My translation of l’Acoustic Nouvelle by Louis Lucas. The preface by Théodore de Banville is cultured and full-bodied, as befits 1854. And as typical of the time, it is also full of unnecessary words.
No, despite blind or superficial judgments, it has not been given to political revolutions to stifle this ardent aspiration towards a truth which is the very life of our Soul.
To say that at the very hour when the civil war bloodied our streets and called into question the future of the world, a publicist was able to steal from the daily struggles enough meditation to make one of the highest and most essential discoveries destined to advance towards To learn the fine walls of the human sciences, is this not proving once more this admirable persistence of our spirit in seeking the light?
Magnificent testimony in favor of our so much calumniated time, a man found himself, fed enough on the marrow of the ancients, sufficiently initiated in the intimacy of Plato, a pupil of Pythagoras and Euclid, to over-pursue after exuding what the ideal goal of all antiquity was: the search for general causes.
To realize Plato’s thought, to find general harmonies, that is to say, the basis of all combinations, by discovering the real law of tonal successions, such is the unexpected result that achieved the author of a Revolution in music, a result of which the dream alone, glimpsed by Kepler, led this great man to his immortal discoveries.
To find in the art of music that divine art esteemed by the Greeks, the first of all, the science which is hidden entirely and living at the bottom of all the arts, one had to be both a scholar and an artist to possess in at the same time the most ardent enthusiasm and the most patient spirit of research and deduction. In a word, it was necessary to abstract oneself from these exclusive ideas, which are unfortunately separated today between those who seek emotion and those who seek the truth.
Our religion, all of love and aspiration towards the infinite, has violently separated man from matter, leaving him no other refuge than absolute being and eternity. From this ecstatic renunciation, so beautiful and so great in its ultimate aim, arose a misunderstanding that would kill our arts if we did not know how to be pantheists in all things and in all that did not tarnish the divinity of our origin.
With us, the artist, solely occupied with knowing and painting his soul, disdains Matter, that is to say, universal nature, the study of which he abandons to atheist scholars: one and the other misunderstand and deprive each of an essential element to the knowledge of beauty, which is Harmony. For what is the use of seeking at random the means of painting and of moving without a science which helps us to regulate these means in a certain way, and at the same time, what sterile science than that of natural laws considered outside their limits? relationship with the human soul!
Among the Greeks, happier than us, art and science were one. The man had not felt divine enough or proud enough to abstract himself from immortal nature and believe his existence was independent of the created universe. It was himself that he heard quivering in the voice of the limes and the foliage, and the light of the stars scattered in the celestial path did not seem to him different from that which animated him and which illuminated him himself. Everything that struck his senses seemed to him to live in its own life, and to him, the whole universe was full of hymns and human sobs. So, in studying the laws which govern the universe, he studied those of his existence and, united in love with all that is, did not dream of shutting himself up in his superb and savage solitude.
The poets and the musicians were, at the same time, curious astronomers who sought to draw the rhythm of their odes in the image of that which serves the dance of the worlds, and they would not have dared to govern the sounds and the syllables by rules other than the planets suspended in the ether. At the same time that man saw in himself the image of the universe, the whole universe seemed to him animated by human passions, and, in the eyes of these magnificent spectators for whom everything was god, the arts seemed to be the souls. sciences, always enlightened by this interior fire.
Also, without confining ourselves to narrow and infertile specialties, they gave as a field for their investigations all that can strike the mind and the senses and all that constitutes the relationship between man and creation. The genuine antique has pursued an idea as deep as it is mysterious: that of knowing the first causes.
A heroic effort, daring like the greedy Titans of the sky! And again, these sons of giants only wanted to climb a material and visible Olympus. In contrast, the sages of Greece wanted to appropriate the true divine essence by seizing the secret that governs all creation.
Later, in the Christian Middle Ages, quivering with superstitions and terrors, the revolt of scholars and philosophers never went further than the search for gold. Still, the philosopher’s stone of antiquity was the search for absolute being and its manifestations: a grandiose reverie guided by Pythagoras to the greatest geniuses of all the centuries, as Prometheus had bequeathed to them the flame stolen from the heavens by his tutelar hands.
This great man, in whose eyes perhaps the mysteries of life were opened, was, as we know, a traveler par excellence; the known world barely sufficed for his steps, as the violently torn veils of Isis still seemed too narrow to his unquenchable spirit. Returning from India, where the earth still bore the imprint of divine footsteps, from Egypt, where everything was boiling with psychological ideas and myths, Pythagoras brought Greece the passion for ideology.
