Occult(ism), Mysticism and Music

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Occult(ism), Mysticism and Music

Post by Sylph » Mon Dec 15, 2008 8:44 am

These days I've been listening and studying a lot to two of Thomas Adès' scores: Asyla (available for purchase) and Tevot (available for perusal, £10.00 or so), the first of which won the covetted Grawemeyer Award. I just can't help it but think that there's a lot more to these works thanheard on a first, second... fifth listening. There's a constant mysterious "thing" - at least, in my opinion - that permeates both scores with creepy cowbells and water gongs and ominous sounds of the bass oboe, something "occult", mystical, perhaps much more - and directly - brought out in the second mamoth orchestral piece, which uses quintuple winds and a platoon of percussion.

So I've been wondering... Which composers were influenced by mysticism and the occult apart from, say, Scriabin, his unfinished Mysterium being the crown of his beliefs? :?

Or which composers were members of "secret" orders, religious sects, mystical circles etc.? Like Erik Satie (Rose+Croix Catholique; described by Stravinsky as "the oddest person I have ever known"), e.g., and Mozart's Massonic endeavours.

Gustav Holst was an astrologer, Olivier Messiaen wrote pieces idedicated to his distinct form of Roman Catholic mysticism.

Ligeti's Lux Aeterna...

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Re: Occult(ism), Mysticism and Music

Post by absinthe » Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:03 am

To me, an interesting subject, Sylph.

I've pondered a lot on why people compose music and how that fits in with their creative energies altogether - indeed, what these energies are and where they come from. Some composers would seem to tap into their inner Mysteries and somehow convert what they find into music. Sometimes the process involves filtering certain experiences of their existence. Problem is that intellectual discussion is thwarted by the absence of an experiential vocabulary ~ the data always remain private.

The question of trying to approach via the occult route is that many composers penetrate their depths without any awareness of "occult techniques". Highly probable that occultists are aiming to achieve what artistic creators of the spiritual sort seem to achieve naturally.

Point is, some composers are/were active occultists in some form or another (such as you describe Holst, concerned with Mystical rather than physical planets - or Satie :D Soverign Templar of the Noble Order of Umbrella Collectors); many aren't but find some way into their deeper selves in pursuit of music, e.g. Debussy, probably via the booze, opium and sex. .There are some - the form-fillers - who 'create' merely by doing what's already known to work. And there are those who simply were unable to reach the interiors they so desperately sought but still tried: to me, Mahler comes into this category.

It's a subject as big as you care to make it.

PS, Though not strictly an item for this forum, have a look out for an Electroacoustic piece by an ensemble known as Current 93, the work: Live at Bar Maldoror... One of those entirely unique works created by people immersed in the occult.

Harold Tucker
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Re: Occult(ism), Mysticism and Music

Post by Harold Tucker » Mon Dec 15, 2008 11:29 pm

Cyril Scott was a noted occultist new ager of his time:


Re: Occult(ism), Mysticism and Music

Post by Sylph » Fri Dec 19, 2008 4:23 pm

A most interesting post, absinthe, I've been thinking about it myself.

I was always interested in how does one translate any philosophical, mystical, occult ideas into music. Maths is, let's say, straighforward: you can transform Fibonacci sequence into chords, melodies, whatever quite simply. But I guess I'll never know the motivation of why a certain chord, a certain instrument, instrumental range has been assigned a specific meaning.

Also, I guess I'll never know, but to think about how did these religious, philosophical ideas transform the path of many of these composers, how did they diverge from the usual route they might have undertaken is food for thought for me.

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Re: Occult(ism), Mysticism and Music

Post by barney » Sat Dec 20, 2008 7:24 am

Does Masonry count as occultism? If so, there's at least one rather famous composer who wrote quite a lot of music.

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Re: Occult(ism), Mysticism and Music

Post by val » Sat Dec 20, 2008 8:11 am

I think he never showed any enthusiasm for occultism, but Janacek composed a great masterpiece related to the subject, Vec Makropulos, based on a story of Capek.

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