Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Great Adagio

No...not Samuel Barber's movement lifted from his string quartet and orchestrated to accompany Willem Defoe's death scene in Platoon. I'm talking about the third movement of Anton Bruckner's (1824 - 1896) Symphony No. 8.

Bruckner was a devout Protestant, with his face turned perpetually toward the radiance of his God. His middle and late symphonies, with their organ-like sonorities and vast surgings, do give off a cosmic, spiritual resonance. I wish to isolate the third movement Adagio and share a few thoughts about it.

There are many theories of reality. Some contradict others. Some are ridiculous. It may seem odd to speak of a piece of music as a “theory of reality,” but that is how the great adagio strikes me. But is Bruckner only “theorizing”? Only asserting a religious answer to transcendent yearning? Are we, as listeners, only empathizing with his sentiments? Or given the mystery of consciousness, are we, through this composer, gaining access to a real spiritual beyond? Preposterous, right?

For me, this movement as a whole (and especially those measures at the 2:25 mark in the first Youtube below) is an example of objective knowledge. Bruckner, aside from his religious beliefs, is a musical conduit, a channel through which mystical experience flows into me. I am not a believer, and I'm not an atheist. I'm not even an agnostic (postponing his opinion of reality until God drops by for whiskey and cigarettes and surprising revelations). I am a paradoxicalist, who thinks that reality is groundless and absyssal. What comes into me from this music, therefore, is not a delusion or a jacked-up hope. This is not about about Unamuno's tragic desire for afterlife, for that desire's strength forcing a solution. This is not about a requirement that yearning be satisfied, else life would be too absurd. No, this movement expresses something other than human need or religious sign.

Bruckner's Adagio is an expression of deep reality caught candidly and unconsciously. The power of music has, here, mediated worlds. And I catch a strong hint about what has been paradoxically crafted inside the Abyss, a meaning that has generated itself through absurd processes. That hint is in this music: love will enfold all creation, and everyone who has loved or who has been loved will be magically redeemed by Love, beyond the red of roses and beyond the nightingale's song.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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