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The Inner Nature of Music, and the Experience of Tone
The Occult Basis of Music
A lecture by
Cologne, December 3, 1906
Copyright © 1956
A lecture, hitherto untranslated given at Cologne on December 3, 1906.
Published in The Golden Blade, 1956.
It is the first lecture in the series The Inner Nature of Music,
and the Experience of Tone. In the collected edition of Rudolf
Steiner's works, the volume containing the German texts is entitled,
Das Wesen Des Musikalischen und Das Tonerlebnis Im Menschen.
(Vol. 283 in the Bibliographic Survey, 1961). Translated by Charles
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THE OCCULT BASIS OF MUSIC
A Lecture, hitherto untranslated given at Cologne on December 3, 1906.
Published in The Golden Blade, 1956
OR those who think of music from the aesthetic point of view, there is
something puzzling about it; for simple human feeling it is a direct
experience which penetrates the soul; and for those who want to understand
how it produces its effects, it is a rather difficult problem.
Compared with other arts — sculpture, painting, poetry —
music has a special character. All the other arts have some kind of
model in the external world. The sculptor works from a model, and if
he creates a statue of Zeus or Apollo, it takes an idealised human
form. It is the same with painting — and today the tendency is
to give an exact impression of what the senses perceive. Poetry,
similarly, tries to deal with some aspect of the real world. But if
one tried to apply this theory to music, one would get nowhere —
for how could one copy, for example, the song of birds!
What is the origin of musically-shaped sounds? How are they related to
anything in the objective world?
It is precisely in connection with this art of music that Schopenhauer
has advanced some interesting views; in a certain respect they are
indeed clear and striking. He assigns to music a quite special place
among the arts, and to art itself a quite special value in human life.
His philosophy has a fundamental ground-note which may be expressed as
Life is a sorry business, and through thinking I try to make it
bearable. Pervading everything in the world is a blind, unconscious
Will. It shapes the stone and then the plant — but always, in
all its manifestations, with a restless yearning for something higher.
The savage feels this less than does the genius, who experiences the
painful cravings of the Will in the highest, most intense, degree.
Besides the activity of the Will — Schopenhauer continues
— man has the faculty of forming mental images. These are like a
fata morgana, like pictures in the mist, like the spray thrown
up by the waves of the Will. The Will surges up to shape these
illusory pictures. When in this way man perceives the working of the
Will, he is less than ever satisfied; but a release from the blind
driving-force of the Will comes to us through art. Art is something
through which man can escape from the restless craving of the Will.
How does this happen?
When man creates a work of art, it springs from his image-forming
faculty; but genuine art, Schopenhauer insists, is not merely a copy
of external reality. A statue of Zeus, for example, is not produced by
copying; the sculptor draws for his model on the characteristics of
many men, and so he creates the archetypal image, which in nature is
distributed among numerous separate individuals.
So the artist surpasses nature. He extracts her archetypal essence,
and this is what the true artist renders. By penetrating into the
creative depths of nature, he creates something real and achieves a
certain release for himself.
So it is with all the arts except music. All the other arts
have to work through images and produce only pictures of the Will. But
musical sound is a direct expression of the Will itself. The composer
listens to the pulse-beat of the Will, and renders it in the sequence
of musical sounds. Music is thus intimately related to the working of
the Will in nature, to “things in themselves”; it
penetrates into the elemental archetypal being of the cosmos and
reflects the feeling of it; that is why music is so deeply satisfying.
Schopenhauer was no occultist, but in these matters he had an
instinctive apprehension of the truth.
Why does music speak so intimately to the heart, and so widely, and
why is its influence so powerful, even in early childhood? For answers
to these questions we must turn to the realm where the true models for
music are to be found.
When a composer is at work, he has nothing to copy from; he has to
draw his music from out of his own soul. Whence he derives it we shall
find out if we turn our attention to the worlds which are not
perceptible to the ordinary senses.
Human beings are so made that it is possible for them to release in
themselves faculties which are normally asleep; in the same way that
someone born blind may be given sight by an operation, so can a man's
inner eyes be opened, enabling him to gain knowledge of higher worlds.
When a man develops these slumbering faculties through concentration,
meditation and so on, he advances step by step. First of all he
experiences a special configuration of his dream life. His dreams take
on a much more orderly character; on waking, he feels as though he
were rising from out of the waves of an ocean in which he had been
submerged, a world of flowing light and colour. He knows that he has
experienced something; that he has seen an ocean of which he had no
previous knowledge. Increasingly his dream-experiences gain in
clarity. He remembers that in this world of light and colour there
were things and beings which differed from anything physical in being
permeable, so that one can pass right through them without meeting any
resistance. He comes to know beings whose element, whose bodies, the
colours are. Gradually he extends his consciousness over this world,
and on waking he remembers that he has been active within it.
The next step occurs when he — as it were — carries this
world back with him into waking life. Then he sees the astral bodies
of other men and of much else, and he experiences a world which is
much more real than the physical one — a world which in relation
to the physical world appears as a densification, a crystallisation,
from out of the astral world.
Now it is also possible to transform into a conscious condition the
unconscious state of dreamless sleep. The disciple who attains to this
stage learns to extend his consciousness over those parts of the night
which are not filled with dreams, but are normally spent in complete
unconsciousness. He then finds himself conscious in a world of which
previously he knew nothing, a world which is not intrinsically one of
light and colour; it first announces itself as a world of musical
sound. The disciple acquires the capacity to hear spiritually; he
hears sequences and combinations of sounds which are not audible to
the physical ear.
