ECENTLY I WAS WATCHING a Christopher Nupen documentary on the great cellist Jacqueline du Pré. One of her close friends said: “Music never lies.” How true this is! People can lie, the lyrics of songs can lie, but the music itself can never lie. It contains and conveys, perfectly and purely, the spirit that its rhythms, melodies, and harmonies embody. We cannot translate this spirit into a sequence of descriptive words; could we do so, music would cease to be music, would be a vaguer form of poetry. But that indefinable message of the soul contained in every piece of music, great or small, is still present, penetrating, communicative, formative.
Jacqueline du Pré herself demonstrated the specific and irreducible truth proper to music in the remarkable depth and intensity of her performances. Listening to her play in Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio or a Brahms cello sonata is a revelation of intuitions, feelings, memories, discernments, opportunities, interventions, choices, fates—of all that is distinctively human, yearning for empathy and straining towards immortality. She is described at one point as a person “always striving for beauty, for the most distant horizon.” This, indeed, is the noblest measure of man, the animal that can see and hear beauty, and not merely see colors and hear noises; the animal that, perceiving the ground, the expanse ahead, and the vault of heaven, knows what a horizon is and then transforms these perceptions into metaphors of its own intentionality.
“Nature and music have the same grandeur,” says another person interviewed. They do—because they both speak of the eternal and the infinite to the human heart, which is the capacity for grandeur. The human heart is also the capacity for giving and for suffering. As Schopenhauer says, “music speaks of weal and woe”: of giving in love, of trials and pains, of a grandeur once beheld but now past, nostalgia for what has been, hope against hope for what might still be, and a grandeur not of this world, more real than this world, glimpsed like a sliver of sun through the clouds, drawing us on and defusing our despair. Is it not a miracle that music speaks of all this? Music means almost nothing to plants and animals, and nature is no more than their immediate self and surroundings. But man is finely attuned to the message contained in both nature and music, and resonates with it when he encounters it nakedly, without distraction.
In the same documentary another person remarked: “Sound comes from our being.” What is this mysterious thing called sound? Aristotle analyzed well its physical and psychical aspects in his treatise On the Soul, but he did not attempt to explain the mystery of meaningful sound, which only the higher animals produce, nor the far greater mystery of rational language and the suprarational discourse of the fine arts. The sound that is properly language comes from our unique mode of being in this world, as in the world, due to our physicality, but not of it, due to our being made in the image and likeness of God. The sound that is music is the finest flowering of language; no wonder it is the province of worship, loss and lamentation, exultation and joy. For it is a wonder past all other wonders that proceed from the heart of man.
Please visit THIS PAGE to learn more about Dr. Kwasniewski’s Sacred Choral Works and the audio CDs that contain recordings of the pieces.