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The Inner Nature of Music and the Experience of Tone

Schmidt Number: S-5195

On-line since: 15th March 2005


Though they are quite fragmentary and incomplete and must be elaborated further at the next opportunity, I wish to emphasize again that yesterday's lecture and today's are intended to give teachers in school what they need as background for their instruction.

Yesterday, I spoke on the one hand of the role that the interval of the fifth plays in musical experience and on the other hand of the roles played by the third and the seventh. You have been able to gather from this description that music progressing in fifths is still connected with a musical experience in which the human being is actually brought out of himself; with the feeling for the fifth, man actually feels transported. This becomes more obvious if we take the scales through the range of seven octaves — from the contra-tones up to the tones above c — and consider that it is possible for the fifth to occur twelve times within these seven scales. In the sequence of the seven musical scales, we discover hidden, as it were, an additional twelve-part scale with the interval of the fifth.

What does this really mean in relation to the whole musical experience? It means that within the experience of the fifth, man with his “I” is in motion outside his physical organization. He paces the seven scales in twelve steps, as it were. He is therefore in motion outside his physical organization through the experience of the fifth.

Returning to the experience of the third — in both the major and minor third — we arrive at an inner motion of the human being. The “I” is, so to speak, within the confines of the human organism; man experiences the interval of the third inwardly. In the transition from a third to a fifth — though there is much in between with which we are not concerned here — man in fact experiences the transition from inner to outer experience. One therefore can say that in the case of the experience of the third the mood is one of consolidation of the inner being, of man's becoming aware of the human being within himself. The experience of the fifth brings awareness of man within the divine world order. The experience of the fifth is, as it were, an expansion into the vast universe, while the experience of the third is a return of the human being into the structure of his own organization. In between lies the experience of the fourth.

The experience of the fourth is perhaps one of the most interesting for one who wishes to penetrate the secrets of the musical element. This is not because the experience of the fourth in itself is the most interesting but because it arises at the dividing line between the experience of the fifth of the outer world and the experience of the third in man's inner being. The experience of the fourth lies right at the border, as it were, of the human organism. The human being, however, senses not the outer world but the spiritual world in the fourth. He beholds himself from outside, as it were (to borrow an expression referring to vision for an experience that has to do with hearing). Though man is not conscious of it, the sensation he experiences with the fourth is based on feeling that man himself is among the gods. While he has forgotten his own self in the experience of the fifth in order to be among the gods, in the experience of the fourth he need not forget his own being in order to be among the gods. With the experience of the fourth, man moves about, as it were, in the divine world; he stands precisely at the border of his humanness, retaining it, yet viewing it from the other side.

The experience of the fifth as spiritual experience was the first to be lost to humanity. Modern man does not have the experience of the fifth that still existed, let us say, four to five hundred years before our era. At that time the human being truly felt in the experience of the fifth, “I stand within the spiritual world.” He required no instrument in order to produce outwardly the interval of a fifth. Because he still possessed imaginative consciousness, he felt that the fifth, which he himself had produced, took its course in the divine realm. Man still had imaginations, still had imaginations in the musical element. There was still an objectivity, a musical objectivity, in the experience of the fifth. Man lost this earlier than the objective experience of the fourth. The experience of the fourth, much later on, was such that during this experience man believed that he lived and wove in something etheric. With the experience of the fourth he felt — if I may say so — the holy wind that had placed him into the physical world. Based on what they said, it is possible that Ambrose and Augustine still felt this. Then this experience of the fourth was also lost. One required an outer instrument in order to be objectively certain of the fourth.

We thus have pointed out at the same time what the musical experience was like in very ancient ages of human evolution. Man did not yet know the third; he descended only to the fourth. He did not distinguish between, “I sing,” and “there is singing.” These two were one for him. He was outside himself when he sang, and at the same time he had an outer instrument. He had an impression, an imagination, as it were, of a wind instrument, or of a string instrument. Musical instruments appeared to man at first as imaginations. Musical instruments were not invented through experimentation; with the experimentation of the piano they have been derived from the spiritual world.

