The Symphonic Juncture

A [Symphonist]: "The one who is not afraid to raise the primal force."

- Boris Asafiev (1917)

'Music Theory': The Quest for Existential Understanding.

In Husserl(1970, v.1), he defends his understanding of the phenomenological reality of a mental-object, previously articulated in relation to fine-art in Collected Works (2005, v.11), where he identified the imminently ‘real’, albeit internalized perception of X [image-object] gestated by the external suggestion of said object [image-subject] through a crystallized medium of tangible source [physical-object], as an ‘inactual’ experience of a physical demeanor brought about by the insolvable ‘consciousness of conflict’ which, if solved, would dissolve the very existence of the X within the mind. It is worth thoroughly grasping this distinction before venturing ahead and thus stated differently, the stages are the simple object and its dressings (paint, frame, canvas), the insinuation at form (the paint in the shape of what is called an apple), and the mental personification of the public suggestion (‘seeing’ the apple within). When expanding upon the role of the ‘image-subject’ as a conduit for interpretation and the literal link between the physical and abstract, Husserl writers [referencing the person’s role], “we distinguish this internal imaging from an external...imaging, a different mode of representation by means of means of signs [the equivalent being ‘hieroglyph’ and ‘sketches as memory images], or at least mediates imaginative consciousness with signitive consciousness,” saying in intricate phraseology that we mentally visualize based on physical embodiments of said image that we visually observe and then mentally second 'see'. Additionally, he charges the image-subject with its own function, “not only carry with themselves the presentation of the signified object, they also refer to it as <to> that which is supposed to be meant [...]”, explaining that if observing a painting, i.e., Wein, Weib und Gesang by J. Danhauser [1839], what the constructed visual object is tasked with is evoking and conjuring via visualizing alone the immaterial ‘reality’ of the object, thus deflecting attention from the literal manifestation and more to its evocational, paradoxically ‘real’ counterpart.

[PC: Belvedere Museum, Vienna]

In W.W.u.G, the joyful labormen, pastoral women, and guileless children all gather around a table covered in a creased, ivory linen, probably once blanched-white but now darkened with constant use, and their gaiety, expressed through playing the guitar, violin, singing, and even innocuous flirting, suggest movement in the mind’s eye but cannot be considered to be any type of actual movement itself. The painting here is simply a suggestion of activity which, at some internalized point in historical temporality, felt so real and palpable to Danhauser, that the will-to-creation [Asafievian terminology] became so strong that it needed to be physicalized, and the medium he chose to use happened to be fine-art, utilizing a style close to the Biedermeierian-Realist provincialism of the time. But this still doesn’t satiate one’s interest in figuring out what Music Theory’s existential relationship to Husserl’s illustrative trifecta could be, and for that I turn to Husserl again, this time his daedalian ‘theory’ of phenomenologically-tinged Intentionalism, understood by him in Ideas 1(1913) as, “what characterizes consciousness in the pregnant sense [Intentionalism being the ‘baby of the consciousness’] and which, at the same time justifies designating the whole stream of mental processes as the stream of consciousness and as the unity of one consciousness.”

Although an on-going dialectic with no ‘right’ answer, I first started to consider Music-Theory from an Existentialist perspective after starting the work on an Article [as of yet unfinished] dedicated to graphically depicting Asafiev’s enigmatic writings on musical form, ontological statements on the development of music from perception to actuality, with some illustrations to be dedicated towards the gravitational occurrences and ‘centrifugal’ inertia as personified through the creative process and understood via the undulating dichotomy of human Intellect and its ideological companion, Intuition. To penetrate into the Existentialistic, musical ethos that I presumed to have already been developed, Pio and Varkøy(2012) provided to be the necessary channel for such investigation, especially their illuminations on music’s contradictory position in modernity, being both a tool to ‘bring us into the presence of its inside’, while also serving no vital purpose in functional life, although the latter’s frank truth has caused a shift in music-educational practices [in Scandinavia according to the paper, but ubiquitous across N. America], causing a “focus on the non-musical values of music education, and...on the instrumental usefulness of learning music,” rearticulated, music-education is being used as a means-to-an-end, not as the means itself. P.&V. then phase into Heidegger’s argumentation regarding the separation of Art and real-life, the very dilemma B. Asafiev had struggled his entire-life to augment in Soviet Russia through the reformation of auditory practices, compositional dependencies, and considerations of socio-cultural compositional motivations [and likewise lethargies].


In The Origin of the Work of Art(1950), Heidegger uses the term ‘thingly’ to express the true-nature of an artistic object, “To grasp this thingly element the traditional concepts of the thing are to grasp the essence of the thingly,” mapping onto the [personally loathed] equivalent musicological term of ‘musicking’, coined by Christopher Small in 1998 [via the book Musicking], and described as ‘primarily as action rather than as thing[...]”, the essence of music creation, and not the music itself. I argue then, in this vein, that the gross heedlessness in considering in-depth analysis of music’s object-subject [sheet-music], and likewise the Scholar’s stringent [Formalist] adherence to standard Music-Theory, as the ‘only’ way to properly understand a musical work is one of, if not the biggest problem is contemporary Musicological practice, and a methodological headache which seems to have no backing or Academic interest in alleviating, although many tenured Professors [no names given] are seemingly roused with the revolutionary spirit to tear-down historical, Educational edifices and live among its ruins with no infrastructure project in sight [this mindset being welcomed, instead of discouraged].

Within Ideas 1, Heidegger asks some very important questions, 1) ‘Has modern art moved out of the realm of experience?’ 2) ‘Or is it only what is experienced that has changed, so that, of course, what is experienced has become even more subjective than before?’ 3) ‘What fear is today greater than the fear of thinking?’ 4) ‘Does this talk of the immortal works and eternal values of art have any content or substance?’, and 5) ‘Or are these merely the half-thought cliches of an age in which great art, together with its essence, has departed from among men?’ To answers these most pressing inquiries, I wish I could respond individually with an erudite answer that could attempt to even marginally assuage absolute synthetic Academicism that has not only poisoned the impressionable minds of students, but teachers and Professors as well, not to mention the eagerly awaiting Audiences and Patrons who hang on the Scholar’s words like a babe from the teet of a nursing mother. If I could say one last utterance, it would be simply to keep searching for 'heard music' and not just 'seen music'. Like Asafiev had mentioned when regarding Scriabin's relationship with the cosmic world and the mortal reality he found himself in, "[Scriabin's creations] conceived only by listening the no means, by seeing or feeling the objects."

In the wisdom of Heidegger who, to the fault of only myself although others come to mind, I became aware of only post-collegiately and late at that, “Truth is the truth of beings. Beauty does not occur alongside this truth. It appears when truth sets itself into the work.” Amen Martin. He has spoken, although the only ding [thing] now is to get those who need to listen to listen. So, will 'they' realize their processes are inadequate and foolish in a timely fashion that will allow room for actual progress to be made? Who knows, no one can say for sure.

Further Reading

1. Mabaquiao, Napoleon Jr. M. 2005. Husserl’s’ theory of intentionality. Philosophia: An

International Journal of Philosophy 34 (1): 24-49.

[Especially the illustrative depiction of Husserl's imagining of Jupiter, pg. 15-16]

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