Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Johann Nepomuk della Croce
Lately, I have been thinking a great deal about "thin places," a concept which has its roots in Celtic spirituality. According to my understanding, "thin places" are those places where the boundary between the material world and the divine realm becomes so thin, so porous and permeable, that we can experience the total fullness of reality. A thin place can be a geographical place, of course, but it can also be a poem, a person, a work of art, a piece of music, an experience with nature—any situation that lifts the veil, dissolves our preconceptions, and offers a glimpse, if only fleetingly, of the divine mystery of the non-material world.
While reading What I Believe, by the iconoclastic Swiss theologian Hans Kung, I came across a passage that speaks eloquently, I think, of the thin places created by certain music. Mozart is the focus of Kung's musical passion, but what he says strikes me as relevant to other types of music, indeed any music that opens one's eyes to the formless reality beyond the intellectual forms (preconceptions, e.g.) that permeate our thinking. While I can find thin places in certain classical music, I can also find them in other types of music.
So on with the quote. Here is Hans Kung speaking of his experience with the music of Mozart:
Sometimes when studying or relaxing, I open myself to the music, let it flow into me, and abandon myself completely to it, not only with the intelligence of the head, which is necessary for scholarship, but with the intelligence of the heart which binds, integrates, communicates totality.
It is this experience that draws me back to this music time and again. If I am listening to Mozarts' music utterly and intensely, without outside disturbances, alone at home or sometimes at a concert, my eyes close and I suddenly feel that the body of sound is no longer outside me but part of my being. It is the music that now embraces me, permeates me and resounds from within. What has happened? I sense that I am wholly turned inwards with eyes and ears, body and spirit: the I is silent and everything external, any subject—object split, ceases to exist. The music is no longer outside me but is what embraces me, permeates me, brings me happiness from within, fulfills me completely. The phrase that occurs to me is: 'In it we live and move and have our being.'
This is a saying from the New Testament, from the apostle Paul's speech on the Areopagus in Athens, where he speaks of seeking and finding God, who is not remote from any of us, in whom we live and move and are . . . Truly more than any other music, with its sensual-nonsensual beauty, power and clarity Mozart's music seems to show how fine and narrow the boundary is between music, the most unobjective of all the arts, and religion, which has always especially had to do with music. Both, though different, point to the ultimately unspeakable, to the mystery. And though music must not become a religion of art, the art of music is the most spiritual of all symbols for that 'mystical sanctuary of our religion,' of which Mozart once spoke, the divine itself.
The conclusion is that Mozart's music is not proof of God but even more not a pointer to pessimism and nihilism. On the contrary, sensitive listeners will sometimes find themselves opening up, in that reasonable trust which transcends reason. With this fine hearing they may then perceive a wholly Other in the pure, utterly internalized sound, say, of the adagio of the clarinet concerto; the sound of the beautiful in its infinity, indeed the sound of the infinite that transcends us and for which 'beautiful' is not a word. So music is a 'tuning in' to a higher harmony.Six words literally jump out of this last paragraph for me—"that reasonable trust which transcends reason." Thin places, including music which dissolves the boundaries of thought, are good places to find that trust.