Thursday, July 3, 2014

Recently Read: Music And Its Secret Influence

I've recently finished reading Music and Its Secret Influence: Throughout the Ages by the composer Cyril Scott. Great book, first published in 1933 and then re-published in updated form in 1958 (Scott was born in 1879 and died in 1970). The basic premise of it is that throughout history cultures have been esoterically shaped by music - or perhaps more accurately that a nations culture is a reflection of the music it is previously exposed to, rather than its music simply being a reflection of its current culture.

So, for example, he states that the mathematical beauty of Bach paved the way for a more reasoned age, whereas the emotional tones of Beethoven inspired an age where man had the ability to feel sympathy for others - eventually leading to Psychoanalysis among other things. In particular he states that England's Victorian values were directly inspired by the English obsession with Handel. The effects of Wagner on Germanic nationalism is likewise elucidated.

All this influence has a semi-supernatural undertone and is amplified by Scott's belief in the hidden masters that have secretly been guiding, and continue to guide humanity's development. In fact, Scott himself claims that he has been in contact with one of these masters, named Koot Hoomi, and that it was this master that suggested to him that he write this very book. The Theosophical influence is quite apparent throughout.

Although some of his beliefs seem quite out-there Scott is very erudite throughout the book and his commentary on the creative process is quite accurate;
One may even measure the greatness of a composer by his capacity for being dissatisfied, for example, with the familiar. Mediocre composers are satisfied with second-hand ideas, great composers are only satisfied with first-hand ideas, and their consistent greatness is partly dependent on their patience in striving to obtain those ideas. To say that genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains is therefore to state only the second half of the truth, the first half being that genius is the infinite capacity for feeling dissatisfied.
I liked this. It reminded me of John Lennon's statement that once you find the formula you've got to rip it up and start again. Or as I would put it - smart people get bored quickly.

I've never been a massive fan of classical music so I had no idea about Cyril Scott's music. However, when I started reading the book I thought I'd check it out and was pretty impressed. It sounds very modern and otherworldly, you can tell he's on the cusp of a new age - maybe he did help bring in the modern musical tide.

In fact, I ended up using the book as a crash course on classical music, listening to the various composers as I went through the chapters. It probably says something about me that I can only listen to classical music if it's washed down with a healthy dose of the esoteric and supernatural. On a side note, I listened to all the music on YouTube - the juxtaposition of YouTube with classical music buffs creates quite a strange world. One I never thought I'd ever enter. Needless to say the comments sections were quite amusing.

I'll just mention a few bits n pieces from the book that caught my attention now. For one thing he mentions that pin and needles is essentially an out-of-body experience for the body part affected - if your arm goes to sleep, the sensation/spirit has been squeezed out and the pins and needles feeling comes when it's reabsorbed. Think about that next time you have pins and needles. He also states that it was music (used to destructive effect) that wrecked Atlantis. Also, as the book was written a good many years ago the word 'gay' is frequently used in its old fashioned sense. Whenever it popped up it made me laugh a little bit - because I'm an idiot.

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