Music is the Human Being

Agrippa Man

According to Steiner, music is able to bring our “inner human configuration into outer visibility”. (Steiner 1998) Music is a representation of the human being. 3 musical elements build up this representation of Man:

1) the downbeat or accent of the beat,

2) the pulse or tempo and the

3) flowing melody.

The downbeats or accents in the music are the legs of the music which provides the driving motion forward. In the downbeat, there is verticalisation with the feeling of weight and gravity downwards. After landing, the beat will change into an upward motion through overcoming the weight and gravity. This upward motion is called the upbeat in music. Such a vertical downward and upward motion of the beat represents the walking motion of Man. Songs written in the 2/4 or 4/4 meters with strong accents in the 1st and 3rd beat creates a walking feel which is why many of the marching songs are written to these meters. “The Saints Go Marching By” is an example of a song written to the 4/4 meter.

The pulse or tempo is the heartbeat of the song determining how fast the music moves. This gives the feeling of the pulsating heartbeat in the song which is the representation of Man’s torso region.  

The melodic phrasing is the head of the song. It gives the flowing and breathing quality in music. The start of a melodic phrase is like the start of an inhalation. The melodic phrases in the music are the breaths taken throughout the music. Within the melodic phrases the ideas and images of the song are being carried. I am often fascinated when I asked my pupils during music classes what is the story or image behind a particular melody, they are often very quick and able to form their own mental pictures of what the melody is trying to convey even without the lyrics. Most often, their interpretations of the melody are very close to what the lyrics are trying to convey. 

Taken in totality the 3 musical elements described, the image of Man appears as a form created in time. The joy and pleasure in music is derived from harmonising and balancing these 3 elements in their constantly changing relationships to create a unified whole. This balance and harmony exists also in Man and was written in the 6th century by the Roman philosopher Anicius Manlius Severinus Boëthius in the text “De Musica” as follows:

“Whoever penetrates into his own self perceives human music [musica humana]. For what unites the incorporeal nature of reason with the body if not a certain harmony and, as it were, a careful tuning of low and high pitches as though producing one consonance? What other than this unites the parts of the soul, which…is composed of the rational and the irrational? What is it that intermingles the elements of the body or holds together the parts of the body in an established order?” (Abrams, 2017)

Boëthius is referring to the harmony within us, of how disparate elements like body and soul, rational and irrational can exist in a state of equilibrium.

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