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

Lecture II

12 November 1906, Berlin

Through spiritual scientific investigation, we see how the world and all nature surrounding us becomes intelligible. It also becomes increasingly clear to us how the outer facts of our surroundings can have a more-or-less profound significance for the inner being of man. Today we will develop further the theme of why music affects the human soul in such a definite, unique way. In doing this, we will cast light on the very foundations of the soul.

To begin with we must ask how a remarkable hereditary line such as we see in the Bach family, for example, can be explained. Within a period of 250 years, nearly thirty members of this family exhibited marked musical talent. Another case is the Bernoulli family, in which a mathematical gift was inherited in a similar way through several generations, and eight of the family members were mathematicians of some renown. Here are two phenomena that can be understood by heredity, yet they are totally different situations.

To those who have sought to penetrate deeply into the nature of things, music appears to be something quite special. Music has always occupied a special place among the arts. Consider this from Schopenhauer's viewpoint. In his book, The World as Will and Idea, he speaks of art as a kind of knowledge that leads more directly to the divine than is possible for intellectual knowledge. This opinion of Schopenhauer's is connected with his world view, which held that everything surrounding us is only a reflection of the human mental image or idea. This reflection arises only because outer things call forth mental images in the human senses, enabling man to relate to the things themselves. Man can know nothing of that which is unable to make an impression on the senses. Schopenhauer speaks physiologically of specific sense impressions. The eye can receive only light impressions; it can sense only something that is light. Likewise, the ear can sense only tone impressions, and so on. According to Schopenhauer's view, everything observed by man as the world around him reflects itself like a Fata Morgana within him; it is a kind of reflection called forth by the human soul itself.

According to Schopenhauer, there is one possibility of bypassing the mental image. There is one thing perceptible to man for which no outer impression is needed, and this is man himself. All outer things are an eternally changing, eternally shifting Fata Morgana for man. We experience only one thing within ourselves in an immutable manner: ourselves. We experience ourselves in our will, and no detour from outside is required to perceive its effects on us. When we exercise any influence on the outer world, we experience will, we ourselves are this will, and we therefore know what the will is. We know it from our own inner experience, and by analogy we can conclude that this will working within us must exist and be active outside us as well. There must exist forces outside us that are the same as the force active within us, as will. These forces Schopenhauer calls “the world will.”

Now let us pose the question of how art originates. In line with Schopenhauer's reasoning, the answer would be that art originates through a combination of the Fata Morgana outside us and that within us, through a uniting of both. When an artist, a sculptor, for example, wishes to create an ideal figure, say of Zeus, and he searches for an archetype, he does not focus on a single human being in order to find the archetype in him; instead, he looks around among many men. He gathers a little from one man, a little from another, and so on. He takes note of everything that represents strength and is noble and outstanding, and from this he forms an archetypal picture of Zeus that corresponds to the thought of Zeus he carries. This is the idea in man, which can be acquired only if the particulars the world offers us are combined within man's mind.

Let us place Schopenhauer's thought alongside one of Goethe's, which finds expression in the words, “In nature, it is the intentions that are significant.” We find Schopenhauer and Goethe in complete agreement with one another. Both thinkers believe that there are intentions in nature that she can neither bring completely to expression nor attain in her creations, at least not with the details. The creative artist tries to recognize these intentions in nature; he tries to combine them and represent them in a picture. One now comprehends Goethe, who says that art is a revelation of nature's secret intentions and that the creative artist reveals the continuation of nature. The artist takes nature into himself; he causes it to arise in him again and then lets it go forth from him. It is as if nature were not complete and in man found the possibility of guiding her work to an end. In man, nature finds her completion, her fulfillment, and she rejoices, as it were, in man and his works.

In the human heart lies the capability of thinking things through to the end and of pouring forth what has been the intention of nature. Goethe sees nature as the great, creative artist that cannot completely attain her intentions, presenting us with something of a riddle. The artist, however, solves these riddles; he thinks the intentions of nature through to the end and expresses them in his works.

