THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO
A Philosophy of Literature
Music communicates emotions, which one grasps, but does not actually feel; what one feels is a suggestion, a kind of distant, dissociated, depersonalized emotion – until and unless it unites with one’s own sense of life. But since the music’s emotional content is not communicated conceptually or evoked existentially, one does feel it in some peculiar, subterranean way.
Music conveys the same categories of emotions to listeners who hold widely divergent views of life. As a rule, men agree on whether a given piece of music is gay or sad or violent or solemn. But even though, in a generalized way, they experience the same emotions in response to the same music, there are radical differences in how they appraise this experience – i.e., how they feel about these feelings.
On a number of occasions, I made the following experiment: I asked a group of guests to listen to a recorded piece of music, then describe what image, action or event it evoked in their minds spontaneously and inspirationally, without conscious devising or thought (it was a kind of auditory Thematic Apperception Test). The resulting descriptions varied in concrete details, in clarity, in imaginative color, but all had grasped the same basic emotion – with eloquent differences of appraisal. For example, there was a continuum of mixed responses between two pure extremes which, condensed, were: “I feel exalted because this music is so light-heartedly happy,” and: “I feel irritated because this music is so light-heartedly happy and, therefore, superficial.” **
Psycho-epistemologically, the pattern of the response to music seems to be as follows: one perceives the music, one grasps the suggestion of a certain emotional state and, with one’s sense of life serving as the criterion, one appraises this state as enjoyable or painful, desirable or undesirable, significant or negligible, according to whether it corresponds to or contradicts one’s fundamental feeling about life.
When the emotional abstraction projected by the music corresponds to one’s sense of life, the abstraction acquires a full, bright, almost violent reality – and one feels, at times, an emotion of greater intensity than any experienced existentially. When the emotional abstraction projected by the music is irrelevant to or contradicts one’s sense of life, one feels nothing except a dim uneasiness or resentment or a special kind of enervating boredom.
As corroborating evidence: I have observed a number of cases involving persons who, over a period of time, underwent a significant change in their fundamental view of life (some, in the direction of improvement; others, of deterioration). Their musical preferences changed accordingly; the change was gradual, automatic and subconscious, without any decision of conscious intention on their part.
It must be stressed that the pattern is not so gross or simple as preferring gay music to sad music or vice versa, according to a “benevolent” or “malevolent” view of the universe. The issue is much more complex and much more specifically musical than that: it is not merely what particular emotion a given composition conveys, but how it conveys it, by what musical means or method. (For instance, I like operetta music of a certain kind, but I would take a funeral march in preference to “The Blue Danube Waltz” or to the Nelson Eddy-Jeannette MacDonald kind of music.)
As in the case of any other art or any human product, the historical development of music followed the development of philosophy. But the differences in the music produced by various cultures in the various eras of history are deeper than those among the other arts (even the sounds used and the scales are different). Western man can understand and enjoy Oriental painting; but Oriental music is unintelligible to him, it evokes nothing, it sounds like noise. In this respect, the differences in the music of various cultures resemble the differences in language; a given language is unintelligible to foreigners. But language expresses concepts, and different languages can be translated into one another; different kinds of music cannot. There is no common vocabulary of music (not even among the individual members of the same culture). Music communicates emotions – and it is highly doubtful whether the music of different cultures communicates the same emotions. Man’s emotional capacity as such is universal, but the actual experience of particular emotions is not: the experience of certain sense-of-life emotions precludes the experience of certain others.
This brings us to the great, unanswered question: why does music make us experience emotions?
In the other arts, whose works are perceived by the normal cognitive process, the answer can be found in the work itself by a conceptual analysis of its nature and meaning; a common vocabulary and an objective criterion of esthetic judgment can be established. There is no such vocabulary or criterion, at present, in the field of music – neither among different cultures nor within the same culture.
It is obvious that the answer lies in the nature of the work, since it is the work that evokes the emotions. But how does it do it? Why does a succession of sounds produce an emotional reaction? Why does it involve man’s deepest emotions and his crucial, metaphysical values? How can sounds reach man’s emotions directly, in a manner that seems to by-pass his intellect? What does a certain combination of sounds do to man’s consciousness to make him identify it as gay or sad?
No one has yet discovered the answers and, I hasten to add, neither have I. The formulation of a common vocabulary of music would require these answers. It would require: a translation of the musical experience, an inner experience, into conceptual terms; an explanation of why certain sounds strike us a certain way; a definition of the axioms of musical perception, from which the appropriate esthetic principles could be derived, which would serve as a base for the objective validation of esthetic judgments.
This means that we need a clear, conceptual distinction and separation of object from subject in the field of musical perception, such as we do possess in the other arts and in the wider field of our cognitive faculty. Conceptual cognition necessitates this separation: until a man is able to distinguish his inner processes from the facts which he perceives, he remains on the perceptual level of awareness. An animal cannot grasp such a distinction; neither can a very young child. Man has grasped it in regard to his other senses and his other arts; he can tell whether a blurring of his vision is produced by a thick fog or by his failing eyesight. It is only in the field of specifically musical perception that man is still in a state of early infancy.
To be continued…
**I don’t recall Rand mentioning my favorite composer Mozart in any context. No comment. I wonder if she felt him too light-hearted to be taken seriously, like most critics and music connoisseurs. She mentions Rachmaninov, his Second Concerto in glowing terms. I have listened to it and found it dramatic and exalted, grand and triumphant. To my mind it derives its power from that which it fought to escape from. Part of its power derives from its antithesis – as if it needs tragedy as a foundation before it could find and express itself. The natural question then arises: where would it be without its enemies?
