Thoughts on Music,
the Greatest of the Arts

As many have professed, so do I: Music is the greatest of the arts. I believe in the concept of the music of the spheres. Music is the closest artistic medium we have to knowing divinity, to grasping the sacred and the transcendent. Music makes these realities immanent. Music underscores our fallen nature, our humanness, and so gave birth to tragedy, as Nietzsche himself notes in the original subtitle to The Birth of Tragedy.

Music is the most artistic expression of God in the mundane sphere. Music rises above and leaves behind the material world and its finitude. Music is as ethereal and weightless as the sensations it evokes are transitory and yet all-consuming. Music makes bodily the divine by way of the ear and the flesh reacting to its seemingly infinite sounds and tones, harmonies and rhythms. I believe God, or however you wish to refer to it, can only be experienced. I do not think language or a strong understanding of any philosophical argument or belief can truly capture the essence, the mind-numbing infinitude and awful wonder, of this being.

For me the experience of God, of being able to touch and know its true character, is found in three ways: love, art, and nature. Love executes the ego, the illusion of a self independent of other individuals and of creation itself. Nature is greater than the self and the body, making these diminutive in the mind of the perceiver, hence our ideas concerning the sublime and the beautiful; here the ego is dwarfed but not necessarily defeated. And finally, art, which I see as putting us most directly in communion with the true Self, the divine unbound by the illusions of time and space, through which we are forced to comprehend and mediate the world. Music is the greatest of the arts because it is the most abstract; it expresses God most perfectly because it is the least chained to the material world. God manifests itself in and through the material world and human beings, but is not dependent on these for life; it is one with yet independent of its creation. This dichotomy is central to knowing God intellectually speaking, as a being that contains all possibilities, all forms and paradoxes within it, even that of not being a thing, a tangible something, and yet being so in the human mind.

Music gave birth to tragedy, as I understand it, because it is the one art that most incisively highlights and brands us with the heavy burden of the truth of our human nature; and tragedy carries this truth over into the dramatic space, where actors play characters (who become) conscious of their flaws, of their humanity, of their inherent inability to break the restraints of the flesh and the ego, leading to suffering and pain and a recognition of the peace and freedom offered by death. As the art that most closely brings us to the threshold of the true Self, letting us linger there for only the briefest of moments, music also stresses and marks how far from the wholeness and fullness of divinity we are while imprisoned in the flesh; how far we are from our spiritual self and center, our true home. This can only be deeply grasped through the body’s reactions to music, as music makes God known and present to us, though fleetingly and in a limited manner, in the experience of the sensations and pulses that are our corporeal responses to it.

Music shows us the abyss between God and ourselves: the transcendent that is also immanent, among and within us but still separate from us while we wear a mortal frame. For some this is a great sorrow and something to be feared, but for me it is a breathtaking ecstasy; it makes erotic and beautiful for me just how human we are, how truly fragile and momentary all life is, and points to the inevitable failure of attempting to lose ourselves in the vast inscrutable nature of the divine spirit while we are bound by time and space and the material forces our flesh and mind are heir to. This is my Romanticism at its core. And yet music is the beacon in the darkness, the bridge between rotting flesh and limitless spirit, there to provide a path to a world beyond the human and the everyday, allowing us to glimpse and experience God as it really is, if only for the briefest of moments, and showing us Thou art that—the Self transcendent.

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