Universal Brotherhood – November 1898

MUSIC — Edward C. Farnsworth

Judged from the standpoint of the occultist, music in its essential nature is a subject whose full elucidation would demand an investigation into, and explanation of, some of the greatest secrets of microcosmic and macrocosmic life.

It is therefore with some feeling of incompetence that I shall endeavor to present what, at best, is a poor and incomplete statement of facts lying at the surface; leaving unexplored many veins of thought whose following out would certainly lead to rich and varied results.

In early days, much greater significance was attached to music than obtains in our own time, notwithstanding the enormous development this art has reached both in structural form and polyphonic complexity since the era beginning with Sebastian Bach.

To the wise among the ancients, music was not to be separated from Mathematics and Philosophy; they formed an inseparable Trinity, whose final expression was Unity. And because of this inter-blending, each contained within itself the full explanation of what the others demonstrated. The modern science of Acoustics shows that every tone represents a mathematically fixed number of vibrations. When sounded as single notes, as chords, or combined with all the contrapuntal skill of Bach, or the knowledge of subtile tone relations displayed by Wagner, the seven, or possible twelve, notes of the musical scale represent a conglomeration of figures that should delight any mathematician. The relation of music to mathematics is thus hinted at.

Science has shown everything in the material universe to be in a vibratory state; color for instance represents a higher vibration than audible sound. It has also been shown that color is sound though inaudible to us; and we may add without stretching the conclusions of modern physics that all vibration is sound. Ancient wisdom declares the manifested, — not merely objective, — universe to be made up of vibrations and their mutual contacts; thus declaring the universality of sound.

Philosophy was to the ancients no single department of knowledge, leaving religion to be the plaything of dogmatists, for it synthesized in one grand harmonious whole the Trinity of Science, Religion, and Philosophy. The relation of music and mathematics to philosophy becomes apparent if we consider that each deals with vibrations, and that the manifested universe is vibrating life and being. The great universal truths of philosophy were perpetuated by the Mathematicians in various symbols, and it has been said the Arabic numerals symbolize, especially in their original form, long forgotten truths made public only within the last quarter of this century.

Having by way of introduction briefly indicated the mutual relations of music, mathematics and philosophy; I shall proceed directly to more particular conclusions as to the important part music plays in our human development. That music does play this important part was fully realized by the old philosophers, consequently a theoretical knowledge at least, of the art was an indispensable preliminary to admission into the highest of their schools.

It was known to those qualified to impart wisdom, that an appreciation of harmonious sounds and a technical knowledge of their mutual relations, was no mean aid in bringing the student into sympathetic vibration with the great harmonious laws of being; quickening his perception of those spiritual laws and conditions of which the material plane, the objective Universe, the field of modern scientific research, is but a distorted and deluding reflection, and subject as such to radical change should man's power of cognition suddenly be enlarged or diminished.

It was the conception of Pythagoras that the planets speeding on their circular paths represented, each in its totality of vibratory force, and gave utterance to, some particularly sound. These tones in their varied combinations produced, for beings capable of perceiving them, the "music of the spheres." This is derided today by some, and yet, that branch of science dealing with sound is working unconsciously toward the same conclusion.

The ancient Chinese, Hindus, and some others, understood the seven and twelve divisions of our diatonic musical scale. It was also known to ancient wisdom that each note of the seven is capable of seven sub-divisions, making the total number forty-nine. Moreover, the occult relations of the minor and major scales each to the other were known, and that the seven and forty-nine divisions corresponded to other septenaries — some secret — in nature and man. But the twelve notes of the chromatic scale are sufficient for practical musical effect.

Could we, while acknowledging the universality of sound, extend the domain of our observation beyond the limits of the physical organs of hearing, we should undoubtedly know the varied harmonious forms of nature to be the outward expression of an euphony having its origin in the beneficent laws guiding the atoms in their evolutionary progress. The humble flower, with its perfection of color and symmetry of design, is a revelation of harmony, an unheard musical idyl or lyric; or perchance it is some delicate instrument unnoticed in the rush and sweep of nature's mighty symphonic crescendo; but in those quieter, serener moments when the roar of brass and the roll of kettle-drums has ceased, its peculiar penetrating power finds a way to the heart, there revealing its own individual message. The potent if inaudible voices made manifest to the eye in the beauties of cloud and sky; in the manifold marvels of budding springtime life; Summer's mature growth; Autumn's ripening realization of earlier promise; and even Winter's season of recuperative rest — all sing their song to the inner ear.

The winds, whispering their secrets through the dancing leaves; the artless calls of forest birds; waves wheeling landward, breaking on the sandy shore, or encountering in full course some defiant rock or promontory — all are vocal in that universal chorus. These heard and unheard voices repeat with ever varying rhythm, polyphonic device or subtilely graduated effect, one theme, — "The essential underlying unity of all things." But, "while this muddy vesture of decay doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it."

