The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Terry Riley's Music of the Spheres


See this review of Terry Riley's 2002 work for chorus and string quartet, Sun Rings, by AG.

The only thoughts I had were more to put the piece in context of Terry Riley's opus. His collaboration with the Kronos Quartet has went on for more than a quarter century, and he has admitted that it has been the Kronos Quartet that has led him to re-explore more conventional means of composing other than the improvisations that characterized his output of the 1960's and '70's.

Riley's music is at once avant-garde and accessible, other-worldly and and at the same time almost banal. He can have in the same piece examples of great lyricism and dissonance; he can seem so familiar and strange in the same work. Styles of music that he has become proficient in, from romanticism to minimalism, from Indian raga to jazz and bebop, all come together in his music fluidly and create a voice that is at once unique, organic, challenging and soulful. The presentation at Stanford last Friday night was no exception to this.

I must say that after this multimedia presentation of our small place in the cosmos, it made me feel quite small. But it also affirmed a principle that is near and dear to the thinkers that I am studying now: the music of the spheres. While these sounds from outer space were probably not what Ficino and Pythagoras were imagining in their fantasies about the heavens, it is nevertheless wonderful to know that the heavens indeed do sing. And it could only be a composer with the depth, vision, and audacity of a Terry Riley who could sing along with them. In the song, then, we become just as large as the stars.

But the soul receives the sweetest harmonies and numbers through the ears, and by these echoes is reminded and aroused to the divine music which may be heard by the more subtle and penetrating sense of mind. According to the followers of Plato, divine music is twofold. One kind, they say, exists entirely in the eternal mind of God. The second is in the motions and order of the heavens, by which the heavenly spheres and their orbits make a marvellous harmony. In both of these our soul took part before it was imprisoned in our bodies. But it uses the ears as messengers, as though they were chinks in this darkness. By the ears, as I have already said, the soul receives the echoes of that incomparable music, by which it is led back to the deep and silent memory of the harmony which it previously enjoyed. The whole soul then kindles with desire to fly back to its rightful home, so that it may enjoy that true music again.

-Marsilio Ficino

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