With this, we have described the origin of song as well. It is hard today to give an idea of what song itself was like in the age when the experience of the fifth was still pure. Song was indeed something akin to an expression of the word. One sang, but this was at the same time a speaking of the spiritual world. One was conscious that if one spoke of cherries and grapes one used earthly words; if one spoke of the gods, one had to sing.

Then came the time when man no longer had imaginations. He still retained the remnants of imaginations, however, though one does not recognize them as such today — they are the words of language. The spiritual element incarnated into the tones of song, which in turn incarnated into the elements of words. This was a step into the physical world. The inner emancipation of the song element into arias and the like took place after that; this was a later development.

If we return to the primeval song of humanity, we find that it was a speaking of the gods and of the proceedings of the gods. As I mentioned earlier, the fact of the twelve fifths in the seven scales is evidence that the possibility of motion outside the human realm existed in music in the interval of the fifth. Only with the fourth does man really approach himself with the musical element.

Yesterday, someone said quite rightly that man senses an emptiness in the interval of the fifth. Naturally, he must experience something empty in the fifth, since he no longer has imaginations, and the fifth corresponds to an imagination while the third corresponds to a perception within man's being. Today, therefore, man feels an emptiness in the fifth and must fill it with the substantiality of the instrument. This is the transition of the musical element from the more spiritual age to the later materialistic age.

For earlier ages, the relationship of musical man to his instrument must be pictured as the greatest possible unity. A Greek actor even felt the need of amplifying his voice with an instrument. The process of drawing the musical experience inward came later. Formerly, man felt that in relation to music he carried a certain circle of tones within himself that reached downward, excluding the realm of tones below the contra-c. Upward, it did not reach the tones beyond c but was a closed circle. Man then had the consciousness, “I have been given a narrow circle of the musical element. Out there in the cosmos the musical element continues in both directions. I need the instruments in order to reach this cosmic musical element.”

Now we must take the other aspects of music into consideration if we wish to become acquainted with this whole matter. The center of music today is harmony. I am referring to the sum total of music, not song or instrumental music. The element of harmony takes hold directly of human feeling. What is expressed in harmonies is experienced by human feeling. Now, feeling passes into thinking [Vorstellen]. [In the following passages, Vorstellen, the forming of mental images, or the lower aspect of thinking, has been translated thinking, in its relationship to feeling and willing.] In looking at the human being, we can say that we have feeling in the middle; on the one hand we have the feeling that passes into thinking, on the other hand we have the feeling that passes into willing. Harmony directly addresses itself to feeling and is experienced in it. The whole emotional nature of man, however, is actually twofold. We have a feeling that is more inclined to thinking — when we feel our thoughts, for instance — and we have a feeling more inclined to willing. When we engage in an action, we feel whether it pleases or displeases us; in the same way, we feel pleasure or displeasure with an idea. Feeling is actually divided into these two realms.

The peculiar thing about the musical element is that neither must it penetrate completely into thinking — because it would cease to be something musical the moment it was taken hold of by the brain's conceptual faculty — nor should it sink down completely into the sphere of willing. We cannot imagine, for example, that the musical element itself could become a direct will impulse without being an abstract sign. When you hear the ringing of the dinner bell, you will go because it announced that it is time to go for dinner, but you will not take the bell's musical element as the impulse for the will. This illustrates that music should not reach into the realm of willing any more than into that of thinking. In both directions it must be contained. The musical experiences must take place within the realm situated between thinking and willing. It must unfold in that part of the human being that does not belong at all to ordinary day-consciousness but that has something to do with that which comes down from spiritual worlds, incarnates, and then passes again through death. It is present in the subconscious, however. For this reason, music has no direct equivalent in outer nature. In adapting himself to the earth, man finds his way into what can be grasped conceptually and what he wills to do. Music, however, does not extend this far into thinking and willing; yet, the element of harmony has a tendency to stream, as it were, toward thinking. It must not penetrate thinking, but it streams toward it. This streaming into the region of our spirit, where we otherwise think [vorstellen], is brought about by the harmony out of the melody.

