Saturday, June 13, 2009

When Music Dies





Lorenzo:
"The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils."

The Merchant of Venice (V, i, 83-85)

This short speech from Shakespeare's play has always fascinated me. With time comes the evolution of personal taste in music and while we don't or can't always be in the vanguard of cutting edge music, we do hold on to what we know is true. In Woody Allen's "Manhattan" his lead character lists, among the things that make life worth living, Louis Armstrong's "Potato Head Blues." No argument from me here. What would you cite if asked the question?
In the play, Jessica, daughter of Shylock, has eloped with Lorenzo, and they are sitting in the moonlight delighting in each other's company. When musicians enter, Jessica remarks that she is never happy when she hears sweet music and that instead it makes her sad. Lorenzo explains to her that the sadness she feels is the hearkening of her soul to celestial powers. It was a basic assumption among Elizabethans that the musical harmony of the spheres (planets, moon, sun) was a manifestation of the universal Order in which God created heaven and earth. Lorenzo reminds Jessica that music affects even wild beasts, and that nothing in nature is immune to its ability to determine human emotion. "Mark the music."
I was mulling all this over the other day when a thought struck. I have a friend who has lost his music. He used to write, perform, and listen to music constantly. It seems to have dried up. When it dries, he dies.
From this sad state of affairs I then thought about the human ability to bring death to other humans. Are seemingly good people who take human life in war devoid of music? Would it be impossible to conduct war if music were playing? No really; what if governments that continue to ask their citizens to take human life in the name of political or religious concepts were made to provide hauntingly beautiful sound tracks to all this slaughter? Would it become impossible for some to participate?
Music penetrates to the bone. Isn't that what Shopenhaur, the German philosopher, thought? Isn't this worth pursuing?
If, as Shopenhauer postulated, music is the only art that exists whether we are here or not, and if, as he further suggests, there is a relationship between music and the will to live (and other forms of the human will) then perhaps to put an end to war, we need only consider music. Beautiful music. Granted, music stimulates death for some, but those folks aren't mentally healthy, agree? It's possible for a piece of music to send a clinically depressed person over the edge, but most of the time it has the opposite effect. Are the infantry soldiers of any given country mentally healthy, more often than not?
What's the most beautiful piece of music you've ever heard? Why does it stand out as being different from other pieces? Perhaps it is time for a special album, a collection of "sweet sounds" to save humanity from itself. There are plenty of "stratagems, treasons and spoils" afoot in this world today. Find the music and you find the human beings. They'd really rather make art than war anyway.

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