On the weekend we went to the ballet for a production of several short pieces (for the Festival of Perth) held in the lovely, atmospheric and engaging open air Quarry Amphitheatre.
It was, as expected a wonderful night, though the final piece, an interpretation of part of Mozart’s Requiem was literally rapturous.
A few hours previously there had been a short thunderstorm, clearing the air and night of the heat and tension of the days before, leaving a vast sparking cavern above us. By the time the Requiem began clouds were already gathering for another storm later in the evening, so the building ominous pressure seemed almost divinely inspired to match the ballet below.
Mozart’s Requiem is deservedly recognised as one of the best classical pieces of all time and the choreography and dancing lived up to the greatness. At a crucial point the lead female dancer, emblematic of the divine was lifted over the prone lead male dancer playing the deceased. Suddenly tipped downward she became the Dove of the Holy Spirit descending on the dead while the choir intoned “pie Jesu Domine dona eis requiem – ‘gentle Lord Jesus, grant them eternal rest.”
At that moment my heart stopped, all consciousness ceased and we were transported into the timeless realm that was, is and ever shall be. This of course is the function, the purpose and the divine rationale behind art and music. It invites us and extols us into acts and conditions of love, harmony and beauty. Great art, great music takes us out of temporal existence into the world of truth and returns us changed and inspired. Of course many other people have written on this more eloquently than I, so look them up.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, one of the beautiful things of finally reaching middle age is the social permission to hold opinions and ideas unbecoming of young folk – like the fact that most modern contemporary music has lost its way. That it does not extol us to love, harmony and beauty. Indeed much of it, as M said on the night discussing these things, is almost ‘anti-music’ in that it degrades us and the world not inspires us. There are gross examples of this, such as Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and more subtle versions. Overall modern popular music reinforces our limited, materialistic secular worldview through such forms as co-dependant love songs and the valorisation of sexual pleasure without sacramental action.
I really do not think this just personal preference alone. I like much modern popular music, but even favourites like Suzanne Vega’s ‘Gypsy’ are hardly in the league of Mozart and co. And there are contemporary (like now not back in the 70s or 80s) bands that are brilliant and inspiring, like Fleet Foxes. Just look at this lyric, let alone listen to their music:
Hummingbird, just let me die,
Inside the broken holes of your olive eyes.
Of course I am making judgements here, which I freely own. A friend of mine and I had a discussion once where she asserted that night clubs were ‘very spiritual places’. The crux of her argument was that pretty much everyone in a night club was looking for something and the quest itself was spiritual regardless of the object of desire – drugs, company, alcohol, raw sex or a new partner.
I could see where she was coming from, but from a traditional western esoteric perspective such desires never leave the realm of Yesod on the Tree of Life, the sphere of sex, reaction, and illusion. They have no part of and cannot exist in the realm of Tiphareth, the sphere of love, harmony and beauty.
I think we can quickly use the Qabalah as crude diagnostic tool: music like Mozart moves us towards Tiphareth, which is essentially beyond the personal, beyond individual personal choices and personality preferences. This is why great music, great art is universal across time and space, despite social conditioning and the contemporary music. It is why someone 200 years ago can touch God through Bach counterpoint and so can you and so can I. It does not matter that I was raised on the Beatles and Johnny Cash and came to maturity surrounded by 80s pop – if I stop and listen, as unfamiliar as great classic music is, it still moves me beyond myself.
Music which extols us to our personal, individual higher artistic capacities and sensibilities can be equated with Netzach on the Tree of Life. It makes us sensitive; it refines our individual consciousness, opens our hearts and promotes love within our lives. For me, this is Crosby, Stills and Nash, it is listening to Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne looking over a Swan River sunset.
Music which promotes sexual tension or excitement, anger or violence and that which causes passion to rise and which increases the individual sense of the ‘I’ getting what the ‘I’ wants (sex, clothes, money) can be related to Yesod. This however is not the traditional role of music and art before the modern western era. It is in fact the antithesis of it. And I suspect rather than personal taste, it was this recognition at some level, without language to express it that led to the first forms of popular music being described as Satanic by some people.
Thank you to everyone connected with the Ballet on Saturday night, from Mozart to the parking attendants. 🙂