The Development of the Musical Idea: Attempt at a Synthesis of Music

The following document is one of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s first two publications, both of which appeared in 1925, when Balthasar was a twenty-year-old doctoral student in Germanistics at Vienna. At the topical level, this essay provides an important glimpse into the development of what would ultimately bear fruit in Balthasar’s “theological aesthetics.” His approach to music here—as a matter of both chronological development as well as structural differentiation—is heavily indebted to the method employed in Goethe’s “Metamorphosis of Plants,” and sheds light on the early development of one of the most fundamental organizing features of Balthasar’s thought: the firm commitment to hold together the tension between the static and the dynamic. Beginning with his understanding of what was at stake in the dispute between Germanists over philology versus intellectual history in the 1920s, continuing with his understanding of what was at stake in the dispute between Neo-Scholasticism and Ressourcement in the 1930s and 1940s, and bearing fruit in his understanding of the Ignatian movement of prayer and contemplation as reflected in the progression of his Trilogy, again and again in his writings Balthasar returned to this same set of tensions, mapping them onto the source material at hand.[1]


I. Music is the least graspable art because it is the most immediate. It draws toward us more closely, penetrates into us more deeply than others. But is it not precisely its nearness that renders music an eternal riddle to us that has again and again tempted us to further stake out its limits, to stabilize it, to force it into numbers and to exhaust its laws? And hardly daunted by the impossibility of this task, we again scattered it across all the things of the world: we laid it in the contours of statues, in the colors and lines of paintings, in the rhymes and pendulations of poetry, in the symmetries of architectural works; indeed we attributed its effect to the effects of nature, we wanted to find in its laws the laws of the universe itself. And finally, for all that evaded our proper definition, for all that appears to us in any given relationship as ungraspable and irrational, we have borrowed the name of music, and thus given this name, as through many overtones, a different timbre than it perhaps might have had.

The point now then should be to cleanse the idea of any discordant chords. But how? Can that which seems wordless, beyond words because it is more immediate than words, now be clarified in words? And is not precisely the word the deepest misunderstanding in music?

Word and tone stand near to one another, for they are both instruments of expression, means of objectification of the same meaning. This is what every art is, essentially, and for this reason bridges stretch from every art to the others. Or, to put it in an image: All arts are concentrically ordered toward one point from which they all emanate. This point is common to them; they penetrate into it and consequently they all may be understood from it. This one point is: Meaning. It is the materia prima of all art and only the forms through which it moves, to which it submits and united with which it first arrives at substantial Being, are different. Thus, the arts are only formally different, though in the deepest sense rooted in the same fundament. It is as if they only spoke different dialects of the same language. Richard Wagner knew this, when with conscious purpose he united the arts into a synthetic work of art. He did not want arts, he wanted the total work of art [Gesamtkunstwerk]. But he did not consider that precisely the three arts that he bound together—mimic, music, and poetry—spoke in different dialects, that in the moment in which they wanted to express the same word, they still yielded only three distinct variants of the same.

Furthermore: the idea, or the meaning, which underlies the arts as their materia prima, is not a completely undetermined seed, but rather, as Thomas would say, materia signata, that is, it is a priori modified toward a definite form. Consequently, in all arts this meaning indeed remains essentially identical in itself, though more or less varied in its accidents. If therefore an already-signified idea, in being unified to an individual form of art, obtains its substantial unity—its highest form of expression simply because complete—then how would it be conceivable that the compilation of such in-themselves-complete, heterogeneous substances of art would yield the new, and as Richard Wagner believes, truly organic essence of the universal work of art?

If Wagner’s attempt, despite its greatness, had to remain fruitless, nonetheless the notion of the coherence of the arts, of their common rootedness in the idea, is not to be taken lightly. For only this idea allows us to approach music with words. Only it gives us coordinates by which to classify music, grants us the possibility to speak of a meaning, an idea, an objectification in music. But this same notion cautions us against wanting to entirely penetrate music with words. This would be just as impossible as the remainderless translation of a lyrical poem into music. A remainder remains, for the idea of the individual art always remains signified, determined toward the individual form of that art. This remainder is the singular, the unique of every form of art, which does not admit of expression by means of any other. It is thus—and this expression is now more than coincidental—the direct participation in the total idea: the Divine in art.

II. Every art thus embodies, is a form of, a spiritual idea as its primary matter. But just as there are levels of intensity of this embodiment among the various arts, so there are also within one and the same art degrees of intensity of “in-formation” [Information].[2] There is necessarily within a given art a maximum of value, a perfection which, theoretically, is not entirely unattainable. But since art is something meaningful, and it lies in the essence of meaningful things to move toward an ultimate goal, we must assume that there subsists in art such a development toward a goal; not a haphazard development, but rather a temporal-spatial unfolding and a striving toward a maximum.

III. What is this maximum, this perfection of meaning? It is the greatest possible objectification of the metaphysical, the Divine, for none other than the divine primordial light itself is that meaning, that idea spoken of above. It stands in the center of the circle, from which the individual arts emanate like rays, and thus the Divine itself is carried by means of these rays into time and space, and there brought to ever brighter radiance in the ever more complete self-developing form. It is a part of the process of the great becoming-of-meaning [Sinnwerdung], which is the goal of the world. But what man has already deployed to this becoming-of-meaning is the attempt to draw that which stands above him as supra-rational under the spell of the rational: to shackle God in the world. With everything that lay at his disposal in the mathematical, the physical, the quantifiable, he has chiseled away at the metaphysical which breaks in upon him forcefully. He has spared no effort in lending form to the formless, physics to the metaphysical, flesh to ideas. Every art is just such a shackling of the incomprehensible in the concrete, of aseity in contingency.

But it lies in the nature of contingency never entirely to grasp the infinite. Thus every art will never in-form the entire idea; this remains the eternal longing and tragedy of the arts. But they can in a valid manner represent one side of the infinite, one color out of the prism; so much so that the fragment of the possibility of the whole—which according to its nature is infinite and indivisible—may be discerned. And in this sense the arts signify not a dismemberment, not a refraction, but rather a miniaturized projection of the eternal into the world of forms.

