A Gesture Towards The Idea Of Politics As Music

The ice is near, the loneliness is terrible – but how serenely everything lies in the sunshine! How freely one can breathe! – Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

I stand upon a mountain: allow me to broaden the horizon. I wish to write of politics and music. I wish to gesture towards what a musical politics, and a political music, might look like.

We are north of the Brenner Pass, having traversed the road that since Roman times has connected the Latin and Germanic worlds through the Alps. We’ve travelled east, to meet two travellers who have travelled from further east yet. We are upon the Untersberg near Salzburg, having earlier paid homage at Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthplace.

First to join us on the summit is Herbert von Karajan – a native of the neighbouring town of Salzburg of part-German, part-Slovenian stock, and with a surname dating to his ennobled Greek ancestors. Second is the altogether wearier Sergiu Celibidache, who has trekked from eastern Romania to get here.

Both are conductors. Both are Great Men. Both brought their respective strengths to vivify the great composers of our civilization, notably the heroes of German Romanticism. I must introduce them to you.

You may not listen to ‘classical’ or ‘art’ music, but that is largely irrelevant. If you are a neophyte, you can learn.

Celibidache was above all not a man who believed in ‘following the blueprints’ of a given composer with logical precision. He emphasised that a composers’ scores were a guide to allow for a conductor and his orchestra to provide a transcendental experience for the audience – to find a resonance with the great cosmic vibration that music is the ultimate expression of.

It may serve us to see this as a refutation of musical Protestantism, or the idea that the score alone will offer us salvation. It is the entire structure, the entire institution, which will deliver us – an institution that gradually gnarls itself into new path with the passage of history, with the same roots but a changing form.

The spiritual unity of the symphony orchestra holds: the score as reference but not a definition; everyone with a task, a purpose, a role, a duty, a specialty – informed by the text no doubt, as well as their own education, but also their guidance by a great organisers who can see the whole for what it is.

We will not be guided by law alone.

Celibidache’s slow-burning treatment of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony has an indisputably divine character. Bruckner was a devout Catholic of intense religiosity, and while the symphony is not religious per se (nor dedicated to a saint as he was wont to do), I challenge any listener to go twenty-two minutes into the work, listen to the end of the first movement and tell me that there is no divine resonance or sacred vibration, even if subtle. It is a divinity drawn out by the great power of spiritual perception that both composer and conductor shared. They both drew from the same mountain-well.

I apologise to Maestru Celibidache for being so base as to provide a Youtube link to his music – opposed as he was to any notion of digital recording. It impedes the transcendental experience, so he said. But with his bodily death, one must make do.

The parallels with Celibidache’s compatriot Mircea Eliade are quite clear: both devoted their lives to finding the transcendental within the world around us. Romanian intellectuality is clearly centred on a mysticism that runs both in as well as outside of its nominal Orthodoxy; an ethos that has very little time for Modern Reason. A legacy of monotheistic Dacian belief in Zamolxis? Now that is a fun suggestion. The Vlach retreat into the Carpathians is a wonderful tale. But for another time perhaps (that’s another mountain range to the one on which we currently rest).

This decidedly un-modern ethos was most cogently expressed by Celibidache when he declaimed in a French interview:

If you say [of a Bruckner symphony] ‘That was beautiful!’ you have not discovered everything. It was not beautiful; it was True. Beauty is just a stage on the path to Truth.

This aesthetic position holds more generally: for us to have a life governed by ‘beauty’ in terms of visual art, architecture and so forth, we must announce the beautiful as the True. True Art. True Architecture. We must have a politics to help us to announce Truth in aesthetics and ethics.

Karajan, in contrast to Celibidache, was a man of technics, whether that was the fast cars and planes of his personal life to using the latest technology to capture his performances for huge television audiences. Indeed, Karajan’s demand that numerous takes be made of ostensibly single performances was a symbolic entrance into the new world of musical production, one whose logical conclusion would be the music video.

Carl Schmitt perceptively noted that technology was not neutral precisely because it was accessible by all, even the non-expert and non-elite. With Karajan, we may breathe a sigh of relief as thankfully the abuse of technics by the Mass also has an inverse, with the Great using them too – the broadcasts of his performances are a work of Art. The question of instrumental rationality is a bugger but a strong enough Will can keep us from putting the gun to our own heads…

Karajan was a lover of the countryside and the wilderness. He famously dreamt of his reincarnation as an eagle so that he might fly above the Alps, in the way he powered his private aeroplane between the valleys. Yet he remained metropolitan in lifestyle, living in Berlin (a brave man no doubt!) and thus in communion with urban civilization. This dialectic between the city and the countryside is of fundamental political importance – one whose false resolution readily results in the disintegration of Order.

Political Orders need cities, which represent agglomerations of information, resources, people, and infrastructure necessary for the functioning of a civilization. However, the blasé attitude inculcated by the modern city – the indifference, haughtiness and abstraction of thought caused by metropolitan overstimulation that Georg Simmel described so well – must necessarily be tempered by the quietude, sincerity and practical reality of folk existence in the rural periphery. Civilization needs ‘pure’ culture as much as vice-versa.

In Karajan’s treatment of the work of Mahler one also hears this urban-rural dialectic at play, as the deliriously cacophonous and dissonant insanity of modern life meets with the triumphant romantic grandeur of the bucolic mountainside. This is particularly evident in the entirety of Mahler’s 5th Symphony, not least Karajan’s triumphant final three minutes. The city is not destroyed in fire – but the farmers are coming down with their pitchforks, and boy do they look angry!

