Blog

08/18/2017

34 The rediscovery of a world cultural heritage

Close to touch and yet far away!

The number of organists, pianists and keyboard users worldwide is millions, and the time people have spent with the keyboard, whether in dialogue with themselves or with others, is quite uncountable. Music leads into another world, and who has not already experienced the happiness of feeling harmony that is too easily lost in everyday life. The worse the life, the greater the longing for it.

However, what is inherent in the keyboard concerning tradition and Christian symbolism, even the manufacturers have no knowledge, and the subject is not taught at schools. The speech is about the Christian symbolism and about the ethical content of the Western harmonical system.

A few years ago, the representation of Trinity on a late medieval keyboard instrument led the author on the path. The final study, with a foreword by the Pontificio Istituto di Musica Sacra, was presented to Benedict XVI, who immediately confirmed that Western music had "its source in Liturgy" and for him personally would be even a "truth-proof of Christianity". This happened in Castel Gandolfo on July 4th, 2015.

Advocates of an autonomy of the arts may have some trouble with it, but why actually? We all know the calendar starting with the birth of Christ and the division of the weekdays in analogy to the history of creation. This is part of our historic background and has become a mosaic-piece of our identity. Why should music not be part of it?

Instead of starting a musical-theoretical excursus at this point, let us visualize the images which theologians had in their minds when they discussed the music-related traditions of the Greeks. Pythagoras, in particular, teaches us that the knowledge of the part-tone structure of an oscillating string was well known. The natural law - the symmetry of the string vibration - is at first without any human influence, but then it is  interesting how the notes were named and ordered. For this purpose, the knowledge of the following biblical passages is of crucial importance. First of all:

The dream of Jacob

From a physical point of view, there are no "high" and "low" tones, just more or less fast vibrations. The concept of a scale (ladder) is already due to the analogy to the Holy Scriptures, for Jacob saw in his dream a ladder which ascended to heaven, and on this ladder he saw angels descending and descending. According to Aurelius Augustinus, it is the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, with which man reaches God, according to the seven syllables Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, and Si.

But here we have already advanced a little too quickly, for in the Hebrew original, Isaiah mentions only six gifts of the Holy Spirit: the fear of God, charity, courage, mercy, love of enemy, and wisdom. But by the twofold occurrence of the "fear of God," we once find the translation of "fear of God," and sometimes "piety," which increased the number from six to seven. Up to the Late Middle Ages, we find references to the number 6 as well as references to the number 7 when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are mentioned.

From the perspective of music, this is important because Guido of Arezzo (around 992-1050) developed the hexatonic scale and the Solmisation syllables were then limited to Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, So and La. These are the first syllables of the Hymn to St. John, to which the SI was later attached for Sancte Ioannes:

 Ut queant laxis

Resonare fibris

Mira gestorum

Famuli tuorum

Solve pulluti

Labii reatum

Sancte Ioannes

Literally: "Let the students praise the wonders of your deeds with loose vocal bands. Solve the blame of the stained lip, St. John." John the Baptist was patron of church music until he was replaced by St. Cecilia.

The sermon of the mount 

So, we already understood the symbolism of the white (diatonic) keys. Whether we use letters - A, B, C, D, E, F, G - or the Latin numbering of the intervals: Prim, Secund, Terz, Quart, Quint, Sext, Septim and Octav. We have to do with a systematic system, which only has one small defect: the octave consists of 5 whole-tone and two semitone steps, and in mathematical reading 5 whole and two halfs lead to 6. This shows, how important the preservation of the number 8 was (lat. Octav). And this should not change later, when additional musical notes had to be inserted. The theological significance of the number can be traced back to the seron of the mount, which speaks of the eight bliss. The art sciences are able to present numerous visual examples. Among others the capitals of the abbey of Cluny dedicated to the 8 church tones.

The sounds which had to be inserted later are represented by the black keys. The discussion is now about chromatic (Χρῶμα chrṓma, color) since the newly added notes were considered merely as "discoloration" of the existing master tones. Suddenly it becomes clear why there must have been inserted a "major and minor second" (literally a small and big two), likewise a "major and minor third" (lit. a small and big three) so that the important reference of the octave to salvation and consonance remained untouched. From a purely acoustic point of view, it would be irrelevant how we call this interval which is in use as octav. According to partial tone construction, it is in the frequency-ratio of 2:1 to the prim. To see the octav being divided into 8 parts is nothing but a human wish.

