The question, “what should music do?” seems to always be in the air. And artists, critics, theorists and music lovers constantly provide new answers. Music should comfort. Music should challenge the powerful. Music should be beautiful. Music should bring people together. Truisms. Often we wrap our answers around our ideas around what we see as most needed in the world. These days I am interested more in what music does. The answers to this are different for each person and culture, but today I am thinking about music’s most sublime, and dangerous, capacity – the ability to transcend. And when I think of this I think of Mahler’s setting of Ruckert’s” Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” (I am lost to the world). Here is a translation of the poem:
I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!
It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.
I am dead to the world’s tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song.
To be so transported that the ephemeral beauty of sound is enough, whether in creating it or receiving it. It is sublime, it is hypnotic. It is not deceptive, it makes good on its promise to transport. This song encapsulates that experience for me – of having such investment in worldly affairs, right and wrong, justice and injustice, and to relinquish that attachment because of music.
Here is Jessye Norman, bringing it to us, or us to it:
Hope to see all you readers at NYFOS’s Protest when we turn the power of music back into the world that so desperately needs our attention.