Mozart seems to be in a different category, more Randian than Rand if possible. He lived in the thick of religiosity, was explicitly Christian in his upbringing and verbal pronouncements. Yet the world she sought is all there within him, jealously carried within him – and this is how he composed in freedom and joy. His background was equally horrific to our modern eyes, but it was not important enough to make a fuss about. Something to laugh about if he ever stopped to think about it! He consistently sought payment for his work – notwithstanding the fact that neither he nor his father were particularly good businessmen – in whatever form it availed him, in ready cash or stable appointment. Never was it offered for free.
With the purest clarity of mind that Rand or Galt could have wished for, Mozart looked upon those around him as equals in music or not, as able to behave with genial friendship and affection or not and behaved accordingly. He could poke fun at his peers, his superiors, critics and what have you, and still compose shining jewels that inspire diverse cultures such as Hindi film music and now, apparently, a renaissance of Western Classical music in China.
“… When she [Madame Pompadour] set Wolferl [Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart] on a gilt table, thinking to amuse herself with the little mannikin, he bent forward to kiss her. She pushed him away coldly, whereupon he piped, “Who is this that does not want to kiss me? The Empress [Maria Theresa of the Habsburgs] kissed me.”
In another instance, Wolfgang scribbles a postscript to Nannerl his older sister,
“Addio, my children, farewell! I kiss Mama’s hand a thousand times and imprint a hundred little kisses or smacks on that wondrous horse-face of thine!”
In dealing with the little Habsburgs,
…He was particularly fond of seven-year-old Marie Antoinette. One day he slipped and fell on the polished floor, while walking between her and one of her sisters. She picked him up and comforted him while the sister walked on.
“You are good,” Wolferl said, “and when I grow up I will marry you.”
The Empress asked him why.
“Because I am grateful,” he answered. “She was kind to me, but her sister paid no attention.”
On that innate Randian soul:
…Leopold had begun to teach Nannerl when she was seven, and Wolferl, barely three, would not stay away. He would sit on the floor playing with blocks or a kitchen spoon, and at certain sounds suddenly drop his toys, rise, and move almost unconsciously to the clavier. He would stand spellbound, ignored by his father and sister; and after Nannerl’s lesson would reach up and tentatively, delicately touch the keys. his midget fingers found a third; ah! He gurgled, cooed, and touched the next two keys in order; another third! Ecstatic delight. Then his finger moved on, but missed the lower note, struck two together, a discord. The baby stopped, gasped, bawled with disappointment. Next day he could remedy the mistake; a little later, try to pick out what he had heard Nannerl playing. When he was four, Leopold started, half in fun, to teach him too. …
And in defense of his father torturing him from an early age to be a performing monkey throughout European royal courts, Leopold held out an entire year at the least before teaching him. And Wolferl came to the clavier, a precursor of the modern piano, every day, drawn by what the sound meant to the development of his soul. Like Bikram learning yoga from the age of three onwards. In both cases they were put to the rigor of daily lessons only after they had demonstrated their own affinity for a particular mode of epistemological development.
… to find four-year-old Wolferl busy with music-paper, pen, and ink – a great deal of ink. He had dug his quill into the very bottom of the sticky ink-well, and then wiped away the drops shed on his opus by smearing them with the palm of his hand. Leopold … did not scold him for spilling ink … nor tease him for pretending to be grown-up and a composer. Gravely he asked him what he was doing. Without looking up, Wolferl answered:
‘Writing a concerto for the clavier and’ – smearing away another blot – ‘it will soon be done.’
‘Let me see it.’
‘Oh, no, Papa, it is not finished. You cannot tell yet what it is like.’
But Leopold won the gentle argument and picked up the paper.
…Then he began to study the “apparent nonsense,” to note its construction and theme. His eyes widened, filled with tears. Silently he handed the paper to Schachtner [the trumpeter] and called his attention to the details. At last he observed, with an incredulous sigh, “The child has not only written a concerto, but one so difficult that nobody can possibly play it.”
Here Wolferl, waiting patiently to get back his manuscript, chirped, ‘Aber ja, Papa, you are right! It is so hard, that is why it is a concerto. One must practice it until it is perfect, but see’ – He trotted to the clavier, spread his fat fingers, but could only indicate what he meant. He had made it hard purposely; playing concertos and working miracles were the same thing, sicher!
Rand had a particular fondness for the concerto, the piano concerto at that, over the symphony. I always assumed that it was because the former had a dominant instrument leading the composition. But it could also be for its power to draw the best from a musician or a composer.
On the lack of compulsion in Leopold’s tutoring:
…The lesson over, Wolfgang having learned in half an hour to play a minuet perfectly and in precise time, Leopold told him to jump down, run away and play. No sudden joy, no leap for freedom answered this. The child would stay and tease for duets, ask for his sister to play them with him. Leopold said, ‘Nannerl is finished for the day, and you, too! – off with you!’ But first there must be an embrace, for there was no stinting of demonstrative love between this pair. Then Wolferl would seize his father’s cane, straddle it, and turn in a twinkling into the baby he was, prancing through the rooms on his hobbyhorse, and singing, in perfect tune …
Mozart and Goethe:
In one of these audiences sat a beautiful, dark-haired, sentimental boy of fourteen, very much the father to the man that was to be. Johann Wolfgang Goethe already knew French, Italian, Latin, and Greek, but listened, open-mouthed, to the kleiner Hexenmeister in powdered wig and sword. Nor did the memory of the poor little monkey doing his musical tricks in grown-up clothes sway Goethe in maturity from coupling Mozart with Raphael, and placing the two at the head of all achievement, for their “ease and blitheness in art.”
For a better grasp on the world of Mozart and his very clear-eyed assessment of its value to his music, I refer you to “Mozart” by Marcia Davenport.