IV. As an art, music contributes to the in-formation of the Divine. Indeed it has a special significance in this process due to the specific nature of its form. It proceeds more easily, effortlessly than other arts, for it functions more immediately, more powerfully. But precisely for this reason it is more incomprehensible for us. It seems to be an imperfect in-formation. The Divine is concealed in this form in a not entirely congruent manner; it does not function here as form, but instead directly through the form, as through a thin veil. Or, as Ernst Bloch says, “Music appears only as a sort of incomplete architecture, as a still-fermenting depiction of the external universe.”[3]

Form in art indeed means: the classification of the Divine in spatiotemporal categories, as the normal media of its being grasped. And solely by means of these categories does it become possible for us to define an art rationally. If however, as in music, the divine idea speaks to us at least in part directly, then it becomes impossible for us to analyze this process mathematically. We must then content ourselves with the mere direct consciousness of the inexplicable experience of the metaphysical.

The Development


I. In nature there is no silence. If we climb back behind all cultures too, indeed behind the primitive peoples and the boundaries of humanity, we will always hear the same unvaried swelling of the ocean, the same forceful rustling of the forests and roaring of waterfalls. Storms sweep over the earth and thunder rends the sky. But even on the most beautiful days the forest is full of the voices of crickets and other insects. Is this already music, a symphony, or only a chaos of rustlings and clumsy noise?

For the most part one does not want to concede authentic musical value to nature. This could hold true of inanimate nature, but it would be false to want to say the same thing of beasts. If we think of birds, this becomes clear without need of further explanation. For in beasts we see the lowest level of the utilization of the phenomenon of tone as the expression of one or another function within the sphere of life. It is the most primitive utterance of meaning, still unconscious, or perhaps half-conscious, driven by instinct. And because it is not conscious, because beasts lack the conscientia sui ipsius, this level of expression thus remains stable, without any possibility for development. The utilization of sound among beasts is twofold when we leave aside the simple, continuous rustling of the sort we find in inanimate nature. On the one hand it can, by means of interruption of sound in time, generate rhythm; on the other hand it can, by means of the variation in tones, yield a certain melody.

[Bernhard] Hoffmann’s discoveries in the avian world,[4] to which I will again return at greater length below, demonstrate clearly that we are here dealing with an at least partially sophisticated level of music, and thus that the possibility of music is present not only in man, but already through the animal functions in themselves.

II. Primitive man already discovered this music. With his unspoiled ear he must have perceived nature as a great symphony. He did not conceptualize it; he listened. It is deeply meaningful that nearly all peoples attributed the invention of music to the gods; in this is expressed their adoration in the face of the incomprehensible. But man wanted to conquer the world, with all his abilities at once. He wanted to become a new creator. His first cave paintings, his adornments, his buildings, already bear witness to this. This drive for imitation soon necessarily led him toward imitation of the music of nature (as with [Wagner’s] Siegfried and the little woodbird). He was able to imitate birdcalls when hunting, and indeed even passed the time with such practices. The dances of natives also speak to this imitation. [H. Stonehewer] Cooper tells of a “sea wave dance” of the Fiji Indians, which is based upon imitation of the ocean waves, in which the music expresses the rushing of the ocean surge.[5]

But there is a yet more important source of primitive music beyond mere imitation: the struggle with the external world, with the intractability of nature, demanded of man a very methodical and meticulous use of his vital forces. He found this economy of force in the vital, innate laws of temporally consistent consequence—rhythm. This law told him, instinctively and in accord with his own experience, that rhythmic work would bear the greatest fruit.

The law of rhythm indeed has two sources in man: one organic and one spiritual, which complement and strengthen one another. Aristotle pointed toward the former as the more primary, given that he wanted to make man’s rhythmic sense dependent upon the heartbeat. This movement, so deeply rooted in the organism, is said to mediate to us a sense for the sequence of time. Even the normal heartrate (around 70 beats per minute) is said to be the gauge of our sense of slow and quick. That this profound observation, which was taken up again by many later thinkers, contains at least a portion of the truth, seems to me to proceed from the presence to hand of a related sense of enjoyment of rhythm as mediated to us by other organic functions. In any event though, this theory does not provide an exhaustive explanation of the rhythmic phenomenon. There is yet another empirical source of rhythm, namely the consciousness of order. The order in cosmic events is of rhythmic regularity. The shifts of day and night, of ebb and flood, of summer and winter, of life and death, indicate to us that the manifestation of spirit in corporeal form, that is, the law of order, is, at least for our world and our thought, inseparably bound with the laws of rhythm, with the heartbeats of the universe.

III. If thus man himself is, in the organic sense, a “microcosmos,” then it is not surprising that his most primitive utterances were ordered according to the law of rhythm, that above all work, his most urgent activity, was rhythmically patterned. I must here refer to the well-known, quite significant work of [Karl] Bücher, Rhythmus und Arbeit [sic: Arbeit und Rhythmus],[6] which has collected a great deal of material from all peoples. Here movement and rhythm are demonstrated as completely interrelated; not only is surplus vital force thereby meaningfully channeled, but communal work itself first becomes possible. And the sense of enjoyment rooted in the organic remained the unconscious justification of this form of movement.

From this primordial cell of art, from the organic-psychic sense of order, proceeded speech, dance, and music, for they all signify temporally regulated vital force. Speech is temporal ordering of thoughts; dance, in the wider sense as every conscious movement, is meaningful temporal alteration, likewise related to the notion of order; and finally music is the expression of the drive for order, accompanied by enjoyment, in the realm of the acoustic. The unification of word, movement, and tone in opera and drama is therefore no accidental feature, but rather something which lies in the nature of these arts.

Thus [Hans von] Bülow’s statement is true: “In the beginning, there was rhythm.” It is a primordial experience of humanity. It undoubtedly dominates in all the music of the primitive peoples. The experience of the enjoyment of rhythmic sound is still so satisfying that other desires, such as for regulated sequence or coincidence of tone, do not even arise. Among natives movement is the most primitive expression of life. “They prefer to walk, dance, sing, play, or work; and they all do so according to a precision of cadence that the simplest negroes, without distinction, observe much more precisely than our soldiers and musicians are able to after long practice” (Bücher; See Also: editorial note contextualizing this statement after the essay).[7] Of course even in this primitive music the melody, the song, is not fully detached from the music; for without differentiation in tone, music is unthinkable in the first place. But melody still lies bound entirely to rhythm. “The most significant evidence of the rhythmic independence of these songs indeed consists in the fact that when these songs are detached from the work to which they pertain, artistic means are necessary in order to lend rhythm to them, be it the stamping of feet, the clapping of hands, or an acoustic instrument” (Bücher).[8] Thus, here rhythm was recognized early on as a fundamental element of art in its enlivening effect, though also in its long-term hypnotizing and transfixing effect. The latter was mostly utilized to cultic purposes and even today, in many places in Africa, the drum is revered as a symbol of daemonic rhythm as a fetish.

