Saturday, August 11

George Steiner on Music (part 2)

Let's continue with chapter 6 from Errata. (See previous post.) Steiner is struggling to find out whether the concept of "truth" applies to music. His conclusion is that music is beyond true and false, beyond good and evil. 
I have some doubts regarding this constantly mentioned "beyond-ness" of music but, if the concept of truth and falsity is seen in terms of a unilaterally mathematical dimension, Steiner is certainly right: music is, indeed, beyond truth and falsity. Suppose, however, that we expand the notion of truth to a universal magnitude, to realities beyond reason. Then we might be in a position to say that music is "true"; or, to put it more safely, that there is truth in music; or, even better, that music participates in the truth. Perhaps this does not apply to all music; but it certainly does to these works that are proved to be timeless, the masterpieces. 
Steiner realises that the nature of music itself points to the realm of a mystère suprême. Yet there is a visible side to this mystery, and this relates to music's power. (We've often spoken about that in this diary). "It is music which can invade and rule the human psyche with a penetrative strength comparable, it may be, only to that of narcotics or of the trance reported by shamans, saints, and ecstatics. Music can madden and it can help heal a broken mind. It can be 'the food of love', it can also trigger the feasts of hatred. A tune, a momentary cadence can come to possess our consciousness". A bit further down he adds that, music "exercises over us a singular domination".


The next question is one that has haunted me since my adolescent years: Where does a melody come from? There can be no answer - I am aware of that! But Steiner says something quite interesting: "Where does the new melody, the novel key-relation, originate? What, if you will, was there before? Silence, perhaps, but a silence which, in a linguistically inexpressible way, was not mute. Which was charged with 'unresolved tensions and disequilibrium', as Roger Sessions put it, aching for release and resolution". 

And what about the impact of music? There lies another huge issue: music and emotions. "What makes a third minor sad?", he asks... Again, as in many parts of the book, Steiner is more preoccupied with asking the right questions rather than anxiously trying to provide his answers. In crucial issues such as these, are there, in fact, any answers? It seems to me that we humans, in issues as evidently transcendental as these, can only communicate our wonder and ecstasy - nothing more than that. For now. I have this feeling that there are answers to everything, but they are not for now...

Music, in Steiner's beautiful and eloquent prose "demonstrates to me the reality of a presence, of a factual 'thereness', which defies either analytical or empirical circumscription. This reality is at once commonplace, everyday, palpable and ulterior". 

I'll end this small summary of Steiner's thoughts on music with this sentence: 

"The more captive our delight, the more insistent our need of and 'answering to' a piece of music, the more inaccessible are the reasons why. It is a platitude to observe that music shares with love and with death the mystery of the self-evident".

George Steiner, Errata - an examined life, Yale University Press, pp. 70-86.


Af said...

Dear Christos, I want to thank you for sharing your personal thoughts in your interesting blog.

When I read your text a memory comes into my mind. I recall coming with a *burn out* from a dark winter, ice and snow in my own Patria, the land of ten tousand lakes( and the land of Jean Sibelius and also the land of his silence for 30 of his last years) to the warmth in Hania. With rather detailed suicidal thoughts I tried to cure my difficult and dangerous
depression alone in Greece sometimes in 2007.

One morning in a small Cretan book shop, which for some reason also had an excellent HiFi equipment, I suddenly heard music of outmost light and brightness speaking a clear language to my dark situation. This specific music from only one instrument - what an instrument - and without lyrics was of central importance to save my soul in that year.

No words - just the well played music from a grand piano. I don't know why i started to cry standing behind the bookshelves. For me this music in the bookshop spoke with a much clearer articulation, sharpness and even a kind of prophetic knowledge about me than spoken words of doctors, priests or the wonderful words of a beautiful woman.

For me it turned out so luckily, that the pianist had the gift of a seer and healer. The distinct rhythm felt intensively therapeutic - the memory today is like a once in a life passion, which usually is life giving.

The effect of this musical experience seems not to fade a way. Some quality in music seems to defy time. Writing this here and now to you, I can distinctly recall the sound of one especially healing interval performed in the deep bass register. I just made a test: When I listen with my inner ear to the memory of his one grand piano bass interval, I can hear it very clear, I even feel the the clear low Herz vibrations and their therapeutic effect in my body. This musical memory IS definitely sounding much more *real* for me than the *real* sound of the car traffic coming through my window exactly as I write this.

You ask perhaps who the composer was, that I heard on that day in the book shop in Crete, and who was the performing artist I had never heard music like this before in my life. To me, in my phantasy of a rather ignorant amateur, this music felt like a Mozart from my own time. I swallowed a few times and turned with my musical questions towards the owner of the Cretan book shop.

Well, now I now much more and may inform you, that the music that perhaps saved my life there in the small book shop was composed by Stamatis Spanoudakis. The pianist with the gift of a healer -especially for me in the year of 2007 - was you, my dear Christos Makropoulos.

For your decision to give us your timeless Tango on the Shore, then in 2007 - and for your blog now in 2012 I deeply thank you. I also send end greetings from my family and musical friends who again and again have expressed their own love of your music you create there, while we live our lives here far away up in Scandinavia.

Frank David Klemetz
Emeritus professor of architecture
Best email connection:

P.S. My dear fellow readers and commenters here: Music may suddenly speak a more stronger language than words. The interval of life and death, which I mention in my comment, every one can clearly hear towards the end of Nr 3 *Símera -Today* on Christo Makropoulos quality CD: TANGO ON THE SHORE

christos makropoulos said...

Dear friend,

I haven't replied to this comment because I did not know what to say. I must say that I am still at a loss for words. So, please just accept my deepest thankfulness for this inspiring message. And may God bless and protect you and your family and friends.

With gratitude,