The element of melody guides the musical element from the realm of feeling up to that of thinking. You do not find what is contained in thinking in the thematic melody, but the theme does contain the element that reaches up into the same realm where mental images are otherwise formed. Melody contains something akin to mental images, but it is not a mental image; it clearly takes its course in the life of feeling. It tends upward, however, so that the feeling is experienced in the human head. The significance of the element of melody in human nature is that it makes the head of the human being accessible to feelings. Otherwise, the head is only open to the concept. Through melody the head becomes open to feeling, to actual feeling. It is as if you brought the heart into the head through melody. In the melody you become free, as you normally are in thinking; feeling becomes serene and purified. All outer aspects are eliminated from it, but at the same time it remains feeling through and through.

Just as harmony can tend upward toward thinking, so it can tend downward toward willing. It must not penetrate the realm of willing, however; it must restrain itself, as it were, and this is accomplished through the rhythm. Melody thus carries harmony upward; rhythm carries harmony in the direction of willing. This is restricted willing, a measured will that runs its course in time; it does not proceed outward but remains bound to man himself. It is genuine feeling that extends into the realm of willing.

Now it becomes understandable that when a child first enters school, it comprehends melodies more readily than harmonies. Of course, one must not take this pedantically; pedantry must never play a role in the artistic. It goes without saying that one can introduce the child to all sorts of things. Just as the child should comprehend only fifths during the first year of school — at most also fourths, but not thirds; it begins to grasp thirds inwardly only from age nine onward — one can also say that the child easily understands the element of melody, but it begins to understand the element of harmony only when it reaches the age of nine or ten. Naturally, the child already understands the tone, but the actual element of harmony can be cultivated in the child only after the above age has been reached. The rhythmic element, on the other hand, assumes the greatest variety of forms. The child will comprehend a certain inner rhythm while it is still very young. Aside from this instinctively experienced rhythm, however, the child should not be troubled until after it is nine years old with the rhythm that is experienced, for example, in the elements of instrumental music. Only then should the child's attention be called to these things. In the sphere of music, too, the age levels can indicate what needs to be done. These age levels are approximately the same as those found elsewhere in Waldorf education.

Taking a closer look at rhythm, we see that since the rhythmic element is related to the nature of will — man must inwardly activate his will when he wishes to experience music — it is the rhythmic element that kindles music in the first place. Regardless of man's relationship to rhythm, all rhythm is based on the mysterious connection between pulse and breath, the ratio of eighteen breaths per minute to an average of seventy-two pulse beats per minute. This ratio of 1:4 naturally can be modified in any number of ways; it can also be individualized. Each person has his own experience regarding rhythm; since these experiences are approximately the same, however, people understand each other in reference to rhythm. All rhythmic experience bases itself on the mysterious relationship between breathing and the heartbeat, the circulation of the blood. One thus can say that while the melody is carried from the heart to the head on the stream of breath — and therefore in an outer slackening and inner creation of quality — the rhythm is carried on the waves of the blood circulation from the heart to the limbs, and in the limbs it is arrested as willing. From this you can see how the musical element really pervades the whole human being.

Picture the whole human being who experiences the musical element as a human spirit: the ability to experience the element of melody gives you the head of this spirit. The ability to experience the element of harmony gives you the chest, the central organ of the spirit; and the ability to experience rhythm gives you the limbs of the spirit. What have I described for you here? I have described the human etheric body. If only you depict the whole musical experience, and if you do this correctly, you actually have before you the human etheric body. It is just that instead of “head” was say, “melody”; instead of “rhythmic man” — because it is lifted upward — we say, “harmony”; and instead of “limb man” — we cannot say here, “metabolic man” — we say, “rhythm.” We have the entire human being etherically before us. The musical experience is nothing else than this. The human being really experiences himself as etheric body in the experience of the fourth, but a kind of summation forms within him. The experience of the fourth contains a touch of melody, a touch of harmony, a touch of rhythm, but all interwoven in such a way that they are no longer distinguishable. The entire human being is experienced spiritually at the threshold in the experience of the fourth: one experiences the etheric human being.

If today's music were not a part of the materialistic age, if all that man experiences today did not contaminate the musical element, then, based on what man possesses today in the musical element — which in itself has attained world-historical heights — he could not but be an anthroposophist. If you wish to experience the musical element consciously, you cannot but experience it anthroposophically.