By means of this exceptional cultivation of rhythm many peoples acquired a particularly fine rhythmic ear, such that through the combination of various rhythms into polyrhythm, they succeeded at a high flower of art which we can hardly understand anymore. Likewise, the language of the drum, which is used as a sort of telephony, bears witness to this rhythmic sensitivity.

IV. A further comparison of primitive and animal music more than makes the point. In Kunst und Vogelsang Hoffman attests that, for instance, “the blackbird possesses such a highly developed sense of rhythm that we only encounter the same degree of development at the highest level of our own musical compositions.” But this is not so among all birds. “What above all seems remarkable,” says Hoffmann, “is the fact that the development of rhythm in the domain of songbirds by no means keeps step with the development of the tonal element. There are various birds which sing beautifully and produce the most diversified songs, among whom, however, every distinct rhythmic, coherent foundation is lacking.”[9] Initially this is quite striking, though another discovery of Hoffmann’s seems to provide the answer. Namely, he found that among birds, by contrast to humans, movement and rhythm are in no way dependent upon one another. Neither the flight nor the path has any influence on their song. Their rhythmic sense is built solely upon the unorganic components, upon a certain capacity for relationship among beasts. A crow that flees from three predators in a house, but sees only two come out, knows that one is still inside. This fact demonstrates that the bird is able to consolidate three entities into one coherent idea. But with four the idea already breaks down. In birdsong therefore, there are often duplets and triplets to be found. Thus, that which presents itself among beasts as a purely mental phenomenon (if one may speak thus) has, among humans, an organic foundation alongside the mental source deepened by means of conscious intelligence.

V. Music thus unfolds one-sidedly in its first stage. But even in this one-sidedness music consistently progresses toward the ultimate possibility of the rhythmic principle: polyrhythm. But upon exhausting these possibilities, music had to seek elsewhere in order to grow further. But where did the further paths of development lie? Is it a continuous path that leads “up to us”? And what are the intermediate links? That a development has occurred is clear. We see it from the fact that the musical aspirations we express today are entirely different from those of the natives or even the Greeks. Here the question of the nature of development seems inevitable. Likewise the question of how the results of the art of individual peoples stand in relation to one another in terms of value.

Thus, the discussion of the nature of art as objectification, in-formation of the metaphysical, and as the expression of the materia signata became necessary. In this sense just as the total idea is differently signified for different forms (the individual arts), the idea of an individual art can also be differently signified for different peoples. Or according to [Oswald] Spengler: The cultural souls are individually variant. They are different vessels of the same content, different forms for the same material. It is futile here to ask whether the soul of a culture is to be accorded an individual essence, or whether it only represents specific aspects of the life of the individuals of a culture. What is essential is their actual variety (though the impossibility of their convergence is not thereby an a priori given). Rather the viewpoint from which a culture considers an art is a priori distinct from every other. A culture imposes its particular demands on its art, and its art is correspondingly formed in accordance with these demands. For the primitive peoples music is predominantly based on a rhythmic foundation for the sake of dance and work; in Arab culture for the sake of anesthetization and intoxication; in Chinese culture, quite by contrast, for the sake of stimulation to sober thought. For among the Chinese all tones have a corresponding value in life: fa is the emperor, sol is the minister, la is the obedient people, and so forth. Among this people music is in a singular manner rationalized, has been incorporated into thought, has become program music in the best sense, material for theoretical speculation. The Chinese do not know music as the equivalent of feeling. Thus, the tremendous predominance of theory over practical application. Again, the European cultures exhibit entirely different attitudes. In Greek culture music is sensualized order, a formed ethos in the broad sense; in Faustian culture[10] by contrast, music is predominantly the expression of the domain of sentiment, an imperfect abstraction of the (all-too)-sensual.

This same multiplicity of attitudes emerges among the other arts in just the same way. In architectural and sculptural art, Egypt is a prototype of a culture that arose from itself. It is deeply unfortunate that precisely from this culture neither theoretical nor practical musical values have survived, for the presence of frequent depictions of highly differentiated instruments itself implies in all likelihood the utilization of orchestras.

These chasms between cultures are not without additional differences to be bridged, and their compilation would yield only an unorganic conglomerate. One can observe how the naïve soul of the people instinctively resists the introduction of culturally foreign elements. Al-Farabi, in spite of his popularity and his greatest efforts, never succeeded in introducing the Greek tonal system in Arabia. It is rather thus: a culture develops independently, succeeds at the highest expression of its individuality alone, and only after reaching its full maturity opens itself toward other cultures. What lies concealed in all cultures in equal potentiality, develops in various levels and time periods. If one wanted to attempt to transfer the forms of higher levels to lower levels, one would be forcefully tearing open a bud. Instruments of melody, which succeeded by accident in the hands of primitive peoples, were not used as such, but were rather, as Willy Pastor says,[11] garbled in a “regression” to purely rhythmic instrumentation.

There are peoples who sing different melodies simultaneously, without paying attention to consonance: the sense for harmony has not developed in them. One calls this phenomenon, according to Plato, heterophony.

VI. Thus cultures ultimately confront one another with their individual developments. Where, however, is the great universal development, the perfect in-formation achieved? But this is a false manner of posing the question; it would be just as paradoxical to ask “in what part is the whole to be found?” But even a summation would yield no success, for the sum of all the partial ideas does not yield the pure, undetermined primordial idea. The Ideal never succeeds through mathematical addition, but rather only through quiet organic growth which is unconscious to our thought. More will be said of this later.


I. What slept concealed in the music of the primitive peoples because it was not used, because the dimension of rhythm alone sufficed, awoke in the days of Greece. It is the noblest part of music, which here was brought out of the still-unformed night into the daylight of form, even if not quite grasped and interpreted from all sides: Melody.

Melody is a mystery that is not easily revealed. In it dwells a hidden but powerful force that operates inexplicably. We can penetrate to the sources of the rhythmic form; they lie concealed in our psycho-physical constitution and are explicable in rational terms. On the other hand, the nature of musical harmonics can be explained fully from the relationships of numbers, from physical proportions. But in melody there lies a certain fluidity which binds the tones among one another and lends to them a new, entirely unique character. For when one or more new tones are joined to a melody (this becomes the case most clearly in a short melodic thought), then all of a sudden the fluidity of the melody is stirred; it flows into the new portion and surrounds it. In melody the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Today one calls these structures “forms” [Gestalten]. They are not fully graspable logically, but are immediately and evidently meaningful. Thus in melody there lies an irrational, dynamic foundation, which raises music to a greater height, though also pushes it further into the distance.

