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Furtwängler's Secret, Revisited:
An Exploration into the Furtwängler Principle

by Matthew Ogden

June, 2012

Wilhelm Furtwängler, the greatest conductor of the 20th Century, defended Beethoven from attack by the fasicst composer Richard Wagner: Beethoven, said Furtwängler, “would not allow the textual form of a word to dictate to him what form his music should take.”

For a video presentation and discussion on this important subject, watch the May 23, 2012 edition of the “Weekly Report” on the website of the LaRouche PAC. These edited comments are reprinted with permission.

In recent writings, economist, statesman and physical scientist Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. has identified the musical performance of conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler as the most efficient means by which we can escape "the prison of sense experience". The fact that our mental experience of classical music contradicts the assumed sequence of chronological "clock time", and the fact that in, for example, the recorded performances of Furtwängler, the sufficiently sensitive mind can "hear" the apperception of a ghostly something, which the ear alone does not sense, between and behind the tones as such, has profound implications for all of science (including, significantly for today, the science of economic forecasting).

This contradiction gives us a window into the nature of human creativity itself, and the true hierarchy of the creative universe which the human mind reflects, allowing us an avenue by which to escape the false "bottom up" reductionism imposed as popular dogma on all branches of science and philosophy today. When we recognize the mental creative experience of a musical idea as primary, and having the power to "precede" the physically experienced sensation of tone – as LaRouche put it: "the experience of the future precedes, preconciously, what is heard as the present" – then we must invert the entire assumed "bottom-up" hierarchy of the universe on its head, and establish Mind as the superior principle over mere biology and non-life. The mind is not bounded by the simple chemical experiences of the "now", but exists in a domain lying outside chronological time as such, in which, for example, the entirety of a masterpiece of classical music, which may take as much as an hour or more of lapsed time to perform, can exist in that mind as a perfectly integrated and unified One, a perfect singleness of experience, without sequence, without parts.

Here, I'd like to explore a little bit the science of "Furtwängler's Secret".

Between the Notes

Take LaRouche's own description of his first hearing of a Furtwängler performance, at a base camp outside Calcutta in the months following the conclusion of the Second World War – an experience which he says has dominated his entire relationship with music ever since, in the most compelling fashion and degree:

"From the opening, the writer was, without exaggeration, virtually frozen in his seated position; the performance was stunning in its relentless suspension, its remarkable coherence, from opening to close... Later, the writer learned of the phrase which Furtwängler employed to describe this stunning advantage: performing between the notes."

A similar description comes from the conductor Claudio Abbado, who remembers as a young man attending rehearsals conducted by Furtwängler in Milan. He describes exactly the same relentless tension, from beginning to end, existing even in the pauses between the notes themselves:

"Even when Furtwängler walked into the pit, there was tension around him – like electricity... And slowly, this wonderful warm sound came out of the orchestra, and the tension, always this wonderful tension from beginning to end. He was one of the few musicians who could create tension even in the pauses when there was nothing but silence."

Furtwängler's predecessor and mentor, Arthur Nikisch, who had been a close friend of Brahms and whom Furtwängler called "the only conductor from whom I can learn", has also been remembered as having a power similar to Furtwängler's. Carl Flesch, a leading violinist during the first decade of the 20th century, who played under Nikisch (and, incidentally, was later saved from being sent to a concentration camp by Furtwängler), described Nikisch as a conductor who brought to life "above all, the dynamic and agogical nuances as well as the indefinable mysterious feeling that lies between the notes."

What is this ineffable "mysterious feeling", this "relentless suspension", this "wonderful tension" which pervades a musician such as Furtwängler's performances? This indescribable yet eerily present feeling of a something which goes beyond just the mere animal sensation of the notes as such, resonating, even in the silences – what LaRouche has described as the ghostly pre-sensation of a tone before it's sensuously experienced, and the after-whisper of that same tone, even after the audible tone has disappeared?

To answer these questions, abandon the idea that "music" is the sequential aggregation of discrete and disconnected objects called notes noisily filling-up what is otherwise silent empty time and empty space. As LaRouche states in a recent piece, Dreams of a Modern Nero: "Instead of defining the universe from an irony reaching from the tiny to the large, from the particular to the various, we must contrive to define the resolution of that difference in direction in both orders, simultaneously, but with a concluding emphasis on the whole of the universe in defining the extremities of the smallest."

Listening to the Future

"Let us consider the activity of artistic creation…When we look more closely at this process, we find we can distinguish two levels. On the first, each individual element combines with those adjacent to it to form larger elements, these larger elements then combining with others and so on, a logical outwards growth from the part to the whole. On the other level, the situation is the reverse: the given unity of the whole controls the behavior of the individual elements within it, down to the smallest detail. The essential thing to observe is that in any genuine work of art these two levels complement each other, so that the one only becomes effective when put together with the other."

—W. Furtwängler. Essay, Contemporary Thoughts of a Musician

The forgoing typifies Furtwängler's insight into precisely this ontological question concerning the characteristic interrelationship between the parts of a process and the process as a whole. The "unity of the whole" dictates the behavior of the individual subordinate elements, "down to the smallest detail". With this statement, which he repeated variously on repeated occasions throughout his life, Wilhelm Furtwängler has made the most ontologically precise statement of scientific principle – and made it through the eyes of a musician. As this insight of Furtwängler proves, and as the recreational music-making of Einstein, Max Planck, and countless other geniuses of science attests, the composition and performance of great classical music should be seen as the experimental playground for the most efficient means of the discovery of the ontological identity of the human creative mind itself, and how that mind is the mirror of the universe it inhabits. This is true science.