This world is called the devachanic world (Deva=spirit, chan=home).
One must not think that when a man enters this world and hears its
tones resounding, he loses the world of light and colours. The world
of tones is shot through with light and colours, but they belong to
the astral world. The essential element of the devachanic world is the
endlessly flowing and changing ocean of musical tones. When continuous
consciousness extends to this world, its tones can be brought over,
and it is then possible to hear also the ground-tones of the physical
world. For every physical thing has its ground-note in the devachanic
world, and in every countenance devachanic ground-notes are figured
forth. It was on this account that Paracelsus said: “The
kingdoms of nature are the letters of the alphabet, and Man is the
word formed from them.”
Whenever anyone falls asleep, his astral body goes out from his
physical body; his soul then lives in the devachanic world. Its
harmonies make an impression on his soul; they vibrate through it in
waves of living sound, so that every morning he wakes from the music
of the spheres, and out of this realm of harmony he passes into the
everyday world. Just as the human soul has a sojourn in Devachan
between incarnations, so we can say that during the night the soul
rejoices in flowing tones of music: they are the very element out of
which it is itself woven and they are its true home.
The composer translates into physical sounds the rhythms and harmonies
which at night imprint themselves on his astral body. Unconsciously he
takes his model from the spiritual world. He has in himself the
harmonies which he translates into physical terms. That is the secret
connection between the music which resounds in the physical world and
the hearing of spiritual music during the night. But the relation of
physical music to this spiritual music is like that of a shadow to the
object which casts it. So the music of instruments and voices in the
physical world is like a shadow, a true shadow, of the far higher
music of Devachan. The primal image, the archetype, of music is in
Devachan; and having understood this, we can now examine the effect of
music on human beings.
Man has his physical body, and an etheric model for it, the
ether-body. Connected with his ether-body is the sentient body, which
is a step towards the astral. Inwardly bound up with him, as though
membered into him, is the Sentient Soul. Just as a sword and its
scabbard form a single whole, so do the Sentient Soul and the sentient
body. Man has also the Intellectual Soul, and as a still higher member
the Spiritual Soul, which is linked with the Spirit-self, or Manas. In
completely dreamless sleep the higher members, and so also the
Sentient Soul, are in the devachanic world. This is not like living in
the physical realm, where everything we see and hear is outside
ourselves. The beings of Devachan interpenetrate us, and we are within
everything that exists there. In occult schools, accordingly, this
devachanic-astral realm is called the world of interpenetrability. Man
is played through by its music.
When he returns from this devachanic world, his Sentient Soul, his
Intellectual Soul and his Spiritual Soul are permeated with its
rhythms; he carries them down into his denser bodies. He is thus able
to work from out of his Intellectual Soul and his Sentient Soul on to
his ether-body, and to carry the rhythms into it. As a seal stamps
itself on the wax, so the astral body imprints the devachanic rhythms
on the ether-body, until the ether-body vibrates in harmony with them.
Ether-body and astral body bear witness in their own being to the
spiritual tones and rhythms. The ether-body is lower than the astral
body, but in activity it is superior.
From out of his Ego man works on his bodies in so far as he transmutes
the astral body into Manas, the ether-body into Buddhi, the physical
body into Atma. Since the astral body is the most tenuous, the
transmutation of it calls for the least strength. Man can work on his
astral body with forces drawn from the astral world. But to work on
his etheric body he has to call on forces from the devachanic world,
and for working on his physical body he needs forces from the higher
devachanic world. During the night he draws from the world of flowing
tones the strength to carry them over into his sentient body and his
etheric body. Although on waking in the morning he is not conscious of
having absorbed this music of the night, yet on listening to music he
has an inkling that these impressions of the spiritual world are
When a man listens to music, the seer can observe how the rhythms and
colours flow into and lay hold of the firmer substance of the
ether-body, causing it to vibrate in tune with them, and from the
harmonious response of the ether-body comes the pleasure that is felt.
The more strongly the astral body resounds, the more strongly do its
tones echo in the ether-body, overcoming the ether-body's own natural
rhythms, and this gives feelings of pleasure both to a listener and to
a composer. In certain cases the harmonies of the astral body
penetrate to some extent into the sentient body, and a conflict then
arises between the sentient body and the ether-body. If the tones set
up in the sentient body are so strong that they master the tones of
the ether-body, the result is cheerful music in a major key. A minor
key indicates that the ether-body has prevailed over the sentient
body; and the painful feeling that ensues gives rise to the most
So, when someone lives in the experience of music, he is living in the
image of his spiritual home. It naturally elevates the soul to feel
this intimate relationship to its primal ground, and that is why the
simplest souls are so receptive to music. A man then feels himself
truly at home, and whenever he is lifted up through music he says to
himself: “Yes, you come from other worlds, and in music you can
experience your native place.” It was an intuitive knowledge of
this that led Schopenhauer to assign to music a central place among
the arts, and to say that the composer discerns with his spiritual ear
the pulse-beat of the Will.
In music, man feels the echo of the inmost life of things, a life
related to his own. Because feelings are the most inward part of the
soul, and because they are related to the spiritual world and are
indwelt by musical sound — that is why man, when he listens to
music, lives in the pleasure of feeling himself in harmony with its
tones, and in touch with the true home of his spirit.
Translated by Charles Waterman.
Last Modified: 16-Oct-2017
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