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The Rudolf Steiner Archive

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The Inner Nature of Music and the Experience of Tone
GA 283

Lecture I

3 December 1906, Cologne

If one wants to understand Goethe's world view, one cannot content oneself with listening to what he himself says about it in individual statements. To express the core of his being in crystal-clear, sharply stamped sentences did not lie in his nature. Such sentences seemed to him rather to distort reality than to portray it rightly. He had a certain aversion to holding fast, in a transparent thought, what is alive, reality. His inner life, his relationship to the outer world, his observations about things and events were too rich, too filled with delicate components, with intimate elements, to be brought by him himself into simple formulas. He expresses himself when this or that experience moves him to do so. But he always says too much or too little. His lively involvement with everything that comes his way causes him often to use sharper expressions than his total nature demands. It misleads him just as often into expressing himself indistinctly where his nature could force him into a definite opinion. He is always uneasy when it is a matter of deciding between two views. He does not want to rob himself of an open mind by giving his thoughts an incisive direction. He reassures himself with the thought that “the human being is not born to solve the problems of the world but is, indeed, born to seek where the problem begins, and then to keep himself within the limits of what is comprehensible” A problem which the person believes he has solved takes away from him the possibility of seeing clearly a thousand things that fall into the domain of this problem. He is no longer attentive to them, because he believes himself to be enlightened about the region into which they fall. Goethe would rather have two opposing opinions about an issue than one definite one. For each thing seems to him to comprise an infinitude, which one must approach from different sides in order to perceive something of its entire fullness. “It is said that the truth lies midway between two opposing opinions. Not at all! It is the problem that lies between, the unseeable, the eternally active life, thought of as at rest.” Goethe wants to keep his thoughts alive so that he could transform them at any moment, if reality should induce him to do so. He does not want to be right; he wants always “to be going after what is right.” At two different points in time he expresses himself differently about the same thing. A rigid theory, which wants once and for all to bring to expression the lawfulness of a series of phenomena, is suspect to him, because such a theory takes away from our power of knowledge its unbiased relationship to a mobile reality.

If in spite of this one wants to have an overview of the unity of his perceptions, then one must listen less to his words and look more to the way he leads his life. One must be attentive to his relationship to things when he investigates their nature and in doing so add what he himself does not say. One must enter into the most inward part of his personality, which for the most part conceals itself behind what he expresses. What he says may often contradict itself; what he lives belongs always to one self-sustaining whole. He has also not sketched his world view in a unified system; he has lived his world view in a unified personality. When we look at his life, then all the contradictions in what he says resolve themselves. They are present in his thinking about the world only in the same sense as in the world itself. He has said this and that about nature. He has never set down his view of nature in a solidly built thought-structure. But when we look over his individual thoughts in this area they of themselves join together into a whole. One can make a mental picture for oneself of what thought-structure would have arisen if he had presented his views completely and in relationship to each other. I have set myself the task of portraying in this book how Goethe's personality must have been constituted in its inner-most being in order for him to be able to express thoughts about the phenomena of nature like the ones he set down in his natural scientific works. I know that, with respect to much of what I will say, Goethean statements can be brought which contradict it. My concern in this book, however, is not to give a history of the evolution of his sayings but rather to present the foundations of his personality which led him to his deep insights into the creating and working of nature. It is not from the numerous statements in which he leans upon other ways of thinking in order to make himself understood, nor in which he makes use of formulations which one or another philosopher had used that these foundations can be known. From what he said to Eckermann one could construct a Goethe for oneself who could never have written The Metamorphosis of the Plants. Goethe has addressed many a word to Zelter that could mislead someone to infer a scientific attitude which contradicts his great thoughts about how the animals are formed. I admit that in Goethe's personality forces were at work that I have not considered. But these forces recede before the actually determining ones which give his world view its stamp. To characterize these determining forces as sharply as I possibly can is the task I have set myself. In reading this book one must therefore heed the fact that I nowhere had any intention of allowing parts of any world view of my own to glimmer through my presentation of the Goethean way of picturing things. I believe that in a book of this kind one has no right to put forward one's own world view in terms of content, but rather that one has the duty to use what one's own world view gives one for understanding what is portrayed. I wanted, for example, to portray Goethe's relationship to the development of Western thought in the way that this relationship presents itself from the point of view of the Goethean world view. For the consideration of the world views of individual personalities, this way seems to me to be the only one which guarantees historical objectivity. Another way has to be entered upon only when such a world view is considered in relationship to other ones.

