Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken (1876 – 1943): Erfuellung (1925)
Part I of “Eco-Music from Mahler to Rasmussen” broaches the topic of the Weltanschauung in music. By “world view” is meant an adequate understanding of the cosmic complexity of life (to borrow a phrase from Monty Python), the universe, and everything. Does an artist – especially a composer of ambitious scores – grasp the many-layered, spatially and temporally dimensioned super-matrix of what Christian theology calls Creation? In the preening world of postmodernity, the righteous everywhere proclaim an ecological sensitivity, but that same time postmodernism roundly rejects metaphysics, including the venerable notion of a Great Chain of Being. For the materialistic mentality, what can the cosmos be except a mass of resources? It can have no non-material component. It can correspond to nothing living — inhabited by spirit — except in a purely mechanico-biological sense. Now as Part I observes, there is a critical anti-modern strain in modernity. This is more familiar in literature than in music, but it nevertheless presents itself. In music, one finds this critical strain, with its intuition of a cosmic complexity exceeding the grasp of so-called science, in the radical work of an avant-garde composer like Arnold Schoenberg, but also in the work of a somewhat more conventional composer like Frederick Delius. Part II of “Eco-Music,” beginning with Section III, explores the work of contemporary composers who take an explicitly ecological view of the world, but who also venerate Tradition – and it finds in those works a genuine understanding of the Great Chain of Being. Both Parts of “Eco-Music” remark on the relation between literature, especially poetry, and music. The essay continues with Part II…
III. A few phrases from the reigning, reductive ecology, the ecology of “global warming,” occur in the much-polished journalism of the contemporary composer John Luther Adams (born 1953), but they seem decorative or obligatory and never convey any essential meaning. Adams lived by choice in Alaska, near Fairbanks, from the late 1970s until recently. His music takes inspiration from the Arctic landscape and from the traditions of the people who have lived in taiga and tundra immemorially. The reader will encounter Thoreauvian overtones in the accompanimental essay to Adam’s Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing (completed 1996). “Quantum physics has recently confirmed what shamans and mystics, poets and musicians have long known,” Adams writes; and, “the universe is more like music than matter.” In his related “Credo” (2002), Adams echoes Nietzsche: “My faith is grounded in the earth, in the relationships between all beings and all things, and in the practice of music as a spiritual discipline.” Adams accommodates Christianity, which Nietzsche haughtily rejected, in calling it “a complete and beautiful ecosystem” although he makes no profession of the creed. Clouds, one of Adam’s first fully mature scores, draws inspiration from a medieval book of Christian mysticism – and from a natural phenomenon that fascinates vision and activates imagination. The eyes look up to the clouds, just as they look up to the mountain peak. One can climb to the clouds, but only by climbing the steep path to the rocky summit.