II. Harmony of body and soul, refinement, order, kalokagathia: this is the demand of Greek man. He knows no difference between the demands of the body and those of the soul: education of the body is for him education of the soul, and likewise, conversely, a well-ordered soul, living in a state of sophrosyne, will necessarily express itself in well-ordered, measured movements of the body.

But this polarity, as the fundamental law of psychosomatic being, also lies at the core of the matter. Nietzsche called these fundamental drives Apollonian and Dionysian: Apollo, the pursuit of calm clarification, of sophrosyne; and Dionysos, the drive for fantastical self-anesthetization. It is not thus as if Apollo were the spirit and Dionysos the body, for both are anchored in the soul. The tension which consciousness must endure between the two poles is all the greater.

The educational ideal of the Greek school was sophrosyne, calm clarity of spirit, mastery; that is, primacy of the Apollonian over the daemonic-Dionysian. For, Greek man had a primordial fear of his Dionysos, of the drive for frenzy and orgy, of that secret abyss of the soul out of which gathered, as out of a deep crater, the fumes and fog of the daemonic-immediate, of the creative-primeval, or out of which lights of the metaphysical might shimmer. A flinching timidity forbade him from calling these regions into the direct light of consciousness. Nonetheless, he sought, at least partly, to transpose it into the calm, well-ordered form of the Apollonian. His tragedy is one of the greatest attempts to bring measure, count, order—in short, rhythm—into the measureless, the amorphous, the arrhythmic. He exploited all that goes by the name of rhythm in his efforts at domestication and cultivation. But what is there in the music of Dionysos other than the secret, irrational-daemonic element, namely melody? The philosophers and pedagogues of Greece were hostile to this melody, which nonetheless lay in their inmost nature. For it posed a danger, the Dionysian danger. They knew full well that just as in the nature of man only organic composition, the synthesis out of tension, the cooperation of Apollo and Dionysos, could bring about the highest, the inspired, so too in art only the unification of melos and rhythmos could signify the greatest blossom. But just as in the character of the people an outburst of the Dionysian would lead to severe social damage, so too a predominance of the melodic over the rhythmic would be dangerous to the nature of art and would threaten its ultimate, most sacred purposes. For, these purposes themselves were indeed nothing other than those of forming and organizing that which is formless, personified in tragic art as the sufferer, with the help of rhythm in all its forms (as word, dance, and music, that is, the great eurhythmia), thereby robbing that which is formless of its magic, authority, power, and terror. This purifying conversion is katharsis: an analysis of the amorphous, an in-forming of the formless.

Eurhythmic music thus has ethical value here, and so integrates itself into school and religion. Indeed, eurhythmia becomes a midpoint of all education, and all the individual disciplines emanate like rays from this central idea of rhythmization. It was this which essentially distinguished the Hellenes from the barbarians. But this was not music in the contemporary sense, but rather eurhythmia, which could be expressed just as well in the palaestra as in the high tragedy. Tragedy, as the organic synthesis of all rhythmic arts, was thereby especially well-suited to serving these purposes; upon departing the theater, the Greek must have had the unconscious feeling of having re-converted a piece of his form-less self into settled form.

III. Thus music had succeeded to a second, even if not yet fulfilled stage. For still its mystery, namely melody, had not yet been expressed openly; it was veiled, concealed, suppressed. In this sense the Greek soul was not the ideally fruitful soil in which music might have been able to take root. The spirit of music was not met with a congenial form; it was interpreted one-sidedly and not whole-heartedly acknowledged. There lay in it too much of the amorphous; too much of the unconcealed metaphysical peered out from its gaze, which the Greek will-to-form could not satisfy.

It was rather the symbol of the un-formed, the stone which this will-to-form seized, and in this will-to-form it found its deepest expression as sculpture, as finished form, steps and temple. Here, in these most subtle laws of form, in these final proportions, the eternal unrest of Dionysos came to rest and the metaphysical found a complete covering. In the melodic contours of the Venus de Milo, melody was so completely bound to form that the abysses of melody were closed and all the insecurities and fears that strove up from out of them were forever weighed down.


I. Upon first glance it can seem strange that Plato rejected perspective in painting as a fraudulent deception. For it is precisely through perspective that one expects the highest and most beautiful success in painting. But what then is the actual nature of perspective? It is the relation of surfaces and points to one another, the relation of an “anterior” to a “posterior,” of a “proximate” to a “distant.” This relation, however, did not interest the Greek; what interested him was only the individual object, entirely complete in itself and thoroughly formed. Everything has its individual value and the surroundings have no influence upon its essentiality.

A Greek temple is the most relation-less thing thinkable: it subsists as a completely developed individual thing, just as the Greek statue is there solely for the sake of itself. Upon every vase there stand figures who are closed in upon themselves, without background, without a horizon. For the horizon, [Oswald] Spengler says, is “the strongest potency of the distant,” and the Greek is as little acquainted with a distance as he is with a nearness.

Historical thought is the grasping of time, a perspectival glance into the past, a form of relation. This too is foreign to the Greek nature, which never saw value in historical being, but rather only in the present or in the timeless. The statue is the expression of this. Antiquities as such are worthless to the Greek, for they have lost their highest and individual value, their complete and timeless form. Only that which is eternally present possesses value.

II. This is the discovery of Western man: relation. In other words: an entirely new value is placed in things, the possibility of being compared to other things. Relative value sets itself up alongside absolute value, leading to doubt concerning the authority of the latter. This utterly new, relativizing attitude did not establish itself sequentially as a new culture following upon the old; rather it towered over the old in order to survey it. The Greek lived for himself on his islands and mountains; the Egyptian occupied the narrow, self-contained valleys of the Nile; the Chinese lives within the Great Wall; the Japanese upon an island; the Indian isolated by mountains and sea. Here cultures formed themselves. The Westerner however, like Faust, presses beyond himself, loves Helena rather than Gretchen and in the end furthermore becomes the colonizer, the great industrialist, the cosmopolitan. He reads with equal enthusiasm Buddha, Homer, and Lao Tzu; he brings Gothic architecture, Egyptian temples, pagodas, and granaries under one roof. For the Greek, the center of the cosmos was not merely the Earth; rather the “navel of the world” was furthermore situated in, of all places, the Greek Delphi, a great manifestation of Greek cultural consciousness. The Westerner, however, dared to overthrow the geocentric world, to relativize the entire cosmos.

