Thursday, October 08, 2009

Music and mystics on the middle path

'Make the change by non-doing, not by doing' - Sir George Trevelyan
Stonehenge is the setting for this photo of the exiled monks of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery blowing the Tibetan low horns known as tungchens. In his 2006 orchestral work Body Mandala Jonathan Harvey uses Western instruments to mimic the sound of tungchens. While composing Body Mandala Harvey, who is a Buddhist, travelled to Northern India and witnessed purification rites in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.

Although it could well be, the opening quote is not actually about Buddhism. Sir George Trevelyan (1906-1996), who was a leading figure in the movement for spiritual regeneration in Britain and a champion of the Findhorn Community, was not a Buddhist. He was, for a time, a disciple of F.M. Alexander, who developed the Alexander Technique, an alternative approach to physical stress management much favoured by musicians, and it is to the Alexander Technique that the quote refers.

Somewhat surprisingly Jonathan Harvey shares with Sir George Trevelyan a deep interest in the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) who created the expressive movement art of Eurythmy and was a founding figure in the Theosophy movement. Theosophy has attracted many musicians including Alexander Scriabin, Ruth Crawford Seeger and Dane Rudhyar. Elisabeth Lutyens' mother was a Theosophist and disciple of Krishnamurti. 'Twelve-tone Lizzie', who wrote a ravishing setting of Wittgenstein, was not a fan. Lutyens wrote that Theosophy ...
'left me with a horror, fear, and dislike of the amorphous, slovenly, dishonest, muddled, stupid and narrow-minded "mystic" attitude to life, things and people, and especially art'.
Elisabeth Lutyens never did things by half, read more about her in Walking with Stravinsky, and hear conductor James Weeks talking to me about her music in this iTunes podcast. Jonathan Harvey composed an opera about Wagner's unwritten Buddhist music drama, and the Tashi Lhunpo monks appeared in Wagner and the Tantric Orchestra, but not at Stonehenge.
'The way exists, but not the traveller on it' - Buddhist dictum
Opening quote is from the highly recommended Sir George Trevelyan and the New Spiritual Awakening by Frances Farrer, Floris Books ISBN0863153771, but out of print. Elisabeth Lutyens quote is from the equally highly recommended A Pilgrim Soul, the Life and Work of Elisabeth Lutyens by Meirion and Susie Harries, Michael Joseph ISBN 0718129466, and guess what? - also out of print. The Tashi Lhunpo monks are, despite China's worst efforts, thankfully not out of print, and they are touring the UK in autumn 2009. Header photo is copyright Tashi Lhunpo Monastery UK Trust. Lutyens biography and Body Mandala CD were bought by me at retail, Trevelyan biography was borrowed from Norwich library. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

4 comments:

Pliable said...

Rudolf Steiner's work as an architect is quite remarkable -

http://www.rudolfsteinerweb.com/Rudolf_Steiner_and_Architecture.php

Pliable said...

Common ground between Buddhism and the Alexander Technique -

http://www.alexandertechnique.com/articles/zen/

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

That photo is amazing. Thanks for putting it up. At first I was sure it had to be photoshopped, but then realized it is my complete compartmentalization of these two elements of East and West that's the problem. Sure would like to hear a conversation between whatever a Druid was and a Tibetan lama.

Jacque said...

Interesting connections, as always. But I'd like to point out that while Steiner "created a successful branch of the Theosophical Society in Germany,(1)" he was *founder* of the Anthroposophical Society(2), characterized superficially as a split from the Theosophists.

Here in Chicago, we've got a terrific school called the Chicago Waldorf School, testimony to another of Steiner's contributions to the world: an important theory and method of education.

Jacque
www.chicagobassensemble.com

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophy#The_Theosophical_Society
(2) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophical_Society#History