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On the future of European music


1. Bei den Menschen ist sie ein tragender Strom

HE IS RESPONSIBLE for Achilles' anger and for all that a civil dispute signifies in Homeric world. Trojans are waiting to constrict his army mates. We don't wonder, therefore, why he is awake, alone in the entire camp. If something astonishes us is that at the opening of the tenth rhapsody of Iliad Agamemnon is presented to admire human society, and to do so by looking at the enemy troops: 

So, when he stared at the field of Troy, / he admired [thaumazen] the numerous fires burning in front of Ilion, / the flute and pipe timbre and the voices of people.

Thus the ancient text identifies Music as one of the three founding substances of society.[1]

SINGERS IN HOMER are granted the art of singing by Gods in order to serve the shared ground and purpose (koinos logos). When Thamyris failed to do so, he had his art taken away by the Muses (Beta 594). Such a punishment is estimated equal to dismemberment (peron thesan: they maimed him). Phemius, however, is not punished, since "necessity forced him to sing by the suitors" (Alpha 154); the slanderers of community are punished to death: Phemius' guitar is transformed into a well-tempered bow in Ulysses' hands (Phi 406) — and it won't benefit, if we read this as an epic simile. Singing is not a medium of aesthetic pleasure: because of the singer past becomes tradition, being apportioned among the table companions. Achilles is not being calmed avoiding the world in a manner of induist meditation, but, on the contrary, by singing men's glories with his forminx (Iota 189), by tracing the world. Lyric poetry fulfilled the cultural conditions that were going to split Music into its components, melos (musical part) and logos (lyrics). The turn toward personal problems — while sight of the community was never entirely lost — comprises the first step to the nominalist against the logos attack of the Sophists. In 582 BC a composition of organic music is included in Pythian Games. Sacadas won the games by his Pythic Law, a work that described the fight between Python and Apollo. Callinus, Tyrtaeus, Archilochus, Memnermus, Solo, Simonides and Alkman were by that time dead, while Alkaeus, Stesichorus and Sappho had already flourished or were flourishing. Since music derived its meaning from the word, since it was legitimate because of its commingling with language, from then on it was going to be unauthorized and, therefore, unjust. Sacadas must have felt that his work was nude, so that he gave it an illustrative (programmatic) content, searching for the girdles of tradition. By the course of time the manifest seek of justification in the aesthetic pleasure music can procure appeared; in order to accomplish this pleasure, composers drafted various kinds of modifications of music's secret harmony, its mathematical core.[2] In a passage from the Laws Plato sums up this plight and expresses objections important enough to be adopted as a compass to every future music. He assigns freedom to goodness and to respect for divine truth; 

Because our music then was divided about whatever of its kinds and forms (...) and since these, as well as some others, were well arranged, nobody could misuse some kind of tune in the place of another (...) afterward and in time poets became masters of the unmusical lawlessness; poets gifted, but also unmindful of the Muse's justice and legitimacy, being out of their minds [vakheuontes] and possessed by pleasure more than is necessary (...) mixing and confusing everything with everything, slandering music without willing and meaning their attitude, saying that music had no congruity or any musicality, so that anyone could form a thoroughly correct judgment on it, by relying to the pleasure music might give to one, no matter one's goodness or badness. Yet, even if it was only about a democracy of free people, it would not be an intensely awful act; but now from music illegitimacy have spread to everything; everyone believes he knows everything about everything, so that freedom collapsed too, because, considering themselves wise, they became fearless, and lack of fear created shamelessness (700a-701a).

Poetic ability in itself is not sufficient for one to be a poet; he must recognize his art as a gift, since only this recognition initiates him to the shared ground and purpose. To restrain Athens' fall, Plato stoops even to recommending institutional stiffness. However he does not resort to the narrow-mindedness of a dictator: he would approve even interference of people if it were about a democracy of free men; in other words, he makes the following demand: if one wants to judge, he first has to be able to want. Will requires prudence (noon ehein) as attachment to the origins. This attachment, in which freedom takes root, is not a work of intellectual analyses but the gift of admiration (thaumasmos). Whenever education ignored this truth it became mere erudition, and dangerous at that, since it "started" and "ended" spreading incoherence. On that account Plato blames this sort of innovators for two slips: first, that unwillingly, because of foolishness, they slander Music. Second, that by this kind of behavior they destroy an essential quality even illiterate people might have: the circle of prudence, will and freedom is attacked and dissolved in its very center, namely admiration. 

1st page notes

1   "Music [capital M], which later on got the meaning of ‘music', formally is an adjective referred to the Muses, to almost consummate the ‘activity' or the ‘ability' of the Muses. By the name of Music —we encounter the word at first in Pindar— ancient Greeks of an elderly past called the unsplit unity of music [melos] and lyrics [logos] in verse, namely [the unsplit unity] of music and the permanently subjugated conceptions. They did not have a distinct name for ‘music'. Only after Plato the word music was used to signify the deprived-of-language music." (cf. Thr. Georgiades' article in Epopteia, vol. 98, p. 181). But: "That the Greeks connected precisely music with the moral element — the first meaning of the word ‘ethos' [morals] as well as law [nomos] was ‘custom' [ethimon] — that Plato emphasized with such a strength the musical theory of morals [ethos], is explained by the common element of music and human activity: the law that marks both of them." (ibid. p. 185).Back to the top

2   Modern trends trying to discover ancient music using mathematics, like Xenakis' stochastic music, do not propound aesthetic pleasure but they give a rather formal interpretation to texts like the following of Philolaus': "the nature of numbers and the [mathematical] harmony could not be falsified (...) falsehood never intrudes numbers (...) and truth is something familiar and connate to numbers' generation" (DK. B 11).Back to the top


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