Friday, October 9, 2009

Einstein & Mozart & Wagner & Me

No, not that Wagner. But yes, that Mozart.

I was reading this article earlier today Music and the Rise and Decline of Western Civilization and got a kick out of this (edited) excerpt:

"Einstein was not as fond of Beethoven as he was of Bach, Mozart and Schubert. According to Walter Isaacson, “What Einstein appreciated in Mozart and Bach was the clear architectural structure that made their music seem ‘deterministic’ and, like his own favorite scientific theories, plucked from the universe rather than composed. ‘Beethoven created his music,’ Einstein once said, but ‘Mozart’s music is so pure it seems to have been ever-present in the universe... I feel uncomfortable listening to Beethoven. I think he is too personal, almost naked. ...[Einstein] was critical about other composers in ways that reflect some of his scientific sentiments: ......Wagner had a ‘lack of architectural structure I see as decadence’; and Strauss was ‘gifted but without inner truth."

I've only posted twice about music: here Liebestod about Wagner; and here Beim Schlafengehen about Strauss. So I perked up at Einstein fussing about both of them in particular. The article's pretty clear about why Einstein favors Mozart over Wagner; and it made me think about why I'm the opposite of Einstein.

I agree with Einstein that Bach, Mozart, et al do a great job of using music to discover and express the beauty and rationality of the universe. I appreciate that sound frequencies which are proportional to one another in a geometric/mathematical sense are also beautiful to the ear when played together, or in sequence. Why should that be true, except that God deliberately created the universe to be rational, systematized, intelligible, and also beautiful? That man can find reason in beauty is ever fascinating. (Google "Pythagoras chord" for more on this.)

But I don't ever get the feeling that Bach & Mozart are going beyond the system (not to imply that they could). Yes, the universe is a window on the Mind of God; to perceive the Divine Clockwork through the creation of beautiful music is a wonder indeed. But we humans are more than just part of the universe, we're part of God as well, who 'naturally' transcends, and is in no way limited by, his creation. In other words, in a small way now, and in a big way later, we'll share with God the transcending of the universe. That's the point of our current existence: to transcend it (with a lot of help).

That's what I sense in Wagner & Strauss. Through their predecessors they know the beauty inherent in the system, the rationale, the rules of the universe, the Music of the Spheres. Then they wonder: what is the nature of beauty that is not bound by these rules, these rhythms, this system? What is the music that transcends all that? What music is God composing that isn't limited by the conditions of human existence? Can we, as bits of the transcendent God, compose some as well? Create beyond Creation? We exceed our own understanding....can you hear that?

The universe and its rules are finite....human imagination & creativity are not.

And I suppose that Einstein, focused on understanding the Universe, wasn't too keen on music that tries to go beyond it.