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Dialogue of Cultures

National Conservatory of Music Movement:

Poetry Seminar:
The Principle of the Unity of
Science and Art

by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr.
May 27, 1995

See Also

Revolution in Musical Tuning
Chart of the Registers of the Six Species of Singing Voice
Programs of the National Conservatory of Music Movement
Education Page
About The Schiller Institute

Lyndon LaRouche spoke on May 27, 1995 to an informal gathering of close collaborators in the movement to found the National Conservatory of Music in Washington, D.C., and then answered questions, together with his wife Helga Zepp-LaRouche. His remarks, in a slightly edited transcript, together with some parts of the exchange which followed, appear below. The dialogue followed a weekend which began on Friday night, May 26, with a concert of Classical songs, operatic arias, and spirituals performed by eminent soloists, as well as short choral works sung by the amateur choruses initiated by the Schiller Institute in the Washington area for both adults and children. On Saturday, there was a performance of the play Through the Years, dramatizing the history of the African-American spirituals, written in 1936 by civil rights veteran Amelia Boynton Robinson. Producing the play in Washington with the participation of local youths has been a key feature of the Schiller Institute's literacy project. Mr. LaRouche was introduced by moderator Dennis Speed.

Thank you, young fellow. As I get older, I take these liberties. I don't know, some of you are my age and slightly older, you know how that is, you get past 70, you begin to take more liberties like this. As a matter of fact, I had the experience, just in Germany, on two occasions. I met one dear friend, who is a very famous singer and a coach, and she's 92 years of age, quite hale and hearty for 92, very functional. She's still teaching, still coaching. And she's still very strongly opinionated. She doesn't sing much any more. But she does have her recordings, and we did have some discussions. We came upon a point at which she said to me, "Oh, you're a young kid!" [laughter] Then, from Frankfurt, we went by way of Leipzig, and I want to return to Leipzig as a thematic point of relevance to us, and we ended up for several meetings in Berlin, among which was a meeting for a few hours with a dear old friend, who's a very key part of German culture and who was a close friend of Furtwängler.

He's 90, and he, in the course of the afternoon discussion, also looked at me without knowing what my other friend had said earlier, and said, "You're just a kid!" So, I guess if I live long enough, I'm going to get to that stage, where I start talking to 70-year-old people, and calling them "kids"! I wanted to emphasize two things which were very impressive about the trip, and they were impressive because they happened in a sequence. We had a number of meetings on music, which was one of the principal reasons for the trip to Germany, to meet with several people and discuss things that couldn't be discussed here, particularly with people who are 90 years old. You can't haul them all over the world at will, so you've got to go to them. So, we had meetings with our friend [Arturo] Sacchetti, who's an organist, who was somewhat impaired by an illness recently, but he's still doing his work, though not performing at the keyboard, and others, on the question of preparing the second volume of this Manual, which I'm very eager to get into place. And we had a number of other discussions on that.

The Boys' Choir of St. Thomas in Leipzig

But one of the things which was most delicious, was we stopped in Leipzig, and I had a very unusual experience, in the sense of participating for several hours in auditing a rehearsal of the St. Thomas Boys' Choir in Leipzig, and then, the next evening, at the evening Vesper service, hearing the performance of the complete repertoire for that week at the service, and being able to compare what had been gone through with the rehearsal, and what was heard in the evening.

Now, let me just qualify, for those who may not know, and some of you here do know this. The St. Thomas Cathedral Choir is a separate school and has been in existence since the year A.D. 1212. It has, according to all reputation, an unbroken singing program. It would sing every week on Friday evening at Vesper service, and that's been going on since A.D. 1212. The nearest thing they had to a break, was in the middle of the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century, at which point they were down to three boys, because the Black Death was killing off the singers, but they still sang. So, the word is that they've sung for almost 800 years. Now, the discipline is tremendous. The cantor who was conducting the performance, is himself a product of the school. He's a very trained musician, about 40 years of age, but a full bearer of the tradition.

