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.