An Hypothesis on Twentieth- Century Music- UPDATED

After Beethoven, musicians began to define genius as the ability to conjure tempests and earthquakes in the soul. Hence, the “Romantic era”, the era of tempest, sentiment, and the search for the thunderous and sublime.

This teaches man to identify music with getting outside of one’s mind. Over time, musicians find an easier way to give this ecstasy. Beating drums and pulsating rhythms move the body irresistibly- which is why drums are beaten in galleys or on forced marches. A new kind of music arises that gives primacy to rhythm, and this extreme rhythm causes extreme motion in the body, which in turn gives the feeling of extreme life- for life in animals is motion. This feeling of extreme life is caused apart from the spirit (which is most appealed to by harmony) or the mind (most appealed to by melody). According primacy to rhythm is the distinctive feature of twentieth century music: Dixieland, jazz, blues, gospel, rock, and rap. This music draws its root inspiration from slave music- music that was sung to keep bodies moving, while keeping minds and spirits empty (who wants to think about life under such circumstances?)

We, however, use this music as though it were for our leisure- when in fact it is only useful to keep us numb while living the life of a slave. This use, moreover, only applies when the structure of the music is not intrinsically perverse. This music was, at best, designed for the times when we want our brains and spirits to go numb, and our bodies to keep moving. It therefore has no place in the leisured, contemplative, emotional, or spiritual life. In fact, it only has a place in life when we would rather not be living.

My hypothesis, summarized, is this: Romantic era music strove for a divine emotional experience, beyond all reason in a swell of passion and ecstasy. Modern music keeps this fundamental kernel of the irrational, but strives to find it in things that are bodily. We sought to become gods apart from reason and ended up- as always- like beasts.


  1. kodiak said,

    March 27, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    Not sure about the history though. I have heard Hayden quoted as saying that he was amazed at how many women he got, and I’m not sure how famous Mozart was but I could see someone debating.

  2. shulamite8810 said,

    March 27, 2006 at 8:04 pm

    this is a work in progress, I had to type it in a hurry, keep looking.

  3. kodiak said,

    March 27, 2006 at 9:30 pm

    Fair enough. That sounds pretty persuasive.

  4. JZ said,

    March 27, 2006 at 11:35 pm

    I definitely understand and sympathize with your point in many respects. Much of modern music tends to encourage the most unmitigated animalistic tendencies in our fallen nature.

    Nevertheless, as a musician myself, I take issue with several points. First, much “slave music” reflected a spiritual outcry of a downtrodden people. They were words of faith which built up a kind of culture through which a people without freedom could develop a sense of community and meaning. At the very least, I would hesitate to chastise this music as “empty.”

    Second, whether you recognize it or not, there can most definitely be a contemplative aspect to modern rock music at least, depending on who and how it is done. I do not really have time to work out all the examples I can think of, but for now let me provide at least one of which I am sure you will find some objection based on your post.

    I have heard many complain that what is called praise and worship music is an abomination. However, I tend to look at like the rosary when done well: the repetition of words and simple melodies can lead the person, body and mind, to a kind of contemplation and worship not achievable through other means. Of course, one would have to experience this to appreciate it. I can say this much, I have come to pray and worship God through leading spontaneous praise and worship in a way unparelled except in receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. The fruit of authentic praise and worship are songs that lead to silence, as is always the case when worship is allowed to progress. Upbeat praise leads to worship which leads to silent contemplation and meditation of God’s presence which itself causes the cycle to begin again. I think the way reason and passion can each participate in worship is too easily overlooked by many.

    Take this from one who spends much time listening to Bach, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, and Duncan Sheik.

    The true and the good can reveal themselves in many forms accessible by reason and passion.

  5. shulamite8810 said,

    March 28, 2006 at 12:12 am

    Slavery is opposed to the life of contemplation, as it placing a primacy on the body as opposed to the spirit or the mind. This is not a racial thing, by the way- it would be true of any race enslaved. In fact, one of the chief reasons why slavery is so evil is that it deprives men of the possibility of liesure, civilization, education, and culture in chich contemplation is possible.

  6. shulamite8810 said,

    March 28, 2006 at 1:00 am

    “In which alone contemplation is possible” that is.

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