Let me just identify the tradition, and then I'll come back, in due course, to how it bears on here. These boys range from 7 to about 18, that is, it's a secondary school program; they are chosen for their voice and their musicality. But they are given a full Gymnasium education, like a secondary school, from that time until they complete graduation. Their musical work is done as a part of the total program of studies. Each week, from the beginning of the week until Friday, four days a week (normally, except this particular week, when they only had three days because of a holiday), they start from scratch with a completely new repertoire for that week's Friday evening Vesper service. They learn from scratch. They then perform on Friday, and the following week take up a completely new program, so that in three years or so, they've gone through pretty much the entire Bach motet and cantata repertoire. And they won't forget it, I assure you; and they never will forget it. I saw the performance.

Not only are they well-trained, but this particular discipline is very important. I've seen, perhaps not as many rehearsals as some of you have seen, but I've seen a number; and I can tell you the density in the rehearsal, the density of direction, was about as intense as I've ever seen. But the boys were responsive and trained, and able to do it. During the three-hour rehearsal, there was a break of about 15 minutes, in which these very serious, intent young boys and older boys, sitting in their chairs, cross-legged otherwise, but nonetheless singing, and very intent in the most professional manner, suddenly turned into boys, fresh boys. And they raced out of the area into the yard, played soccer, then came back in, as fresh as they had left, and sat down sedately, or as sedately as boys can do, in their chairs, and they concentrated totally on what they were doing. So there was total concentration, and total training, and a masterful direction. Now the particular work, which was the featured work of the Friday program, which they were rehearsing this Thursday morning when we were in there, or Thursday noontime, was "Jesu, meine Freude," which is one of the most difficult motets to perform adequately; not to perform it, but to perform it adequately, in the motet repertoire. It has challenges in there, which are rather astonishing. The boys were learning it.

The direction was intense; the management of the direction was intense. Nothing passed, everything was corrected. Diction, approaches, everything was involved. The following evening (I missed the intervening rehearsal, which was done as the dress rehearsal in the morning, on Friday), but we were at the evening performance, and I'll tell you; it was one of the few times in recent years, hearing a musical performance, that the tears came spontaneously flowing out of my eyes. I couldn't hold them back. The performance was magnificent. Everything that they had been taught, that they had rehearsed, every correction, came through in the performance; and better, of course, much better.

The boys came in, intent. There are about 80 of them, two groups: the young boys, who are the pre-voice-change, and the young men, who are the older, after-voice-change, came in, with a cantor behind, every one of them fully concentrated as a musical performer prepared to perform, in that moment of total concentration that's required, before you've got the idea of your composition, in your head before you start to perform. They came marching in with that idea in their head, a full program. They performed; they performed with precision, with shaping of tone. They sang not on the notes, but they sang between the notes; they knew how to do that, they were trained for that. It was the most remarkable performance of "Jesu, meine Freude" I have ever heard. And it was more remarkable, because I had experienced part of the process of its production, in the sense of participating in the rehearsal; and therefore, as you know, you have a much keener sense of the composition when you've listened through the rehearsal, and you're sweating as to how it's going to come out, in the final outcome of the performance.

From there, we went on other business to Halle and Berlin, in the course of which we heard a non-singer perform the Schubert "Die Schöne Müllerin," a non-singer whose voice was placed somewhere under the carpet, or by the wall, or in various places, anywhere but in the right place in the head, and doing all kinds of terrible things, with no third register whatsoever, and, you can imagine, that was pretty much of a disaster. The middle register was nothing to brag about, when you could find it; and sometimes he would hit a semi-placement in the first register, but it was horrible; it was a real horrible, torturous experience. So much for Halle, where we had nicer things, of a different variety.

Music in Berlin

But then, in Berlin. Now, in Berlin, largely as avocation but also celebration of a very special meaning for me. We went to the Berlin Symphony, and we heard an Italian 'cellist performing Schumann. The cellist ran the short Italian 'cello olympics, that is, his bowing was nothing to write home about, but it was fast. The shaping of tone was not exactly what I would have wanted. And apparently the orchestra, the Berlin Symphony, in its own magnificent and subtle way, managed to communicate or impart that sense, that that's what they thought about the whole thing, without saying anything, the way sometimes orchestras can do. They then performed the Brahms Third, which was the exit piece, and that was excellent. It showed what they could do. Then we had a similar experience, by a related body of people on the following evening, in the Deutsche Oper, which did a performance of Fidelio. There were some problems, the Pizarro was a little bit sick, and the soprano, who was magnificent, had nonetheless been singing too much Wagner, and her middle register had suffered a bit of that elevated Wagner; not good for the voice.