It becomes the specific province of music to interpret these voices of the world around us, but its power would be unfelt in human life, did not man, as the microcosm, synthesize within himself at least potentially the Macrocosmic whole. If the great mathematicians of the past perpetuated universal truths through glyph and symbol, appealing therein to all future time, it becomes the province of Modern Music to bring home to the very heart, in a manner particularly adapted to our own day and condition, the old, always new axiom reiterated by Sage, Philosopher and Poet in every age — the mutual interdependence of each and all, and the consequent necessity of brotherly feeling and practice. Music, of all the arts, most completely brings about that mental state, that touch of nature which, as the poet philosopher says, "Makes the whole world akin."

Modern Music! What visions of beauty, what enchantments spring to life before the potency of those magic words? Hark! A practiced hand indeed touches the keys; the mighty organ responds in tones of ever growing complexity. Surely it is he, the great master of fugue, the humble, unostentatious Leipsic Choir-master. Now Heaven and Earth are singing in prophetic tones Hallelujahs for a regenerate world. 'Tis "The Messiah," the great Oratorio, we hear, and its culminating chorus. A feeling as of perpetual youth, of gladness and spontaneity lays hold of us. Why should we not rejoice with Father Haydn at "the marvellous work" while "the heavens are telling the glory of God"? Now there is a peace and calm in the air, the landscape takes on richer color, glowing in a purer light than Earth's sun has ever shed; for the spell of Mozart's versatile genius is over all; but as we listen to his limpid notes of diamond purity, scintillating from Opera, Mass, and even the humble peasant dance, we feel a strange mesmeric power drawing us to diviner beauties; visions of Edens yet to be, wherein no sophistry, no serpent guile can harm, for the necessary fruit of the tree of knowledge has strengthened us: bitter experiences have we known, but we have learned the true lesson of life, — compassion for all.

"The scene by the brook," a simple pastoral scene! — hear Beethoven, sublime Master, in this new Eden he has pictured for us; Man, the lord, realizes his true position as guide and helper to those lower forms of life he was wont to believe existed simply for his own convenience. Alas, these glimpses of Edenic bliss are only glimpses, and a deep mysterious yearning has seized us, a longing with Schumann's Mignon to return and make once more our own that land where the citrons grow — the Fatherland, as it was to Schubert's wanderer, heartbroken, for his mortal eye shall ne'er again behold his childhood home; to us, the imperishable sacred land where the first race in the purity of ignorance started on its evolutionary way around the world.

Hush! let us listen still more intently, for we may even then lose the elusive quality of this most unique yet searching voice, in its sinuous chromatic windings. Chopin, if thine was no Organ tone, it was nevertheless a revelation of subtle evanescent beauty — the bloom upon the morn-awakened flower.

But while we stood so rapt, oblivious; dark clouds have gathered overhead. That harsh reverberating thunder must be the din of battle. Woden and all the warriors of Valhalla have met their ancient adversaries upon the long fore-told and fatal field. But no, the world still moves, for we hear at intervals the gentle cadence of some shepherd's pipe, mingling its artless joy with the weird grief-laden chant of the penitent pilgrims seeking the sacred shrine at Rome.

Having thus very briefly characterized the different epoch makers in musical history, from Bach to Wagner, I would say in concluding that the creative Musician should, like the Poet, keep himself in constant sympathetic touch with nature. Thus will he, understanding in his inner being her hidden ways, be better fitted for his office as interpreter. How can he more surely bring about and preserve that harmonious condition so necessary to his mission, than in the practice of unselfishness? No selfishness or partiality is displayed in the working of nature's laws. The fructifying shower softens the sun-dried soil and completes the conditions necessary to the germinating seed; but it recks not who shall be the harvester. Deep in the human heart a seed lies buried, though too often the soil, dried and hardened by the fires of passion and selfishness, refuses to yield, and the imprisoned seed helplessly awaits the beneficent rain of sympathy and compassion.

Modern Music with its infinity of rich and varied effects is more potent, it seems to me, than the idealized forms of sculpture and the painter's art, and even the inspired language of Poetry, for these all convey to the mind conceptions of conditions more or less fixed, while music whispers of the spiritual, of what is beyond our finite, form-limited conception. Thus it reaches the inmost heart, quickens into life the germinating seed, and softens the reluctant soil with its harmonious rain. Who can tell what that mature growth will be when, at the close of the great day — the seventh round and seventh race completed — the perfected humanity of this globe, shall stand by the shore of the calm unfathomed waters, the boundless ocean of the unknown.

Universal Brotherhood