III. From here the path leads to an understanding of Western music, for the idea of relation which developed everywhere was also applied to musical art. To hear the relation of tones to one another, the relation of a more rapid vibration to a slower one, i.e. the relation of a higher to a lower tone, not only as pleasingly consonant but rather as relation, and to glimpse in that relation a positive, artistic, intrinsic value, had to remain reserved for the Westerner. What otherwise was read only horizontally, in temporal succession, suddenly acquired a new dimension: the vertical relationships were read into the depth of music. We know how timid the first attempts at harmonics were: the liberation of the constituent parts of a single tone, the exposition of its harmonics. Octaves, fifths, fourths—most simply put, acoustic proportions—were the beginning. Then the path led cautiously, amid a hundred dangers, more deeply into the murky realm of tone: the trio, the sextet, and finally the septet were mastered. And all of this took place—not accidentally—at the time of the great discoveries that elevated the West over other cultures, the time of the great inventions, which with Galileo ultimately relativized the cosmos: all at once space opened itself up, infinitely and terrifyingly.

And truly: the space of music now opens itself, considered as a strange reality only analogous to space, indeed yet more fully sensed than space. But nevertheless a space. Music had unfolded its dimensions: first rhythm, then melody, and finally harmony as well. That which was no suitable form to the Apollonian soul, for the latter found its fulfillment in the eternally near, in the spaceless, in sculpture; that which the Apollonian soul was only capable of fulfilling according to two dimensions; this was the congruent expression of the Faustian soul. This Faustian soul—which before the discovery of harmony had already created a musical art of expression in Romanesque-Gothic sculpture—in searching for the most suitable form for its expression created its own space so to speak, in which it could accomplish the highest, the nearest to perfection, which however also stunted Faustian sculpture. It had found the form for which the idea it contained within itself was signified. Within this space, it was Queen. It could traverse this space in whatever direction, at whatever speed it wanted. And if the long passage of time here and there still forced the impression of the linear, of the merely two-dimensional, then the invention of the crescendo brought anew a tremendous deepening of the sense of space.

And something wonderful had happened: melody, which among the Greeks had been suppressed, which had been held captive in the two-dimensional Greek rhythmic form, was released from this dungeon by harmony, and only now acquired its meaning and its completion, soon learning to soar through the space of tones with unfettered and fully-spread wings.

IV. Nonetheless harmony, even if it opens up unforeseen possibilities, is not of the same intrinsic value as melody. It is a rational, utterly mathematical art. Its organon is the count; it knows how to grasp acoustic physics up to the minutest detail. It conceals no riddles within itself as melody does. The age of the rationalization of history, of the mathematization of life—the mid- and late-nineteenth century—this age has loved and served harmony at the expense of melody. The result was a deceleration of musical tempo, a languishing in the wings. For harmony alone cannot advance to the incarnation of the highest idea, because harmony, as a merely mathematical, almost technical art, has no contact with the organic. Only melody can accomplish the highest flight, though harmony is its indispensable pillar, for in harmony melody strengthens itself, around it melody lightly hovers, and only in it is melody fulfilled.

V. Thus music has expressed itself as in-formation, as an—even if, perhaps, imperfect—in-formation of the Divine. In its perfection it can become a symbol, more yet the garment of a certain form of the Divine. That which in its beginnings—in the music of beasts and even of the primitive peoples—is foreshadowed quite fragmentarily, disjointedly, and indistinctly, can already be discerned in melody, and in the three-dimensional phenomenon it becomes an immediate experience.

Music is a temporal art. It emanates, it wanders, and it arrives, or it returns. It is an eternal flux, an eternal manifoldness, but melody hovers as the meaningful binding element in it. Thus is melody a symbol of the work of the dynamic development of the world.

The Musical Idea


I. The temporal appearance of music is a thoroughly organic phenomenon. Its development is guided by meaningful principles which do not arbitrarily force it into this and that form, but rather select the forms according to higher conformity to laws; the eductio formarum is essentially logical. One can speak of an organism whose dimension is time and which ascends in stages. The stages or ages however do not possess a merely relative value-oriented toward completion, according to which they are nearer to or further from the latter; rather they possess an absolute value, grounded in themselves, as the valid fulfillment of a portion of the total musical idea.

This is thus comparable to a great blossoming on the tree of art, which slowly opens, unfurls one leaf after the other, and finally blooms in full maturity. Every leaf is already in itself and contains the entelechy of the plant in itself, but is only a part of the total beauty.

II. In this manner the parts do not admit of sharp delineation from one another. There are intermediaries, bridges. What [Heinrich] Wölfflin discovered for the history of art also holds true here. There are not pure types, but rather approximations. What he calls the view of the sculptor and the view of the painter is only the coordinate, the concept of measure. The Greek sees as a sculptor, sees in lines and contours, or for music: melody. He sees horizontally, two-dimensionally. The Westerner sees as a painter, in surfaces, in colors, in light and shade, or musically: in spacious harmonies. The Renaissance converges on the first pole, the Baroque on the latter. But even in the Greek statue there is surface and depth, even in Rembrandt a remainder of lines and linear sight. And so too with the countless mixed forms which stand between these two extremes; they contain elements of both. Thus too in music: the entire art lies between purely melodic and purely harmonic music. The Greek himself had the rudiments of harmonics, indeed already among the primitive peoples we find the beginnings of melodics and even of harmonics. Certain tribes sing in thirds. The hymns of the Church, as Gregory introduced them, are Greek melos. Through the middle ages, which did not yet realize this relationship (just as Arab philosophers were not evaluated as Arabs, but only as thinkers), these hymns remained the same, but by the beginning of the modern period they were harmonized. Only isolated songs still bear witness to the unaltered melos (e.g. the Exultet of Holy Saturday).

Most rich, of course, are the variations in our art which comprise the lower stages. The North, which is more oriented toward painting and harmony, stands in contrast to the South, which is more oriented toward sculpture and melody: Wagner versus Verdi. But Wagner’s motifs are melodies and Verdi’s songs are unthinkable apart from the firm harmonic support.

In this manner the tremendous practical diversity becomes clear. The organic is never mathematically simple, but is rather continuous life, continual development. Here art inclines more toward the one pole, there it inclines toward the other pole, or presently it moves to the middle. It goes the way of Proclus’ and Hegel’s triad: dialectic-organic, non-mathematical.


Accordingly, the creation of music is one possibility, among many others, of expressing truth (Alois Hába).