But the second act was absolutely magnificent, even despite Pizarro; and in the middle of this, they gave a punctilious performance, according to the directions which are famous because Furtwängler gave them, of the Leonore [Overture] No. 2, which is generally not done in that position, it's the Leonore No. 3. Magnificent. Now, I want to make a point on this experience, because I think it's relevant in a different way to the problem we face in dealing with young people and others in the community today. There are two characteristics which were outstanding in these performances: the degree of precision in performance, which is rare in the world, just rare.

You just don't get that; and I remember some things like this, when I was much younger, that we used to have more in this direction, but the performance has become sloppy lately, the interpretation, all kinds of terrible things are happening. And you had a sense, in the Berlin Symphonic ensembles, of musicians who could do anything, if they had adequate direction. In the boys, you had a sense of the same thing. This is probably the only boys' chorus in the world, which comes even close to that kind of standard. The Vienna Boys' Choir have become a bad operation; there's a chorus at Dresden, which is reportedly not bad, there's a chorus at Nuremberg, I don't know what it's like, but it used to have a good reputation. But this is unexcelled, I never heard anything like it. And I think I've heard a few things in my time. But this is precision, which meant work.

The other aspect, as with the boys, which is much more important to me, and is important to us in our work, is this. In order to perform as a musician, you must do something which makes music a powerful weapon to people who are not necessarily musicians. There's a difference between slopping something out, and trying to perform it, and facing problems in the performance which are real creative problem-solving problems, which you can slop through, or you can actually master. I'll give an example of this, from geometry, an example which I use often, and the choice of example bears on the point I wish to make. My primary concern is with ideas. Now, very few people these days, really could define what an idea is. Let me give you a definition, and let me relate that back to musical ideas.

The Eratosthenes experiment

There's a very simple example of an idea, which comes out of Egyptian history (it's actually Greek history), of a measurement or an estimated measurement of the circumference of the Earth from pole to pole, by Eratosthenes, a member of the Plato Academy long after Plato had died, who went to Egypt and became the librarian of the Alexandria Library, who was responsible for a number of important discoveries in early Greek science and mathematics. He measured the circumference of the Earth through the poles, by taking two positions and using a hemispherical sundial, in order to capture the angle of the Sun cast by a sundial, at noontime precisely, at two different points in Egypt, one north of the other, one in the area of Aswan and the other in Alexandria. And by comparing the difference in the angles of the sundial on that particular day, by a very simple method of geometry of similar constructions, he estimated the angle from the center of the Earth formed by these two points on the meridian and, having walked, or having had people walked the distance from Aswan to Alexandria, the point in Alexandria, and knowing the length of that arc, he thus projected that, to determine what would be the circumference of the Earth, and came out with an estimate of a circular circumference, which was only 50 miles off, approximately, in terms of the diameter of the Earth.

The importance of this particular experiment to me, is that he made this measurement with that degree of accuracy, with nothing more than those crude instruments, 2,200 years, approximately, before the first human being saw the curvature of the Earth. That is, he measured something 2,200 years before anybody saw it, which is not bad. The measurement involves not a measuring of something you can see, but measuring the error in what you see. Now, this is very much like what happens in music, of course. Some people sing the notes; some people sing between the notes. Because the two notes don't mean anything, it's the interval that means everything, and what that interval means, is everything.

Mozart's compositional method

In particular, the area in which I'm most interested, is the discovery of a method of composition or improved method of composition by Mozart, who applied an idea, a discovery by Haydn to the later work of Bach and developed a method called motivic thorough-composition, which is a characteristic of the Classical repertoire from about 1782 through the death of Brahms. This method rests upon the ability to perfect the idea of a composition, so that as you prepare yourself to perform it, the idea of the composition, which exists in a kind of timeless sense; the idea of the composition begins with the first note and ends with the last note, and it's there all the time. It governs the way each note and each interval is performed. Complete concentration. And this is a perfection of that idea of music, to make a composition represent clearly and consistently and coherently a single idea.