Schopenhauer says that this holds true of all the arts except music. Music stands on a higher level than all the other arts. Why? Schopenhauer finds the answer, saying that in all the other creative arts, such as sculpture and painting, the mental images must be combined before the hidden intentions of nature are discovered. Music, on the other hand, the melodies and harmonies of tones, is nature's direct expression. The musician hears the pulse of the divine will that flows through the world; he hears how this will expresses itself in tones. The musician thus stands closer to the heart of the world than all other artists; in him lives the faculty of representing the world will. Music is the expression of the will of nature, while all the other arts are expressions of the idea of nature. Since music flows nearer the heart of the world and is a direct expression of its surging and swelling, it also directly affects the human soul. It streams into the soul like the divine in its different forms. Hence, it is understandable that the effects of music on the human soul are so direct, so powerful, so elemental.

Let us turn from the standpoint of significant individuals such as Schopenhauer and Goethe concerning the sublime art of music to the standpoint of spiritual science, allowing it to cast its light on this question. If we do this, we find that what man is makes comprehensible why harmonies and melodies affect him. Again, we return to the three states of consciousness that are possible for the human being and to his relationship to the three worlds to which he belongs during any one of these three states of consciousness.

Of these three states of consciousness, there is only one fully known to the ordinary human being, since he is unaware of himself while in either of the other two. From them, he brings no conscious recollection or impression back into his familiar state of consciousness, that is, the one we characterized as waking day-consciousness. The second state of consciousness is familiar to an extent to the ordinary human being. It is dream-filled sleep, which presents simple daily experiences to man in symbols. The third state of consciousness is dreamless sleep, a state of a certain emptiness for the ordinary human being.

Initiation, however, transforms the three states of consciousness. First, man's dream-life changes. It is no longer chaotic, no longer a reproduction of daily experiences often rendered in tangled symbols. Instead, a new world unfolds before man in dream-filled sleep. A world filled with flowing colors and radiant light-beings surrounds him, the astral world. This is no newly created world. It is new only for a person who, until now, had not advanced beyond the lower state of day-consciousness. Actually, this astral world is always present and continuously surrounds the human being. It is a real world, as real as the world surrounding us that appears to us as reality. Once a person has been initiated, has undergone initiation, he becomes acquainted with this wonderful world. He learns to be conscious in it with a consciousness as clear—no even clearer—than his ordinary day-consciousness. He also becomes familiar with his own astral body and learns to live in it consciously. The basic experience in this new world that unfolds before man is one of living and weaving in a world of colors and light. After his initiation, man begins to awaken during his ordinary dream-filled sleep; it is as though he feels himself borne upward on a surging sea of flowing light and colors. This glimmering light and these flowing colors are living beings. This experience of conscious dream-filled sleep then transmits itself into man's entire life in waking day-consciousness, and he learns to see these beings in everyday life as well.

Man attains the third state of consciousness when he is capable of transforming dreamless sleep into a conscious state. This world that man learns to enter shows itself to him at first only partially, but in due time more and more is revealed. Man lives in this world for increasingly longer periods. He is conscious in it and experiences something very significant there.

Man can arrive at perception of the second world, the astral world, only if he undergoes the discipline of so-called “great stillness.” He must become still, utterly still, within himself. The great peace must precede the awakening in the astral world. This deep stillness becomes more and more pronounced when man approaches the third state of consciousness, the state in which he begins to have sensations in dreamless sleep. The colors of the astral world become increasingly transparent, and the light becomes ever clearer and at the same time spiritualized. Man has the sensation that he himself lives in this color and this light, and if they do not surround him but rather he himself is color and light. He feels himself astrally within this astral world, and he feels afloat in a great, deep peace. Gradually, this deep stillness begins to resound spiritually, softly at first, then louder and louder. The world of colors and light is permeated with resounding tones. In this third state of consciousness that man now approaches, the colorful world of the astral realm in which he dwelt up to now becomes suffused with sound. This new dimension that opens to man is Devachan, the so-called mental world, and he enters this wondrous world through the portals of the “great stillness.” Through the great stillness, the tone of this other world rings out to him. This is how the Devachanic world truly appears.