Mahler himself – born a Jew and a convert to Catholicism – was elevated by the pre-Anschluss ‘Austrofascists’ of his homeland to the status of a musical hero some twenty years after his death. It sounds bizarre – until you realise that ‘Austrofascism’ was an anti-Nazi, anti-pan-German, ultra-Catholic regime whose conception of race was ultimately more spiritual than that of the Nazis. They, too, must have had an inkling that politics was musical.

I see the Spirit of Karajan as clearly being one of greater turbulence and action than Celibidache. Karajan’s haste, for example, meant that his rendition of that 1st movement of Bruckner’s 7th I mentioned above lacks Celibidache’s pure, sublime character. The inverse of this however is that faster, more vigorous music is appropriately powerful, suiting Mahler’s 5th amongst many others (try the Eroica). You can just smell the sweat of Vienna’s nationalists and socialists as they jealously raise their sights to the sky…

Celibidache and Karajan are united, however, in being conductors of Breath. Celibidache made the extraordinary demand that the woodwind and brass musicians breathe exactly together, so as to allow for a unity of performance. Karajan astounded orchestras with his ability to tell when a performer was running out of Breath, gently quickening the given segment. This no doubt accounted for their different styles – Celibidache slow, Karajan fast – but both indicate a true understanding of Breath, and by extension Spirit. For it is the German Atmen – to breathe – that is of the same root as the Sanskrit Ātman – the Soul. When we consider both conductors’ interests in Eastern philosophy, we come full circle. To understand the Spirit of the People in politics is to understand the Breath of the Performers in music – and to will a change in Breath is to guide a People’s Spirit!

We need political music and musical politics today. We need a unity of civilization and culture. We need a unity of the written word and the spoken action. We need a Music to take us beyond modernity. We need music that can soar – and unite the Ātman with the Atmos.

What can we begin to look to? Well here’s a start: For fifteen glorious months after the First World War, a great political experiment took place. This experiment was the Charter of Carnaro, a constitution born from a land-grab by poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and his band of Arditi soldiers. Seizing the city of Fiume – now Rijeka, Croatia’s third-largest town – D’Annunzio and his men set to work.

The Charter, widely seen as an expression of Italian nationalism, seized what had been an autonomous Habsburg city in the name of the Italian people, who constituted two-thirds of its population.

But what made this experiment truly interesting, before its autonomy was ended by the Italian Kingdom, was its elevation of music as its guiding principle of State.

An excerpt from the Charter:

In the Italian province of Carnaro, music is a social and religious institution. Once in a thousand or two thousand years music springs from the soul of a people and flows on for ever. A noble race is not one that creates a God in its own image but one that creates also the song wherewith to do Him homage. Every rebirth of a noble race is a lyric force, every sentiment that is common to the whole race, a potential lyric; music the language of ritual, has power, above all else, to exalt the achievement and the life of man. Does it not seem that great music has power to bring spiritual peace to the strained and anxious multitude?

We must let the Charter be a touchstone. It, too, speaks of a rebirth.

The Charter of Carnaro was of course only ever a guide; the Constitution of the United States of America is no doubt worse yet. As with a musical score, we must have a liberty of reinterpretation that is bound by a social drive and identity.

D’Annunzio no doubt understood some of the principles I have lain out - although perhaps he did not wish his own endeavour as True enough, despite the thumos of his Breath and Body. In guaranteeing the varied dialects and Christian faiths of the region under a common banner of Roman heritage, he sought to address the urban-rural question. He, like the Futurists, no doubt understood that the terrifying power of technics could be used to solve, rather than further, the disenchantment of the world that modernity promised. He above all recognised the spiritual character of music, whether in the High form of Church music or the Low form of folk songs.

But what is our ‘folk’?

Wait a second: is it Vaporwave?

Vaporwave is fun. It is playful. It is, importantly, demotic. Vaporwave and its derivatives are the music of relaxation and the party. It teasingly pulls the detritus of late capitalism one way or another, making it do funny jumps and getting it drunk. It evokes a now-oriented nostalgia for worlds both experienced and dreamed. It is good. I remember pumping myself up for the Trump election night listening to it.

It is, alas, not ‘folk’, and only marginally more so than some soy-eating hipster moaning along to the strumming of a guitar is ‘folk’. Folk will be the music we set to the words we tell of our Story, once it has come to pass. We will one day stop wallowing in the scraps of the old order through Vaporwave. Vaporwave is the purest example of Low music of today; we await the Low of the future. It is yet to be grown in the furrows of the valley.

But I digress in my attempt to clear the air, for the story of our ‘folk’ is a story for another time entirely! My fundamental point – the one I have been flying this essay towards – is that we need something more than the Low of today or the Low of the future. Low music of all sorts lacks identifiable subjectivity behind its creation – it can be the hastily-compiled audiotapes of Vaporwave or the congealed tribal histories of a people. The High must be imbued with a subject’s individual Genius-Spirit to proclaim the Truth, rather than being a product of Truth.

We must thus build something elevated, in line with the principles I have outlined and the teachings of Celibidache and Karajan. We need a political music, and a musical politics, that reaches up and speaks to our purest nature – that outlines the principles of Governance of Man and moves from Beauty to Truth. We need those who can help create these Truths.

That is why I stand upon the mountain with my arms aloft, hoping to see the sun shine upon the falling snow on the neighbouring peak. The glacier moves silently, the air is pure.

Spread your wings and take faith!

Take a deep Breath!