Friday, December 27, 2013


Man Contemplating Infinity by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)

The other day a friend, –– a self-identified leftist with a probing, inquisitive nature that many find irritating, –– asked this profoundly important question in response to a recent posting of some of Bach’s organ music: 

“Do you believe that in Bach we are reacting to the fullness of a mathematical as well as a musical completeness? Is that what calms us?
“Is it achievable in the material world?”

A not-so-simple “Yes and No” would have to be my answer. Here are further thoughts I hope may be illuminating:

Someday I hope we come to realize that because all things come from God, the only Creator ––- without whom we would have no life, no substance, no consciousness, not even as much significance as a grain of sand –– because of this all things are ONE. 

What may appear to be unique and apart is merely one tiny facet of a magnificent WHOLE so enormous, so wonderfully brilliant and complex we have no power to grasp its full significance.

The aesthetics of Bach and all great Music, of Science, Engineering, Medicine, Technology, Art, Architecture, Literature, Poetry, Agriculture, Horticulture, Gastronomy, Conservatism, Liberalism –– EVERYTHING –– is part of the same ball of wax, and EACH FACET of it –– at its highest level –– is purely aesthetic –– spiritual, if you prefer. 

There is a BEAUTY to all Creation that only a few great geniuses –– like J.S. Bach –– have been able to glimpse and capture, –– but only in part. Nevertheless, ALL of us are PART of "it" and ALL of us no matter how humble or reprehensible have a ROLE to play. We COUNT.

After all what is a single grain of sand? Much more than it appears, if we examine it in depth, and try to probe its mysteries with advanced" scientific instruments such as the electron microscope.  Even then we may only begin to probe its infinite complexity –– galaxies upon galaxies of infinitely small particles each with ITS own identity and ITS role to play.

And then the more obvious knowledge that this tiny grain of sand is only one of infinite octillions of other grains. Put together they make –– a BEACH.

What if our solar system, as I suspect it may be, were nothing more than the equivalent of a SINGLE ATOM in the incredible vastness of the Cosmos –– of Infinity? –– of Eternity?

Mankind in all our Pride, Vanity and vast Conceit is little more than the fabled rooster, who foolishly credited himself with the power to make the sun rise each day, –– or The Butterfly that Stamped made famous by Kipling.

There is no such thing as “PROGRESS.” For us there is only the thrill, the joy, the unending mystery and perplexity of a continual, unending process of DISCOVERY.

Few may realize it, but ALL of us long for God –– for Life, Truth and Love. Most of us stumble and fall perpetually, or run around in circles all our lives, because we are proudly ignorant and misguided, but even so THAT is what we long for. Unfortunately, we also FEAR it, because such knowledge implies tremendous RESPONSIBILITY, and a big part of us wants to remain in childhood –– even INFANCY –– and so we invent theories and cling to notions that keep us at a great distance from what we desire most.

Life is a paradox. We’ll never understand it completely, because we are not meant to. What we ARE meant to do is learn to ACCEPT our subordinate role in relation to the Almighty sustaining Infinite.

Life is a GIFT we are meant to enjoy. It is a MYSTERY to be LIVED  –– not a PROBLEM to be SOLVED –– but we cannot enjoy it, until we accept our true relationship to God, work to understand that His Son was born into this world to show us The Way to ever increasing  knowledge of Our Father whose Kingdom is not of this world, but in the realm where all things meet and become reconciled in the aesthetic of infinite, pure, radiant, eternal LIGHT and unconquerable BEAUTY.


  1. Bach represents a single perspective forced down upon a seemingly complete and harmonious "whole"... yet his is not a "universal" perspective... his does not contain either the cynical nor its' adversarial perspectives. Not even Beethoven achieved that. In that sense, Bach represents a very Wagnerian, , but limited, authoritative perspective. There are no "contradictions" and/or resolutions to irresolvables to tax the intellect.

  2. Hello, Thersites,

    Of COURSE,even Bach is limited -- only a great deal less so than most others. I thought I made that clear in the essay.

    Interesting you would think of J.S. Bach as "Wagnerian," because he preceded Wagner by more than 100 years, and has been (very stupidly!) considered "regressive" in his own time, and even up to the present day, by those who would insist that Music -- like everything else in their parochial minds -- is subject to "progress" by which they mean a process of continual IMPROVEMENT, when too often degeneration is all that has been achieved with the incessant drumbeat for (often damaging) "change."

    Nevertheless, I have often had that very thought, myself -- not a popular one in the community of Music Scholars.

    There is in Bach's Organ Preludes, Toccatas, and Fantasies all followed by complex, incredibly magnificent Fugues, a sense of towering Epic Grandeur coupled with a wildly vigorous, questing probing nature (and much subtle humor as well) that anticipates many of the harmonic progressions and larger-than-life passion for dramatic OVERSTATEMENT that most regard as "revolutionary" in the music of Franz Liszt, who did, indeed, discover at least one new harmonic progression -- i.e. "the Division of the Octave" -- and Wagner, who exploited Liszt's discovery to the hilt, which in turn fed the lively imaginations of both Richard Strauss and Gustave Mahler.