I. The question of the boundaries of music is one of the most controversial: for it is at once the question of what is the essence of the musical idea. What is singular about it, what is signified by it? That music is ideational follows from its nature as an art. It is an expression of the Divine. Every art is such by analogy: the characteristics of the Divine which we can grasp conceptually, we can analogously perceive through the senses in material. The Truth, an idea, becomes Beauty in material. Therefore the latter is only an analogous expression for truth, and both are identical insofar as they signify the divine. A statue is beautiful when it is an analogous form of divine truth; a word too is beautiful on the same grounds, for it too is not the truth itself, but rather only a form for the same. Thus is music a beautiful expression of truth, though necessarily a different form than for instance of speech or sight.

II. In my opinion, the peculiarity of music consists in concentration and expansion, intensity, or as I said above, representing the dynamic God, and indeed doing so beyond the realm of the conceptual, the verbal, the shown, as the pure form of immediate truth. Remaining true to its form as a temporal art, it is, so to speak, a gauge of the Absolute. The plotting of these curves is its first and noblest task, which it fulfills as “absolute music.” This task is, however, at the same time the sole task of which music is capable through its own self, without the aid of idea, feeling, and other kinds of meaning. However, just as the senses ordinarily are not purely separated (as for example the idea corresponds with sight or taste, correcting and modifying, be it as a freely conceived act or, as in the vast majority of cases, a reflex association), so too in music the conscious or unconscious gathering of other senses plays a large role. This factor, incidental in itself, nonetheless becomes of the highest practical significance. No one is capable of hearing music without the associations that creep in. That spatial representations are already at hand is clear: for instance, the sense of drawing near with the crescendo, of distancing with the diminuendo, or high and low, indeed the representation of tonal space in the first place, is not primarily musical. Further remote are associations of taste or disposition: soft and hard, funny, sad, lofty or comical. These however are still to be reckoned so to speak among the primary associations. These lead still further out to accidental and purely habitual auditory associations or tonal sequences of nature, of the private or the social life, most of which arouse long chains of representation which, not uncommonly, can have an interfering effect in the musical experience. In a moment, lifelong habit binds certain melodies and chords, which primarily “express” nothing at all, with the representation of birdsong, of the post-horn, of the hunt or the song of a gondolier. Here the entire field of program music opens itself up, begun by the fine echo-effect of the old Italians up to the musical naturalism of Richard Strauss. Program music wants in any case to arouse associations, thus thoroughly abandoning the most original, absolute meaning of music, namely the registering of the dynamic-metaphysical. Its paths are different: either it wants to directly copy the sounds of the world (one thinks of the baying of herds, wind and thunder machines in symphonic compositions), or it wants to employ these sounds in a stylized, refined, altered manner (Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony).

Both paths lie within its power; a third, however, which it has striven for, it cannot achieve: namely to render primary the content of feeling without association. Liszt attempted this first; symphonic composition was practiced mightily after him. No one however can boast of having rendered distinctly through music the content of a feeling or, as Richard Wagner even wanted to do, the content of an idea. Only this is possible: to go parallel to the composition and to trace its fluctuations of feeling, its back-and-forth, its concentration and expansion; to mark its turning points, its tempo. Any more than this will never succeed: a content, an idea, a feeling itself, is not to be held onto through purely musical means. What alone can deceive here, for the heedless, is the unconscious host of associations. Richard Wagner had the bold program of transposing philosophy into music. He was able to accomplish this, so far as philosophy is feeling, and so far as this feeling can again be reinterpreted in music by means of associations. Thereby, however, only the smallest page of philosophy is captured; the greater and deeper portion, the conceptual, remains excluded. Likewise Richard Strauss was in no way willing or wanting, in his Zarathustra, to render the poetry of Nietzsche, rather only its richness of feeling. For the same reason, in the dramas of Wagner and his students the motif can raise no claim to the expression of its content if it is not bound to external primary or secondary associations. A host of Wagner’s motifs are therefore of a purely accidental sort (for instance in the Twilight of the Gods). The more countless, the more refined and imponderable the associations are, the more ingenious is the choice of the motif: therein have Wagner and Strauss achieved the greatest. The motif of the Valkyrie for instance arouses these representations: galloping horses, wild rough battle fanfare, thus the heroic, proud, etc.; the motif of the Twilight of the Gods: descent, great fatigue = evening, added to this a quiet timpani roll = inner agitation as before a storm, a tremendous, lofty though subdued moment. Further associations could be enumerated. They are also, of course, subjectively distinct, but must nonetheless remain universal-human if they are intended to be felt by all.

III. Program music is one, even if not the highest, possibility for music. Now, it is questionable whether program music is an enrichment or a falsification of the musical idea, which clearly has other tasks beyond providing a picture-book explanation of the idea. I believe that a synthesis is possible here: for neither the program music of the nineteenth century, nor the return to the old spiritually absolute music of Bach currently in demand, is the sole correct path.

Through the episode of program music the life of perception, the vibration of the soul, became so refined that the renunciation of achievements would surely be a step backward. Even if, perhaps, associationless music is the highest possibility, then it is nonetheless virtually inaccessible to our nature. If our nature succeeds, for a brief time, at freeing itself of all ancillary representations and hearing music as such, not as an expression, not as a construction, then nonetheless, at minimum primary associations will again soon ensue. These however will not distract, but rather, if the music truly understands how to guide them, they will help the Absolute to be better understood, just as a veil drawn before an all-too-blinding light enables one to gaze at it for a longer time. It is therefore entirely conceivable that music, which indeed stands on the same level as word and representation, is enhanced and supported by these, and that it is not always the reverse case, where word and representation (in song and in opera) are enhanced and strengthened by music. Concession to representation can become a great enrichment of the musical idea.

IV. We see music as a double phenomenon: the form of the higher, the metaphysical; and the expression of the lower, the imaginable. It oscillates between the two, without ever achieving either. In eras of materialism and vital interest, music will incline more toward the expression, toward program music; whereas in eras of great metaphysical desire, of a strong need for the absolutely valid—Bach and Handel are the blossom of Pietism—music turns more toward the absolutely formal. Our age again calls for form, for this revelation from above (for what else is form?), and turns from the impressionistic art of a Strauss and a Debussy to the logical-organic, occasionally even toward the constructed art, as a way of turning toward the more direct, the simpler, the nearer.


I. The birth of form is a problem, for together with the idea signified in it, it at least potentially approaches the problem of being. It is therefore, in its inmost, bound together with the idea; indeed the idea is distinguished by dependence upon the form.

