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

November 2019

Men at Work

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

To Serve Is to Rule

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Bird Angle

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The K-12 Takeover

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The $68,000 Fish

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Men at Work·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“You’re being reborn,” the voice says. “Exiting the womb of your mother. Coming into the earth as a small baby. Everything is new.” It is a Saturday morning in mid-March, and right now I’m lying on a yoga mat in a lodge in Ohio, surrounded by fifty other men who’ve come to the Midwest for a weekend of manhood-confirming adventures. The voice in question belongs to Aaron Blaine, a facilitator for Evryman, the men’s group orchestrating this three-day retreat. All around me, men are shedding tears as Blaine leads us on a guided meditation, a kind of archetypal montage of Norman Rockwell boyhood. “You’re starting to figure things out,” he says, in somniferous baritone. “Snow, for the first time. Sunshine. Start to notice the smells, the tastes, the confusion. The fear. And you’re growing. You’re about ten years old. The world’s huge and scary.”

Even though it’s only the second day of the Evryman retreat, it’s worth noting that I’ve already been the subject of light fraternal teasing. Already I’ve been the recipient of countless unsought hugs. Already I have sat in Large Groups and Small Groups, and watched dozens of middle-aged men weep with shame and contrition. I’ve had a guy in the military tell me he wants to be “a rock for his family.” I’ve heard a guy from Ohio say that his beard “means something.” Twice I’ve hiked through the woods to “reconnect with Mother Nature,” and I have been addressed by numerous men as both “dude” and “brother.” I have performed yoga and yard drills and morning calisthenics. I’ve heard seven different men play acoustic guitar. I’ve heard a man describe his father by saying, “There wasn’t a lot of ball-tossing when I was growing up.” Three times I’ve been queried about how I’m “processing everything,” and at the urinal on Friday night, two men warned me about the upcoming “Anger Ceremony,” which is rumored to be the weekend’s “pièce de résistance.”

Article
To Serve Is to Rule·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The WASP story is personal for me. I arrived at Yale in 1971 from a thoroughly mediocre suburb in New Jersey, the second-generation hybrid of Irish and Italian stock riding the postwar boom. Those sockless people in Top-Siders, whose ancestors’ names and portraits adorned the walls, were entirely new to me. I made friends with some, but I was not free of a corrosive envy of their habitus of ease and entitlement.

I used to visit one of those friends in the Hamptons, in the 1970s, when the area was about wood-paneled Ford station wagons, not Lamborghinis. There was some money in the family, but not gobs, yet they lived two blocks from the beach—prime real estate. Now, down the road from what used to be their house is the residence of Ira Rennert. It’s one of the largest private homes in the United States. The union-busting, pension-fund-looting Rennert, whose wealth comes from, among other things, chemical companies that are some of the worst polluters in the country, made his first money in the 1980s as a cog in Michael Milken’s junk-bond machine. In 2015, a court ordered him to return $215 million he had appropriated from one of his companies to pay for the house. One-hundred-car garages and twenty-one (or maybe twenty-nine) bedrooms don’t come cheap.

Article
The Bird Angle·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

I slept for a good seven hours on the overnight flight from Spain to Peru, and while I slept I dreamed that I was leading American visitors around a park in Berlin, looking for birds on a hazy, overcast day. There wasn’t much to see until we noticed a distant commotion in the sky. Large raptors were panicking, driven back and forth by something threatening them from above. The commotion moved closer. The clouds parted, an oval aperture backed with blue. In it two seraphim hovered motionless. “Those are angels,” I told the group.

They were between us and the sun, but an easy ­I.D. Size aside, no other European bird has two sets of wings. The upper wings cast their faces into shadow. Despite the glare I could make out their striking peaches-­and-­cream coloration. Ivory white predominates, hair a faint yellow, eyes blue, wings indescribably iridescent. Faces blank and expressionless, as with all birds.

Article
The K-12 Takeover·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Last May, the families of students at Cypress Academy, an independent charter school in New Orleans, received an email announcing that the school would close when classes ended the following week and that all its students would be transferred to another nearby charter for the upcoming year. Parents would have the option of entering their children in the city’s charter-enrollment lottery, but the lottery’s first round had already taken place, and the most desirable spots for the fall were filled.

Founded in 2015, a decade after New Orleans became the nation’s first city to begin replacing all its public schools with charters, Cypress was something of a rarity. Like about nine in ten of the city’s charter schools, it filled spaces by lottery rather than by selective admission. But while most of the nonselective schools in New Orleans had majority populations of low-income African-American students, Cypress mirrored the city’s demographics, drawing the children of professionals—African-American and white alike—as well as poorer students. Cypress reserved 20 percent of its seats for children with reading difficulties, and it offered a progressive education model, including “learning by doing,” rather than the strict conduct codes that dominated the city’s nonselective schools. In just three years, the school had outperformed many established charters—a particular feat given that one in four Cypress students had a disability, double the New Orleans average. Families flocked to Cypress, especially ones with children who had disabilities.

Article
Five Stories·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

how high? that high

He had his stick that was used mostly to point at your head if your head wasn’t held up proudly.

I still like that man—Holger! He had been an orphan!

He came up to me once because there was something about how I was moving my feet that wasn’t according to the regulations or his expectations.

The room was a short wide room with a short wide window with plenty of artificial light.

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 limited edition Nike Air Max 97s, white sneakers that have holy water from the Jordan River in their soles and have frankincense-scented insoles, sold out in minutes.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Jesus Plus Nothing

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They’re so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who’s loving them?” We were. The brothers each paid $400 per month for room and board, but we were also the caretakers of The Cedars, cleaning its gutters, mowing its lawns, whacking weeds and blowing leaves and sanding. And we were called to serve on Tuesday mornings, when The Cedars hosted a regular prayer breakfast typically presided over by Ed Meese, the former attorney general. Each week the breakfast brought together a rotating group of ambassadors, businessmen, and American politicians. Three of Ivanwald’s brothers also attended, wearing crisp shirts starched just for the occasion; one would sit at the table while the other two poured coffee. 

Subscribe Today