Meditating on the Vitality of the Musical Object: A Spiritual Exercise Drawn from Richard Wagner’s Metaphysics of Music
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In 1870, Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1883) wrote an essay to celebrate the centennial of Beethoven’s birth. In this essay Wagner made the case that music is, unlike any other object we create or are attentive to in experience, in an immediate analogical relationship with the activity of the Schopenhauerian “will” and is always enlivened. By drawing on this idea, we can not only conceive of music as in an immediate analogical relationship with our personal experience, but as perhaps the only object of cognition that is in a constant state of personal vitality. It is by that very continuous vitality that it can return us to our own personhood with deeper insight and perspective. The essay concludes by exploring how attending to the musical object as a spiritual (existential) exercise might reconnect us to our roots in sensus communis, educate us on our common personhood, and play an ethical role in our lives.
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