, hypnotized into conformity, does not recognize its recourse, the willing but unsupported FCC.
The period, some thirty years, during which this process has achieved aggravated proportions coincides with an incredible growth of the incidence of crime and violence, decline in social standards, and attrition of moral fiber which are striking at the central dynamics of society, especially urban life, the natural theater of cultural—especially musical—activity. These two facts are not unrelated. Crime is the reflection of emotional disturbance, individual and collective (the judiciary appear increasingly to consider this a justification for violence), and the abandonment of moral values in favor of self-indulgence which leads directly to violence and crime. Plato and Aristotle described this process and Dante based his divisions of Hell upon it. The thieving and vandalism so "fashionable" today are a direct corollary of the now often recorded adolescent statement "nothing matters except my immediate pleasure and happiness." This incidentally is but another form of the various "state of the nation" messages (read "propaganda"), likewise media exploited, which measure that "state" entirely in economic terms. Poverty is a greater crime than dishonesty.
These very themes, libidinous incontinence, self-indulgence, and violence, are the daily bread of the media, relentlessly pumped out to a public (unprotected by religious training and moral or social education) by the entertainment industry, a huge cartel of myriad ramifications, duplications, and conflicts of interest all orchestrated by electronic sound. The steady stream of cheap, easy narcotic replacements for the interior monologue bears a startling resemblance to the infantile taste (indulgence) for the denatured refined sugars, the work of another cartel, to be found—or rather concealed—in the national diet.
The cumulative effect upon the unshielded and astronomical majority, by virtue of the fact that music operates in the realm of suggestion directly upon the subconscious without any possibility of escape, is incalculable; and as Plato saw long ago, the effect is ultimately moral. The term "captive audience" which appeared in the 50s is more sinister than witty. The dime store clerk who says of the constant recorded music in her store "I don't hear it anymore" could not be more mistaken; it is the more dangerous for not being consciously observed, and either way there is no censor; the unconscious records the stimulus, complete with emotional connotation. Consider how quickly we, especially the young, "pick up" the accents, inflections, and speech habits of new associates even though for speech, the censorship mechanism is more highly developed; for music, there is none. This is precisely why the broadcast commercial exploits the diabolically contrived musical "sugar coating," to break down the rational perception and gain direct access to the unconscious. And, the fact of its electronic transmission completes the bait. Electronic sound now shares the aura of omniscience once accorded the printed word (which is incidentally rapidly disappearing—newspapers and magazines expire every day).
Another demonstration of social interaction is represented in those descendants of the evangelical "camp meetings" of the past century, the so-called mass "concerts" where social forms and consciousness are suspended by grotesquely amplified electronic sound, and which are themselves notorious scenes of indulgence and violence. These two themes are also reflected in concomitant speech ("Angry-Saxon") and dress (studded black leather and denim, totalitarian military insignia, midriff) and a studied casualness and nonchalance which has itself become an obsessive rigidity.
The psychedelic, catatonic "sound" of the Sixties seems to have abated somewhat although the world remains noisy and bids fair to get worse despite gradual concern, as witness the affair of that not very-well-named aircraft, the Concorde—indulgence of the few at the expense of the many. The effect of sheer noise (the present constant hum of talking in the auditorium, street noises, etc.) has, known or unknown, destructive effects upon the performer who may well say to himself "what point is there in making music for people who run power mowers?"
The other side of Parnassus witnesses the curious phenomenon of the "academic composer," "resident performer-teacher" and the "professional theorist" (whatever that is) which presents curious aspects. Rigidity, insecurity and obsession (reminiscent of medieval alchemy) appear as "systems" or "methods" and "isms" computerized (the latest form of magic) or imported (magic from afar, which has always had a fatal attraction for Americans)—Schillinger, Orff, Schenker, Suzuki—and also as a strong tendency to equate composition and theoretical analysis.
