Steppenwolf part two

[to recap just a little: Harry Haller insists that music is more than just the immediate sensual experience]

“Very good, Herr Pablo.  But there is not only sensual music. There is spiritual also.  Beside the music that is actually played at the moment, there is the immortal music that lives on even when it is not actually being played.  It can happen to a man to lie alone in bed and to call to mind a melody from the Magic Flute or the Matthew Passion, and then there is music without anybody blowing into a flute or passing a bow across a fiddle.”

“Certainly, Herr Haller.  ‘Yearning’ and ‘Valencia’ are recalled every night by many a lonely dreamer.  Even the poorest typist in her office has the latest one step in her head and taps her keys in time to it.  You are right.  I don’t grudge those lonely persons their mute music, whether it’s ‘Yearning’ or the Magic Flute or ‘Valencia’.  But where do they get their lonely and mute music from?  They get it from us, the musicians.  It must first have been played and heard, it must have got into the blood, before any one at home in his room can think of it and dream of it.”

“Granted,” I said coolly, “all the same it won’t do to put Mozart and the latest fox trot on the same level.  And it is not one and the same thing whether yu play people divine and eternal music or cheap stuff of the day that is forgotten tomorrow.” 

When Pablo observed from my tone that I was getting excited, he at once put on his most amiable expression and touching my arm caressingly he gave an unbelievable softness to his voice. 

“Ah, my dear sir, you may be perfectly right with your levels.  I have nothing t say to your putting Mozart and Haydn and ‘Valencia’ on what levels you please.  It is all one to me.  It is not for me to decide about levels.  I shall never be asked about them.  Mozart, perhaps, will still be played in a hundred years and ‘Valencia’ in two will be played no more – we can well leave that, I think, in God’s hands.  God is good and has the span of all our days in his hands and that of every waltz and fox trot too.  His is sure to do what is right.  We musicians, however, we must play our parts according to our duties and our gifts.  We have to play what is actually in demand, and we have to play it as well and as beautifully and expressively as ever we can.”

With a sigh I gave it up.  There was no getting past the fellow. 

While I see both points of view (and agree with both, at least a little), I admit that I lean more towards the perspective of Pablo, and so have remembered this passage over the years, and revisited the novel for that purpose.  Although I have done my time as a professor of music, my greatest impulse it to play music, to create music, without worrying overmuch if that music achieves any sort of immortality.  And over time, I have come to believe that this is very much a zen attitude; to embrace the ‘suchness’ of a thing, without attaching anything more to it.  I don’t know if I would go so far as to call this a manifesto or predominating philosophy, but it has certainly been an influence in how I approach my music and life in general. 

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