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Considering Types of Ideal Music

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
If you pay attention to the song that the choir finished singing – Jesus dulcis memoria – you can see that there is an analogy between a man's way of speaking and this canticle. Each note is set in it as an inflection of a man’s voice when he affirms something.

When, for example, I said “when he affirms something,” I unconsciously emphasized the word “affirm” to indicate how affirmative “affirm” should be, and I also passed very quickly over “something” because “something” is vague, quick, just a brush stroke in the thought.

Monk medieval choir

Music should reflect both an abstract idea and a human sentiment

So then, when I pronounced those words, I did what everyone does, that is, I accentuated words according to my temperament and to what my soul feels about what I am saying. There is a way to pronounce things in which the very act of pronouncing, as it were, discretely sings what is being said, and this singing indicates a person's state of the temperament and the good or bad perception he has, the pleasant or unpleasant flavors he experiences about what he is saying. This is how a man speaks.

The song that we just listened to is a song that has this characteristic: Each note is a meditation on the meaning of the word that is being sung. This is generally the case for all the songs sung by our choir, be they Gregorian chant or polyphonic. It takes pious position toward what is being said, a tone that is at times sad, at other times joyful, at times warm, at others times adoring, at yet other times atoning. It is beautiful to follow the song this way, word by word.

This song that we listened to is truly beautiful because it has all these inflections we mentioned.

Music - an architecture of sounds

We can see something else as well in music. Classical music, for example, is a magnificent architecture of sounds. It can somehow be compared to a building with its mass bulk harmonically distributed, its multiple columns, its different stories, its minor unfolding parts, etc. In the whole there is the same abstract idea that expresses, so to speak, the human thinking, but it is expressed through a pure idea of harmony.

Thus, the question arises: Which of the two forms – the one reflecting the human temperament and soul or the one reflecting an abstract idea – is the true conception of music? Or are both of them authentic?

Someone in the auditorium expresses his opinion: It seems to me that the two are authentic, but the higher is the first, the one that reflects a man’s state of spirit. For, while the second may reflect an idea of a material thing, the first always expresses a spirit, which is higher than matter.

I am just listening, I am not giving my opinion.

[Other participants of the meeting vote for this or that type of music]

The ideal music

This gives me an opportunity to say something in passing, although let me note that I do not have enough knowledge on this topic.

I ask myself whether or not a style of music can be conceived that encompasses both perfections. For both are manifestations so noble and elevated that our constant quest for unity leads us to consider the possibility of combining the two into one visualization.

angels music

Fra Angelico's ethereal Angels are often portrayed playing musical instruments

I did not find a formula for such a union, however, and I am not even sure if this is possible.

I will offer just one idea to give you an idea of what the music of the Angels in Heaven can be like. It is known that the Angels play music in Heaven, although it is not a material music like ours. Their music should have an architecture of sounds and is undoubtedly the expression of their souls.

Is it possible for men to make a music with both characteristics? Given our limitations as human beings, is it possible for us to have music like this? I do not know the answer to this question, but it is certainly something that we can think about, that we can consider…

As I speak, I see several of you smiling, captivated by this idea. These are topics that are good to think about when life becomes boring. To consider this kind of problem is very agreeable and helps us to entertain ourselves in an elevated way.

I am planning to comment with you here some day in the future on a book about Vienna at the time of Metternich that describes the entertainments of the Viennese of that epoch, so that we can see how light and innocent they were. I consider Vienna to be the lightest city in the world. An appreciation of this kind of lightness of soul can help to diminish certain types of depression to which we may be subjected.

Plato & the music of the crystal spheres

Before closing, I will make one more commentary on music. Plato imagined that ideas would have their own world. In it each idea would be a crystal sphere that would move like a star in the firmament. Plato imagined each sphere emitting sounds that would constitute magnificent music. So, the ensemble of this world would always be harmonic, emitting music and flowing in choreographic movements as in a dance. Thus, a triple harmony of ideas, movements and sounds would regulate that world.

Crystal spheres

Plato imagined ideas as crystal spheres that moved beautifully and played music

See how many things this man put in his universe: crystal spheres that spin around themselves and then move in their own planetary orbits; each of these spheres generates its own sound, and the ensemble makes a symphony of sounds that compose a general harmony. We can imagine those spheres being touched by light and reflecting color in a polychromic feast that corresponds to the sounds, movements and ideas. What a beautiful conception!

This music does not express the human soul or temperament. It is an almost pure philosophical meditation of sound, but it begets in man a reflection in his soul. Then, we can imagine that the point of encounter of this general harmony is a human reaction. Someone could translate this reaction into music. Who knows whether it is possible for a man to compose music of this sort?

With meditations like this we can diminish the heaviness of life and think about Heaven. For those marvelous spheres become very small when we think of the Angels, who are most perfect, most virtuous, most pure and most faithful spirits, always contemplating God and seeing in Him things that are always the same and always new, translating their praise and gratitude through music. It is an incomparably greater marvel.

Here we have an example of how an ultramontane should find repose in this world.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Posted May 22, 2017

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