After him, Plato, his disciple, proposes as an ardently desired goal the science of ideas and the knowledge of things from above, of what is and what we do not see. To arrive at this glorious end of the human soul, the most on the way seems to him to be the discovery of the intimate and general relations that the sciences have between them, and not the material appreciation of the facts because, he says, nothing of the sensible is the object of science. And he adds: I want the beauty of the visible sky to be only the image of the intelligible sky. This essential axiom is sufficient without a doubt to direct the research of all scholars towards a secondary goal if they had not let the memory of these eternal truths fade away in them.
This inextinguishable thirst for absolute truth bursts out in all the admirable seventh book of THE REPUBLIC (1), which seems written yesterday, and which, however, contains more of these adventurous aspirations than we would be able to produce what time it is.
— You are making the study of astronomy much more complicated than it is today.
— I think we will prescribe the method concerning the other sciences. Otherwise, of what advantage would our laws be? But could you remind me of another science that could serve our purpose?
— None come to mind now.
— However, it seems that the movement does not present only one form; there are several. Perhaps a scientist could name them all. For us, we will only name the two that we know.
— What are they?
— Astronomy is the first; the other is the answer to it.
— What is this other?”
— It seems that the ears have been known for harmonic movements, like the eyes for astronomical movements, and that these two sciences, astronomy, and music, are sisters, say the Pythagoreans, and we after them: is it not?
— As the question is serious, we will adopt their opinion, and others will observe our maxim carefully if necessary.
— What maxim?
— To take care that we do not give our students studies of this kind which would remain imperfect and would not lead to the end where all our knowledge should lead, as we were saying earlier about astronomy. Don’t you know that music is not better treated than its sister? This science is limited to the MEASUREMENT OF TONE and sensible chords: work as useless as that of astronomers.
— It is true that nothing is more pleasant. Our musicians constantly talk about diatonic nuances; they prick up their ears as if to overhear passing sounds; some say they hear a middle sound between two tones and that this sound is the minor interval that separates them; others maintain, on the contrary, that these two tones are perfectly similar: they all prefer the judgment of the ear to that of the mind.
— You are talking here about those brave musicians who leave the strings no rest, put them to question, and torment them with their pegs (The ancients often obtained, by the movement of the pegs, the enharmonic which we determine by sliding the finger over the strings touched by a bow). I could push this description further, talk about the bowing they give them and the accusations they charge them about their obstinacy in refusing certain sounds or giving sounds that are not asked of them. But I leave it and declare that I want to speak not of them but of those we have proposed to question about harmony. These, at least, do the same thing as astronomers: they seek out what numbers result in the chords that strike the ear, but they do not go so far as to see in these chords only a means to DISCOVER which are the HARMONIC NUMBERS and which ARE NOT; nor whence comes this difference between them.
— That research would be genuinely sublime.
— It leads to discovering the beauty and the good, but it will be useless if you do it for another purpose.
— I believe so.
— I think that if the study of all the sciences of which we have just spoken had the aim of making known the intimate and general relations which they have between them, this study would then be of great help for the end we have in mind; otherwise, it would not be worth pursuing.
— I agree with you: but Socrates, this work will be long and painful.
— What do you mean? This is still only the prelude. Don’t you know that all this is just a prelude to the air we must learn? Are all those versed in these sciences dialecticians, in your opinion?
— No, certainly not: I found only a few.
— But what if one cannot give or hear the reason for everything? Do you believe one can ever really know what we have said that one should know?
— I do not believe that.
— Here we have arrived, my dear Glaucon, at the very air of which I have just spoken, that is to say, at the dialectic. This spiritual science can be represented by the organ of sight, which, as we have shown, rises gradually from the spectacle of animals to that of the stars and finally to the contemplation of the sun. himself. Ansì, he who applies himself to dialectics, forbidding himself the use of the senses, rises by reason alone to the essence of things: and, if he continues his research until that he has grasped by thought the essence of good, he has reached the limit of intellectual knowledge, as he who sees the sun has reached the limit of knowledge of visible things.
— This is true.
— Isn’t that what you call the dialectical march?
I would have liked to quote this seventh book in full, the true preface to a Revolution IN MUSIC, written more than two thousand years ago under the shadows of the Academy!
All the philosophers, all the great minds of antiquity, wanted to raise this great question of metaphysical music, and all brought their tribute of discoveries to it within the limits of the phenomena known and applied until then. Aristotle, Euclid, Plutarch, and their whole school have continued this tradition like a luminous furrow through the ages.