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

Lecture V

7 March 1923, Stuttgart

What we can discuss in these two days will naturally be fragmentary, and I shall address myself chiefly to the needs of teachers. My subject will neither deal with the aesthetics of music nor is it intended for those who wish their enjoyment of art impaired by being told something that is supposed to add to a comprehension of this enjoyment. I would have to speak differently concerning both the aesthetics of music—as conceived from today's standpoint—and the mere enjoyment of it. Now I wish to create a general foundation, and tomorrow I shall go into a few things that can be of significance in preparing such a general foundation in musical instruction. We can go into more detail another time.

It must be pointed out that all the concepts used in other areas of life fail the moment one is obliged to speak about the musical element. It is hardly possible to discuss the musical element in the concepts to which one is accustomed in ordinary life. The reason is simply that the musical element really does not exist in the physical world. It must first be created in the given physical world. This caused people like Goethe to consider the musical element as a kind of ideal of all forms of art. Hence, Goethe said that music is entirely form and substance and requires no other content save that within its own element. This is also why, in the age when intellectualism valiantly struggled for an understanding of music, the strange distinction was made between the content of music and the subject of an art form. Hanslick in particular made this distinction in his book, The Beautiful in Music, which emerged out of the above struggle.1Edward von Hanslick (1825–1904), music critic and author in Vienna. His book, The Beautiful in Music (trans. Gustav Cohen, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merril, 1957), first appeared in 1954. Naturally, Hanslick ascribes a content to music, though in a one-sided manner, but he denies music a subject. Indeed, music does not have a subject that exists in the outer physical world such as is the case with painting. Even in our age, in which intellectualism wishes to tackle everything, there is a feeling that intellectualism cannot reach the musical element, because it can deal only with something for which there are outer subjects. This explains the strange fact that nowhere in the well-meant instruction of music appreciation does tone physiology (acoustics) have anything to say about the musical element. It is widely admitted that there is a tone physiology only for sounds; there is none for tones. With the means customary today one cannot grasp the element of music. If one does begin to speak about the musical element, it is thus necessary to avoid the ordinary concepts that otherwise we use to grasp our world.

Perhaps the best way to approach what we wish to arrive at in these lectures would be to take present history as our starting point. If we compare our age with former times, we find our age characterized in a specific way in relation to the musical element. One can say that our age occupies a position between two musical feelings [Empfindungen]; one such feeling it already has, the other not yet. The feeling that our age has attained, at least to a considerable degree, is the feeling for the interval of the third. In history we can easily trace how the transition from the feeling for the fifth to the third came about in the world of musical feeling. The feeling for the third is something new. The other feeling that will come about but as yet does not exist in our age is the feeling for the octave. A true feeling for the octave actually has not yet developed in humanity. You will experience the difference that exists in comparison to feelings for tone up to the seventh. While the seventh is still felt in relation to the prime, an entirely different experience arises as soon as the octave appears. One cannot actually distinguish it any longer from the prime; it merges with the prime. In any case, the difference that exists for a fifth or a third is absent for an octave. Of course, we do have a feeling for the octave, but this is not yet the feeling that will be developed in time; in the future the feeling for the octave will be something completely different and will one day be able to deepen the musical experience tremendously. Every time the octave appears in a musical composition, man will have a feeling that I can only describe with the words, “I have found my ‘I’ anew; I am uplifted in my humanity by the feeling for the octave.” The particular words I use here are not important; what is important is the feeling that is evoked.

