To answer questions that may arise
in the minds of readers acquainted with some of my musical compositions, I feel the necessity of discussing the character of these compositions and of pointing out how their distinguishing features constitute attempts to give a concrete musical form to the ideas, and beyond the ideas the intuitions, expressed in this book. These attempts have been greatly limited by the physical, social, and economic conditions of my personal life, by the situation in the musical world after the first World War, and by what I found after November 1916 when I left my natal Paris at the age of twenty-one and came to reside permanently in the United States. Edgard Varèse came to America only about a year before; but he was older than I, and after years of traditional studies, his musical career was already developing along orchestral lines. He always remained in heart and mind a European, though he married a French-speaking American woman, whose support enabled him to pursue the existence of a composer whose relatively few but innovative works were rarely performed. I, on the other hand, had emotionally and mentally divorced myself as completely as possible from my native French culture and Parisian background; and I further uprooted myself by moving to the Los Angeles area in 1920, where I devoted the greater part of my time to the study of Oriental and occult philosophy and Hindu music. In 1926 I nearly obtained a Guggenheim Fellowship to go to India for musical studies, but the board of directors decided at their final meeting that the project was too exotic.
Until the winter 1924 my music was still tonality conscious to some extent, but several orchestral compositions written in Paris in 1914 were definitely polytonal and were the first polytonal and Stravinsky-influenced music heard in America. In 1920 and 1922, I composed scenic music for the Hollywood Pilgrimage Play, won the $1,000 prize for an orchestral work offered by W. A. Clark, Jr., the founder of the then new Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, and composed several other works. The best of these, The Surge of Fire
, was performed in Los Angeles in October 1925 at the first concert of the California New Music Society started by my friend Henry Cowell and of which I was a founding member — as I also was of the International Composers Guild started by Varèse and Carlos Salzedo in 1921.
In The Surge of Fire
(sketched out in the fall 1920 and orchestrated in 1924) I already had begun to try to create a more resonant sound by using three pianos, mostly in the bass register, together with a small orchestra. In 1924, after a two-year period of necessary nonmusical activities, I began composing in a new, essentially nontonal spirit. I wrote mostly for the piano, because I felt that the piano alone could at least prefigure the kind of music I envisioned. Neither the financial means, the social-musical connections, nor the instruments needed to actualize what I had in mind were available. Nevertheless the following years were musically fruitful. I composed my best known piano works — the four Pentagrams
, the first eight Tetragrams
, Three Paeans
, and (in 1929) Granites
. I also lectured extensively in private homes, hotels, and clubs, speaking about dissonant harmony and Oriental music and performing my own piano works and those of a few other composers, especially Scriabin. I also improvised a great deal, not only at the piano but by chanting. In the chants I used vowel-sounds and syllables or phrases inspired by Asian languages, mainly Sanskrit.
The antagonism to my ideas and my works by the Neoclassical musicians who had come to dominate the musical scene, then the Great Depression and the social and economic changes brought about by the New Deal, stopped these activities. At the same time I was offered a totally unexpected and unsought opportunity to play a transformative and constructive role in the field of astrology, which Paul Clancy's American Astrology magazine popularized. Thus I was compelled to give up musical activity almost entirely. Health problems made me move regularly between southern California and New Mexico since 1933, and I had no piano to work with, except during the summers of 1934 and 1935 when I composed several pieces. A short period of renewed musical activity occurred during the summer of 1950 at the McDowell Colony, followed by a stay in New York where several of my works were performed. Another occurred in San Jacinto, California in 1966 and 1967, when I revised and recopied old scores and composed the ninth Tetragram
, "Summer Nights." But only after moving to Palo Alto, California in January, 1976 and marrying Leyla Rael did a new, sustained period of composition begin. Composed in rapid succession were several fairly long piano works - Transmutation
, Three Cantos
, Epic Poem
and Rite of Transcendence
— orchestral works transforming and integrating older materials, two string quartets, and a quintet, Nostalgia. I was then past eighty and busily engaged in lecture trips and writing new books. The books presented my mature approaches to philosophy (The Rhythm of Wholeness
, 1979-80), socio-psychological issues (Beyond Individualism: The Psychology of Transformation
, 1976-77), culture and the arts (Culture, Crisis and Creativity
, 1975-76), and concluded my development of the humanistic and transpersonal approaches to astrology I had pioneered since 1932 (The Astrology of Transformation
Because of time spent writing some forty books and over a thousand articles, giving hundreds of lectures, and working with individuals along astropsychological lines, I have not been able to give sufficient time to composing music and having it performed — a tedious, time-consuming and often seemingly hopeless endeavor! But impediments just as basic have been the state of the musical world and the lack of instruments that could give truly adequate concrete expression to the musical concepts I outlined in chapter 11. The large modern orchestra could become such an instrument, if it were augmented by resonant instruments capable of producing holistic resonances and by the meaningful use of instruments like the theremin or ondes martinot with a large range of expressive sounds. But the amount of work involved in scoring for such an orchestra, the near impossibility of having one's works satisfactorily performed in the circumstances of the independent kind of life I have lived, and the lack of response expectable from modern critics even more than from an unprepared public have been nearly insurmountable obstacles. These obstacles have faced and are facing all composers who seek to dis-Europeanize music, and develop a new psychological approach to music , and thereby elicit experiences of sound which would be far more magical and consciousness transforming than esthetical (in either the Classical or Romantic sense of the term).