Many theosophical books contain other descriptions of Devachan, but they are not based on personal experiences of the reality of the world. Leadbeater, for example, gives an accurate description of the astral plane and of experiences there, but his description of Devachan is inaccurate. It is merely a construction modeled on the astral plane and is not experienced personally by him. All descriptions that do not describe how a tone rings out from the other side are incorrect and are not based on actual perception. Resounding tone is the particular characteristic of Devachan, at least essentially. Of course, one must not imagine that the Devachanic world does not radiate colors as well. It is penetrated by light emanating from the astral world, for the two worlds are not separated: the astral world penetrates the Devachanic world. The essence of the Devachanic realm, however, lies in tone. That which was light in the great stillness now begins to resound.

On a still higher plane of Devachan, tone becomes something akin to words. All true inspiration originates on this plane, and in this region dwell inspired authors. Here they experience a real permeation with the truths of the higher worlds. This phenomenon is entirely possible.

We must bear in mind that not only the initiate lives in these worlds. The only difference between the ordinary human being and the initiate is that an initiate undergoes these various altered conditions consciously. The states that ordinary man undergoes unconsciously again and again merely change into conscious ones for him. The ordinary human being passes through these three worlds time after time, but he knows nothing about it, because he is conscious neither of himself nor of his experiences there. Nevertheless, he returns with some of the effects that these experiences called forth in him. When he awakens in the morning, not only is he physically rejuvenated by the sleep, but he also brings back art from those worlds. When a painter, for example, goes far beyond the reality of colors in the physical world in his choice of the tones and color harmonies that he paints on his canvas, it is none other than a recollection, albeit an unconscious one, of experiences in the astral world. Where has he seen these tones, these shining colors? Where has he experienced them? They are the after-effects of the astral experiences he has had during the night. Only this flowing ocean of light and colors, of beauty and radiating, glimmering depths, where he has dwelt during sleep, gives him the possibility of using these colors among which he existed. With the dense, earthy colors of our physical world, however, he is unable to reproduce anything close to the ideal that he has experienced and that lives in him. We thus see in painting a shadow-image, a precipitation of the astral world in the physical world, and we see how the effects of the astral realm bear magnificent, marvelous fruits in man.

In great art there are wonderful things that are much more comprehensible to a spiritual scientist, because he discerns their origin. I am thinking, for instance, of two paintings by Leonardo da Vinci that hang in the Louvre in Paris. One portrays Bacchus, the other St. John. Both paintings show the same face; evidently the same model was employed for both. It is not their outward narrative effect, therefore, that makes them totally different from each other. The artistic mysteries of light contained in the paintings are based more purely on their effects of color and light. The painting of Bacchus displays an unusual glistening reddish light that is poured over the body's surface. It speaks of voluptuousness concealed beneath the skin and thus characterizes Bacchus's nature. It is as if the body were imbibing the light and, permeated with its own voluptuous nature, exuded it again. The painting of John, on the other hand, displays a chaste, yellowish hue. It seems as if the color is only playing about the body. The body allows the light only to surround its forms; it does not wish to absorb anything from outside into itself. An utterly unselfish corporeality, fully pure and chaste, addresses the viewer from this painting.

A spiritual scientist understands all this. One must not believe, however, that an artist is always intellectually aware of what is concealed in his work. The precipitations of his astral vision need not penetrate as far as physical consciousness in order to live in his works. Leonardo da Vinci perhaps did not know the occult laws by which he created his paintings—that is not what matters—but he followed them out of his instinctive feeling. We thus see in painting the shadow, the precipitation, of the astral world in our physical realm.

The composer conjures a still higher world; he conjures the Devachanic world into the physical world. The melodies and harmonies that speak to us from the compositions of our great masters are actually faithful copies of the Devachanic world. If we are at all capable of experiencing a foretaste of the spiritual world, this would be found in the melodies and harmonies of music and the effects it has on the human soul.

We return once again to the nature of the human being. We find first of all the physical world, then the etheric body, then the astral body, and finally the “I” of which man first became conscious at the end of the Atlantean age.1A note in the German edition states that a brief description followed here concerning the various members of the human organization but that the transcript was too poor to be reproduced. They were similar to those given in Steiner's Theosophy in the chapter “The Being of Man.” In particular, the separation of the astral body into sentient body and sentient soul was emphasized.

