For the beauty of the soul

Nothing like a bit of erudition to put a shine to the day.

clipped from

Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog – music

An education in classical music is not ‘elitist’

Peter Maxwell Davies

April 10, 2007 2:00 PM

Peter Maxwell Davies at the Royal Academy of Music. Photograph: Graham Turner
In De Divisione Naturae, written in the 9th century, Erigena, more popularly known as John the Scot, wrote: “musica innata est quaedam communis secundam seipsam delectation“. That is, “music, by its very nature, is a delight to everyone”. I shall take his dictum as my central proposition, remembering that “diversi diversis delectantur“; “different people enjoy different things”. And that, according to Vitruvius, “ars sine scientia nihil potest“; “art is powerless without knowledge”.

In a recently published essay, Susan Sontag wrote: “Take care to be born at a time when it was likely that you would be definitely exalted and influenced by Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, and Turgenev, and Chekov.” I understand her enthusiasm for those four Russian writers, but the choice of examples for influence could be almost infinitely varied: on many lists would appear the names of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Goethe, for instance, as well as far less well-known authors.

What all these authors have in common is that they are serious, their work concerned with the most fundamental aspects of our humanity, our relationships with each other, and with our environment. All require time and patience to get to know. To return briefly to Sontag, she adds something I think is most significant: “be serious, which doesn’t preclude being funny.”

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