restricted access Duration in Music (1960)
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Duration in Music Any discussion of duration in music must necessarily probe the nature of duration itself, particularly as it relates to human experience.1 Without even the most limited understanding of the relationship between duration and existence , it becomes virtually impossible to comprehend how music becomes the living, dynamic, artistic embodiment of time; for music's great power over all men fundamentally derives from the engagement of the sense of duration in the listener, perceived as motion, as movement, as the occurrence of successive events which culminate in a sense of fullness of experience, of a sonorous content whose passage in time is rich and meaningful. How do we perceive duration in life? As sentient beings for whom the external world provides a multitude of changing visual and aural stimuli, we come to learn that nothing stays for us, nothing remains the same; we and the world around us move on in a continuous chain of events. As Rilke says in his Duino Elegies, "Once for everything, once only. / Once no more. / And we, too, once. / And never again." The present, the only moment in which we know we exist, is burdened by the weight of accumulated past experience, and the future is always one moment ahead of us---the next "present" moment in which we hope to exist. So we live between memory and anticipation, between the past and the future, treading the bridge of the present that, we hope, will carry us across the inexorable passage of time which nothing can hold back. We live in time and through time. We are both of it and immersed in it. The present is therefore more than the moment of physical existence in which we feel pain or joy, in which we experience our lives as something or nothing. The present is destined to join the vast accumulation of all the other lived moments of life, all the other somethings or nothings. It will soon become the past just as it is already eroding the future. The dynamic of duration is not only change but growth through change; for in this procession of ephemeral moments nothing is lost or left behind because everything, consciously or unconsciously, becomes a part of memory. The past is reclaimed by memory; it is only by means of this act of reclamation or conservation of lived experience that a human being can come to know himself. Without memory he has no history, his life no form. He would live only in the sensation of each passing moment, remembering nothing of what has occurred, unable to anticipate anything ahead. Life as we know it would be lost to such a being, condemned to exist in such a void, without memory of his former inner states and without the power to project their continuance into an anticipated future. His existence would be lost in the meaninglessness of each 61 62 TIlE AESTHETICS OF SURVNAL sensation. A mental life, affective and reflective in nature, must know the modes of duration-past, present, and future--in order to retain its identity and uniqueness. There is no apparent form to the succession of our lived moments. As duration flows in an unbroken stream, events occur without plan, unforeseeable and unpredictable. If they are to have any pattern of meaning for us we must mentally sort and arrange them according to our ideas of order. Affective memory alone, reliving or refeeling the past, cannot do this for us. We need the power of critical reflection in order to shape to our purpose what has taken place. We literally must impose an order of some kind on our affective memory if we are to see meaning in our existence. It is in the power of forming the data of our existence that we shape ourselves and the world around us; and it is out of this power, this urge to meaning through form and order, that art arises. All our arts derive, then, from the interpenetration of the modes in which we experience life in the phenomenal world; all forms of art correspond in some way to our need for ordering, through sensuous material, the modes of our existence in forms we can comprehend. Through music we experience, outside of ourselves and outside of those events in life which have a purely personal connotation, duration itself-but not in an absolutely pure sense. Just as in ordinary existence the sense of the passage of time comes to us through the perpetually...


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