If you take these things as they are, you can ponder, for example, over the following point: everywhere in ancient traditions concerning spiritual life, mention is made of man's sevenfold nature. The theosophical movement also adopted this view of the sevenfold nature of the human being. When I wrote my Theosophy, [Rudolf Steiner, Theosophy, Anthroposophic Press, Spring Valley, N.Y., 1971.] I had to speak of a ninefold nature, further dividing the three individual members. I arrived at a sevenfold from a ninefold organization.

 Diagram 7
Diagram 7
Click image for large view

Since three and four overlap, as do six and seven, I too, arrived at the sevenfold human being in Theosophy. This book, however, never could have been written in the age dominated by the experience of the fifth. The reason is that in that age all spiritual experience resulted from the awareness that the number of planets was contained in the seven scales, and the number of signs in the Zodiac was contained in the twelve fifths within the seven scales. The great mystery of man was revealed in the circle of fifths, and in that period you could not write about theosophy in any way but by arriving at the sevenfold human being. My Theosophy was written in an age during which predominantly the third is experienced by human beings, in other words, in the age of introversion. One must seek the spiritual in a similar way, descending from the interval of the fifth by division to the interval of the third. I therefore also had to divide the individual members of man. You can say that those other books that speak of the sevenfold human being stem from the tradition of the age of fifths, from the tradition of the circle of fifths. My Theosophy is from the age in which the third plays the dominant musical role and in which, because of this, the complication arises that the more inward element tends toward the minor side, the more outward element toward the major side. This causes the indistinct overlapping between the sentient body and sentient soul. The sentient soul relates to the minor third, the sentient body to the major third. The facts of human evolution are expressed in musical development more clearly than anywhere else. As I already told you yesterday, however, one must forego concepts; abstract conceptualizing will get you nowhere here.

When it comes to acoustics, or tone physiology, there is nothing to be gained. Acoustics has no significance, except for physics. A tone physiology that would have significance for music itself does not exist. If one wishes to comprehend the musical element, one must enter into the spiritual.

You see how the interval of the fourth is situated between the fifth and the third. Man feels transported in the fifth. In the third he feels himself within himself; in the fourth he is on the border between himself and the world. Yesterday I told you that the seventh was the dominant interval for the Atlanteans. They had only intervals of the seventh, though they did not have the same feeling as we have today. When they made music they were transported completely beyond themselves; they were within the great, all-pervading spirituality of the universe in an absolute motion. They were being moved. This motion was still contained in the experience of the fifth as well. Again, the sixth is in between. From this we realize that man experiences these three steps, the seventh, the sixth, and the fifth, in a transported condition; he enters into his own being in the fourth; he dwells within himself in the third. Only in the future will man experience the octave's full musical significance. A bold experience of the second has not yet been attained by him today; these are matters that lie in the future. When man's inner life intensifies, he will experience the second, and finally he will be sensitive to the single tone.

If you focus on what is said here, you will grasp better the forms that appear in our tone eurythmy. You will also grasp something else. You will, for example, grasp the reason that out of instinct the feeling will arise to interpret the lower segments of the octave — the prime, second and third — by backward movements and in the case of the upper tones — the fifth, sixth, and seventh — by forward movements.

 Diagram 8
Diagram 8
Click image for large view

These are more or less the forms that can be used as stereotypical forms, as typical forms. In the case of the forms that have been developed for individual musical compositions, you will be able to sense that these forms express the experience of the fourth or the fifth.

 Diagram 9
Diagram 9
Click image for large view

In eurythmy it is necessary that this part here — the descent of harmony through rhythm into willing — finds emphatic expression in form. The individual intervals thus are contained in the forms as such, executed by the eurthymist. Then, however, that which passes from the intervals into rhythm must be experienced fully by the performer in these forms; and quite by itself the instinct will arise to make as small a movement as possible without standing still in the case of the fourth. You see, the fourth is in fact a real perceiving, but a perceiving from the other side. It would be as if the eye, in perceiving itself, would have to look back upon itself; this, then, is the experience of the fourth gained from the soul.

