22 November 2009

The Absolute Character of Music

+"The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted." from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice

Music, in the time of Shakespeare, was very simple and pure. Even the popular melodies were seen not merely as fit, but as inspirations to some of the greatest works of religious works by the great polyphonic composers. Such composers as Victoria and Palestrina took from the popular folk melodies in order to build upon their dignified and glorious works for the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Dignity is something that was always inheritant to the music that was well-loved, only up until this past century did that start to change. When the sexual revolution pushed and shoved its way into the culture, deeming any obstacle as "repressed" or lacking an "open mind", it began the slow, extracation of dignity from being at the corner stone of art in general.

What does one have when there is 'music' without dignity? It lacks nobility, and is, in a word, pompous, because it seeks to exhault itself. This is ugly because it is vain. Vanity is a vice as it causes the destruction of dignity. "It is the absolute character of music: nobility," is an excellent quote by one of the greatest musicians of the past century, Artur Rubinstein.

Then why has popular music and art in general, has largely become pompous and vain? It is because our culture lacks the virtues that inspire higher art, even it lacks the comprehension of what art is meant to do. Art should be an exhaltation of the human condition. It should, therefore, have dignity and nobility at its heart. Where ever such is lacking, there will be the lack of these qualities, and in their place will be philosophies which pose in such a manner to exault, but will only bear bad fruits. Fruits that grow to maturity and ripen are those that come from a plant with strong roots to support it, such as with tradition that proves to support virtues over time.

Is it no wonder how cultures who have suffered from tyranny have music that not only expresses well the dynamics of the human condition, but also, in its dignity, seeks to exhault it? It is not a genetic thing, but a memory passed on to generations, of those who were lost to war and suffering.

Rubinstein remarks about dignity in a lesson he gives some piano performance students. The piece used for the discussion is Ballade No. 1, by Chopin. The song is not music, it is not as the composer intended, unless it is played with this dignity. The dynamics are not for showing off of the skills, but are incidental, and subtle, to be cast within the structure of the melodies. Many performers miss this because they do not have at their own philosophies those same philosophies that were at the core of society at the time of Chopin's life. Grant it, Chopin did not live these out perfectly, but the fashion of the music yet at the time was still at a high level of artistry, for it to be favored. Dignity was still the norm. (Unfortunately, notoriety tends to lead souls away from virtue, as was the lesson Chopin had learned and sought to express with this particular piece, where he mourns both the loss of his hometown to war and lost friendship.) What a stark contrast when we compare the music of the baroque or classical period, or even the romantic period --- to the majority of what passes today as "music"! Today, the underlining philosophy is: Look at me. Very sad, indeed.

St. Cecilia, on the evening yet of your feast day, pray for us.
Here is the 3rd video of 3 showing the famous lesson by Artur Rubinstein. By this time, it has been 6 years since the great artist lost his sight, and he struggles to even see the keys. Listen to towards the end of the clip, where Rubinstein explains what is the "absolute character of music":