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and the Art of Music
by Dane Rudhyar

Chapter 9

The European Spirit in Music:
Pluralism, Tonality and Equal Temperament
Part One

A culture is an organized system of activities endowed with a particular kind of collective consciousness. It operates on the basis of a system of communication through language and gestures. Language soon divides into two modes: speech and music. Words have concrete, practical meanings primarily applicable to the physical and social activities of everyday living, but they also carry the power to transmit energy, confidence, and motivation. Words are vocal tones which by their quality, pitch, and intensity can produce magical and contagious psychic and emotional results. When movements from tone to tone are codified and consciously used within a symbolic frame of reference, the language of music develops.
      Music, as a cultural factor, is a means whereby the basic unity of the collective psychism of a people (particularly in primitive societies or in special groups within a more sophisticated culture) is strengthened, sustained, and periodically revitalized. In this function music is usually associated with rites and collectively performed gestures (including shouting and applause). In ancient societies these rites had a sacromagical, and later a religious character. In modern societies rituals have acquired a profane, social, or economic nature. Nevertheless, the daily rhythms of leaving home for the office, of commuting, of "seasons" in opera or sports, and even in a fragmented way, of viewing TV, are as ritualistic as the rites of ancient societies. The first Woodstock festival of 1969, which unified thousands of people in a psychic group feeling, is an instance of the power of music to mold and sustain a special state of consciousness.
      Tonality, in the strict sense of the term, is the product of European society. The birth, development, and partial breakdown of tonality are closely related to synchronous changes in the collective psychism of the European culture (and its extensions on other continents). At times external influences have affected the character of this tonality system, but the concept of tonality has remained basic to musical education, and the feeling of tonality has still-powerful roots in the collective psychism of people whose religious symbols, sociopolitical myths, and everyday way of life are directly derived from the beliefs and institutions of the European culture, regardless of national and class subdivisions. Tonality is the European spirit expressing itself in music — even in Negro spirituals and jazz, for slavery and the life of modern cities are by — products of the restless European drive for expansion, conquest, and Christian salvation.
      This European spirit and its North American variation yearn for universalization because they refuse to be bound to any particular conditioning, locality, or race. They seek to transcend all limitations, including those of biology and culture. Yet the root power of both biology and culture have remained very strong in the mass consciousness of Western people, and the result has been a state of perpetual tension and conflict. The conflict is between civilization (the drive toward universalization and quasi-absolute transcendence) and culture.(1) Civilization calls for a pluralistic philosophy and way of life, while culture is essentially monistic.
      In its ancient and primordial aspect, a culture constitutes a unified and organic whole, sustained by a homogeneous psychism. In all basic decisions and essential modes of living a true cultural community acts as one. It sings with one voice. Its music is monophonic, and its singers instinctively feel the relationships between the tones of a single line. These relationships have a sacromagical character rooted not in the duality-based intellect but in the unity-reflecting life force operating in all living organisms.
      Civilization, on the other hand, is based on multiplicity and plurality. It is a drive toward a state of unity in the future. The music of civilization is heterophonic; when produced by many voices it becomes polyphonic. The people no longer sing with one voice. Each of their many voices theoretically has the "right" to be itself, to emerge as the dominant one. This implies tension generated by an unceasing centrifugal trend. Some factor has to be present as a centripetal, unifying force — tonality.
      Tonality can be considered the autocratic rule of the king (the tonic) and his prime minister (the dominant, a fifth interval above the tonic). But it is also the power of a bureaucracy that measures and enforces the exact distances between all the factors in the whole. Tonality is a system by which the innate pluralism of a society is kept within a definite operative structure. Its manifestation is not so much in melodic sequence as in chordal harmony. Definite sequences of chords under and (through their overtones) around the melodic sequence of tones ensure the feeling of unity. Each melodic tone carries an identifying badge announcing clearly where it belongs, not so much in relation to the tonic as in terms of its place and function in the tonal bureaucracy.
      This is the ransom of the ideal of universalism. In a small homogeneous tribe or community everyone is ancestrally related to everyone else and is fully aware of it. Where civilization has overpowered culture, unity is latent but of limited scope and exclusivity. Multiplicity and differences are the evident realities; the principle that makes possible the harmonization of these differences has to work throughout the society, up and down the scale. It has to be able to be "transposed" to any place, to meet any situation. It is universal, but it has to be imposed upon the many units. It needs the complex power of chords to achieve that purpose.
