No Comment, Quotation — February 20, 2010, 6:00 am

Schopenhauer – Music Before the Dawn

arthur_schopenhauer_portrait_by_ludwig_sigismund_ruhl_1815
Ich erkenne in den tiefsten Tönen der Harmonie, im Grundbaß, die niedrigsten Stufen der Objektivation des Willens wieder, die unorganische Natur, die Masse des Planeten. Alle die hohen Töne, leicht beweglich und schneller verklingend, sind bekanntlich anzusehen als entstanden durch die Nebenschwingungen des tiefen Grundtones… Dieses ist nun dem analog, daß die gesammten Körper und Organisationen der Natur angesehen werden müssen als entstanden durch die stufenweise Entwickelung aus der Masse des Planeten: diese ist, wie ihr Träger, so ihre Quelle: und das selbe Verhältniß haben die höheren Töne zum Grundbaß… Nun ferner in den gesammten die Harmonie hervorbringenden Ripienstimmen, zwischen dem Basse und der leitenden, die Melodie singenden Stimme, erkenne ich die gesammte Stufenfolge der Ideen wieder, in denen der Wille sich objektivirt. Die dem Baß näher stehenden sind die niedrigeren jener Stufen, die noch unorganisch, aber schon mehrfach sich äußernden Körper: die höher liegenden repräsentieren mir die Pflanzen- und die Thierwelt… Endlich in der Melodie, in der hohen, singenden, das Ganze leitenden und mit ungebundener Willkür in ununterbrochenem, bedeutungsvollem Zusammenhange eines Gedankens von Anfang bis zum Ende fortschreitenden, ein Ganzes darstellenden Hauptstimme, erkenne ich die höchste Stufe der Objektivation des Willens wieder, das besonnene Leben und Streben des Menschen.

In the deepest notes of the harmony, in the ground bass, the will begins to objectify itself, I recognize the mass of the planet and inorganic nature. All the higher notes, easily mobile and sounding more quickly, are to be understood as emerging from the repercussions of the deep notes of the ground bass… This is to be understood as parallel to the fact that all bodies and organizations of nature must be viewed as arising through the development of the substance of the planet, step by step: as its bearer, so its source, and the same relationship can be established between the higher notes and the bass notes… And further in all the array of steps that follow the ripieno voices which produce a harmony, between the bass and the leading voice which carries the melody I recognize the full series of ideas in which the will objectifies itself. Those which stand closer to the bass are the first such steps, which are not yet organic, but are in a multiplicity of external forms: the higher notes represent to me the world of plants and animals… And lastly in the melody, in the high, singing, integral principal voice, which reflects an uninterrupted, meaningful connection of a thought progressing from the beginning to the end, I recognize the highest stage of objectification of the will, the contemplative life and strivings of the human.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, vol i, bk iii, sec 52 (1819)(S.H. transl.) in Schopenhauers sämmtliche Werke in fünf Bänden, vol i, pp. 346-48 (E. Grisebach ed. 1922).


In Schopenhauer’s philosophy, music is given a role apart from all other arts in that it alone is capable of direct interaction with the will. Other arts constitute ideas which may objectify the will indirectly. But music exists apart from humankind and its world; it is primordial. Schopenhauer is embracing the Platonic-Pythagorean view of music, and adapting it as an important pillar of his philosophical system. But he connects this with the evolution of music and the preeminent art form of his own age. “Music does not express this or that particular and definite joy, this or that sorrow, or pain, or horror, or delight, or merriment, or peace of mind; but joy, sorrow, pain, horror, delight, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without accessories, and therefore without their motives. Yet we completely understand them in this extracted quintescence. Hence it arises that our imagination is so easily excited by music, and now seeks to give form to that invisible yet actively moved spirit world which speaks to us directly, and to clothe it with flesh and blood, i.e., to embody it in an analogous example. This is the origin of the song with words, and finally of the opera, the text of which should therefore never forsake that subordinate position in order to make itself the chief thing and the music the mere means of expressing it, which is a great misconception and a piece of utter perversity; for music always expresses only the quintescence of life and its events, and never these themselves, and therefore their differences do not always affect it. It is precisely this universality, which belongs exclusively to it, together with the greatest determinateness, that gives music the high worth which it has as the panacea for all our woes. Thus if music is too closely united to words, and tries to form itself according to the events, it is striving to speak a language which is not its own.”