When man sleeps, the astral body and the sentient soul release themselves from the lower nature of man. Physical man lies in bed connected with his etheric body. All his other members loosen and dwell in the astral and Devachanic worlds. In these worlds, specifically in the Devachanic world, the soul absorbs into itself the world of tones. When he awakens each morning, man actually has passed through an element of music, an ocean of tones. A musical person is one whose physical nature is such that it follows these impressions, though he need not know this. A sense of musical pleasure is based on nothing other than the right accord between the harmonies brought from beyond and the tones and melodies here. We experience musical pleasure when outer tones correspond with those within.

Regarding the musical element, the cooperation of sentient soul and sentient body is of special significance. One must understand that all consciousness arises through a kind of overcoming of the outer world. What comes to consciousness in man as pleasure of joy signifies victory of the spiritual over merely animated corporeality [Körperlich-Lebendige], the victory of the sentient soul over the sentient body. It is possible for one who returns from sleep with the inner vibrations to intensify these tones and to perceive the victory of the sentient soul over the sentient body, so that the soul feels itself stronger than the body. In the effects of a minor key the sentient soul vibrates more intensely and predominates over the sentient body. When the minor third is played, one feels pain in the soul, the predominance of the sentient body, but when the major third resounds, it announces the victory of the soul.

Now we can grasp the basis of the profound significance of music. We understand why music has been elevated throughout the ages to the highest position among the arts by those who know the relationships of the inner life, why even those who do not know these relationships grant music a special place, and why music stirs the deepest strings of our soul, causing them to resound.

Alternating between sleeping and waking, man continuously passes from the physical to the astral and from these worlds to the Devachanic world, a reflection of his overall course of incarnations. When in death he leaves the physical body, he rises through the astral world up into Devachan. There he finds his true home; there he finds his place of rest. This solemn repose is followed by his re-entry into the physical world, and in this way man passes continuously from one world to another.

The human being, however, experiences the elements of the Devachanic world as his own innermost nature, because they are his primeval home. The vibrations flowing through the spiritual world are felt in the innermost depths of his being. In a sense, man experiences the astral and physical as mere sheaths. His primeval home is in Devachan, and the echoes from this homeland, the spiritual world, resound in him in the harmonies and melodies of the physical world. These echoes pervade the lower world with inklings of a glorious and wonderful existence; they churn up man's innermost being and thrill it with vibrations of purest joy and sublime spirituality, something that this world cannot provide. Painting speaks to the astral corporeality, but the world of tone speaks to the innermost being of man. As long as a person is not yet initiated, his homeland, the Devachanic world, is given to him in music. This is why music is held in such high esteem by all who sense such a relationship. Schopenhauer also senses this in a kind of instinctive intuition and expresses it in his philosophical formulations.

Through esoteric knowledge the world, and above all the arts, become comprehensible to us. As it is above so it is below, and as below so above. One who understands this expression in its highest sense learns to recognize increasingly the preciousness in the things of this world, and gradually he experiences as precious recognition the imprints of ever higher and higher worlds. In music, too, he experiences the image of a higher world.

The work of an architect, built in stone to withstand centuries, is something that originates in man's inner being and is then transformed into matter. The same is true of the works of sculptors and painters. These works are present externally and have taken on form.

Musical creations, however, must be generated anew again and again. They flow onward in the surge and swell of their harmonies and melodies, a reflection of the soul, which in its incarnations must always experience itself anew in the onward-flowing stream of time. Just as the human soul is an evolving entity, so its reflection here on earth is a flowing one. The deep effect of music is due to this kinship. Just as the human soul flows downward from its home in Devachan and flows back to it again, so do its shadows, the tones, the harmonies. Hence the intimate effect of music on the soul. Out of music the most primordial kinship speaks to the soul; in the most inwardly deep sense, sounds of home rebound from it. From the soul's primeval home, the spiritual world, the sounds of music are borne across to us and speak comfortingly and encouragingly to us in surging melodies and harmonies.