These things can be understood, understood with feeling, only if one becomes clear that the musical experience at first does not have the relationship to the ear that is normally assumed. The musical experience involves the whole human being, and the ear's function in musical experience is completely different from what is normally assumed. Nothing is more incorrect than the simple statement, “I hear the tone or I hear a melody with my ear.” That is completely wrong ” a tone, a melody, or a harmony actually is experienced with the whole human being. This experience reaches our consciousness through the ear in quite a strange way. As you know, the tones we ordinarily take into consideration have as their medium the air. Even if an instrument other than a wind instrument is used, the element in which tone lives is still in the air. What we experience in tone, however, no longer has anything to do with the air. The ear is the organ that first separates the air element from tone before our experience of tone. In experiencing tone as such, we thus actually feel a resonance, a reflection. The ear really hurls the airborne tone back into the inner being of man in such a way that it separates out the air element; then, in that we hear it, the tone lives in the ether element. It is the ear's task—if I may express it in this way—actually to overcome the tone's resounding in the air and to hurl the pure etheric experience of tone back into our inner being. The ear is a reflecting apparatus for the sensation of tone.

Now we must understand the entire tone experience in man more deeply. I must repeat that all concepts come into confusion in encountering the tone experience. We say so lightly that man is a threefold being: nerve-sense man, rhythmic man, and metabolic-limb man. For all other conditions, this is as true as can be. For the tone experience, however, for the musical experience, it is not quite correct. Musical experience does not actually exist in the same sense as sense experience does for the other senses. The sense experience in relation to musical experience is essentially much more introspective than other experiences, because for musical experience the ear is only a reflecting organ; the ear does not actually bring man into connection with the outer world in the same way as does the eye, for example. The eye brings man into connection with all visible forms of the outer world, even artistic forms. The eye is important to a painter, not merely to someone who looks at nature. The ear is important to the musician only in so far as it is in the position of experiencing, without having a relationship to the outer world such as the eye has, for instance. For the musical element, the ear is of importance merely as a reflecting apparatus. We must actually say that regarding the musical experience, we must view the human being first of all as nerve man, because the ear is not important as a direct sense organ but instead as transmitter to man's inner being. The ear is not a link to the outer world—the perception of instrumental music is a quite complicated process about which we shall speak later—and is of no immediate importance as a sense organ but only as a reflecting organ.

Contributing further, what is important in the musical experience is that which is related to man's limb system, through which the element of music can pass into that of dance. Man's metabolic system, however, is not as important here as it is otherwise. In speaking of the musical experience, therefore, we discover a shifting of man's three-fold organization and find that we must say: nerve man, rhythmic man, limb man (not metabolic-limb man). Some perceptions are ruled out as accompanying factors. They are there because man is a sense being, and his ear also has significance as a sense organ, but not the significance we must ascribe to it in other conditions of the world. The metabolism is also an accompanying factor and does not exist in the same way as elsewhere. Metabolic phenomena appear, but they have no significance. Everything that lives in the limbs as potential for movement, however, has tremendous significance for the musical experience, since dance movements are linked with the musical experience. A great portion of the musical experience consists of one's having to restrain oneself from making movements along with the music. This points out to us that the musical experience is really an experience of the whole human being.

Why is it that man today has an experience of the third? Why is he only on the way to acquiring an experience of the octave? The reason is that in human evolution all musical experience first leads back to the ancient Atlantean time—unless we wish to go back further, which serves no purpose here. The experience of the seventh was the essential musical experience of the ancient Atlantean age. If you could go back into the Atlantean age, you would find that the music of that time, which had little similarity to today's music, was arranged according to continuing sevenths; even the fifth was unknown. This musical experience, which was based on an experience of the seventh through the full range of octaves, always consisted of man feeling completely transported [entrückt]. He felt free of his earthbound existence and transported into another world in this experience of the seventh. At that time he could just as well have said, “I experience music,” as “I feel myself in the spiritual world.” This was the predominant experience of the seventh. Up into the post-Atlantean age, this continued to play a great role, until it began to have an unpleasant effect. As the human being wished to incarnate more deeply into this physical body and take possession of it, the experience of the seventh became faintly painful. Man began to find the experience of the fifth more pleasant, and for a long time a scale composed according to our standards would have consisted of d, e, g, a, b, and again d, and e. There was no f and no c. For the early post-Atlantean epochs, the feeling for f and c is missing; instead, the fifths throughout the tonal range of different octaves were experienced.

