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Music and silence, life and death

Music is more than just one more element of life. It is the same as life, arising out of silence, developing in silence, facing death. Pierre-Olivier Léchot writes of this experienc, to increase our sensibility and to reinforce our courage to be.

Pierre-Olivier Léchot

Translation Louise Thunin
On either side of music, on either side of a musical composition, we find silence. Silence is the sine qua non condition for all music to exist. Without silence, music as such would not exist, just as the only acceptable definition of music is that it is sound and not silence. In many ways, silence surrounds music as death surrounds life. In the same way, in fact, death can erupt in life without altogether interrupting it. The latter can certainly erase itself from the horizon of life, as with certain Bach fugues. Death can play with life, as sometimes Beethoven or other composers do, but it will never entirely erase the silence of life’s horizon, be it near or far. Every musical work is birthed in silence and ends in silence – followed or not by applause. Silence is the horizon of being and the meaning of all music. It is exactly the same with life : life takes on meaning only in the face of death. As a human endeavor, music is surrounded by death, but within and for itself, it is life, a desire for life and for eternity. Like music, life requires death to give it meaning. There is nothing more absurd, more inhumane, in this respect, than eternity, that which is, so they say, without beginning and without end–in the double sense of the Latin term, finis : finish line and full stop.
They say that music awakens passions. That is probably not entirely false, but it is an affirmation quite far removed from reality. Especially, and above all, music is not just a call to life. It is that, indeed, but it is even more so a desire for life, and, in a certain sense, in the face of the reality of death, it is being’s labour of resistance. And that in no way contradicts the idea that music provides pleasure when we listen to it. Edward Said demonstrated this when he spoke of Mozart’s opera Cosi Fan Tutte : death underlies it, while joy and pleasure are omnipresent. Thus, one could say that for Mozart, intuiting his demise (he composed it less than two years before his passing), musical joy and pleasure are forms of resistance to death.
Therefore, I believe that Freud is wrong to claim that all our human activities, our passions, our dreams, are a form of painkiller for the absurdity of life. Because when music sounds, we know that it has arisen from a horizon of silence, just as life has arisen from a horizon of death. But in the heart of its expression, music does exist. It is not a form of forgetfulness of silence nor a way to hide it, to deny it. It stands strong in the face of silence–in the proper sense of the term, it is. Of course, it will never have the last word. But next to silence and in the face of silence, it is life in the face of death, being in the face of non-being. From this standpoint, music is the courage to be. Thus it is, finally, an act of faith.


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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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