    But Bach said it all long before those guys were born -- in much the same way E.M. Forster anticipated themes later exploited and explored in great detail by Aldous Huxley and Orwell.

    Like most of the British and American films made in the late 1930's and throughout the '40's, which represent the most important PEAK in the development of cinema -- and the most satisfying movies yet produced for the most part [How well I know that Ducky will vehemently disagree with me, because he believes in "Progress!" ;-] Bach achieved the same sort of PEAK in musical development.

    You are welcome to your opinions, of course, but since I have spent my entire life exploring the mystery, the beauty, the possible meaning and the astonishing techniques that evolved in eight-hundred years of development, and have studied, learned and performed a huge segment of the piano literature with teachers of acknowledged importance, I can't help but feel I may know more about it than most casual observers or garden variety music lovers.

    Needless to say, we all respond very differently to stimuli, which is once of the things that make it all so interesting -- and eternally mysterious.

    There is no end to knowing, if you are brave enough to explore, thank God.

  3. There's something about "Man Contemplating Infinity" that caught my eye as I spotted an older framed copy of it some years ago while looking at some treasures at a yard sale. I like it so much that I even bought it for a couple of bucks to hang on an office wall where it still hangs today, as I type this.

    Bach: Somehow I doubt that the man, musical genius that he was, would consciously and deliberately create his forte in the context of mathematics, according to some esoteric mathematical formula. That would more likely be done in the ear and mind of the listener (perhaps even a "progressive" that embraces the thought that all is "relative" in some way) and may even find enhanced listening pleasure wrapped in his security blanket that all is well in the world if it adheres to the rules of scientific calculation. Likely more evident of a controlling pimply bureaucratic mentality than a soaring and free mind.

  4. Loge: Calling Siegfried, prepare yourself... Brunhilde's immolation appears immanent!

    Rhinemaidens, you're golden, again!

    Somebody Queue Ring Cycle 2!

  5. Like most of the British and American films made in the late 1930's and throughout the '40's, which represent the most important PEAK in the development of cinema

    Careful, FT, don't box outside your weight.
    The post Hayes Code era used a cinematic language that hadn't changed much since the age of silent film. It took the French New Wave to bring it to maturity.

  6. Not "maturity," Ducky -- DEGENERACY. i have always HATED that stuff. La Nouvelle Vague -- a tidal wave of sewage, as far as I'm concerned. Of course, I don't regard movies as an ACADEMIC subject. I feel the same way about Music and Art, although every sane person knows one needs a thorougy grounding technical knowledge and historical context if teaching these subjects is your main interest. However, BEING an artist is very very VERY different from being able to lecture on an abundance of factual information ABOUT Art.

    Sorry! I can't pretend to like something from which I instinctively recoil.

    Besides, don't you know that creative genius is always at its best when tethered or hemmed in by limitations imposed from outside influence?

    For instance fugal procedure (it is NOT a "form") is an excellent case in point. So are the rules of writing four-part harmony -- HIGHLY restrictive, BUT funding ways to work creatively -- even innovatively -- within certain distinct limits tends to bring out the best in artists of true ability. A close study of the various settings of the Passion Chorale in the St. Matthew Passion ALONE proves that.

    I despised Hays as much as you -- maybe even more -- BUT what that bumpkin did forced movie makers to say what they wanted to say in refreshingly subtle, indirect ways that were astonishingly inventive.

    For the same reason I much prefer black-and-white films to those made in color. The limitation forces people to use their IMAGINATION. I daresay the farther away we get from the deadliness of literalism the nearer we get to Art.

    I know, I've blasphemed YOUR "religion," but I have always had a penchant for being honest rather than popular, which means, of course, I say what I want to say without fear or favor.

    If you want to think me ignorant or inept, that's your prerogative, but's also mine not to have to accept your judgement anymore than you must accept mine. That's something leftists most regrettably NEVER seem to want to understand.

    By the way, the entire piece today was inspired by YOUR question of the other day. This movie chatter is barely related to today's main point, which is HUGE, if you have the power to comprehend it.

    You do have a penchant for derailing proper discussion of topics initiated or points made.

    I still thank you for asking an excellent question, whether my answer interests you or not. It interested ME, which is all that matters to me. As yo ought to know by now I've never imagined myself competing in any kind of Popularity Contest.

    Oscar Wilde once said, "Whatever is popular is wrong." I tend to agree with him most heartily.