However, just as with Hawthorne's doctor, the patient expires with the final dose of medicine, the spirit expires at the first touch of the scalpel, and the gulf between the "serious" composer (too "serious"?) and the general public appears to widen and deepen. The titles of many contemporary works reveal this loss of continuity and a desperate search for apparent identity. Ladies and Gentlemen, engineering, chemical, electronic, and mathematical jargon will not do; and there are already too many "Haiku" and sets of "Tre Pezzi" by non-Japanese and non-Italian composers. Man must remain the measure. Plato said "The elements of music as a whole are imitations of the characters possessed by the better and worse sort of man" (Laws 669b). Social distinctions and forms and character delineation and development, both satirical and serious, developed and transmitted by phylogenetic forms, musical theater, ballet and social dancing are the very subject matter of Western Classical music, and indeed its definition. These forms and their gradations are inaccessible and incomprehensible to incomplete, socially unformed personalities and are rejected under the influences of current ideologies and methods of child rearing. Even the abilities of professional performers to interpret and inform such music is thus seriously diminished. The grim, relentless pursuit of technical efficiency and force (forms of violence) leaves its mark on performance from which human grace, sincerity, and charm disappear.1 The famous motto of the Italian Comedy of eighteenth-century Paris "Castigat ridendo mores" ("I chastise mores with a smile") should be taken as the credo for the whole period and much beyond. The smile has been lost; charm is notably lacking from present day composition and performance as it is from daily life. We replace it with mechanical efficiency, to "save time" and call it "progress"; for what? toward what? The proper function of music is to waste time, happily. The means must partake of the end.
Commercial "popular" music (for which read, "the current posture of the entertainment industry") likewise bases its system of classification ("country Western," "rock," "rag") on such distinction and ontogenetic character projection. These are assumed as identities by individuals in so far as their capacities and emotional needs (in a word, education) permit or demand.
Perhaps the watershed has been reached unnoticed as it has once already in this century in the experimental twenties. It now seems possible to say again (Francis Wyndham, TLS, Dec 19, 1975) "Timid experiment is doomed to date; masterly exploitation of a well worn tradition may, with luck, transcend its context and achieve unexpected longevity."
Under economic stimulus (read "greed") we have replaced religion with technology. Whatever we can afford economically (or perhaps more) is regarded as an inalienable right and permissible (if not a duty) morally. Religion (i.e. that which binds together) and its rituals (public, private, and personal) are essential sources of musical expression and communication, and perhaps in the widest and deepest (Apollonian and Dionysian) sense, the only true ones. Tape-recorded hymns (electronic messages from on high!) replace congregational singing, the cornerstone of the music of the West. (One wonders about the state of Grace of those who fear to raise their voices!) The suppression or curtailment of the uses of the traditional chant of the Roman Church is a serious loss—comparable to the destruction of the French Cathedrals whose very foundations lie in the chant itself—to musical continuity. However, all may not be visible to us; similar development took place in the Middle Ages and led to the forms, trope, sequence, laude, etc., by which the music of the West slowly developed its own identity.
There are two current phenomena of the college campus which are interesting. One is the vogue for "non-European" music (clothes, jewelry, religion) carried out, it is to be feared, on a generally superficial basis. This is a syndrome of escape: escape from the harsh fact that at the center of Western music is its message of increasing personal identity and pitiless comparison to the group. What is not apparent except to those few who genuinely pursue the disciplines of other musics is that the other musics have at their core equally potent formal components and powers which cannot be entirely escaped.2
The other phenomenon is the almost diametrically opposed tendency shown in the quite sudden interest of undergraduate non-majors in the mechanics of classical music theory including notation and harmony and all the things that musicians of even forty years ago found unenduringly boring. Much of this interest is occasioned by the desire to come to terms with that most casual but most intractable of instruments, the guitar. But here too, the elements of logic, order, and beauty take their revenge and end by inculcating a heightened perception and an intellectual experience as Pythagoras, Plato, Archimedes, and J.S. Bach knew they would.
All of this represents a heady brew, and like the atmosphere, is impossible to analyze while within it. Like a compost, it must undergo the irreversible organic transformation to arrive at the point of regeneration—no artificial means of arrest or acceleration are of any use—and if, like a compost not all stages of the process are attractive, the richer the mixture becomes, the better the hopes for the future. Despite the sordid aspects of daily existence, occasional notes of the themes of hope and aspiration are audible, such as the completely irrational efforts of man to transcend even his planet and to follow the impulses of what has been called his "divine discontent." This is certainly part and parcel of all music of the past and any of the future. Who knows? Some of it may already be here.
1The chain reaction of electronic reproduction and its limitations are felt here. The player imitates the recording and the architect contrives an acoustic which duplicates recorded sound which is then perpetuated in yet more recordings. . . .
2The same dangers surround the exclusive cultivation of earlier music: narcissistic preciosity, loss of contact with present, are curtailments of personality, humanity is supplanted by posture, and the mask, a frequent refuge of those lacking the real talent, the gift of interpreting the immediate scene.
It is a result of the romantic attitudes of antiquarianism. Properly conducted and understood, a vital contact with the past does whet the taste for the present and contribute to the prospects of the future. We are like all plants, the child is contained within the man.