At the end of a recent Scottish Rite workshop, and after one of the most incredible weeks of my life, I felt inspired and nourished with the treasures that only the craft of Freemasonry can offer. I jumped in the car and set off on my long drive home. My thoughts were tuned to philosophy, art, and music. I contemplated how a beautiful masonic temple is a work of art, a finely tuned instrument, a Stradivarius if you like. I had just been a part of something special; freemasonry, philosophy and art teaming up together in my world for the love of beauty.
So far so good.
But then the quote, supposedly of Goethe, crossed my mind, “Architecture is frozen music.”
Now, I like Goethe very much. He was certainly a profound thinker, contrasting the way architecture and music impact our minds. He gives you a sense of what is greater than ourselves, what transcends our lives. I appreciate the philosophical perspective. But, at the time I was thinking with my snobbish musical mind that he got this one terribly wrong.
What about the reverse? If architecture is frozen music, does that mean music is liquid architecture?
You certainly wouldn’t say that musical notes written on a piece of paper is a complete definition of music. Of course not! A written melody is perhaps one of the necessary components for a musical experience. But we also need a musician who can read the notes and have the skill to perform on an instrument. We need an occasion for this music to be played. Don’t forget we need those listeners who can undergo the musical experience. All these factors come together in a synergistic manner to make up what we might call music.
Are you telling me that music is liquid architecture?
I don’t buy it. Music is a complicated affair needing a host of ingredients working merrily together to transport us into a state of musical rapture. Is Goethe telling me that architecture requires all this movement to be frozen still? How could Goethe be so wrong?
What Goethe really said
Well, as it turns out Goethe’s analogy between architecture and music actually extends much further. A little bit of research revealed to me that the popular cliché has become distorted over time. “Frozen music” might even be the most misleading definition of architecture around.
Goethe definitely said this in Conversations with Eckermann:
“I have found a paper of mine among some others, in which I call architecture ‘petrified music.’ Really there is something in this; the tone of mind produced by architecture approaches the effect of music.”
What I think is the most important part of this statement is that Goethe was suggesting that architecture produces the same “tone” or effect in your mind as music. The point he is making is about the mind.
Let me expand on my interpretation of his philosophy. If this is an act of arrogance then I apologize, but for all my love of Goethe, my loyalty is to truth and art.
Goethe’s idea suggests something about the creative process of the mind and the human need to express something. What would a building sound like if the architect had been a composer? He would be using vibrations as the medium of expression instead of lines and shapes. It could be said that the musician “composes” using vibrations, the scientist “invents” with formulas, the painter “paints” with color and design, and so on. A thought-form is created. There is a universal theme of mental expression underscoring all creative disciplines.
It is the special skill of the creative worker and the space in which they create that causes a living architecture. These factors make the air molecules vibrate in such a way that this soup of pulsating molecules works upon our minds, even after the creative worker has completed his architecture. We might call it a thought-form, a musical idea, that continues to exist.
Freemasonry: The Creative Workshop
Freemasons are always looking for connections between music, architecture, geometry, proportion, and how such tools can be used to transform society. Music doesn’t use windows or columns and architecture doesn’t use melodies or notes. For most of us such obvious differences would seem to eliminate any possible similarity between them. But wait! If we use the idea that any artistic expression is a creative process of mind then we get a very different picture.
St. Thomas Aquinas has said:
“Music is the exaltation of the mind derived from things eternal, bursting forth in sound.”
How can a Freemason achieve that exaltation of the mind? I have a couple thoughts on this. First, there is an acceptance of the possibility of a more evolved world, and second there is an experience of a change in our state of being as we become aware of that better world.
Temples and buildings of great architecture are designed to build a bridge between this world and that. There is something musical that pulsates and glows inside them, inside the architecture, some dancing molecules that converge as a product of all the thoughtful labor that has been conducted until that point in time.
I should point out that in a masonic temple there are no blurred boundaries between participant and observer. Everyone has an active role in building the edifice.
Architecture. Music. And the relationship between them is….? I’m not sure, but the obvious thing that springs into my mind is that the experience of a beautiful building might in some ways equate with the experience of a beautiful piece of music. The architecture inside the Lodge inspires the Freemason outside the lodge to become a better Master Craftsman in the mighty workshop of the Lord.
“Each Mason must be a builder; he is a workman under the direction of a Great Architect, who is planning a marvelous edifice, which is the Grand Lodge above, the perfect universe. To the building of this perfect edifice, each Mason must bring his stone, his perfect ashlar, perfect because it has been tested and proved true by the plumb, by the level and by the square.”
~ Brother C. Jinarajadasa, Ideals of Freemasonry