Chant, traditional music of the spheres

From the 2001 lecture “the music of the spheres” by Robert R. Reilly

“Music in the Western world was shaped by a shared conception of reality so profound that it endured for some 2,500 years (…) By the early 20th century, this was no longer true (…). As a result, musical art was reduced to the arbitrary manipulation of fragments of sound.”

“According to tradition, the harmonic structure of music was discovered by Pythagoras around the 5th century B.C. (…). Pythagoras had discovered the ratio 2:1, of the octave. (…). When he found that harmonic music is expressed in exact numerical ratios of whole numbers, he concluded that music was the ordering principle of the world.”

“Pythagoras wondered about the relationship of these ratios to the larger world. (The Greek word for ratio is logos, which also mean “word” or “reason”.) He construed that the harmonious sounds that men could make, either with their instruments or their singing, were an approximation of a larger harmony that existed in the universe, also expressed by numbers, that was exemplified in ‘the music of the spheres’.”

“Music was number made audible. Music was man’s participation in the harmony of the universe.”

“In the late 2nd century AD, Clement of Alexandria (…) was able to show that music participated in the divine by praising God and partaking in the harmonious order of which He was the composer. But music’s goal was now higher, because Christ is higher. Cicero had spoken of the divine region to which music is supposed to transport man. That region was literally within the heavens. With Christianity, the divine region becomes both transcendent and personal because Logos is Christ. The new purpose of music is to make the transcendent perceptible in the ‘New Song’ ”

“The early 6th century AD had two especially distinguished Roman proponents of the Classical view of music.” [Note: Cassiodorus and Boethius, both served in high offices to the Ostrogoth King, Theodoric.]

“Cassiodorus taught that ‘music indeed is the knowledge of apt modulation. If we live virtuously, we are constantly proved to be under its discipline, but when we sin, we are without music. The heavens and the earth and indeed all things in them which are directed by a higher power share in the discipline of music, for Pythagoras attests that this universe was founded by and can be governed by music’.”

“Boethius (…) wrote The Principles of Music (…). He said that ‘music is related not only to speculation, but to morality as well, for nothing is more consistent with human nature than to be soothed by sweet modes and disturbed by their opposites. Thus we can begin to understand the apt doctrine of Plato, which holds that the whole of the universe is united by a musical concord. For when we compare that which is coherently and harmoniously joined together within our own being with that which is coherently joined together in sound -that is, that which gives us pleasure- so we come to recognize that we ourselves are united according to the same principles of similarity’. It is not necessary to cite further examples after Boethius because The Principles of Music was so influential that it held sway as the standard music theory text at Oxford until 1856.”

Gregory the Great reigned as Pope in the 6th century. Is then Gregorian Chant not the “traditional  music of the spheres”? It is the music that was given to us by many generations who practiced the “bridge” described above.

The full text from Robert R Reilly can be downloaded here: I – Reilly, Music of the Spheres


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