For those who care to reflect on it, music has always been something of an enigma from the aesthetic point of view. On the one hand, music is most readily comprehensive to the soul, to the immediately sensitive realm of human feeling (Gemüt); on the other hand it also presents difficulties for those wishing to grasp its effects. If we wish to compare music with the other arts, we must say that all the others actually have models in the physical world. When a sculptor creates a statue of Apollo or Zeus, for example, he works from the idealized reality of the human world. The same is true of painting, in which today (1906) only an immediate impression of reality is considered valid. In poetry also an attempt is made to create a copy of reality. One who wished to apply this approach to music, however would arrive at scarcely any results at all. Man must ask himself what the origin is of the artistically formed tones and what they are related to in the world.

Schopenhauer, a luminary of the nineteenth century, brought clear and well-defined ideas to bear on art. He placed music in an unique position among the arts and held that art possessed a particular value for the life of man. At the foundation of his philosophy, as its leitmotif, is the tenet: Life is a disagreeable affair; I attempt to make it bearable by reflecting on it. According to Schopenhauer, a blind, unconscious will rules the entire world. It forms the stones, then brings forth plants from the stones, and so on, because it is always discontent. A yearning for the higher thus dwells in everything.

Human beings sense this, though with greatly varying intensity. The savage who lives in dim consciousness feels the discontent of the will much less than a civilized human being who can experience the pain of existence much more keenly. Schopenhauer goes on to say that the mental image or idea (Vorstellung) is a second aspect that man knows in addition to the will. It is like a Fata Morgana, a misty form or a ripple of waves in which the images of the will — this blind, dark urge — mirror themselves. The will reaches up to this phantom-image in man. When he becomes aware of the will, man becomes even more discontent. There are means, however, by which man can achieve a kind of deliverance from the blind urge of the will. One of these is art. Through art man is able to raise himself above the discontent of will.

When a person creates a work of art, he creates out of his mental image. While other mental images are merely pictures, however, it is different in the case of art. The Zeus by Phidias, for instance, was not created by copying an actual man. Here, the artist combined many impressions; he retained in his memory all the assets and discarded all the faults. He formed an archetype from many human beings, which can be embodied nowhere in nature; its features are divided among many individuals. Schopenhauer says that the true artist reproduces the archetypes — not the mental images that man normally has, which are like copies, but the archetypes. By proceeding to the depths of creative nature, as it were, man attains deliverance.

This is the case with all the arts except music. The other arts must pass through the mental image, and they therefore render up pictures of the will. Tone, however, is a direct expression of the will itself, without interpolation of the mental image. When man is artistically engaged with tone, he puts his ear to the very heart of nature itself; he perceives the will of nature and reproduces it in series of tones. In this way, according to Schopenhauer, man stands in an intimate relationship to the Thing-in-Itself and penetrates to the innermost essence of things. Because man feels himself near to this essence in music, he feels a deep contentment in music.

Out of an instinctive knowledge, Schopenhauer attributed to music the role of directly portraying the very essence of the cosmos. He had a kind of instinctive presentiment of the actual situation. The reason that the musical element can speak to everyone, that it affects the human being from earliest childhood, becomes comprehensible to us from the realm of existence in which music has its true prototypes.

When the musician composes, he cannot imitate anything. He must draw the motifs of the musical creation out of his soul. We will discover their origin by pointing to worlds that are imperceptible to the senses. We must consider how these higher worlds are actually constituted. Man is capable of awakening higher faculties of the soul that ordinarily slumber. Just as the physical world is made visible to a blind person following an operation to restore his sight, so the inner soul organs of man can also be awakened in order that he might discern the higher spiritual worlds.