  7. Well, Theristes, all I can say is "God bless Ilsidur!"

    There is more Truth in Myth, Legend, Fantasy, Folklore, Poetry, Art and Music than in any dry recitation of acquired knowledge, History and even Science, although Science at its highest level merges, as I said in my piece, with a Sublime Aesthetic that is The Ultimate Reality.

  8. La Nouvelle Vague -- a tidal wave of sewage, as far as I'm concerned.
    How so, FT? Rohmer and Bresson were religious.
    Resnais, Varda, hardly sewage.

    Then there is Godard who's view of pop culture mirrors yours.

    I would think your argument is with neorealism.

    As for the directors under the Hays code outwitting the censors. Somewhat.
    Would you say it was as difficult a task as the Iranians took on in the 90's? The Czechs? The Chinese 5th Wave?

  9. I would think your argument is with neorealism.

    You may be right, Ducky. I've never made a study of the subject, but did view several films back in the sixties that were supposed to be The Living End. If I had the ability to understand spoken French (I have only a decent ability to READ it -- a very different thing) I might have been able to appreciate it more, but subtitles are irritating, and dubbed dialogue is worse.

    I'm sorry I was so rude, but the overall impression I got from French films was one of depression, exhaustion and resignation to a grim, immutable reality. Not sanguine enough for my vivid my English-Cornish-Italian-Scottish-German, decidedly Anglophilic temperament, I fear.

    Would you say it was as difficult a task as the Iranians took on in the 90's? The Czechs? The Chinese 5th Wave?

    You have me there. All I can say is "I don't know."


  10. The other day a friend, –– a self-identified leftist with a probing, inquisitive nature that many find irritating

    I would be remiss if I didn't say, Thank you.
    That's the nicest thing anyone's said of me in years.

    A Happy Fruitful New Year to you, sir.

  11. And the same to you, Ducky. Despite our vast differences, and frequent clashes of temperament -- much of which I admit is Burlesque -- at least on my part -- I find you every bit as interesting and informative as I find you irritating -- so THERE!

    but what did you think of my ANSWER to YOUR question? You still haven't said.

    Please regard at the very least that I do take you seriously, which really IS a compliment in this bizarre, hopelessly fractious environment.

  12. I don't have a satisfactory answer, FT.

    I am concerned with what makes us human and a search for transcendence.
    To make us completely human we need art and religion. We need self expression above consumption. I don't think you disagree

    We should be explorers and I think we disagree most about the need to understand.
    Like I told my niece once driving home from a Red Sox game one night, "You have to keep the world interesting. Humans have an innate need to feel magical."

  13. You know, Ducky, you and I may not be so far apart after all.

    "Transcendence" is exactly what my attempt to answer your question about Bach and Mathematics, et al. is all about.

    ... in the realm where all things meet and become reconciled in the aesthetic of infinite, pure, radiant, eternal LIGHT and unconquerable BEAUTY.

    This is what I think "Heaven" must be -- a state of mind or consciousness more than a specific location, where we come to understand fully that all fields of endeavor stem from the SAME source, and are inseparable, co-equal and utterly interdependent, because they are parts of the SAME whole -- as are WE.

    Thersites thinks Bach is "limited" and that cynicism and the forces opposed to cynicism are not present in Bach's music. I understand that ALL human endeavor is limited, but far less so in Bach than anyone else I can imagine. Great music is filled with a constant series of episodes involving greater or lesser degrees of tension (dissonance) and resolution. That's about as basic a definition one could find.

    We've known these things all our lives, "The essence of drama is conflict." Ying is meaningless without Yang, and vice versa. We cannot appreciate joy, until we've experienced sorrow, etc., etc., etc.

    To be complete human beings we must experience the whole gamut of emotions and conditions. We must lose in order to find or to win. All that.

    But ALL of it urges us, however balky and reluctant we may be, to climb higher, risk more, embrace challenges, broaden our perspective, and develop greater and greater depths of curiosity.

    We don't need to live THROUGH an epic struggle or be placed in an arena nked and defenseless to be torn to bits and eaten alive by wild beasts in fron to jeering throngs of barbarians to understand the horror of such an experience.

    This does not mean we have ACCEPT all, any more than it means we must commit murder in order to understand what it is like to be a murderer.

    This is what IMAGINATION and INSIGHT can do. At the very least we may experience verisimilitude, thereby developing empathy for people or experiences foreign to us, and thus grow in understanding solely through the use of our powers of imagination and empathy.

  14. J. Erwin Solomon said

    Forgive my delay in responding to your summation of life. This week has been overloaded, but now I want to say: "Magnificent!!!" You have said it all
    in a very clear way to any one expanding their "inner eyes." Jesus said it all also;

    "The Father and I are One." You and I are One,
    implying, nothing exists except God. Our human nature is just beginning to "SEE" (understand) our real, magnificent, participating nature.

    Thanks for helping spread that inner "vision."

    Happy New Year!



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