In the course of time, the fifths began to be the pleasurable experience. All musical forms, however, in which the third and what we call c today are excluded, were permeated with a measure of this transporting quality. Such music made a person feel as if he were carried into a different element. In the music of the fifths [Quintenmusik], a human being felt lifted out of himself. The transition to the experience of the third actually can be traced back into the fourth post-Atlantean epoch, in which experiences of the fifth still predominated. (To this day, experiences of the fifth are contained in native Chinese music.) This transition to the experience of the third signifies at the same time that man feels music in relation to his own physical organization. For the first time, man feels that he is an earthly being when he plays music. Formerly, when he experienced fifths, he would have been inclined to say, “The angel in my being is beginning to play music. The muse in me speaks.” “I sing” was not the appropriate expression. It became possible to say this only when the experience of the third emerged, making the whole musical feeling an inward experience; the human being then felt that he himself was singing.

In the age when the fifths predominated, it was impossible to color music in a subjective direction. Subjectivity only came into play in that the subjective felt transported, lifted into objectivity. Not until man could experience the third did the subjective element feel that it rested within itself. Man began to relate the feeling for his destiny and ordinary life to the musical element.

Something now began to have meaning that would have had none in the ages of the experience of the fifth, namely major and minor keys. One could not even have spoken then of a major key. Major and minor keys, this strange bond between music and human subjectivity, the actual inner life of feeling—in so far as this life of feeling is bound to the earthly corporeality—come into being only in the course of the fourth post-Atlantean epoch and are related to the experience of the third. The difference between major and minor keys appears; the subjective soul element relates itself to the musical element. Man can color the musical element in various ways. He is in himself, then outside himself; his soul swings back and forth between self-awareness and self-surrender. Only now is the musical element drawn into the human being in a corresponding way. One thus can say that the experience of the third begins during the fourth post-Atlantean epoch and with it the ability to express major and minor moods in music. Basically, we ourselves are still involved in this process. Only an understanding of the whole human being—one that must reach beyond ordinary concepts—can illustrate how we are involved in this process.

One naturally gets into the habit of speaking in general concepts even in anthroposophy. One thus says that man consists of physical body, etheric body, astral body, and “I.” One has to put it like that to begin with in order to describe the human being in stages, but actually the matter is more complicated than one thinks. When we look at the embryonic development of earthly man, we find that, preceding this descent from the spiritual world to the physical world, the human “I” descends spiritually to the astral and etheric. In penetrating the astral and etheric, the “I” is then able to take hold of the physical embryo, giving rise to the forces of growth and so on. Though physical forces take hold of the human embryo, they in turn have been affected by the descent of the “I” through the astral and etheric into the physical. In the fully developed human being living in the physical world, the “I” works spiritually, through the eye, for example, directly upon the physical, at first bypassing the astral and etheric. Later, from within the human organism, the “I” connects itself again with the astral and etheric. We bring into ourselves the etheric and astral only from within out. We thus can say that the “I” lives in us in a twofold way. First, inasmuch as we have become human beings on earth, the “I” lives in us by having descended into the physical world in the first place. The “I” then builds up from the physical with the inclusion of the astral and etheric. Secondly, when we are adults, the “I” dwells in us by virtue of gaining influence over us through the senses or by taking hold of our astral nature. There it gains influence over our breath to the exclusion of the actual “I” sphere of the head, where the physical body becomes the organ of the “I.” Only in the movements of our limbs—if we move our limbs today—do we still have in us the same activity of nature or the world that we had within us as embryos. Everything else is added. The same activity that worked in you when you were an embryo is active today when you walk or dance. All other activities, especially the activity of the head, came about later as the downward streams of development were eliminated.

