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and the Art of Music
by Dane Rudhyar


This book represents the last of a series of attempts to provide a foundation for an objective, historical, and all-inclusive understanding not only of what today we call music but also of the meaning and purpose of the deliberate and organized use of vocal and instrumental tones in ancient and non-European cultures.
      My first attempt was in 1925. In 1916-17, when I came to New York for the performance by Pierre Monteux of some of my orchestral compositions, (1) I met several Japanese and Hindu artists who introduced me to recordings of Asian music and to some extraordinary intoned recitations of ancient Japanese poetry. I passed the summer of 1917 at the New York Public Library reading all I could find on Oriental music as well as on the philosophy of India. After moving to Hollywood, California, to write music for the Hollywood Pilgrimage Play and to settle there, I became even more interested in Oriental philosophy and Western occultism. I received from France several volumes of the excellent Encyclopidie de la Musique edited by Albert Lavignac, which may be the first detailed, extensive study of all the important musical cultures of the world. I already had been writing articles urging musicians to take a worldwide approach to music and to look objectively and critically at the development of European music and at what the musical score had actually done to the experience of tone.
      All this led me, when I returned to New York for a few months in 1925, to expand further my investigation of books on Asian music and to write a large book, "The Rediscovery of Music." The wife of the publisher Alfred Knopf was interested in my project, but she found my manuscript far too unusual and controversial to have "commercial possibilities." My association with a few Hindu musicians at the time led me to write a much smaller work, The Rebirth of Hindu Music, which was published in Madras, India, in 1928. (It was reprinted in 1979 by Samuel Weiser Inc, New York.) In 1931 I revised and circulated (in ten mimeographed folios) a series of lectures, "Liberation through Sound," which outlined a metaphysical approach to sound and outlined exercises evoking the inner meaning of the intervals I discussed.
      The Great Depression made it increasingly difficult for me to continue the lecture-recitals on "New Music" I had been giving to small groups of people interested in my philosophical and musical approach. There were very few more official means for composers to obtain grants or fellowships at the time, and what channels there were had become almost entirely controlled by advocates of Neo-classicism and formalism, a trend I strenuously opposed. Other personal considerations took me away from the field of music, except for brief periods of composing.
      After World War II and the spread of phonograph records and tapes of non-European folk and classical music, particularly the music of India, a new generation of restless young seekers rebelling against "the establishment" and the Western approach to religion, morality, and artistic traditions became fascinated with meditative practices and Oriental music, particularly the music of India, the Sufi Near East, and Bali. My own compositions of the twenties began to be performed by young pianists, and a number of avid readers of my books on astro-psychology and on a philosophy rooted in ancient concepts wanted to know my ideas on what in 1927 1 had called "World Music." Several copies of my typescript of "The Rediscovery of Music" were made available to them, and I was urged to publish a new version of it.
      In 1970 1 did write an entirely new work, "The Magic of Tone and Relationship." It included much old material and developed ideas I had outlined in a long-out-of-print volume, Art as Release of Power (published in 1929). My New York and California publishers, however, thought that the public for a book integrating musical, philosophical, and socio-cultural ideas was much too small. A few xerox copies of the typescript were nevertheless bought by young musicians.
      During the last ten years the post World War II musical avant-garde spread, particularly in Germany, where books developing new or long-forgotten concepts on music and harmonics were published. In America, also, many highly technical studies of ancient records in Egypt, Mesopotamia and India have been published by learned specialists deciphering old texts, most of them fragmentary and requiring a great deal of interpretation. Whether the interpretations are accurate or biased by prejudice inherent in our Western civilization is difficult to ascertain. I feel nevertheless that most of these specialists bring to their studies many questionable beliefs concerning the evolution of human consciousness and the mentality of the authors of the records they diligently interpret.
      In other words, the situation in the field of creative and experimental music and the ideas concerning the character and value of musical cultures have changed greatly since I wrote "The Rediscovery of Music," and even since "The Magic of Tone and Relationship," in 1970. For this reason, I was impelled to write this book. In 1925 1 was mainly concerned with showing the value of non-European music and what we had lost in the development of our complex musical scores and orchestras. Today it is no longer so essential to spread the idea that other musical cultures have a value and significance relatively equal at their time and place to those of Western music. What seems most important is to deal with changes in the consciousness of music, with the meaning of sound and tone — and to do this on a philosophical rather than a technical basis. It is essential that present and future generations of musicians and music lovers learn not merely how music is made or was made in the past but that they answer the fundamental question: What is music for?
      What music could be for in a new kind of society developing after a world-wide crisis — which seems impending — is impossible to predict, as we have no idea what form such a crisis might take or how radical might be the socio-cultural changes it brings. All we can do is to try to understand how what I call a "culture-whole" (what the historian Arnold Toynbee called a "society" or a "civilization") evolves, and how each stage of its evolution is expressed in a particular approach both to music as an art and to the experience of tone.
      The Euro-American culture-whole is not basically different from preceding or simultaneously developing ones, but we tend to see it as having a unique validity. This is cultural pride or cultural chauvinism. Wonderful as the development of Western music has been, it leaves many basic questions unanswered. To deal with these questions one has to challenge the validity of some fundamental ideas about music taught in our schools and taken for granted by even the most progressive composers and performers.
      Many musicians of the avant-garde are trying to discover new approaches to music, but even as they challenge concepts they were taught, they have to deal with an entirely new set of issues brought to the fore by the introduction of a vast array of new mechanical and electronic means for producing sound. This leads composers and performers to operate as acoustical and electronic engineers, and they often become so fascinated by new techniques that basic questions are left unanswered. The techniques may be valid and. necessary to satisfy the expectations of a vastly expanding international public eager for new sensations and thrills, and they may eventually lead to a new consciousness of tone, perhaps to a "cosmic" type of music; but if the new developments are to fulfill their higher possibilities they should not be placed at the service of obsolete classical European concepts of music and form. They should be grounded in a new (though in a sense very old) consciousness of tone and of the nature and power of sound.
      The purpose of this book is to elucidate what the foundation of music has been in cultures that have remained close to the vibrant power of life and to the experience of the magical and the sacred, to explain how music became intellectualized and set into abstract and quantitative molds, and to evoke the possibility of a future type of music integrating the values of the ancient, non-European past and those of our complex Western music. To fulfill adequately such a purpose is evidently an enormously difficult task. All I can hope is that this book will point the way to a broader understanding of the development of musical cultures and of the meaning of sound and tone. Perhaps it will lay the foundation for a more encompassing study that would involve the cooperation of many open minds — of philosophers familiar with esoteric traditions and of new types of archaeologists and musicologists free from the preconceptions of recent scholarship.

1. This occurred at the Metropolitan Opera on April 5, 1917 along with a presentation of a most unusual, avant-garde type of quasi-ritualistic dance entitled Métachorie, The music was well received, but the dance evoked no response whatsoever. Return

By permission of Leyla Rudhyar Hill
Copyright © 1982; by Dane Rudhyar
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