Friday, June 05, 2020

FRIDAY MUSIC: Michael Maier and unity through song, by JD

Dr Iain McGilchrist in his book 'The Master and his Emissary' explains that music predates language. Human communication began with music which developed into language, first as sung poetry and then as the spoken word. [1]

"What is music?" Dr Jason Martineau in his book 'The Elements of Music' answers that question- "Music is a mother's lullaby. It gives sound to our feelings when we have no voice, words when we are silent. In it we praise, love, hope and remember. The breath of the shapes and shivers into endless colours, nuanced and diverse, and eternally creative. It is spirit taking form" [2]

"Before there were any stars or galaxies, 13.8 billion years ago, our universe was just a ball of hot plasma -- a mixture of electrons, protons, and light. Sound waves shook this infant universe, triggered by minute, or "quantum," fluctuations happening just moments after the big bang that created our universe." [3]

Pythagoras introduced the notion of the 'Music of the Spheres' incorporating the metaphysical principle that mathematical relationships express qualities or "tones" of energy which manifest in numbers, visual angles, shapes and sounds – all connected within a pattern of proportion. [4] And it was Pythagoras who invented/discovered 'music' [5]

McGilchrist and Martineau have both written of the spiritual and metaphysical 'core' of music and one man in history incorporated such idea in his writings and that was Michael Maier (1568 - 1622) who was a physician and a councellor to the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf ll [6]

Maier wrote a small book called Atalanta Fugiens based on the Greek myth of Hippomenes and his courtship of Atalanta [7] The book is subtitled 'New Emblems concerning the alchemical secrets of mature' and on the title page Maier writes 'the book is designed in part for the eyes, the intellect...and for the ears' - The eyes can see and study the arcane emblems; the intellect can read and follow the Latin maxims and mottos; the ears can hear and follow the music.

The music is set out in the form of 50 fugues and there is an obvious linguistic link to the book's title in that 'fugiens', fleeing, is from the same root as 'fugue', to put to flight. Fugue also means a loss of awareness of one's identity, often coupled with flight from one's usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.(OED definition)

And so after that long winded introduction, to the music!

Adam McClean of [8] has set his hand-colored renditions of the Atalanta Fugiens emblems to midi renditions of the music and assembled all 50 fugues in the following video. (29m 30s)

According to Maier in the book the fugues are intended to be sung and so here they are in sequence sung by Rachel Platt, Emily Van Evera, Richard Wistreich and Rufus Müller.

In summary and extracted from McGilchrist's book [1] -

"....that we should use non verbal means such as music to communicate is hardly surprising.... we in the west have lost the sense of the central position music once occupied in communal life, and still does in most parts of the world today. Despite the fact that there is no culture anywhere in the world that does not have music and in which people do not join together to sing or dance we have relegated music to the sidelines of life. We might think of music as an individualistic, even solitary experience, but that is rare in the history of the world. In more traditional societies, performance of music plays both an integral and an integrative role not only in celebration, religious festivals, and other rituals but also in daily work and recreation; and it is above all a shared performance not just something we listen to passively.It has a vital way of binding people together, helping them to be aware of shared humanity, shared feelings and experiences, and actively drawing them together. In our world, competition and specialisation have made music something compartmentalised, somewhere away from life's core: Oliver Sacks writes - The primal role of music is to some extent lost today, when we have a special class of composers and performers, and the rest of us are often reduced to passive listening. One has to go to a concert, or a church, or a music festival, to recapture the collective excitement and bonding of music. In such a situation there seems to be an actual binding of nervous systems."


1 comment:

anon said...

McGilchrist the man is really interesting

as is his big book! - kind of perpsective that changes one's way of looking at the world