Music and Contemplation (1)

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D., MA, CPC, OCDS

It is in consideration of the relationship between music and contemplation that we can more clearly see the role of music as a means to expresses things so difficult for words alone and aid in the formation of human beings. Music and morals are allied in principle. To listen to music is to contemplate something beautiful ….something eminently true since it mirrors the infinite beauty of God, Himself.[2] The happiness which comes from true contemplation is often defused in art that is beautiful.

The art of composing possesses a value in exciting devotion and prayer. Cole holds that music can reach into the depths of personality, change men’s hearts, and express the law of nature within the soul.[3] For him, the true purpose of music is to express the external proportions of God’s universe which transcends mere sense impressions. It can do what words alone cannot do. Cole states:

“Might one listening to the inner relationships of a work by a Mahler or a Stravinski, to use some modern examples, exercise and strengthen the intellect to more easily contemplate the divine? Likewise, might not the beautiful as contemplated dispose one to realize that there is more to life than simple or exclusively the goods of the senses? Could not a sonata or concerto suggest through the intricacies of a well written melody joined to harmony and rhythm dispose one to desire a life of greater virtue, indeed a life of perfection? Would not such a life contribute to one’s ultimate happiness?…To the extent that music brings one to the taste and joys of contemplative activity and life, it leads one to the purpose of the virtuous life, for moral virtues anticipates and disposes one to the contemplative life, naturally and supernaturally.”[4]

With music man can boldly give glory to God,[5] not as the mystic who stands in silence before the dark majesty of God, but rather as the musician who stands in the light and sound of music. The musician stands as Hezekiah stood before God knowing what fate he truly deserved but knowing the mercy God had shown and would continue to show. He stood in the pit of the grave and sang out:

“You have preserved my life from the pit destruction, when you cast behind your back all my sins. For it is not the nether world that gives you thanks, nor death that praises you; neither do those who go down into the pit await your kindness. The living, the living give you thanks, as I do today. Fathers declare to their sons, O God, your faithfulness. The Lord is our savior; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.”[6]

It is this boldness that lives in the song of the musician. The boldness to sing out to God and demand that God respond in like form. At his best, the musician sings to God for his entire life in hopes that he might hear Our Lord’s sweet voice sing to him on the day of his death. But in truth God does not keep the artist only for that day but allows him to hear something of the melodies that await us all.

[1] DiVietri, Patrick J. Ph.d., A COMMENTARY ON THE CANTATA CARMELITUM, Dissertation presented to the Graduate School of the Humanities, American Commonwealth University, San Diego, 1997, Pp. 15-16.

[2] In Boethius. de Trinitas, 5,1, ad 3, De institutione musica, in Source Readings in Music History, selected and annotated by Oliver Strunk, (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1950), cited by, Cole, p. 74.

[3] Cole, Basil OP. Music and Morals. (New York: Alba House, 1993,) p. 59.

[4] Ibid. p. 87

[5] Ibid. p. 85

[6] Isaiah 35:17-20

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