Just as in the example, Eratosthenes reduced the difference between two points on the meridian to a single idea, which is the idea of the circumference of the Earth and its measurability, before anybody saw it. This ability to develop these kinds of ideas, is important to us, in dealing with children who live in the poverty of Washington and elsewhere, and there are more of them all the time. Because it's important to give these children, and also adults, a sense of their own humanity. We only do that, by making them see in themselves a power which lifts them up above the dogs on the street, who know the lampposts they can sniff, and similar kinds of things. It lifts them above the simple, sensual-perceptual experience, to realize that they as human beings are capable of generating ideas, ideas which are valid, ideas through which we can effectively change and improve the universe.

The job, I think, of music for us, in respect to the population in general, is to reach out to people who live largely in impoverished lives, people who are thrown into what the condition of mankind was for most of human existence, in which over 95% of the people of this planet lived in the conditions of serfdom or slavery or worse, with no opportunity. And we have, in this country and elsewhere, people who are thrown down into that kind of condition, or something approximating it. And our concern is to reach out to them, and give them a moment of experience which touches them, and makes them aware of their own humanity.

There's one example of this we had in Washington, which is repeatedly realized by a passage from Amelia's play Through the Years, which deals with a slave auction. And when the preceding scenes establish the characters, and then the characters are brought to the slave auction, then the audience is touched; and some of these children, from the poorest circumstances, and also sometimes their parents or relatives, who participate in this or see their friends participate in this drama, are uplifted out of the circumstance in which they are normally entrapped, and they find something in themselves which is beautiful, and they may even move themselves to reach out, to find a better life.

Function of music to lift people up

And that's the chief, general function of music for the population, is to uplift people, to bring them out of self-degradation and misery and brutality, and to give them a moment of experience in which they can approach music in the same spirit, at least approximately, that those St. Thomas Boys' Choir children and youth sing. To attack a musical idea, to experience its precision, not slop; to perform a polyphonic work with voice transparency, so it's not mud all over the place; to learn how to place their voices in such a way, that a voice part is a voice part and not a gang movement (in which you have trouble distinguishing the mezzosopranos from the sopranos, and it all gets mixed up somehow).

But to achieve precision; to know they're doing it right, and to participate in the idea of doing it right, and know that it is right, as in the play: to reach ideas. As you know, those of you who are musicians, it takes a lot of work to do things right. It takes a lot of training and sweat to do things right. But you find that unless you do that, you cannot actually effectively reach the audience, including those little boys and girls and others, who, if you can touch them with a perception, not of their ability to perform what you're performing for them, but their ability to understand what you're performing; and they come out of the musical events like the persons who participated as audience members, as it was said, in a presentation of one of Schiller's tragedies: the audience went into the theater, and came out of the theater, better people than they had entered it.

The object of a musical performance and a musical experience, is to take people into the performance, and have them leave it better people than they entered it. To do that, requires precision. To do that, requires delivering to the audience a sense of what's going on, to make the experience transparent to them, so they know what they're hearing, they have some idea of what it's all about. They can hear it done. Maybe they can't do it; but they can hear somebody do it, and know human beings can do it. They can see the beauty of doing it in that way. And if they can't perform the music with their hands or with their voices, they can perform it in their minds, and hear the echo, note by note and phrase by phrase in their minds afterward.

That appears to me to be the social and political and cultural and moral purpose of music. Music is the most concentrated expression, or the proper medium for the most concentrated expression of these principles in any form of art, the non-plastic arts in particular. Music incorporates the ideas, as anyone knows, of drama. It is rooted in Classical poetry; it is the abstraction of drama and poetry, and expresses those kinds of ideas in a very specially concentrated way. Our job is to pick, I think, those kinds of examples that we can produce, present those examples to these people, who we would wish to uplift in spirit, give those audiences a sense of what is being done, so that they can more effectively intellectually participate in what's being done, and aim for the result that every child or other person who comes through that experience, leaves that moment of experience, that hour or two, as somewhat a better person, or a person revived in spirit, relative to the person that entered the room for that performance or event.

Thank you.


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