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

Lecture III

26 November 1906, Berlin

To characterize the theme of today's lecture, we shall begin with an observation already made in the previous lecture. We explained how, in the same way that a man's shadow appears on the wall, a shadow-image of the Devachanic life is given to us on the physical plane in music and generally in the life of tones. We mentioned that twenty-nine more-or-less gifted musicians were born into the Bach family within a period of 250 years and that the mathematical talent was handed down through the generations just as mathematical talent was handed down in the Bernoulli family. Today we shall illuminate these facts from the esoteric standpoint, and from this standpoint we will receive various answers to important questions about karma. Something that lives as a question in many souls is what the relationship of physical heredity is to what we call an ongoing karma.

In the Bach family, the great-great-grandfather of Johann Sebastian was an individuality who lived on earth some fifteen or sixteen hundred years ago, when the human being was constituted quite differently. In Bach's grandfather another individuality was incarnated. The father is yet again a different individuality, and another incarnates itself in the son. These three individualities have absolutely nothing directly to do with the inheritance of musical talent. Musical talent is transmitted purely within physical heredity. The question of physical heredity is superficially resolved when we realize that man's musical gift depends on a special configuration of the ear. All musical talent is meaningless if a person does not have a musical ear; the ear must be specially adapted for this talent. This purely bodily basis for musical talent is handed down from generation to generation. We thus have a musical son, father, and grandfather, all of whom had musical ears. Just as the physical form of the body — of the nose, for instance — is handed down from one generation to another, so are the structural proportions of the ear.

Let us assume we are dealing with a number of individualities who happen to find themselves in the spiritual world and who bring with them from the previous incarnation the predisposition for music that now wishes to come to expression on the physical plane. What significance would the predisposition have if the individuals could not incarnate in bodies possessing a musical ear? These individualities would have to go through life with this faculty remaining mute and undeveloped. Hence, these individualities naturally feel themselves drawn to a family with a musical ear, with a bodily predisposition that will enable them to realize their potential. The family below on the physical plane exerts a power of attraction on the individuality above in Devachan. Even if the individual's spiritual sojourn perhaps has not been completed and he might have remained another 200 years in Devachan, if a suitable physical body is available on the physical plane, he may incarnate now. Chances are that the individuality will make up the 200 years during his next time in Devachan by remaining there that much longer. Such laws lie at the basis of incarnation, which depends not only on the individuality ready for incarnation but also on the force of attraction being exerted from below. When Germany needed a Bismarck, a suitable individual had to incarnate, because the circumstance drew him down to the physical plane. The time in the spiritual world thus can be cut short or extended depending on the circumstances on earth that either do or do not press for reincarnation.

To comprehend how the human being is organized, we must look at the nature of man in more detail. Man has a physical, an etheric, and an astral body. He has the physical body in common with all beings one calls inanimate and the etheric body in common with all plants. Then comes the astral body, in itself quite a complicated entity, and finally the “I.”

When we examine the astral body closely, we have first the so-called sentient body. This man has in common with the entire animal kingdom, so that all higher animals, just like the human being, possess a physical body, an etheric body, and a sentient body below on the physical plane. Man has an individual soul here on earth, whereas the animal has a group soul. Thus, the animals of a particular species share a common group soul, which can be studied only by ascending to the astral plane. In man's case, however, the soul is here on the physical plane. With the human being, the sentient body is only one part of his astral body. The fourth member of man's organization is the “I,” which is active from within.

Let us imagine ourselves back in a distant age, the Lemurian age. Something extremely significant took place during that period. Man's ancestors who existed on earth millions and millions of years ago were completely different from human beings today. On the physical plane of the earth at that time, there was a kind of strangely shaped higher animal, of which nothing remains any longer on the earth today, since it became extinct long ago. The higher animals of today are descendants of those completely differently shaped beings, but they are descendants that have degenerated. Those beings of the ancient past are the ancestors of present-day physical human nature. They possessed only a physical body, an etheric body, and a sentient body. During that age, the “I” gradually united with these beings; it descended from the higher worlds. Animality developed itself upward, while the soul descended.

As a whirling cloud of dust spirals up from the earth and a rain cloud descends to meet it, so did the animal body and the human soul unite. The sentient body of this animal living below on earth — man's ancestor — had developed itself to the point where it could receive the “I.”

This “I” was also composed of various members, namely the sentient soul, the intellectual soul, and the consciousness soul. Imperceptible to the outer senses, this “I”-body [Ich-Leib] descended to meet the upwardly evolving physical body, etheric body, and sentient body.

Had beings possessing a physical body, an etheric body, and a sentient body existed a million years earlier, they would have been able to feel these “I's” hovering above. They would have been forced, however, to say, “A union with such beings is impossible, for the sentient souls hovering above are so delicately spiritual that they are unable to unite themselves with our coarse bodies.” Gradually, however, the soul above became coarser and the sentient body below more refined. A kinship came into being between the two, and now the soul descended. Like a sword fits into a scabbard, so the sentient soul fits into the sentient body. We must understand in this sense the words of the Bible: “God breathed into man the breath of life, and he became a living soul.” In order to understand these words fully, one must know the various states of matter that exist on earth. First, we have the solid state. The esoteric term for it is the “earth.” In using this term, however, the esotericist does not refer to the actual soil of the fields but to its solid condition. All solid components of the physical body — the bones, the muscles, and so forth — are termed “earth.” The second state is fluidity; the esoteric term for it is “water.” Everything fluid — blood, for instance, is called “water.” Third, we have the gaseous state, “air” in esoteric terminology.

