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ERNST BLOCH

The Harmony of the Spheres - 3

  From: Ernst Bloch, Essays on the philosophy of music, tr. by P. Palmer
ELPENOR EDITIONS IN PRINT

The difference between artistic rules in counterpoint and the laws of truth in logic was no obstacle to this cross-connection. For, leaving aside the status of music in the quadrivium as one of the seven liberal arts, scholastic logic had for some time ceased to maintain epistemological aims like those of Aristotelian logic. Rather it had extensively developed into a theory of formal consequences, especially in changes of judgement, as we see in the textbooks from Petrus Hispanus onwards. Counterpoint was a variation on a theme in several parts, ex una voce plures faciens, through inversion, imitation, cancrizans and so forth. Scholastic logic laid down variations and combinations of elements of formal judgement, ex uno judicio plures faciens, through conversion, contraposition, subalternation, modal consequence and so forth. To these consequences were added the conclusions, or modes of the concluding figures, which rest upon the different combinational possibilities of the premises; the actual art of combination had been borrowed from mathematics back in Alexandria. Admittedly we cannot compare more closely the 'arithmetical model' of the fugue (also called conseguenza in fourteenth-century Italy) and the 'jigsaw puzzle' of scholastic logic, because the material is too disparate. But in both fields we find a remarkably similar spirit; it was, after Petrus Hispanus, essentially one of a formally correct working out in logic as much as in music. It was a rationalism of sorting-out [Auswicklung] and subsumption as opposed to the more recent rationalism of development [Entwicklung] and generation. It is this legacy which brings to musical form -besides the aforesaid danger- a special dignity, particularly if this dignity is linked with the essential articulate expression which it is its sole purpose to embody.  

And now we return to the most famous argument behind all this revelling in musical laws: the harmony of the spheres and its offspring, the cosmic theory of music. For in its mythical-utopian archetype, we find another character besides the half Pythagorean, i.e. besides the apparent correlation of musical laws per se. It is a matter of opening up this other character by human means and thus disrupting the connection with the cosmic theory of music. This theory held sway for all too long, but it taught the musical work to think a very great deal of itself. Through the Pythagorean ban on thirds and sixths it hindered music's development, but it gave the music that came into being the ambition to achieve an enormous correlate. Although it was an ungodly astral myth, it provided the dream of musical perfection with a counterpart to what was for so long the purported canon of the cosmic system in architecture. Indeed whereas this canon (up to the temple of Solomon) often applied only in a poetic sense or in esoteric schools, heavenly music was actually associated with earthly, learned music and served as its ideal model in scholastic reasoning, from the beginning of the latter until long after its heyday.

'Early mediaeval musical theory was as staunch an adherent to the music of the spheres as the Pythagorean school itself ...Thus the proposition of the Church Fathers that Church music comes from God and has its model in the singing of the heavenly hosts found a certain degree of philosophical support' (Abert: Die Musikanschauung des Mittelalters, 1905).

Music's temple of Solomon was the song of the planets and, after St Augustine, the song of the angels; intervals, which the Pythagoreans equated with the distances between planets, now corresponded to the ordines angelorum. But even in Christian thought, the link with the planets was never broken. St Ambrose, the founder of Christian church music, actually taught that the mysterious music of the universe was the archetype and prototype of earthly music, and King David was supposed to have introduced the art of psalmody in imitation of the song of the planets (the heavens praise the glory of God everlasting). The Carolingian music scholar Aurelian of Rťomť, one of the most influential revivers of the Greek modes, always connected the eight modes with the heavenly motions, but his doctrine also stated that 'In hoc (sc. cantandi officio) angelorum choros imitamus'. Thus music acquired a framework which was both cosmic and sacred, with gradations, and which united Ptolemy and mystical emanation. Already, BoŽthius had taught the following classification: first, musica mundana, the universal motion determined by proportion and number; next, musica humana, the ensemble of body and soul; and lastly musica instrumentalis, the lowest, audible emanation. The celestial heptachord was associated with the intervals and modes, and the angelic choir with the ancient Christian antiphonal and responsorial chant. Even the innovation of the polyphonic canon did not lack the sound of the spheres as a model.

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