When man develops these faculties that otherwise slumber, when, through meditation, concentration, and so forth, he begins to develop his soul, he ascends step by step. The first thing he experiences is a peculiar transformation of his dream world. When, during meditation, man is able to exclude all memories and experiences of the outer sense world and yet can retain a soul content, his dream world begins to acquire a great regularity. Then, when he awakens in the morning, it feels as if he arose out of a flowing cosmic ocean. He knows that he has experienced something new. It is as if he emerged from an ocean of light and colors unlike anything he has known in the physical world. His dream experiences gain increasing clarity. He recalls that in this world of light and color there were things and beings that distinguished themselves from those of the ordinary world in that one could penetrate them; they did not offer resistance. Man becomes acquainted with a number of beings whose element, whose body, consists of colors. They are beings who reveal and embody themselves in color. Gradually, man expands his consciousness throughout that world and, upon awakening, recalls that he had taken part in that realm. His next step is to take that world with him into the daily world. Man gradually learns to see what is called the astral body of the human being. He experiences a world that is much more real than the ordinary, physical world. The physical world is a kind of condensation that has been crystallized out of the astral world. In this way, man now has two levels of consciousness, the everyday waking consciousness on the dream consciousness.

Man attains a still higher stage when he is able to transform the completely unconscious state of sleep into one of consciousness. The student on the path of spiritual training learns to acquire continuity of consciousness for a part of the night, for that part of the night that does not belong to the dream life but that is wholly unconscious. He now learns to be conscious in a world about which he formerly knew nothing. This new world is not one of light and colors but announces itself first as a world of tone. In this state of consciousness, man develops the faculty to hear spiritually and to perceive tone combinations and varieties of tone inaudible to the physical ear. This world is called Devachan.

Now, one should not believe that when man hears the world of tone welling up he does not retain the world of light and colors as well. The world of tone is permeated also with the light and colors that belong to the astral world. The most characteristic element of the Devachanic world, however, is this flowing ocean of tones. From this world of the continuity of consciousness, man can bring the tone element down with him and thus hear the tone element in the physical world. A tone lies at the foundation of everything in the physical world. Each aspect of the physical represents certain Devachanic tones. All objects have a spiritual tone at the foundation of their being, and, in his deepest nature, man himself is such a spiritual tone. On this basis, Paracelsus said, “The realms of nature are the letters, and man is the word that is composed of these letters.”

Each time the human being falls asleep and loses consciousness, his astral body emerges from his physical body. In this state man is certainly unconscious but living in the spiritual world. The spiritual sounds make an impression on his soul. The human being awakens each morning from a world of the music of the spheres, and from this region of harmony he re-enters the physical world. If it is true that man's soul experiences Devachan between two incarnations on earth, then we may also say that during the night the soul feasts and lives in flowing tone, as the element from which it is actually woven and which is the soul's true home.

The creative musician transposes the rhythm, the harmonies, and the melodies that impress themselves on his etheric body during the night into physical tone. Unconsciously, the musician has received the musical prototype from the spiritual world, which he then transposes into physical sounds. This is the mysterious relationship between music that resounds here in the physical world and hearing spiritual music during the night.

When a person is illuminated by light, he casts a shadow on the wall. The shadow is not the actual person. In the same way, music produced in the physical world is a shadow, a real shadow of the much loftier music of Devachan. The archetype, the pattern, of music exists in Devachan, and physical music is but a reflection of the spiritual reality.

Now that we have made this clear, we will try to grasp the effect of music on the human being. This is the configuration of the human being that forms the basis of esoteric investigation: physical body, etheric body, astral body, and ego or “I.” The etheric body is an etheric archetype of the physical body. A much more delicate body, which is related to the etheric body and inclines toward the astral realm, is the sentient body 1Empfindungsleib .Within these three levels of the body we see the soul. The soul is the most closely connected with the sentient body. The sentient soul 2Rudolf Steiner distinguishes here between the sentient body, which is the container, as it were, and the actual individualized human soul, the content. The latter consists of sentient soul, intellectual soul, and consciousness soul. See Theosophy by Rudolf Steiner for details. Frequently the term “sentient body” refers both to the container and the content. is incorporated, as it were, into the sentient body; it is placed within the sentient body. Just as a sword forms a whole with the scabbard into which it is placed, so the sentient body and the sentient soul represent a whole. In addition to these, man also possesses a feeling or intellectual soul 3Gemüts-oder Verstandesseele and, as a still higher member, the consciousness soul. The latter is connected with Manas, or spirit self. 4Manas (spirit self), Buddhi (life spirit), and Atma (spirit man) are still-higher members of man's organization that come into being as man's “I” works consciously on the purification and transformation of astral (sentient) body, etheric body, and physical body. Sentient soul, intellectual soul, and consciousness soul were prepared by man's “I” in an unconscious state. When the human being is asleep, the sentient body remains in bed with the physical and etheric bodies, but the higher soul members, including the sentient soul, dwell in the world of Devachan.