The esotericist goes on to consider higher and subtler substances, more delicate states beyond air. In order to understand this better, we must consider, for example, a metal such as lead. In esoteric terminology, lead is “earth.” If subjected to intense heat it melts and becomes “water” in the esoteric sense. When it vaporizes it becomes in the esoteric sense, “air.” Any substance thus can become “air” in its final state. If “air” is more and more diffused, it becomes increasingly delicate and reaches a new state. The esotericist calls it “fire.” It is the first state of ether. “Fire” is related to “air” in the same way that “water” is related to solidity. A still more delicate state than “fire” is called “light ether” by the esotericist. Continuing to a still higher state, we come to what esotericists call “chemical ether,” which is the force that enables oxygen, for example, to link itself with hydrogen. A still more delicate state than “chemical ether” is “life ether.”

We thus have seven different states in esotericism. Life in any substance ultimately can be attributed to the life ether. In esoteric language, what lives in the physical body consists of earth, water and air. What lives in the etheric body consists of fire, light ether, chemical ether, and life ether. While physical body and etheric body are united, they are at the same time separated. The physical body is permeated by the etheric body; similarly the astral body permeates the etheric body. The astral element can descend as far as the state of “fire,” but it can no longer mix with “air,” “water,” and “earth.” The physical, on the other hand, can ascend only as far as “fire.” Let us make it clear that the physical as vapor or esoteric “air” ascends to “fire”; in the vapor we sense the “fire's” diffusing force. The physical ascends to “fire,” the astral descends to “fire,” and the etheric body occupies the central position between the two.

In the Lemurian age, a time long before the seven members of man had united, we find beings existing on the physical plane who had not yet brought the physical body to the state of “fire.” They were as yet incapable of developing warm blood. Only a physical body capable of developing warm blood links a soul to itself. As soon as those beings had evolved to the level of fire ether, the “I” soul [Ich-Seele] was ready to unite itself with the physical body. All the animals that remained behind as stragglers, such as the amphibians, have blood with variable temperatures.

We must keep in mind this point in time from the Lemurian age. It was a moment of the utmost importance, when the being consisting of physical body, etheric body, and sentient body could, through the warm blood, be fructified with a human soul.

Evolution continued from the Lemurian to the Atlantean age. In the Lemurian age, body and soul came in contact with each other only in the element of warmth. At the beginning of the Atlantean age, something new took place. The soul element penetrated more deeply into the physical body, mainly to the level of “air.” In the Lemurian age, it had progressed only as far as “fire”; now it penetrated to “air.” This is very important for human evolution since it marks the beginning of the ability to live in the element of air. Just as there were only cold-blooded creatures at the outset of the Lemurian age, so up to now all creatures had been mute and incapable of uttering sound. They had to master the domain of air before they could emit sounds. Now, the first, most elementary beginnings of singing and speaking took place.

The next stage will bring about the soul's descent into the fluid element. The soul will then be capable of guiding consciously the flow of blood, for example, in the arteries. We will encounter this stage of evolution in the distant future.

One could argue that the cold-blooded insect also “speaks,” but in the sense used here, where speaking is the soul resounding outward from within, this is not the case. The sounds made by the insect are of a physical nature. The chirping of the cricket, the whirring of its wings, are outer sounds; it is not the soul that resounds. We are concerned here with the soul's expression in tone.

At the point in time just described, man became capable of pouring forth his soul in sound. He could not emit from within the same element that reached him from outside. Man came to receive tone from outside through the ear and to return it as such to his surroundings. The ear is thus one of the oldest organs and the larynx one of the youngest. The relationship between ear and larynx is different from that between all other organs. The ear itself reverberates; it is like a kind of piano. There are a number of delicate fibers inside the ear, each of which is tuned to a certain tone. The ear does not alter what comes to it from outside, or at least it does so only a little. All the other sense organs, like the eye, for example, alter the impressions received from the environment. All the other senses must develop in the future to the stage of the ear, for in the ear we have a physical organ that stands at the highest level of development.

The ear is also related to a sense that is still older, the sense of spatial orientation that enables one to experience the three dimensions of space. Man is no longer aware of this sense. It is intimately connected with the ear. Deep in the ear's interior we find three remarkable loops, three semi-circular canals that stand perpendicular, one on top of the other. Science does not know what to make of them. When they are injured, however, man's sense of balance is upset. They are the remnants of the sense of space, which is much older than the sense of hearing. Formerly, man perceived space in the same way he perceives tone today. Now the sense of space has become entirely part of him, and he is no longer conscious of it. The sense of space perceives space; the ear perceives tone, which means that which passes from space into time.

Now one will understand how a certain kinship can exist between music and the mathematical sense, which is tied to these three semi-circular canals. The musical family's distinguishing feature is the musical ear. The mathematical family shows a special development of the three semi-circular canals in the ear to which is linked the talent for grasping spatial relationships. These semi-circular canals were particularly developed in the Bernoulli family and passed from one member to another, just like the musical ear in the Bach family. In order to be able to live fully in their predispositions, individualities descending to incarnation had to seek out the family in which this hereditary trait existed. Such are the intimate relationships between physical heredity on the soul, which seek one another out even after many hundreds and hundreds of years. In this way we see how man's outer nature is connected with his inner being.