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Music as a metaphor for the spiritual

J. W. N. Sullivan wrote a small but profound book about the relationship between spirituality and music. Beethoven: His Spiritual Development was so important to me as an adolescent that I had two copies, one for home reading, one for on the go. Recently, I tried to reread this wonderful essay, which is available for free at https://archive.org/ , but found I had moved on to a different place, though I wasn’t quite sure what that place was. This past week I discovered it in Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas.

A Beethoven acolyte since the age of 11 or 12, I was certainly familiar with these works, which make up the canon of Western classical piano music, and then some. The plays of Shakespeare, the piano sonatas of Beethoven: you don’t really need much more. However, attending a complete performance of the cycle over the course of seven evenings this past week, I encountered more than Beethoven. I came face to face with the spiritual struggle and awakening that accompanies each human on the journey from birth to the grave.

The accomplished pianist Stephan Möller, in his commentary after intermission during the last concert, put it so well. Beethoven’s sonatas, especially his last sonatas, and even more especially his very last sonata, move us (in my paraphrase) from a place of profound stillness to life itself and then back to the silence from which it came. There is nothing more to say. It is perfect.

Music is magic. But it also is a spiritual pathway. It can, but doesn’t have to, have anything to do with religion. It is a metaphor for life. But more, as Möller pointed out, it is life itself.

(The complete Beethoven piano sonata cycle was presented by the Downtown Concert Series of Freehold, N.J., in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, in May 2015. A two-part review appears at my classical music blog, http://classicalrave.blogspot.com/ )

 

 

Posted on Monday, May 25, 2015 at 07:43AM by Registered CommenterLinda Brown Holt | CommentsPost a Comment | References3 References

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