Tuesday 4 August 2015

"I am electrical by nature" - Beethoven

Every age has its transdisciplinary foundations. In the 19th century, it was organicism which sought evidence in the technologies of the day: most notably in the emerging understanding of electro-magnetism. There's a striking testament to this in a conversation Beethoven had with Bettina Brentano which Wilfred Mellers quotes in his "Beethoven and the Voice of God":
"This is harmony, this is expressed in my symphonies in which the confluence of many-sided forms surges along in one bed to its destination. In them, one can feel that something eternal, infinite, never to be wholly comprehensible, is contained in every product of the human spirit, and although my works always give me a feeling of having succeeded, I feel an insatiable hunger to recommence like a child, even though the last work seemed to have been exhausted with the last beat of the kettle-drum which inculcated my joy and my musical convictions upon the audience. (Speak to Goethe about this, tell him to listen to my symphonies, for then he will admit that music is the only entrance to the higher world of knowledge which, though it embraces a man, a man cannot grasp.) A rhythm of the spirit is needed in order to grasp the essence of music: for music grants us presentiments, inspiration of celestial science, and that part of it which the mind grasps through the senses is the embodiment of mental cognition. Although minds live on it, as we live on air, it is still a different thing to be able to grasp it intellectually. Yet the more the soul takes sensuous nourishment from music, the more prepared does the mind grow for a happy understanding with it. Yet few ever attain this stage; for just as thousands marry for love and love is never manifest in these thousands, although they all practise the act of love, so thousands have intercourse with music and never see it manifested. Like all the arts, music is founded on the exalted symbols of the moral sense: all true invention is a moral progress. To submit to these inscrutable laws, and by means of these laws to tame and guide one's own mind, so that the manifestation of art may pour out: this is the isolating principle of art. To be dissolved in its manifestations, this is our dedication to the divine which calmly exercises its power over the raging of the untamed elements and so lends to the imagination its highest effectiveness. So art always represents the divine, and the relationship of men towards art is religion: what we obtain from art comes from God, is divine inspiration which appoints an aim for human faculties which aim we can attain. 
We do not know what it is that grants us knowledge. The grain of seed, tightly sealed as it is, needs the damp, electric warm soil in order to sprout, to think, to express itself. Music is the electric soil in which the spirit thinks, lives and invents. Philosophy is a striking of music's electric spirit; its indigence, which desires to found everything upon a single principle, is relieved by music. Although the spirit has not power over that which it creates through music, it is yet joyful in the act of creation. Thus every genuine product of art is independent, more powerful than the artist himself, and returns to the divine when achieved, connected with men only in as much as it bears witness to the divine of which they are the medium. Music relates the spirit to harmony. An isolated thought yet feels related to all things that are of the mind: likewise every thought in music is intimately, indivisibly related to the whole of harmony, which is oneness. All that is electrical stimulates the mind to flowing, surging, musical creation. I am electrical by nature." (quoted in Mellors, W (1983) Beethoven and the Voice of God, pp25-26)

Mellors comments that "There is something awe-inspiring in the fact that Beethoven, empoying a key-word of his time which was then imperfectly understood, should prophetically have hinted at truths of which we are just becoming aware."

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