The interval of the fifth is a real experience of imagination. He who can experience fifths correctly is actually in a position to know on the subjective level what imagination is like. One who experiences sixths knows what inspiration is. Finally, one who fully experiences sevenths — if he survives this experience — knows what intuition is. What I mean is that in the experience of the seventh the form of the soul's composition is the same as clairvoyantly with intuition. The form of the soul's composition during the experience of the sixth is that of inspiration with clairvoyance. The experience of the fifth is a real imaginative experience. The same composition of soul need only be filled with vision. Such a composition of soul is definitely present in the case of music.

This is why you hear everywhere that in the older mystery schools and remaining mystery traditions clairvoyant cognition is also called musical cognition, a spiritual-musical cognition. Though people today no longer know why, the mysteries refer to the existence of two kinds of cognition, ordinary bodily, intellectual cognition and spiritual cognition, which is in fact a musical cognition, a cognition living in the musical element. It would not actually be so difficult to popularize the understanding of the threefold human being if only people today were conscious of their musical experiences. Certainly to some extent people do have sensitivity for the experience of the musical element. They actually stand alongside it. The experience of the musical element is as yet quite limited. If it were really to become alive in man, he would feel: my etheric head is in the element of melody, and the physical has fallen away. Here, I have one aspect of the human organization. The element of harmony contains the center of my etheric system; again, the physical has fallen away. Then we reach the next octave; again in the limb system — it is obvious and goes without saying — I find the element that appears as the rhythmic element of music.

How, indeed, does the musical evolution of man proceed? It begins with the experience of the spiritual, the actual presence of the spiritual in tone, in the musical tone structure. The spiritual fades away; man retains the tone structure. Later, he links it with the word, which is a remnant of the spiritual; and what he had earlier as imaginations, namely the instruments, he fashions here in the physical, out of physical substance, as his musical instruments. To the extent that they arouse the musical instruments, man simply filled the empty spaces that remained after he no longer beheld the spiritual. Into those spaces he put the physical instruments.

It is correct to say that in music more than anywhere else one can see how the transition to the materialistic age proceeds. In the place where musical instruments resound today, spiritual entities stood formerly. They are gone, they have disappeared from the ancient clairvoyance. If man wishes to take objective hold of the musical element, however, he needs something that does not exist in outer nature. Outer nature offers him no equivalent to the musical element; therefore, he requires musical instruments.

The musical instruments basically are a clear reflection of the fact that music is experienced by the whole human being. The wind instruments prove that the head of man experiences music. The string instruments are living proof that music is experience in the chest, primarily expressed in the arms. All percussion instruments — or those in between string and percussion instruments — are evidence of how the musical element is expressed in the third part of man's nature, the limb system. Also, however, everything connected with the wind instruments has a more intimate relation to the melody than that which is connected with string instruments which have a relation to the element of harmony. That which is connected with percussion possesses more inner rhythm and relates to the rhythmic element. An orchestra is an image of man; it must not include a piano, however. Why is that? The musical instruments are derived from the spiritual world; the piano, however, in which the tones are abstractly lined up next to each other, is created only in the physical world by man. All instruments like the flute or violin originate musically from the higher world. A piano is like the Philistine who no longer contains within him the higher human being. The piano is the Philistine instrument. It is fortunate that there is such an instrument, or else the Philistine would have no music at all. The piano arises out of a materialistic experience of music. It is therefore the instrument that can be used most conveniently to evoke the musical element within the material realm. Pure matter was put to use so that the piano could become an expression of the musical element. Naturally, the piano is a beneficial instrument — otherwise, we would have to rely from the beginning on the spiritual in musical instruction in our materialistic age — but it is the one instrument that actually, in a musical sense, must be overcome. Man must get away from the impressions of the piano if he wishes to experience the actual musical element.

It is therefore always a great experience when a composition by an artist who basically lives completely in the element of music, such as Bruckner, is played on the piano. In Bruckner's compositions, the piano seems to disappear in the room! One forgets the piano and thinks that one is hearing other instruments; this is indeed so in Bruckner's case. It proves that something of the essentially spiritual, which lies at the basis of all music, still lived in Bruckner, though in a very instinctive way.

These are the things that I wished to tell you today, though in a fragmentary, informal way. I believe we will soon have an opportunity to continue with these matters. Then, I shall go into more detail concerning this or that aspect.

Last Modified: 29-Aug-2017
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