Now the musical experience actually penetrates the whole human being. The cause for this is the spiritual element that descended the farthest and took hold of the as yet formless earthly being in, I would like to say, an other-than-human manner. It then laid the foundation for embryonic development and today expresses itself in our movements and gestures. This element that dwells thus in man is at the same time the basis of the lower tones of an octave, namely c, c-sharp, d and d-sharp. Now, disorder comes in—as you can see on the piano—because the matter reaches the etheric. Everything in man's limb system—in other words, his most physical component—is engaged with the lowest tones of each and every octave. Beginning with e, the vibrating of the etheric body plays an essential role. This continues to f, f-sharp, and g. Beyond this point, the vibrations of the astral body enter in. Now we reach a climactic stage. Beginning with c and c-sharp, when we reach the seventh we come to a region where we actually must stand still. The experience comes to a half, and we need a completely new element.

By the beginning form the first tone of the octave, we have begun from the inner “I,” the physical, living, inner “I”—if I may express it in this way—and we have ascended through the etheric and astral bodies to the seventh. We must now pass over to the directly experienced “I,” in that we arrive at the next higher octave. We must say, as it were: man actually lives in us in all seven tones, but we do not know it. He pushes against us in c and c-sharp. Pushing upward from there, in f and f-sharp, he shakes up our etheric and astral bodies. The etheric body vibrates and pushes up to the astral body—the origin of the vibration being below in the etheric body—and we arrive at the astral experience in the tones up to the seventh. We do not know it fully, however, we know it only through feeling. Finally, the feeling for the octave brings us to find our own self on a higher level. The third guides us to our inner being; the octave leads us to have, to feel, our own self once more. You must take all these concepts that I use only as substitutes and in each case resort to feelings. Then you will be able to see how the musical experience really strives to lead man back to what he lost in primeval times. In primeval times, when the experience of the seventh existed—and therefore, in fact, the experience of the entire scale—man felt that he was a unified being standing on earth; at that time when he heard the seventh, he also experienced himself outside his body. He therefore felt himself in the world. Music was for him the possibility of feeling himself in the world. The human being could receive religious instruction by being taught the music of that time. He could readily understand that through music man is not only an earthly being but also a transported being. In the course of time, this experience increasingly intensified. The experience of the fifth arose, and during this time man still felt united with what lived in his breath. He said to himself—though he did not say it, he felt it; in order to express it, we must word it like that—“I breath in, I breath out. During a nightmare I am especially aware of the experience of breath due to the change in my breathing. The musical element, however, does not live in me at all; it lives in inhalation and exhalation.” Man felt always as if he were leaving and returning to himself in the musical experience. The fifth comprised both inhalation and exhalation; the seventh comprised only exhalation. The third enabled man to experience the continuation of the breathing process within. Based on all this, you find a specific explanation for the advancement from the pure singing-with-accompaniment that existed in ancient times of human evolution to independent singing. Originally, singing was always produced along with some outer tone, an outer tone structure. [Tongebilde]. Emancipated singing actually came about later; emancipated instrumental music is connected with that. One can now say that in the musical experience man experienced himself as being at one with the world. He experienced himself neither within nor outside himself. He would have been incapable of hearing an instrument alone; in the very earliest time he could not have heard one isolated tone. It would have appeared to him like a lone ghost wandering around. He could only experience a tone composed of outer, objective elements and inner, subjective ones. Hence, the musical experience was divided into these two, the objective and the subjective.