Because, however, there are various forms, this same idea must thus at least possess various aspects, which are also fulfilled in the differing of peoples, lands, and artists. The question of what is the best form is therefore superfluous, for which is the best idea? But despite the variations of the idea and of its forms there is valuation, and therefore also progress.

A work of art, then, signifies progress when, upon the great path of the total evolution of the idea, it has guided a further path. There must be derivable from it a further step of the Divine into the world. An exercise in metaphysics must ultimately be transformed into form. Not everything new, not every fashion survives this standard of progress, for it is often a renewal of the old, or yet again an insufficient form for the new, still fermenting ideas.

When a new in-formation has favorably succeeded however, are the earlier established forms overcome and annulled? Or is not the new a supplement, an explanation of the old? We have seen this: rhythm is not annulled in melody; in harmony melos and rhythm are even enhanced. One form builds upon the others without destroying them; rather, according to Duns Scotus’ doctrine of forms, the lower forms form the material for the next-higher. Forms which are final, which are perfected to their level, do not therefore become obsolete; rather they can at most fall “out of fashion.” Such values are, for instance, Gregorian chant, the folk song, the fugue, the classical symphony. Forms are building blocks. They all matter, they all contribute to the edifice of universal in-formation.

II. It lies in the nature of true value, however, to apply universally. Therefore it is also not bound to the personal, at least not essentially. The era of Romanticism, which saw in the work of art the person of the artist alone, forgot this. It was likewise the era of relativism, which respected every spirited, even if self-contradictory, aphorism as wisdom. This cult of the person has today already lost a great portion of its might. If in the era of Expressionism the beholder of an image, the reader of a poem, was to settle into the “mentality” of the artist, amid many difficulties and with painstaking labor, then there is nonetheless today, yet again, a more unified statement of the problem of the people, and the artist is again beginning to come into the right position, for he is so to speak the exponent of humanity in the face of the spiritual; as Prometheus he is to seize the fire of the idea from heaven. But not for himself, as a sinless-solitary adventurer, but rather for his fellow man. He accomplishes a social labor.

Art is no private matter, for truth is never a private matter. Already Goethe, in his Italian Journey, regrets that in order to enjoy works of art we must bolt ourselves into a chair for hours on end. Madame de Staël says the same concerning individualized German art in contrast to French poetry (which always stands coram publico). Karl Maria von Weber was greatly upset when, while at a concert that he gave in Weimar, Goethe loudly conversed with a gentlewoman. And today if one dares to speak during a concert, one receives furious glances from one’s neighbor. Now, it is certainly impossible to cast what is highest to the people at large unprepared, but nonetheless our art scene today is all too individualistic. It was quite otherwise in the eighteenth century; to this a mere description of the opera scene in Italy from Romain Rolland (A Musical Tour through the Land of the Past) bears witness:

The cost of the places in the parterre is a paule (sixpence English) unless admission is free, as is often the case in Venice and Naples. The public is noisy and inattentive; it would seem that the peculiar pleasure of the theatre, dramatic emotion, counts for very little. The audience chats at its ease during part of the performance. Visits are paid from box to box. At Milan each box opens out of a complete apartment, having a room with a fireplace and all possible conveniences, whether for the preparation of refreshments or for a game of cards. On the fourth floor a faro-table is kept open on either side of the building as long as the opera continues.—At Bologna the ladies make themselves thoroughly at home; they talk, or rather scream, during the performance, from one box to that facing it, standing up, clapping and shouting Bravo! As for the men, they are more moderate; when an act is finished, and it has pleased them, they content themselves with shouting until it is performed again. In Milan . . . the gentlemen in the parterre have long sticks, with which they beat the benches as hard as they can, by way of admiration. They have colleagues in the boxes of the fifth tier, who, at this signal, throw down thousands of leaflets containing a sonetto printed in praise of the signora or the virtuoso who has just been singing. All the occupants of the boxes lean half out of them to catch these leaflets; the parterra capers about and the scene closes with a general “Ah!” as though they were admiring a Midsummer Night bonfire.[12]

The description is stark and ironic but contains a kernel of truth. Is not [Josef] Kreitmaier’s statement justified, namely that art has become embroiled in the subjective? “So much so, that artist and public are only one manifold person, that there is no longer a second person in a position to come to terms with the, to him, entirely alien perceptual world of the artist.”[13] The entire people has a claim upon the artist, and it is the health of art to establish itself not upon the artist, but upon the firmer, more objective, and farther-reaching basis of the entire people. For the success of art depends not on the artist alone. He is merely the accidental personal medium of the great evolution of world-immanent [weltimmanent] meaning.

III. If thus the personal in art is broadly valueless, then the essentially human therein is nonetheless important. For the human structure corresponds to the artistic: spirit and material have, in both cases, entered into a new substantial unity. We love art for this reason: it is our likeness; it reflects our greatness and our weakness. It is therefore a condition of great art that it not neglect the central aspects of what is human, but rather strike a middle path between extremes. “They, however, who due to an abnormal outgrowth would win the appreciation of the world, will labor in vain. They will perhaps, if they are fortunate, become the fashion for a season; after that however they will inevitably have to exit the stage” (Hugo Leichtentritt).[14] For what they created did not match the seriousness and the rigorous rhythm of development, and what differs therefrom withers.

Because value is a type of perfection, it can thus be increased to the utmost, but not overtaken. Values which once obtain are eternally valid solutions, unalterable by contemporary taste or fashion. Yet to develop further means nothing apart from this: to develop more highly, for there are often steps backward, decades-long degradations, in which no new and valid values are found, or which merely nourish themselves from whichever earlier ages. To despise the values of earlier artists, or to deny them their value, bears witness to a short-sightedness of meaning, for in the great, universal unfolding of art there are no erroneous developments. When our time answers the thesis of an earlier time with an antithesis, the ultimate truth usually lies only in the consequent synthesis. We do not have sufficient insight into history to condemn values; rather it is always better to enhance what is already at hand or harmonically merge it.

It is not true that development today goes upon a “different path,” for it goes always upon the same, direct path. The earlier is therefore not dispensable, but counts alongside everything else. There is therefore no overtaking or rendering obsolete Beethoven, nor Rossini, nor Meyerbeer or Verdi, for instance by means of Wagner and the Moderns. Rather, what they created persists without consideration of the opinions of later artists. On the one hand there is overtaking, on the other elevation: Donizetti is elevated by means of Verdi and Haydn by means of Mozart. And nonetheless the entire value of an artist is never again re-embodied in another: there are in Donizetti and Haydn beauties, nuances that we no longer find in Verdi and Mozart. Thus here too caution is due in the evaluation of values.

