The experience of art

Silence, expression, and music

From pure sensation to the intuition of beauty, from pleasure and pain to love and the mystical ecstasy and death—all the things that are fundamental, all the things that, to the human spirit, are most profoundly significant, can only be experienced, not expressed. The rest is always and everywhere silence.

After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music. (And, significantly, silence is an integral part of all good music. Compared with Beethoven’s or Mozart’s, the ceaseless torrent of Wagner’s music is very poor in silence. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why it seems so much less significant than theirs. It ‘says’ less because it is always speaking).

In a different mode, on another plane of being, music is the equivalent of some of man’s most significant and most inexpressible experiences. By mysterious analogy it evokes in the mind of the listener, sometimes the phantom of these experiences, sometimes even the experiences themselves in their full force of life—it is a question of intensity; the phantom is dim, the reality, near and burning. Music may call up either; it is chance or providence which decides. The intermittences of the heart are subject to no known law.

— Alfred Leonard Huxley, English writer, novelist and philosopher

Huxley., Aldous Leonard (1931) “The Rest is Silence”, Music at Night and other essays, including Vulgarity in Literature. Great Britain: Chatto and Windus.

Digital edition:

By Greg

Australian composer and pianist