This whole experience naturally penetrates today into everything musical. On the one hand, music occupies a special position in the world, because, as yet, man cannot find the link to the world in the musical experience. This link to the world will be discovered one day when the experience of the octave comes into being in the manner previously outlined. Then, the musical experience will become for man proof of the existence of god, because he will experience the “I” twice: once as physical, inner “I,” the second time as spiritual, outer “I.” When octaves are employed in the same manner as seventh, fifths, and thirds—today's use of octaves does not approach this yet—it will become a new form of proving the existence of God. That is what the experience of the octave will be. People will say to themselves, “When I first experience my ‘I’ as it is on earth, in the prime, and then experience it a second time the way it is in spirit, then this is inner proof of God's existence.” This is a different kind of proof, however, from that of the ancient Atlantean, which he gained through his experience with the seventh. Then, all music was evidence of God's existence, but it was in no way proof of man's existence. The great spirit took hold of the human being and filled him inwardly the moment he participated in music. The great progress made by humanity in the musical element is that the human being is not just possessed by God but takes hold of his own self as well, that man feels the musical scale as himself, but himself as existing in both worlds. You can imagine the tremendous profundity of which the musical element will be capable in the future. Not only will it offer man what he can experience in our ordinary musical compositions today, which have come a long way indeed, but man will be able to experience how, while listening to a musical composition, he becomes a totally different person. He will feel changed, and yet again he will feel returned to himself. The further cultivation of the musical element consists of this feeling of a widely diverse human potential. We thus can say that f has already joined the five old tones, d, e, g, a, and b, to the greatest possible extent, but not yet the actual c. This must still be explored in its entire significance for human feeling.

All this is extraordinarily important when one is faced with the task of guiding the evolution of the human being regarding the musical element. You see, up to about the age of nine, the child does not yet possess a proper grasp of major and minor moods, though one can approach the child with them. When entering school, the child can experience major and minor moods in preparation for what is to come later, but the child has neither one nor the other. Though it is not readily admitted, the child essentially dwells in moods of fifths. Naturally, one can resort in school to examples already containing thirds, but if one really wishes to reach the child, musical appreciation must be based on the appreciation of the fifths; this is what is important. One does the child a great kindness if one confronts it with major and minor musical moods as well as an appreciation for the whole third-complex sometime after the age of nine, when the child asks important questions of us. One of the most significant questions concerns the urge for living together with the major and minor third. This is something that appears between ages nine and ten and that should be specifically cultivated. As far as is possible within present-day limits of music, it is also necessary to try to promote appreciation of the octave at around age twelve. What must be offered the child in the way of music thus will be adapted once again to the various ages.

It is tremendously important to be clear that music fundamentally lives only inwardly in man, namely, in the etheric body; regarding the lowest tones of the scale, the physical body is naturally taken along too. The physical body, however, must push upward into the etheric body, which in turn pushes upon the astral body. The “I,” finally, can barely be touched.

While we always dwell within our brains with our crude and clumsy concepts regarding the rest of the world, we leave the musical element the instant we develop concepts about it. This is because the unfolding of concepts takes place on a level above that of the musical realm. We must leave music behind when we think, because tone begins to develop shades within itself—prosaic science would say that it exhibits a particular number of vibrations—and is no longer experienced as tone. When tone begins to develop shades within itself, the concept arises that becomes objectified in sound [im laut]. In the sound of speech, the concept really cancels out the tone, in so far as tone is sound, though not in so far as tone harmonizes with the sound, of course. Then, the actual musical experience reaches down only to the etheric body, and there it struggles. Certainly, the physical pushes upward into the lower tones. If, however, we were to go all the way down into the physical, the metabolism would be included in the musical experience, which would then cease to be a pure musical experience. In fact, this is attained in the contra-tones so as to make the musical experience somewhat more piquant, as it were. Music is driven slightly out of its own element in the contra-tones.2Contra-tones are the tones below contra-c: (see diagram)

Diagram 1

The actual musical experience that takes its course completely within—neither in the “I” nor in the physical body but in etheric and astral man—the inward-etheric body, i.e. down to the tones of the great octave.3The great octave refers to the tones between c3 and c2 below middle c. The contra-tones below only serve the purpose of allowing the outer world to beat, as it were, upon the musical element. The contra-tones appear when man strikes outward with the musical element and the outer world rejects it. This is where the musical element leaves the soul element and enters that of matter. When we descend to the contra-tones, our soul reaches down into the element of matter, and we experience how matter strives to become musically ensouled. This is what the position of contra-tones in music basically signifies.

All this leads us to say that only a truly irrational understanding—an understanding of the human being beyond the rational—will permit us to grasp the musical element in a feeling way and to acquaint the human being with it.

We shall continue in more detail tomorrow.