It is most certain that music is the oldest of all the arts. It is the only art that does not belong to humans alone, whose early beginnings go back to the animal kingdom. Humans enjoy the songs of the cicada, crickets and so many other insects. The melodies of song birds, like those of man, are simply other variations of what we call music. Nevertheless, the fact remains that many animals have a highly developed ear for the melodies of human music. Every starling and every parrot learns to whistle little songs with ease.
The other fine arts are much, much younger than music, although some of them have achieved a ripe old age as well. We still treasure the cave drawings discovered in the Vezère Valley which were created by a race of prehistoric Cro-Magnon at least 20,000 years ago! Even more ancient animal images have been discovered in the Andalusian Mountains and presumably originated from the same gigantic hunting folk.
Finally there is literature, which we think of as so immensely old, yet compared to its sister arts is only a suckling!—
Really, we can’t forget that these finds of prehistoric paintings are very sporadic. Even today we find many primitive folk have only the rudiments of decorative art that can’t be thought of as “paintings” per se. They are more the creation of “decorative scars”, the cutting of the face and breast like we find among many of the Papua tribes. These are the first expressions of artistic feeling, comprehension and desire.
But we can find no folk that live upon the earth that are without music, yes, not even without instruments to create that music.
Out of this comes the fact that music is the oldest, the most ancient art. This naturally lends itself to two consequences, firstly that music is the art with the deepest roots, and secondly it is also the most wide spread and far reaching. We can see entire tribes of folk that have no awareness at all of any other art, yet who still know and love music. We can also easily ascertain that infinite numbers of civilized folk have strong feelings for music, while having entirely no feelings at all for literature or the other fine arts.
A second fact that comes out of the antiquity of music is that it has the ability to bring people to a very primitive, deeply rooted emotional condition. I know very well that this assertion will most certainly not remain unopposed, but I believe it has been substantiated and is quite able to refute all objections, especially those objections that spew forth out of the deepest instinctive human reactions against a new way of thought.
It is solidly established in the deepest human nature that all things new and unfamiliar are uncomfortable, while persistence along all accustomed paths brings happiness! That is why fairy tales are of “The Good Old Times”; the favorite songs of every generation sing of the morals and customs of our fathers’ and we find our poetic ideal in “Golden Antiquity”!
That is also why we hear the eternal complaint by the citizen of the “Loss of morals”, especially those morals of his own time, the genuinely coarse, “What is the world coming to?” This is the ancient song of the “decadence” of modern times compared with the glorious past!
Even with the simplest recognition it can be grasped that the path of humanity, despite individual rough spots is constantly leading upward, can be grasped how much higher we stand than our ancestors and even how much higher still our descendants will stand than us!
In the end this steadfast movement again and again overcomes the costly law of human inertia —
But the past always appears as the victor, as the highest happiness! Back to the earliest beginning of all emotions, back to the point where a living creature had no conscious awareness of itself, could not make the distinction between itself and the exterior world. The achievement of this condition is the final atavism that there is, that which the mystical ecstatic calls, “Merged in God”, yes, to rest in the “Godhead”. It is the final culmination of all wisdom —
Therefore it is entirely logical that those who hold this condition of ecstasy as the “highest happiness” should not forget that this “highest” is in fact the origin of everything and the deepest of everything, that fairy tales of the “Good Old Times” are the most grandiose as well as the most beautiful lies that humanity knows.
I take a different position—in my book, ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, an attempt is made to follow this path of thought to it last particular. Yet here I must limit myself to the role of music as the only art that plays a part in the achievement of this atavism.
Again and again we find in the devilish dances of the primitive folk and on up to the delightful hymns of the Salvation Army which are feasts for our ears, that music is almost irreplaceable for all types of ecstasy. Certainly we know many other means of achieving ecstasy: intoxicating drinks, fasting, fixedly staring, scourging and castigating, suggestion and hypnosis, and many other ways. But none of them is as recognized as music, the least of which never fails to draw a reaction from the masses.
But where lies the original cause that gives music this strange power, which can take people back to this “higher domain of our ancestors”, as Goethe himself expressed it—our very remote ancestors, as nature’s history informs us.
Music is a breath from another time—that is certain. It is only structure and never material, is born out of the immense ocean of the negative which man calls emotion. There are many thousands of forms of all possible varieties of music and expressions of the will, but never its material appearance, only a shadowy inner quality of something which no being has any more. It is never a material phenomenon, only one of the will and is yet apparently a genuine thing in itself. It awakens emotions, whose possibilities we don’t know and whose meaning we can’t grasp. It gives us things that we have never seen and never will see…
Yet when we believe in it, it gives us happiness. It gives a happiness like intoxication, like that of lust does—to those that believe in it. Not the final happiness, yet our happiness is a sinking back down into a forgotten time, is a great transformation of consciousness.
Music is one of the best ways to succeed in going there.
Music in Images