The real nature of Music


The above photograph by Lothar Schiffler is a good spatial representation of music. This is taken with high speed cameras to capture the flight of birds in the sky. This picture shows the form of the bird’s flight over a period of time. Music expresses movements in time and can be considered as a language that organises emotions in time.   

Like the flight of birds, music is like the wind. It enters for a few milliseconds and then disappears again, totally empty, leaving only its fragrance resounding within us. The physical tone enters into the current moment in time, then disappears but the source of the tones is always sounding all the time which may only be perceived by inner hearing and the spirit in Man. Pythagoras may have had this experience when the term “music of the spheres” was coined.

“It is hardly possible to discuss the musical element in the concepts to which one is accustomed in ordinary life. The reason is simply that the musical element really does not exist in the physical world. It must first be created in the given physical world. This caused people like Goethe to consider the musical element as a kind of ideal of all forms of art. Hence, Goethe said that music is entirely form and substance and requires no other content save that within its own element”. (Steiner 1983)

Music has no material form but its form exists in time for example the form of a symphony, a piano sonata or a 12 bar blues. These forms are structures in time that the soul can participate and dance within. When the soul dances to music, sometimes the physical body will follow as well. Music is an art form which is really separate from the material realm:

“And indeed it is from music we learn to free ourselves from matter”. (Steiner 1998)

“For if music were to become materialistic, it would actually be false: it is not there ‘there!’ Every other form of matter is present in the world and is insistent. But musical sounds are not to be found in the material world in their original form. We have to devise a means of producing them; they must first be made”. (Steiner 1998)

Sound is only produced when something hard and earthly is removed from the earth which cannot move by itself. This is then brought into movement that is no longer aligned to the earth. (Soesman 1990)   

This intangible nature of music resonates strongly with the soul because it is a part of the human constitution that is also freed from the physical body. The soul which is freed from the physical body quickly finds its home in music: “the soul element that lives in the human being lies between the notes”. (Steiner 1998).

If music is to be represented spatially, the closest art form perhaps will be architecture because it has the stability of structure and foundation like the compositional form, the melody expressed in the outline of the building with its various curves, lines, leaps and the musical harmony found in the overall blend of the building and how various elements of the building fit or not fit together like in post-modern architecture. This idea was expressed by Vladimir Jankelevitch: “music as a species of architecture, magical architecture. Music is nothing more than “structures”: plans, amounts, melodic lines, instrument colours”. (Jankélévitch 2003).

Steiner also expressed something similar: “The musical arts arise from the sculptural and architectural arts because the sculptural and architectural arts are outwardly what the musical arts are inwardly”. (Steiner 1996, p. 167).    

Plato described astronomy and music as “twinned studies of sensual recognition: astronomy for the eyes, music for the ears, and both requiring knowledge of numerical proportions”. (Davis cited in wikipedia, 2017) Neuro-acoustician Jeffrey Thompson recorded sounds from space and found that “sounds from the smallest moon of Uranus (Miranda) resemble vocal choirs. But Thompson was most intrigued by the sounds produced by the rings of Uranus, which are virtually identical to those produced by Tibetan bowls”. (Gaynor 2002)


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