Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Solitude and its Graces 11

A Preliminary Musical Note

There is something unique in music.  It gives us solace in times of desperation, lifts our spirits when we are down, brings us relief from our worries - at least momentarily - and all this in a language without word, yet a mysterious language which heals us with its cadences which are somehow bearers of meaning.  Working with austistic children for the past three years, I am even more convinced than ever of the significance of music in the lives of us human animals.  My autistic charges need musical cadences in their ears to block out the noises of a threatening world.

Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827
I have mentioned before in these posts how Dr Anthony Storr begins each of his chapters in his short classic on solitude with a suitable and often profound epigraph, and a pondering of those epigraphs would be a wonderful exercise for any meditator.  He begins this chapter which he calls "The Third Period," with a quotation on the efficacy or meaning of music.  Indeed Storr has written a small, equally wonderful classic, on music which I will review later in these pages.  The epigraph I mention runs thus:

In our novels, it is music among all the arts, that isolates the individual from the society of his contemporaries, makes him aware of his separateness and, finally, provides a personal significance to his life regardless of his social or even personal loyalties.  It is the one measure of survival which never fails...  (Alex Aronson, quoted Solitude, p. 168)
Music is the one "measure of survival which never fails" - no wonder, then, that one of our erstwhile school principals used to lock himself in his office after school hours, play music for healing his soul or relieving his stress before reflecting on the day and preparing his work for the ensuing day.  This chapter is all about what is termed "the third period" in a composer's life where the creative genius enters into a more profound and less emotionally dependent period.  Unfortunately the musical references and the significance thereof were lost on me as I am not a classical music buff, however the significance of his observations about the musical development of these great composers has parallel meaning within the psychological development of all human beings.  Here let me quote somewhat at length from Storr's words, and this point will become clearer:

At the begin ning of life survival depends upon "object-relationships."  The human infant cannot care for itself, and is dependent upon the care of others throughout many long years of childhood.  Towards the end of life, the opposite condition obtains... emotional dependence tends to decline.  The old often show less interest in interpersonal relationships, are more content to be alone, and become more preoccupied with their own, internal concerns... This change in intensity of involvement is partly determined by a decline in the insistence of the sexual impulse which, until middle age or later, compels most men and women to engage in intimacy.  It may also be a merciful provision of Nature, designed to lessen the pain of the inevitable parting from loved ones which death brings in its train.  Man is the only creature who can see his own death coming; and when he does, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.  He prepares for death by freeing himself from mundane goals and attachments, and turns instead to the cultivation of his own interior garden.  (Ibid., 168-169)
In short, what Storr is on about in this chapter is that the third or late period in a composer's life is relevant because it is the time when communication with others tends to be replaced by work depending more upon solitary meditation.

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