A strange idea, remarkable in its conception, infinitely varied in its significance and its transformations. Music, after all, has always been considered the ideal spiritual exercise – and the ideal is always future. Remarkable and characteristic that the notion of future potentiality inherent in its content was applied to music, which really has no need of it.
How did this idea arise? Perhaps the answer is that in scarcely any other art does the material – the perpetually active play of emotion – press ahead so restlessly toward ever new realization; in scarcely any other domain of the spirit does it so stubbornly defy the acceptance of any one form as eternally applicable to a truth that is ever changing. That which has been realized may please by its immediacy and living warmth, but the longing for ever new realization remains unsatisfied. And it is this longing for an eternal melody “beyond good and evil” which gave birth to this daring idea. Everything thought to be a fetter – the “constraint” of form, the animal warmth, the sensual surrender to the familiarity of pleasing sounds – would perish in this idea which, like a shimmering rainbow, would seek to unveil a new covenant with the infinite. And yet of all paths, those of the spirit are the least passable. Humanity comes to terms with its dreams only too soon, consigning dreams to the dreamworld. Even if we recognize that their function is to open doors to the unknown – the real meaning of music – nonetheless we at once rationalize our dreams, sanctioning their perceptions as divinely inspired only if they conform to the ways of our mundane world. And woe to the ideal which is stubborn enough to remain an ideal forever. Its unfitness is forgiven – at first tolerantly, then mockingly, at last not at all. The rainbow “music of the future” becomes the Fata Morgana “music of the future,” and before long even its honorable name is denied and its prophets are burnt at the stake as “Newtoners.” [editorial remark: i. Neutöner in Steuermann’s German original. Given the astronomical allusions elsewhere in the essay, one suspects a pun on “Newton.”]
Yet it happened that one man “on the open sea” set his course toward a star which promised him the future. And it happened further that he reached this star and remained there; he made it habitable and alive. When he told the world his news, humanity recognized once again that life was unbounded, that the world had become wider. Music of the future, as we had expected – no, as our comprehension had darkly intimated – was suddenly reality. Had we no premonition of such a thing? The overcoming of earth-bound ties; the mind which shapes new relationships and does not merely reinterpret the old; the sound which seems to come, clearer and sharper, from the thinner upper air; the new melodic sense which, confined by no convention, seeks only to serve expression. It would be the “air from other planets” which bore witness to the future, just as a meteorite here reminds one incontrovertibly of the existence of worlds beyond.
Yet it became apparent that the present jealously defends its rights and is hostile to nothing more than to the future, to which it must, in spite of itself, eventually be delivered up. Indeed, even the realm of the dead seems more comfortable to the present than does the realm of the unborn! Even if the present needs dreams in order to live, fit has no use for the living dreams. Like the meteorite, this music of the future becomes a strange concept. That part of its being which is not earth-bound is perceived as lifeless; that part which is tied to existence, as superfluous. Its brilliance perplexes; its hardness is seen as rigidity, its different mode of expression as incomprehensibility, its hypersexuality as sterility, its fulfillment as limitation. Its lack of earthliness is accounted a fault; its connection to the eternal is derided as mortality; its perception and pursuit of its own laws are seen as constricted. Must such be the fate of every dream that becomes reality? But the dream has become reality, and it encroaches upon the course of events. As strong as was the desire which brought it to light, so vigorous now is its continuing vitality. Even if it is no longer as unassailable as that intangible rainbow, it is now, as a living entity, no longer defenseless. Already it steels our senses to endure its brilliance; already it strengthens our hearts to enter the unknown with courage and joy; already its significance pierces the fog and brings order to confused, uncertain minds. One cannot escape its presence – it is always near; and that which is always near will soon become familiar. Familiar: one can already recognize its features, and in them one’s own; already from its rush and roar the ear catches the delicate rocking of the dream which everyone dreams, which everyone must dream.
It is no longer only the star of the lonely. The earth is approaching it swiftly, and that air which now but few breathe will soon become the site of human habitations. Perhaps boundaries will soon be drawn here – this far and no farther! – and will be guarded as zealously as were the old. But from the essence of the new we should ever recognize how it won its way: that it was the restlessness of feeling which set these limits so far, the flight through worlds beyond which gave this world its lightness, the music of the spheres which has now become the Song of mankind.
For to make music means again and again to endure the adventure into the unknown. Music is always the music of the future.
Arnold Schönberg zum 60. Geburtstag. Wien 1934, 28–30
Tuesday, Jun 18th
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