Just to emphasize the precision of Furtwängler's above quoted statement of principle, consider Furtwängler's description of the mutually reciprocal characteristic of the relationship between the whole and the parts: at the same time the given unity of the whole controls the behavior of each of the parts, the parts strive outwards towards that whole. "The essential thing to observe is that in any genuine work of art, these two levels complement each other, so that the one only becomes effective when put together with the whole." Understand this as a dynamic reciprocity between the largest and the small, "in both orders, simultaneously", but with dominance belonging to the universal, in its role as defining the smallest extremities of the part.

Embedded in this very discussion of the parts and the whole when it comes to musical composition and performance, is the seemingly paradoxical fallacy of linear time: the continuously dynamic interaction between the temporally situated part and the ultimately completed totality. At no one moment of sensed experience is the whole "perceived", however a whole must exist at all times, if it is to dictate the behavior of each moment of the experienced process. It is the whole of this yet-to-be-completed totality which must exist within the mind’s ear of the conductor, as if listening to the future, as he negotiates the unfolding of each of the parts in the present. And, he must hear how the performance of the detail in the present, itself acts reciprocally to change the ultimate possibility of the form of the whole-upon-completion. Lyndon LaRouche has called this, "the memory of the future".

Lyndon H. LaRouche, JR.

The performer lives both in the temporal moment of the music, but always hearing the moment in relation to the future echo of the whole – the whole-in-completion, echoing from the future into the ear of the present. This interaction between the future echo of whole from "above" time, and the process of temporal performance "in" time, from moment to moment, is the nature of the mental experience of the performer. The totality is superior to the detail, but, the performer will also recognize that the mode of execution of any one detail will change the way the totality is heard altogether. So, the detail is intensely important, but always in proportion to the totality as a whole. The being and becoming – they are mutually dynamic.

Furtwängler expresses this dynamic quality of musical space-time as the constantly changing interrelationship of the "Nah-hören" (the near-sighted sound of the immediate present) and the "Fernhören" (the far-sighted sound of the completed whole). The mutual effect of one on the other at all times, Furtwängler describes thus:

"…the fulfillment of the moment within a larger process. Each individual thing has its own function and this within the development of the whole. The two meet and intersect at each moment. ... It is not always easy at first to grasp the fact that every detail has its function within the whole, and is not only 'arranged' within this whole, but often has an effect on the whole that goes far beyond its individual importance... This single-mindedness of purpose, this clear and unmistakable cohesion of the whole can only be created through real laws, based in nature."

– 1946 W.F.

The same "Fernhören" of Furtwangler was famously described by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as the experience of "over-hearing" a composition, as if seen "from above":

"I view it with a single glance, exactly like a beautiful picture of a pretty girl, from above, in my mind. And I don't hear in my imagination the parts, successively, one after the other, but I hear them all at once. That is truly a feast! All of this inventing, this producing, proceeds in me only as if in a powerfully beautiful dream; but the 'over-hearing', everything together, that is the best."

Unheard Melodies

Critical is Mozart's identification of the imagination. If the whole is "more real" than the parts (in terms of substance), and dominant in respect to those parts, then must not the imagination – the only domain where that supra-temporal whole can all-at-once exist – be therefore necessarily "more real" than the temporal domain of simple sense experience, and dominant to it? Can this something – the mind, the imagination – which lies outside of "time" and perception as such, be "more real" than the world which we think we can see, taste, touch, hear?

As Leibniz demonstrates, this is necessarily so. The Cause of a process cannot be found in any of that process's component parts, and thus necessarily lies outside and above the particulars and therefore outside and above the sequence of those particulars across what we call time: "The sufficient or ultimate reason must exist outside the succession or series of contingent particulars, infinite though that series may be. Consequently, the ultimate reason of all things must subsist in a necessary substance in which all particular changes may exist only virtually, as in its source."

The ghostly presence of this cause, of this "mind", of this necessary substance, lurks silently but powerfully behind and between every note, shrouding the simple chemical experience of sound and tone with the silent echoes of unheard melodies which cast their pale shadows on our ear. The actors on stage – but visiting ghosts from a world just beyond our sensation.

Cropped screenshot of Yehudi Menuhin from the film Stage Door Canteen, 1943.

The great violinist, Yehudi Menuhin, close friend and defender of Wilhelm Furtwängler, said of Furtwängler's music the following:

"There are many conductors, but very few of them seem to reveal that secret chapel that lies at the very heart of all masterpieces. Beyond the notes, there are visions, and beyond those visions, there is this invisible and silent chapel, where an inner music plays, the music of our soul, whose echoes are but pale shadows. That was the genius of Furtwängler because he approached every work like a pilgrim who strives to experience this state of being that reminds us of Creation, the mystery which is at the heart of every cell. With his fluid hand movements, so full of meaning, he took his orchestras and his soloists to this sacred place."

And thus, the sensitive mind escapes the "prison of sense experience", and steps into the shoes of the Creator, in which Mind, from above, precedes and determines every subordinate part of Creation. May this be the lesson that science learns from the divine principle of "Furtwangler's Secret".