Thursday, August 27, 2009

Augustine's View of Music

Music in early Greek philosophy

In Plato's Republic all musical instruments are forbidden except the lyre and cithara. Socrates and Gloucon agree that music has tremendous power for educational purposes. Therefore, they are careful in deciding which types of music should be allowed into the ideal republic. The doctrine of ethos deals with the moral qualities of music and seems to be related to the idea of s cosmic dimension in music discovered by Pythagoras. The doctrine of ethos, however, goes beyond the Pythagorean conception that music merely shares in the greater cosmic order, and holds that it may also affect the universe in some way. Aristotle wrote about the moral influence music may have upon human beings. He observed that music imitates emotions and states of the soul, such as love, hate, bravery, fear, goodwill, and violence. Therefore, as one listens to such music that imitates a certain emotion, one will come to embody that same emotion. If one repeatedly listens to music that inspires base emotions, one's character will be molded to a base form. On the other hand, habitually listening to music that inspires more noble aspects of humanity may positively shape one's character. Both Plato and Aristotle agreed upon the importance of music in education. Proper education was to include a balance of gymnastics and music, of both training for the body and training for the mind. In the Republic Plato stresses the need for balance, since too much music will make a man effeminate and too much gymnastic will make a man uncultivated, unlearned, and violent.

Pythagoras and his followers believed that proper music has the ability to express the order the a person's soul and that therefore exposure to the right music could exert a positive moral influence. Following Pythagoras' discovery music was thought of as having a cosmic dimension. The stringed lyre also retained its association with Pythagoras and with his theory linking music and the cosmic order.

Music was in integral part of religious ceremonies from ancient times. The lyre was the instrument most typically associated with the cult of Apollo, whereas the aulos was central in the cult of Dionysus. "Both these instruments probably came into Greece from Asia Minor.") In Greek mythology music was thought to be of divine origin. It credits the gods and demigods such as Apollo, Amphion, and Orpheus with the invention of music. Among the stringed instruments of the ancient Greek world were the lyre and the kithara. These instruments typically had five to seven strings and could have as many as eleven. Both instruments were used as solo instruments and for the accompaniment of the singing and recitation of epic poetry.The wind instrument connected with both the singing of the dythramb and with the worship of Dionysus is the aulos, which was a double pipe reed instrument characterized by a "shrill piercing tone." Ancient Greek music was almost always accompanied with words or dancing or both. The melody and rhythm of music and the melody and rhythm of poetry were closely interwoven. Some Greek thinkers saw a connection between music and astronomy. Not only did they see the same mathematical laws governing both musical intervals and heavenly bodies, but also saw a direct correspondence between certain modes or notes and individual planets.

Music in early Christian worship

As Christianity grew among the pagans, ecclesiastical authorities had to struggle increasingly against the influence of pagan cultic rituals and music in Christian worship.(18) Clement of Alexandria waged his own battle against what he considered pagan music. According to Clement, the person who indulges in pagan music and dancing will become morally corrupted, indecent, and rude.

Too much pleasure

In the Confessions Augustine recounts the tension he felt between the enjoyment of music and the problem of finding too much pleasure in earthly things to the neglect of heavenly things. He admits that music could be for him a serious distraction from the spiritual. In chapter ten of his Confessions Augustine says that music performed by a well trained singer could be captivating to him and that he occasionally found himself giving the music and the musician, "more honour than is fitting."(28) Nonetheless, he assures the reader that he was not completely mesmerized by music and that he could still quit at any time. Following this warning about the danger of the allure of music, he goes on in that same passage to describe the religious good that may come from music. When religious texts are sung well greater religious devotion is inspired, "souls are moved and are more religiously and with a warmer devotion kindled to piety than if they are not so sung."(29) In spite of such praise of religious music, Augustine returns to its dangers and tells of how he had considered banning music from church completely to protect against improper enjoyment of it. He reflects upon the practice of bishop Athanasius of Alexandria who ordered that the cantor of the psalm perform the chant in a manner more closely resembling speaking than singing. "Thus I fluctuate," says Augustine, "between the danger of pleasure and the experience of the beneficent effect...."(30) In the end, however, he allows music in the churches since he acknowledges that it may inspire weaker minds to worship. He confesses the guilt he feels for those times when he was more moved by the song than by its message. Such moments, for Augustine, are worthy of punishment and lead him wish that he had never heard the singer. As Augustine asks for God's forgiveness for this sin, he confesses, "I have become a problem to myself, and that is my sickness."

De Musica

Book six of De Musica is concerned with sounds, which Augustine equates with numbers, and their relationship to the soul and the eternal realm. "Music, it seems, is but a prompt to have us transport ourselves to eternal numbers, where God is more fully found than in the empirical qualities of the temporal world."(45) Augustine does depart from his Platonic and Plotinian heritage in the discussion of beauty in that he sees, "...not a single kind of beauty emanating from its form, but two kinds of beauty, the mortal beauty of objects and the eternal beauty of God, though God is, of course, the source of both."(46) In book six he divides sound into six classes. First are sounds which are corporeal and can exist alone.(47) The second class (occursores) are those sounds that one actually hears with the ears. The third class (progressores) are sounds as they are active in a person. This class of sounds can move the body and the soul. This movement may be expressed through such activities as dancing or playing an instrument.(48) The fifth and sixth classes of sounds depart from the corporeal realm of the first four and are found in the spiritual. Sounds belonging to the fifth class (numeri recordabiles) are those sounds which reside in one's memory and allow one to remember or reproduce a tune. The sixth class (numeri iudiciales) is that from which all the others are derived. Through this class one is able to judge sounds, and to distinguish good music from bad.(49)

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