      In other words, in our pluralistic European music the instinctual psychic power of integration that once was inherent in sequences of tones had to be replaced by the harmonizing impact of chords clearly stating the tonality to which melodic notes belong. Cadences of chords also make the hearer expect how the melody will develop, while still allowing some possibility of surprise, delay, or anticipation. The response of Western hearers of European music is esthetical. The nature of esthetical response and of the "pleasure" we derive from art in general and music in particular is difficult to understand. There are several ways of approaching this problem. A discussion of one of them follows, and another will be discussed in the next chapter.
      Archaic peoples did not respond to music esthetically. The feeling of what we call a melody probably did not exist in ancient, pre-classical Greece or in the Egypt and Chaldea of 3000 B.C. The musical element in the sacromagical vocal tones primarily served to increase the psychic intensity of the words being used, either in mantrams and theurgic invocations or in the recitation of sacred texts and poems narrating the deeds of gods or heroes. Specific inflections and modes of intonation are not melodies, in the traditional European sense, nor are the chants of American Indian corn dances, healing rituals, or other sacred ceremonies.
      When these chants are written down in Western musical notation, the power of the psychism that was their source is totally lost. They become like x-ray photographs, devoid of living flesh. Even when recorded directly on tape, the chants are no longer psychoactive because nothing that belongs strictly to the life of a culture-whole can retain its psychic power when it is taken away from the place and circumstances in which it fulfilled an organic function. This also applies to the lullabies, work songs, and love songs which are intrinsic parts of the life ritual of a culture. While there are obvious similarities among the "x-ray pictures" of diatonically notated tribal chants and sacred rituals from all over the world, the similarities exist because all peoples belong to the same biological species that has developed in the biosphere of the same planet.
      Archaic music operates at a level of psychism under the control of biological forces and instincts. But biological drives are not esthetical. If the sexual dances and plumage of birds and animals have an esthetic meaning for us, it is because the focus of our consciousness has shifted to a more abstract level of psychism at which esthetical values operate as idealized color relationships, proportions, and forms. Our minds reduce living processes to numbers, and whether we are aware of it or not, this reduction plays a significant role in determining our esthetical feeling-responses.
      The ancient Greeks worshipped the Beautiful in ideal proportional forms and, in music, in numerical relationship between tones. They spoke of the Good in terms of moderation and friendship — terms which implied no condemnation of slavery — and they glorified as the True a new way of looking at existence in terms of precise, concrete facts instead of symbols and myths. (But symbols have many meanings, while facts can mainly be catalogued, classified, and memorized, then generalized into theories and systems.) For us, a melody is "beautiful" if the well-proportioned steps according to which it proceeds satisfy our esthetic sense and give us pleasure, and if they convey to us a feeling of coherence and order in terms of what our culture considers "good" or harmonious (thus in terms of the rules of tonality, modulation, and intonation). The tones of the melody are "true" if they are in exact relationship to the preceding and following ones, according to a standard of pitch (diapason) and the canon of proportion predetermined by the major or minor scales of European culture. So we do not lose this feeling of coherence and unity, chords envelop all the relatively separate sounds of complex symphonies within a psychic atmosphere of tonality. Changes in tonality (modulation) are made safe and predictable by means of numerous repetitions, recognizable variations of restated themes, and standardized types of developments with the structure of familiar musical forms (fugues, rondos, sonata forms, and so on). These works end with a repeated "perfect chord" assuring us we can go in peace, certain that there is order and purpose in the world.
      The need for order is basic in human consciousness. But the kind of order human consciousness demands and expects varies at each level of its evolution. We make a crucial error of interpretation if we believe that the sense of order of the ancients (or even most non-Europeans) was identical to the sense of order that has prevailed in the West since the Renaissance. For several centuries Westerners have needed a type of musical order making very clear, if not obvious, that the many notes of our Classical or Romantic musical works constitute an integrated whole with a consistent tonal structure.
      The first thing cellist Pablo Casals did every morning was to play a particular work of Bach, according to Norman Cousins in The Anatomy of an Illness.(2) A Hindu brahmin would have meditated and intoned the sacred chant gayatri, but the psychic meanings of the gayatri and of a Bach composition are essentially different. Cousins also reports that after an exhausting day in his jungle hospital, Albert Schweitzer also found that playing Bach renewed his strength and peace, even though the piano in his room was dreadful. After World War II, the Parisian youth who had suffered so much from the German occupation nevertheless flocked to dark discotheques to hear records of a German composer — Bach.
      Why Bach? Because perhaps more than any other European composer he has become the symbol of a highly intellectualized sense of formalized order. In Bach the music of the classical era (now rather meaninglessly called Baroque) probably reached its most characteristic state. In this state it assuredly remains filled with an extraordinary psychic power, yet this power operates at a level of psychism where the intellect and its impersonal, rationalistic processes rule supreme. Individuals who have suffered from chaotic situations and emotional passions long to experience in music like Bach's what the psychologist C. G. Jung called a "symbol of salvation." The message of such a symbol is that at the root of existence there is order, reason, and perfect form — the actual tones do not matter; the only thing worth experiencing is the supreme relatedness of all there is.