In the last chapters of this book I discussed the products of today's musical avant-garde; much more could have been said had there been sufficient space to deal with this complex field and the meaning of the emergence of a musical personality like the German composer Peter Michael Hamel, whose book Through Music to the Self
presents a more complete and differently interpreted picture of this new, still quite chaotic, and often irresponsible musical activity.(1
) This is the music of a young generation that passed collectively through a good deal of what I experienced, in a more restricted way and in different world circumstances, as a solitary individual during and just after the first World War (between 1915 and 1922).
In the music I composed from 1924 to 1930 I could not have made use of tape recorders or electronic instruments, because they were not yet available. I composed mainly for the piano because — with all its limitations, of which I was certainly well aware (as articles I wrote in musical magazines since 1920) — clearly shows the piano's range of seven octaves could be used as a microcosm of the universe of sound. It is a microcosm which one person can directly control and, at least to some extent, mold with his or her will and imagination — with his or her feeling-intuition of Tone.
In the early days of post-Medieval music, compositions were short, released simple states of feelings, or referred to movements rooted in dance rhythms. Longer works were series of episodes linked by a mythic or religious story-for example, the various Passions based on the Christ drama as related in the Gospels. Only when Beethoven began to pour into the classical esthetical frame of Haydn's sonatas and symphonies the passions and torments of an individualized soul no longer subservient to the collective psychism and the expectations of his traditional culture, did the length of musical works increase. In a way, Wagner followed the example of composers of Passions narrating a set of events, the Christian mystery-ritual. At first he substituted for the last episodes of the symbolic life of Christ the Germanic mythological interpretation of the last phases of the cycle of a culturewhole — the end result of a primordial sin of greed for gold and power. Then, having allowed his Nordic soul to pay a fourfold homage to its pre-Christian roots, he glorified the rebirth of the Christ spirit in and through a guiltless and pure individual, Parsifal, victorious over the catabolic power of lust and the will for destruction.
This Romantic trend toward lengthy and deliberately constructed musical forms reached its apex in Mahler. The more troubled and tormented the composer's psyche, the longer the symphony, for this torment had to be fully exercised through exteriorization in a dramatic interaction between conflicting elements and ideals within the soul. Compared to the lengthy narration of Gospel episodes or psychological complexes or to a lengthy Milton-inspired epic in Classical or Romantic English poetry, the music I composed is like a brief Japanese haiku. While the English poem describes at great length scenes, actions, and emotions, either archetypally human or reduced to the humanly personal level, the haiku evokes an intangible, psychic reality out of simple facts made translucent to the light of meaning.
Thus my Pentagrams
are sequencess of respectively five and four haiku-like musical statements, each of which has a quasi-organic quality of its own, a translucent "seed" of meaning. The plant is evoked by the seed, when the seed is seen by the "eye of understanding" — the symbolic organ of perception for the mind of wholeness.
Lengthy symphonic works or great ritualistic Wagnerian musicdramas give music an architectonic character. They use the interweavings of themes or leitmotivs — which acquire specific names — to represent psychological complexes interacting within an individual's inner life or as symbols of images and myths interacting within the collective psyche of a culture-conditioned people or folk. Romantic symphonies — or the great B-minor Sonata by Franz Liszt — are musically interpreted psychological "case histories," the formulation of the case having to follow more or less specific professional rules or academic formulas.