What may be applied universally however is that values must be esteemed, and he who binds the most of them together organically (not merely as a compilation) is the greatest artist. The contempt for melody, as it often occurs among the Neo-Romantics, robs music of a great, indeed its most precious, value. The attempts of the Atonalists are fruitless, for music without harmony and tonality would be an impoverishment, a descent to earlier stages of development. For: even if every single value is a singly-existent form of the total idea of music, then the values are nonetheless never so divergent that they could no longer be bound synthetically, simply because they all embody the same kernel, the same idea. The more individual forms converge, the nearer the form of a work of art comes to that ideal total form of the musical idea.

IV. Form is restraint, for the total idea in it is never entire. Form is likewise constraint, ultimately in the same sense that every body is a prison. And yet it is the appropriate clothing of the spirit, which wants to develop out from us. The spirit chains itself willingly so that it might become visible. Form is thus necessity and fulfillment. Once more: Art is in itself tragic. For in it the immediate, ineffable spirit wants to be fulfilled in form, which is nevertheless impossible.

Music is that form which brings us closest to the spirit; it is the thinnest veil that separates us from the spirit. But it bears the tragic destiny of all art: to have to remain in a state of longing, and therefore something temporary. And precisely because it stands closest to the spirit, without being able completely to grasp it, in music the longing is at its most potent.

V. Music stands closest to immanent meaning, because, like immanent meaning, music is development. Both are dynamic and inexpressible, ineffable. Music is, like all art, logical, indeed it is perhaps yet more so than the other arts. It is a boundary-point of the human, and at this boundary begins the Divine. It is an eternal monument to the fact that humans can intuit what God is: eternal and simple, circumincessing dynamically and manifoldly in himself and in the world as the Logos.

TRANSLATOR’S NOTE: There is a concerning aspect of this essay which we would be remiss to pass over in silence. Though Balthasar, as a twenty-year-old aristocrat in 1925 likely would not have fully realized it, his construction of the evolution of music here rests upon patently racist and imperialist assumptions concerning the nature and value of indigenous, especially African, artistic culture. Nowhere is this clearer than in his approving citation of Karl Bücher’s comparison of “the simplest negroes” to trained soldiers and musicians with regard to relative rhythmic acuity. For however much Balthasar (and his sources) might praise the rhythmic advances of indigenous peoples, their music is still clearly relegated to a provisional, intermediary status, a step on the road to a higher and superior synthesis, which Balthasar explicitly identifies with Western European harmony. Clearly, the deep concern for the fate of Beauty which would later characterize Balthasar’s mature theological project was already at work in this essay. But if the modern tendency for Beauty to be sunk into a mire of subjectivism is a valid concern, so too is the opposite extreme: the instrumentalization of Beauty as a tool for asserting objective ethno-cultural supremacy, as of course occurred in chilling fashion a decade later in the Nazi policy toward so-called “degenerate art.” In 1943, Balthasar published an article titled “Mysterium Judaicum,” in which he explicitly condemned racism and anti-Semitism by name and on theological grounds; thus it is not a consciously racist program that is at issue here. Nevertheless, the manner in which Balthasar here constructs the evolution of music constitutes an unintended example of precisely the dangers which can attend his style of approach to art.
—Jonathan S. King, PhD, German and Theology instructor at Fenwick High School

[1] Original title: Die Entwicklung der musikalischen Idee. Versuch einer Synthese der Musik (Brauschweig: Fritz Bartels, 1925). The present translation is based on the text of the 2nd edition, ed. Alois Haas (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1998).

[2] Translator’s note: Balthasar uses the words “die Information” or “informieren” frequently in this essay, in a technical/etymological sense of one thing forming another thing from within, or the Divine becoming manifest in the world in/through forms. In order to avoid confusion with the ordinary usage of these words, throughout the following the German has been rendered as “in-formation” or “in-form.”

[3] Translator’s note: Balthasar provides no citation for this quote. It may be found in: Ernst Bloch, Gesamtausgabe in 16 Bänden, Bd.10: Philosophische Aufsätze zur objektiven Phantasie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1969), 507.

[4] Translator’s note: The text Balthasar is referring to is: Bernhard Hoffmann, Kunst und Vogelsang in ihren wechselseitigen Beziehungen vom naturwissenschaftlich-musikalischen Standpunkte beleuchtet (Leipzig: Quelle & Meyer, 1908).

[5] Translator’s note: The text Balthasar is referring to is: H. Stonehewer Cooper, The Coral Lands of the Pacific: Their Peoples and Their Products (London: Richard Bentley, 1882), 118.

[6] Translator’s note: The text Balthasar is referring to is: Karl Bücher, Arbeit und Rhythmus (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1896).

[7] Translator’s note: Balthasar provides no citation for this quote. It may be found in: Ibid., 26.

[8] Translator’s note: Balthasar provides no citation for this quote. It may be found in: Ibid., 36.

[9] Translator’s note: Balthasar provides no citation for this quote, and I could not locate it. Cf. fn.7 above.

[10] Translator’s note: The term and concept of “Faustian culture” refers to Western European culture and is borrowed from Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes [The Decline of the West], publ. 1918.

Translator’s note: The text Balthasar is referring to is: Willy Pastor, Die Geburt der Musik. Eine Kulturstudie (Leipzig: Fritz Eckardt, 1910), 50.

[12] Translator’s note: Balthasar provides no citation for this lengthy quote. The text above has been taken from an English translation of the original French: Romain Rolland, A Musical Tour through the Land of the Past, trans. Bernard Miall (New York: Holt, 1922), 179-180.

[13] Translator’s note: Balthasar provides no citation for this quote, and I could not locate it. The text Balthasar is likely referring to is: Josef Kreitmaier, SJ, Beuroner Kunst (Freiburg: Herder, 1923).

[14] Translator’s note: Balthasar provides no citation for this quote, and I could not locate it.

Featured Image: Jacek Malczewski, central panel of the "Music" triptych, 1906; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100. 


Hans Urs von Balthasar

Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905–1988) was a Swiss Theologian and Catholic priest, whose many writings were highly influential in the 20th Century. He was a founder of Communio, and wrote over a hundred books in his lifetime. Today, he is regarded by many as the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. 

Read more by Hans Urs von Balthasar