The last supper

Now we have completed the keyboard as it is today, with 8 white and 5 black keys per octave - altogether 13 - but with only 12 sound names, because the 1st and last notes of each octave bear the same name - according to the words of the Messiah: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." Consequently, the "C" as Christ came into the zenith of the circle of fifth.

By the way, the 13-knot rope - a rope knotted to a circle with 12 knots at regular intervals - was an indispensable tool in cathedral construction. And the 13-minus 1 symbolism refers to the participants at the Last Supper minus Judas, the traitor. Therefore the 13 is still deducted from hotel room doors, in order not to remind the guest of the treason and its cruel consequences. Therefore Friday, the 13th represents misfortune, because the crucifixion took place on a Friday, which we remember on Good Friday. The combination of the 13 and Friday was in popular faith associated with almost double misfortune.

Mathematically, the 13 minus 1 leads to 12 - corresponding to the above mentioned construction tool in cathedral building and corresponding to the dial of the clock, which indicates the 12 hours of the day and night. The 12 months of the year point to the cosmic dimension. The Catholic image of the world makes the corporate identity of the worlds producer recognizable everywhere, and music - with 12-parts in the circle of fifth - is no exception. It is a very fitting circumstance that the European flag takes over this symbolism in which the stars represent the night sky whereas the blue color represents the sky of the day.

Recent laser surveys at a sister-cathedral of Montecassino revealed that the ground plan was based on the sequence of Tetrardus plagalis, the music scale that was intended for the praise of God. Like all cathedrals, the building is oriented towards the sunrise, according to the words of the Messiah: "I am the light of the world." Thus light and sound were used as equally important didactic examples to draw attention to the incomprehensibility of God's existence. Light and sound can not be touched either, but nevertheless they exist, so the thought.

The Revelation of John

Contemporary pictures show, which visions led to the circle of fifth. Representations of the Last Judgement show Christ on a closed rainbow. Whoever confesses to the cross comes up, with the sign b one falls down. The dissonance, in extreme form, that of the Tritonus and of the Minor Second, was called Diabolus in Musica. According to this, the Revelation of St. John is to be read for understanding, and we also read about the Heavenly Jerusalem - that city with 12 gates - and the sentences to be found on numerous organs are suddenly understood: MUSICA PRAELUDIUM VITAM AETERNAM or in a more simple version: MUSICA DONUM DEI.

Anyone who now thinks that everything has already been explained should be deceived, because the development did not stop and the musicians demanded further tones within one octave. On the one hand, this is already recognizable by the double naming of the black keys (C sharp/D flat, F sharp/G flat) on the other hand, historic sources indicate that the musicians demanded far more keys per octave. The fact that, despite the limited musical usefulness, one held firmly to the given keyboard arrangement, proves the influence of a non musical interest. And thus a scholarly dispute over several hundred years began concerning the appropriate way of tuning.

This fact we have to thank the discovery of the well-tempered tuning and of all dependent compositions of Mozart, Schumann, Schubert, Beethoven, Brahms and others, just because of the perseverance of the division of the keyboard. In the Middle Ages, pure intervals were preferred, and the tempered tuning would have been rejected as a compromise with the dissonance and thus as a pact with the devil. On the other hand, a Chopin-prélude can not come out properly using a middle-tone tuning. Only prim and octav remained consonant and pure intervals, the notes between them were equally divided. From one sound to the other we use the factor 12√2, and this factor no longer has a demonstrable reference to the Bible.

The Western sound system used to have had a geographic boundary at the Bosporus. Today, Turkish, Japanese and Chinese pianists are also known and appreciated. There can be no longer a country in the world where somebody doesn't touch the keyboard in the search of happiness.

 The miracle of Pentecost

From the Christian point of view, the pentectost-miracle happened before our eyes - we remember the sending of the Holy Spirit and that the 12 apostles began to speak in all languages. Music is a language that is understood by all people, whose symbolism also refers to Pentecost and which has nothing but harmony and world peace as its goal.