In physical space we feel all other beings as outside of us. In Devachan, however, we do not feel ourselves outside of other beings; instead, they permeate us, and we are within them as well. Therefore, in all esoteric schools, the sphere of Devachan and also the astral realm have been called “the world of permeability.”

When man lives and weaves in the world of flowing tones, he himself is saturated by these tones. When he returns, from the Devachanic world, his own consciousness soul, intellectual, and sentient soul are permeated with the vibrations of the Devachanic realm; he has these within himself, and with them he penetrates the physical world. When man has absorbed these vibrations, they enable him to work from his sentient soul onto the sentient body and the etheric body. Having brought these vibrations of Devachan along with him, man can convey them to his etheric body, which then resonates with these vibrations. The nature of the etheric and the sentient bodies is based on the same elements, on spiritual tone and spiritual vibrations. The etheric body is lower than the astral body, but the activity exercised in the etheric body stands higher than the activity of the astral body. Man's evolution consists of his transforming with his “I” the bodies he possesses: first, the astral body is transformed into Manas (spirit self), then the etheric body into Buddhi (life spirit), and finally the physical body into Atma (spirit man). Since the astral body is the most delicate, man requires the least force to work on it. The force needed to work on the etheric body must be acquired from the Devachanic world, and the force man needs for the transformation of the physical body must be attained from the higher Devachanic world. One can work on the astral body with the forces of the astral world itself, but the etheric body requires the forces of the Devachanic world. One can work on the physical body only with the forces of the still higher Devachanic world.

During the night, from the world of flowing tones, man receives the force he needs to communicate these sounds to his sentient body and his etheric body. A person is musically creative or sensitive to music because these sounds are present already in his sentient body. Although man is unaware of having absorbed tones during the night, when he awakens in the morning, he nevertheless senses these imprints of the spiritual world within him when he listens to music. When he hears music, a clairvoyant can perceive how the tones flow, how they seize the more solid substance of the etheric body and cause it to reverberate. From this reverberation a person experiences pleasure, because he feels like a victor over his etheric body by means of his astral body. This pleasurable feeling is strongest when a person is able to overcome what is already in his etheric body.

The etheric body continuously resounds in the astral body. When a person hears music, the impression is experienced first in the astral body. Then, the tones are consciously sent to the etheric body, and man overcomes the tones already there. This is the basis both of the pleasure of listening to music and of musical creativity.

Along with certain musical sounds, something of the astral body flows into the etheric body. The latter now has received new tones. A kind of struggle arises between the sentient body and the etheric body. If these tones are strong enough to overcome the etheric body's own tones, cheerful music in the major key results. When music is in a major key, one can observe how the sentient body is the victor over the etheric body. In the case of minor keys, the etheric body has been victor over the sentient body; the etheric body has opposed the vibrations of the sentient body.

When man dwells within the musical element, he lives in a reflection of his spiritual home. In this shadow image of the spiritual, the human soul finds its highest exaltation, the most intimate connection with the primeval element of man. This is why even the most humble soul is so deeply affected by music. The most humble soul feels in music an echo of what it has experienced in Devachan. The soul feels at home there. Each time he listens to music man senses, “Yes, I am from another world!”

From an intuitive knowledge of this Schopenhauer assigned the central position among the arts to music, and he said that in music man perceives the heartbeat of the will of the world.

In music, man feels the echoes of the element that weaves and lives in the innermost core of things, which is so closely related to him. Because feelings are the innermost elements of the soul, akin to the spiritual world, and because in tone the soul finds the element in which it actually moves, man's soul dwells in a world where the bodily mediators of feelings no longer exist but where feelings themselves live on. The archetype of music is in the spiritual, whereas the archetypes for the other arts lie in the physical world itself. When the human being hears music, he has a sense of well-being, because these tones harmonize with what he has experienced in the world of his spiritual home.