      Where the pluralism of conflicting personalities dominates a society in which the power of cultural cohesion and of a religious belief in one God has nevertheless remained a strongly collectivizing factor, a music that is a potent symbol of this collective psychism must have the kind of unifying principle European tonality provides. It must be a complex unification allowing for a multiplicity of relationships. The European diatonic scale, typified by the C-major scale, is a pattern of intervals representing a ground plan, as it were, for the integration of energies. (It has been so described by some European mystic philosophers who relate it to the bioenergetic structure of the human body.) It is also a symbol of the capacity latent in human beings for the resolution of tension generated by relationship between individualized elements, so that in spite of explicit or implicit conflicts unity may prevail in the end.
      In its entry under the word atonality the Harvard Dictionary of Music defines tonality as follows:(3)
Tonality is a particular expression of the general principle of relaxation of tension, tension being a particular state that implies its "resolution," i.e., a return to relaxation, a stable state. Harmonically, the fundamental expression of tonality is the dominant-tonic relationship. When the harmonic relationships of a composition can be considered to derive from the fundamental relationship — remotely or closely, for a long or short time — the music is said to be tonal.
      The key concept here is the character attributed to the inverval of fifth, the relation 3:2, which we have already discussed. The structure of the entire tonality scale rests upon five intervals or types of relationships: the octave, which defines the wholeness of the whole; the fifth, which is the organic factor of centrifugal expansion inherent in all living wholes; the fourth, which seeks to reintegrate the centrifugal elements within the organic whole; the whole tone, which is the building block of the organism; and the semitone, which refers to the circulation of sonic energy, the fluidity of life as well as of psychic feelings (the aspirations, longing, suffering, and traumas of the individualized consciousness).
      These five types of relationships can be defined and used in basically different ways: monodic, heterophonic, melodic, polyphonic (in the strict sense of the term), and harmono-melodic (the latter referring to the classical European type of tonality.) Each type represents a specific approach to the problem of psychomusical integration, and a few words may help to evoke, rather than define, the main characters of these types. A new type of musical organization may yet emerge through and beyond the confusion of systems that have proliferated since 1900. Chapters 10, 11, and 12 will discuss its potentialities and the nature of the human need it seeks to satisfy.
      The basic principle of monodic integration is the instinctive and, later on, the magical use of the vocal organs for the purpose of an intense, psychoactive communication. Monodies begin with what we now generally understand as mantrams. They develop in connection with the power-releasing and inspiring recitation of sacred texts, epic poems, and narratives. The vocal tones are raised or lowered in pitch according to more or less definite psychic, emotional, and dramatic patterns. During such a period of musical development there is probably no absolute pitch, at least not in precisely measurable terms, but there must exist a collective kind of frequency-base susceptible of modifications, perhaps according to the season, time of day, and specific ritualistic purposes.
      The vocal chants are intoned in unison (and octave-sound if men and women participate together), and instruments are often added, especially percussion ones to mark basic rhythmic vocal patterns and to evoke natural and elemental tones. The instrumental sounds strictly follow the vocal monody. When they begin to acquire some independence, we are then dealing with heterophonic music in which embryonic melodies are evolving.
      Monodies are not melodies strictly speaking. Brahmins chanting the Vedas, a priest intoning the Catholic Mass, or monks singing ritualistically prescribed hymns or prayers are not using melodies comparable to those of a seventeenth century aria, a "pure" melody of Mozart, or an emotionally arousing tune of Tchaikovsky which perhaps will become a popular song.
      In the music of India we also have to differentiate between, on the one hand, ancient chants with a sacromagical character and intervals which presumably became standardized, such as those of the ancient grama, and, on the other hand, the multitude of ragas which appeared in India only after the beginning of the Christian era, when Buddhism disappeared and there arose an intensely devotional bhakti movement usually centered around the love of Radha and Krishna.
      The change from monodies fundamentally related to the human voice and having a sacromagical function to melodies of a profane and folk-like character may have taken various forms in different cultures. Heterophony is a term used by Plato in Laws
to describe an improvisational type of polyphony, namely, the simultaneous use of slightly or elaborately modified versions of the same melody by two (or more) performers, e.g., a singer and an instrumentalist adding a few extra notes or ornaments to the singer's melody. In addition to other polyphonic forms, heterophonic treatment plays an important role in many genres of primitive, folk and non-Western art music (Chinese, Japanese, Javanese, etc.).(4)

1. For a more complete discussion of the interaction of civilization and culture, see my book Culture, Crisis and Creativity (Wheaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 1977) and chapter 12 of this book.  Return

2. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.  Return

3. By Willi Apel (Cainbridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1944 and 1969) Second Edition, P. 62.  Return

4. Op cit., p. 383.  Return

By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
All Rights Reserved.

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