The extremely short haiku poems must contain an exact number of syllables and they have a strongly cultural character. I, on the other hand, have felt the necessity to trust implicitly in the spontaneity of creative impulses free from preconceptions. I have trusted in the consistency of what the creative impulse sought to reveal and directly communicate to the free and open consciousness of a hearer willing to forget everything while concentrating on the tone-experience sounds can induce if a state of sympathetic resonance is established.
What is communicated is a state, or a progression of states, of consciousness. It has nothing to do with structural repetitions; whatever development there is is internal and organic rather than formally defined. There is little need for transposition and modulation because there is no tonality per se. Because the musical statement is never very long it does not require external structures to support or maintain its integrity or to keep it from collapsing under its own weight. The process has a quasi-organic and self-limiting consistency because it emerges from a "seed tone" that may be either explicit or implicit. This seed-tone is often, but not necessarily, a chord unfolding its internal potential of resonance into melodic-harmonic roots, stems, and branches.
Many years ago I showed that the principle of dissonant harmony could best be related to the cycles of twelve fifths or fourths which produce the notes of the chromatic scale. There is no reason for calling such a twelvefold series of notes "chromatic," a term referring to the visual element, color. Perhaps ancient Greek musicians intuitively perceived such a series as a condensation of a realm of sounds and relationships which they felt to be superordinate and particularly vibrant; the only way they could formulate this (to them) supermusical realm was as a reflection of the world of color and light. The Greek philosophers who symbolized the universe by a dodecahedron inscribed in a sphere may also have realized that the octave (the circle) could also include twelve equal units of space (the series of chromatic notes). If the Greeks did not realize this, Chinese philosophers-musicians most likely did, as their music was built on the cycle of the twelve lyus (a twelvefold division of the musical space symbolized by the creative order of the sky). Similarly, in my early, unpublished books on music and tone I spoke of the cycle of fifths as the zodiac of Sound-long before I began to write on astrology.
What I have defined as holistic resonance refers to the response of a material instrument to the impact of the creative current of Sound (the energy of will, human or divine, and the desire or imagination that motivates this self-externalizing will). Resonance, in this broad sense, is therefore a phenomenon related to matter and the physical world. It refers to what I have called "the geometry of sound."(2
) I also have spoken (in unpublished writings) of the principle of dissonant harmony as dealing with the chemistry of sound, while the consonant order of relationship finding its archetypal manifestation in the harmonic series of fundamental and overtones can be related to the physics of sound. Instead of "chemistry" of sound I should have said tone-alchemy. The process of alchemy in its ancient and essential meaning parallels in music the transmutation of sounds into Tone and the transformation of the fullness of musical space into the oneness of divine creative Light.
As a result of the circumstances and scope of my life, my musical works are relatively few in number. Their value, I believe, is more in the potentialities they reveal than in what they have been able to actualize in sonic and instrumental terms. Early in my life I began to sketch a "Cosmophony," but neither the instruments, the public, nor the proper conditions of performance were available. Neither was I ready to realize a dream of such cosmic scope. Scriabin also had not been ready for the realization of his entirely different kind of dream, his barely started Mystrè
which, moreover, the first World War made impossible by sounding the death-knell for the hope of transfiguring the old European culture. Scriabin died young and suddenly. I have kept living, presumably for the purpose of trying to formulate in words transformative ideas, which may serve as partial yet basic foundations for a future culture, having to try again to give concrete form to the spirit of the new phase of the process of civilization.
Other composers presumably will follow along similar lines to those my music has indicated in an inevitably limited way. New instruments may be built, of which today's electronic instruments are but awkward and incomplete intimations — instruments that will allow one or a small group of persons directly to manipulate an immense variety of tone combinations — and they may take the place of today's unwieldy and expensive orchestras. This may happen next century or not for many centuries if our present world crisis continues to model itself on the tragic example of the Roman empire. Cultures die but civilization continues, even if it has to rest to allow the mass mind of humanity to unfold its potential at a slower pace or through discontinuous cataclysmic jumps. Man
does not die.
Boulder Colo.: Shambhala Publications, 1976. Return
See The Rebirth of Hindu Music
(The Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar: 1928, and New York: Samuel Weiser, 1979). Return