The Spiritual Secret Of Western Classical Music: By Alan Jacobs

Alan Jacobs

To a degree music is rooted in Nature, that is in bird song, the babbling brook, waves breaking on the sea shore, the rustle of leaves in trees, and certain animal sounds. In man, as part of nature there is the desire to dance and sing when happy.

The composer Lawrence Ball has written that “any form of classical music can be used for meditation. The important thing is that it not disturb one’s attention from becoming aware of itself. It establishes an “energy discussion” with the deep unarticulated realm of experience. If music can assist in taking a large percentage of attention off itself into the interior of the Self, then it can be particularly useful”.

Schopenhauer, one of the very few Philosophers who has written about the metaphysics of music, says that melody is the soul of music. So melody pleases us greatly as it is soul speaking to soul.

P.D.Ouspensky notes in his book The Search For The Miraculous that if you divide 7 into 10 you arrive at the ratios of the musical scale which coincide with the construction of the Sufi Enneagram. (see Wikipedia for notes on the Enneagram).

The ancients believed that the movement of planets created a music of the spheres. Mystics like Kabir heard the ‘unstruck music’ deep in the spiritual heart; and heaven is often envisaged as a region where angels play musical instruments and sing.

In western classical music, the melodic harmonious scale discovered by the Pythagoreans called the diapason, musical scale, or octave, corresponds with the essential harmony inherent in the Soul of mankind. Every note struck by a musical instrument touches its correspondence in the emotions of the soul, and when this is in harmony, evokes a feeling of delight and pleasurable contentment.

Each musical instrument sounds a different voice in this magnificent symphony.This is why Classical Music is healing and therapeutic. However, if there is too much dissonance in music, it becomes disturbing.

Here is an interesting story about how western classical music had its beginnings.

One day while meditating upon the problem of harmony, the ancient mathematician Pythagoras chanced to pass a brazier’s shop where workmen were pounding out a piece of metal upon an anvil. By noting the variances in pitch between the sounds made by large hammers and those made by smaller implements, and carefully estimating the harmonies and discords resulting from combinations of these sounds, he gained his first clue to the musical intervals of the diatonic scale.

Pythagoras entered the shop, and after carefully examining the tools and making mental note of their weights, returned to his own house and constructed an arm of wood so that it: extended out from the wall of his room. At regular intervals along this arm he attached four cords, all of like composition, size, and weight. To the first of these he attached a twelve-pound weight, to the second a nine-pound weight, to the third an eight-pound weight, and to the fourth a six-pound weight. These different weights corresponded to the sizes of the braziers’ hammers. Gradually, through experimentation, the secret of music started to be revealed to human ears.

Probably the most conspicuous ancient thought about music is the doctrine of ethos, which describes the effects of sound on human behaviour and therefore its moral influence. Aristotle, in his Politics, explains how the different kinds of music, imitating specific feelings (anger, kindness, love), can affect a human being with the same kind of feelings. Therefore, says Aristotle, someone who listens to the wrong kind of music will grow up to be a bad person, and vice-versa. Consequently, Aristotle (and also Plato) recommended the right kind of music in the education of young citizens. The doctrine of Ethos describes the effects of music on the human soul.

Sacred Music lies in the holy melodies of plainsong and polyphony and to-day we have Church Music and the great Symphonic Masses. Oratorios and Requiems. Atonality and excessive discordance without melody and harmony are disturbing to the Soul and are listened to with difficulty.

In brief the musical tone scale discovered by the Pythagoreans conforms to an aesthetic response of the soul which we term harmony, and this is what classical music is, a pleasurable sensation caused by harmonious resonance in the soul of man.

There is no doubt that the right music and songs can create feelings of awe and devotion and lead one to to merge in the Universal Music of Silence in the Heart.

2 thoughts on “The Spiritual Secret Of Western Classical Music: By Alan Jacobs

  1. Very interesting …Thank you. If you would permit a small correction P.D. Ouspensky’s book is “In Search Of The Miraculous Fragments Of An Unknown Teaching” not “The Search for the Miraculous”……This book is a fascinating account of Ouspensky and his interactions with G.I. Gurdgieff as” G’s” pupil over an eight year span. Thanks

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