Rosicrucian Writings Online

The Subjectivity of Music

 By Fratres Ronald Bridgett and Cecil A. Poole
[From The Rosicrucian Digest May 1942]
IT HAS been said that music hath charms to sooth the savage beast. The saying is based upon fact, because music in one form or another seems to have an effect upon all living things. In fact, music is one of the few arts in which appreciation is found expressed in any lower form of life than man. Man has the monopoly on most of the accomplishments of arts and sciences. Particularly in the fields of science does man alone hold dominance, because it is his gift of abstract reasoning and creative thinking that makes it possible for him to gain an understanding of the nature of things in the world of which he is a part.
It is not necessary that all the abstract thinking and reasoning of man be brought into play to appreciate the arts. Nevertheless, man has used his comprehension to create in these fields, but man alone has, in turn, been able to appreciate these creative accomplishments in the field of arts, while music in its purest and simplest form does not need objective analyzation to cause it to have any effect upon the hearer, even if the hearer is lower in development than man. Primitive peoples have used music in one form or another. They have used it because they recognized it as a direct appeal to the emotions, as a direct channel to their subjective states. Possibly the effect of music upon animals has been exaggerated, but many animal trainers successfully employ music to better control the animal's behavior. Only recently there have appeared in newspapers and magazines stories to the effect that music is being employed by farmers to keep the domestic animals which serve them more contented, and in turn, more useful.
Of all the fine arts by which man seeks to portray ultimate truth and beauty, music is the most abstract and subjective. Literature and the graphic arts, by describing and imitating the beauty of symmetrical things, strive to reveal the ideal beauty of the universal soul. Music, however, is in a class by itself, as its effect reaches into the depth of cosmic consciousness without having to use objective illustrations or media. Absolute music can indeed do very little in the way of describing natural objects. It is true that songs are descriptive, but song is a dual art--the marriage of words and music--and as such the song cannot be classed as pure music. Program music tries to describe things, but its meaning is generally ambiguous unless accompanied by extensive program notes and explanations. It is within the experience of most listeners that the more a composer attempts to describe external things, the less success does he have in reaching the subjective consciousness of his audience. In Haydn's oratorio, "The Creation," we find a good illustration of this truth. The work is acknowledged to be a great religious masterpiece. It has aroused universal admiration in countless audiences, but it scarcely stirs the soul to spiritual fervor. It is too descriptive of the material objects of God's creation, and instead of lifting the listener from the earth to heaven, it too often leaves him on the earthly plane, which it actually seeks to describe. By comparison the music of those great mystical composers, Bach, Elgar and others falls into a different category. The creations of Elgar and Bach are introspective and mystical, and as such they touch responsive chords deep down in the human soul. This music meets such a responsive chord within the being of the listener.
It is no mere coincidence that in England and Canada during the early years of the war, and now in this country, use has been made of the music of Elgar as an atmospheric background for broadcasts of a national patriotic character. Something inherent in these harmonies touches and stirs the subjective consciousness to deep emotion. It is through such emotional contacts that man is made to realize true value and to gain a perspective which will help him better to meet the problems of today and to prepare for a better future. The expression of the composer in music is our appreciation of the harmony of the laws of the universe. Music that is truly inspired is one way in which we objectively perceive the manifestation of cosmic law. The purpose of the universe, and of God in His universe, is reflected in the harmonious laws which cause it to be. When man is in attunement with these higher forces, he is truly approaching a state of ecstasy, because the ultimate for man is the complete coordination of his efforts and actions in accord with cosmic law.
The music of the spheres is a song of the harmony of creation, whose composer is the Creator and whose melody and rhythm echo throughout the universe. Great mystics have claimed to have been able to hear this music, but most of us only hear its echo when we, in turn, objectively perceive that music which limits itself to reproduction within the limitations of a physical instrument. No objective analysis is needed to comprehend the manifestation of the infinite. Certain laws of the universe are apparently comprehended by the child, by the animal, as well as by the adult human being, although only the latter can reason and objectively be aware of that comprehension. The objective abilities of man are closely related to the physical and objective world of which he is a part. The subjective man becomes aware of the consciousness of his soul. It is the point of contact with what he always was and what he ever will be. There are few things which can be contacted in the objective world, other than music, to which this analogy can also be applied. Little or no objective analysis is necessary to comprehend and to understand at least in part the meaning of a musical composition.
The emotional response that comes from music is an unrationalized response, because the music that is stimulating is a reproduction on a lower scale of those cosmic forces which produce vitality and stimulation, just as music which is soothing and conducive to rest is also a physical manifestation in a comprehensible form of those constructive forces of the Cosmic that guide and direct us toward happiness and contentment. Music has been truly called the universal language, because regardless of the language which you speak, music is still understood, provided our physical senses are able to perceive it.
The greatest composers, as already mentioned, are those who have been able to reproduce in a physical form an ideal which extends beyond the physical. A composition is an imperfect reproduction of the concepts of the composer. If it were possible for man to hear the music that the deaf Beethoven heard but was only able to reproduce in what he believed to be the imperfect forms of his masterpieces, man would easily comprehend the limitations of our objective perceptions and understanding. The same principles which govern the effect of subjectivity upon the work of the composer also affect the art of the performer, whether the performer be vocalist, instrumentalist or conductor. All true artists in their early days of training feel the urge to express their inner emotions and wonder why they find it so difficult. A part of this difficulty is due to their inability to express their creative impulses in terms of a physical objective medium. They are groping for a means of expression, and they must recognize that they are physical, in a physical world, and must gain physical techniques as a medium of expression. All great art requires the mastery of an intricate technique before the artist can use it to express his inner self. This technique, as already mentioned, is largely objective and requires many years of regular and diligent practice until it becomes absorbed into the subjective consciousness where it is the servant of the performer and operates almost involuntarily. Orchestral conductors of great genius control their players far more by their personality than by a special individual technique in the use of the baton. Instrumentalists who have had the privilege of playing under these great conductors declare they become absorbed in the music and the personality of the leader. It is only the real artist who has sufficient perseverance to reach a degree of technical mastery that allows a subjective consciousness to fully express itself, and how true this is not only in the field of music, but in the field of mastering any ability we may seek in life.
The composer and the performer constitute two of the elements necessary for the manifestation of music. For a perfect manifestation a third element is necessary--an audience. How few people today really listen to music subjectively. Most hear it with the outward ear only. Comparatively few absorb it into the inner consciousness. The experienced concert artist will agree that perfect attunement with the inner consciousness of an audience is necessary if the performance is to be a real emotional experience. When an audience forgets to watch the finger technique of the pianist or the histrionics of the conductor and begins really to contemplate the music, it is certain that that phase of the divine ideal realized in the mind of the composer will be transferred, realized and experienced both by the performer and the audience. Then the manifestation is perfect--complete. Rhythm plays a very important part in the attunement that should exist between performer and audience. Time and note values are merely objective; they are the arithmetic of music, but rhythm is subjective. It is the pulse of life, the vibrations of the universe. An audience must feel it subjectively. If it is absent the performance lacks life. One need not be a musician to comprehend these principles. One needs only to have a sincere desire to attune his being with those things which will contribute to his betterment. A true contemplation of music can help man, if--as in many other things in life--man permits the help to come.

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