The opening (Einleitung) of Richard Strauss’s tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, op. 30 (1896) can be understood as an effort to compose the vision Schopenhauer presents above. Strauss commences the piece with a sustained double low C, 32′ pitch, on double basses, contrabassoon and organ–the “deepest notes of the ground bass”–the sound heard before the dawn of humanity. Strauss, of course, draws inspiration from Nietzsche’s work, and in their brilliant 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick use Strauss’s music and Nietzsche’s ideas to great effect, evoking the philosophical evolution of humankind. But it is too often forgotten that Nietzsche, in turn, drew on the discussion of the role of music found at the end of book three of the first volume of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

June 2019

Downstream

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Stonewall at Fifty

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Maid’s Story

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Is Poverty Necessary?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post

Left to the tender mercies of the state, a group of veterans and their families continue to reside in a shut-down town

Article
Stonewall at Fifty·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Early in the morning on June 28, 1969, New York police raided the Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street, the city’s most popular gay bar. The police had raided Stonewall frequently since its opening two years before, but the local precinct usually tipped off the management and arrived in the early evening. This time they came unannounced, during peak hours. They swept through the bar, checking I.D.s and arresting anyone wearing attire that was not “appropriate to one’s gender,” carrying out the law of the time. Eyewitness accounts differ on what turned the unruly scene explosive. Whatever the inciting event, patrons and a growing crowd on the street began throwing coins, bottles, and bricks at the police, who were forced to retreat into the bar and call in the riot squad.

Article
Downstream·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The squat warehouse at Miami’s 5th Street Terminal was nearly obscured by merchandise: used car engines; tangles of coat hangers; bicycles bound together with cellophane; stacks of wheelbarrows; cases of Powerade and bottled water; a bag of sprouting onions atop a secondhand Whirlpool refrigerator; and, above all, mattresses—shrink-wrapped and bare, spotless and streaked with dust, heaped in every corner of the lot—twins, queens, kings. All this and more was bound for Port-de-Paix, a remote city in northwestern Haiti.

When I first arrived at the warehouse on a sunny morning last May, a dozen pickup trucks and U-Hauls were waiting outside, piled high with used furniture. Nearby, rows of vehicles awaiting export were crammed together along a dirt strip separating the street from the shipyard, where a stately blue cargo vessel was being loaded with goods.

Article
Is Poverty Necessary?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1989 I published a book about a plutonium-producing nuclear complex in En­gland, on the coast of the Irish Sea. The plant is called Sellafield now. In 1957, when it was the site of the most serious nuclear accident then known to have occurred, the plant was called Windscale. While working on the book, I learned from reports in the British press that in the course of normal functioning it released significant quantities of waste—plutonium and other transuranic elements—into the environment and the adjacent sea. There were reports of high cancer rates. The plant had always been wholly owned by the British government. I believe at some point the government bought it from itself. Privatization was very well thought of at the time, and no buyer could be found for this vast monument to dinosaur modernism.

Back then, I shared the American assumption that such things were dealt with responsibly, or at least rationally, at least in the West outside the United States. Windscale/Sellafield is by no means the anomaly I thought it was then. But the fact that a government entrusted with the well-being of a crowded island would visit this endless, silent disaster on its own people was striking to me, and I spent almost a decade trying to understand it. I learned immediately that the motives were economic. What of all this noxious efflux they did not spill they sold into a global market.

Article
What it Means to Be Alive·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

My father decided that he would end his life by throwing himself from the top of the parking garage at the Nashville airport, which he later told me had seemed like the best combination of convenience—that is, he could get there easily and unnoticed—and sufficiency—that is, he was pretty sure it was tall enough to do the job. I never asked him which other venues he considered and rejected before settling on this plan. He probably did not actually use the word “best.” It was Mother’s Day, 2013.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

The United States is nearly drought-free for the first time in decades and is experiencing unprecedented levels of flooding.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today