by Marinus Jan Marijs
The idea that inspiration is caused by an external factor, has a long tradition. Inspiration as a concept has its origins in both Hellenism and Hebraism. Inspiration has a number of characteristics: It gives the ability to achieve effortlessly, which cannot be attained with just analytical ability, technique, and great effort.
One of the fields where inspiration is clearly present is within classical music.
A number of the greatest composers made statements regarding their inner experiences during composing, and regarding the source of their inspiration:
Of all the great works of art, the musical compositions created by the great classical composers are perhaps the most abstract and the highest and most sublime form of art. The question is, how it is possible that these composers could have created such great works of art. There’s no doubt that a composer needs highly developed technical skills, but the greatest of them claimed that this was not enough. There is an additional element which is absolutely necessary to create a composition of lasting value, and that is inspiration, the source of which is outside the composer.
The term ‘inspiration’ is used with several different meanings:
- Stimulation of the intellect or emotion to a high level of activity.
- Being strongly influenced by another person or work of art.
- A sudden intuition as part of solving a problem without the use of rational processes.
- Divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind or soul of a person. This form of inspiration is also called revelation, communion with the divine.
The etymology of the word ‘inspiration’ comes from the Latin translation of the Greek word theopneustos. Literally, ‘God-breathed’; in Latin; ‘divinitus inspirata’ (divinely breathed into).
The idea of inspiration as a spiritual, almost mystical form of communication with the divine is also something we find in the field of classical composition.
When the great classical composers talked about their inner experience when composing, the idea of communication with a force or forces on the highest transcendental level was seen as the only way to create music of lasting value and essential to their art.
(The quotes below come from the following books: Arthur M. Abell: “Talks with great composers”, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, G.E.Schroeder Verlag, 1964;
Julius Bahle: “Der Musikalische Schaffensprozess”, Kontanz, Paul Christiani 1947; J.P. Fockema Andreae: “De inspiratie van den Componist”; K.B. Sandved: “The world of music”, Publisher: Waverley Book Co, 1954)
The German composer Ludwig van Beethoven declared that his ideas came from God, that he was aware of his connection with the Divine:
“I was conscious of being inspired by God Almighty”.
And: “I know that God is nearer to me than to others of my craft”.
The German composer Johannes Brahms:
“Straightway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God, and not only do I see distinct themes in my mind’s eye, but they are clothed in the right forms, harmonies and orchestration.
Measure by measure, the finished product is revealed to me when I am in those rare inspired moods…”
And about the spirit that worked through him: “Spirit is universal. Spirit is the creative energy of the Cosmos.”
About inspiration: “Aid from a higher source, a source outside themselves.”
Brahms on the divine source of inspiration:
“No atheist has ever been or ever will be a great composer.“
“…Then when I felt those higher Cosmic vibrations, I knew that I was in touch with the same power that inspired those great poets and also Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Then the ideas which I was consciously seeking flowed in upon me with such force and speed, that I could only grasp and hold a few of them; I never was able to jot them all down; they came in instantaneous flashes and quickly faded away again, unless I fixed them on paper.
The themes that will endure in my compositions all come to me in this way…
I felt that I was for the moment, in tune with the infinite, and there is no thrill like it.“
The Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn.
He called composing “to commune with God”.
The German composer Richard Strauss on the source of his inspiration: ”When in my most inspired moods, I have definite compelling visions, involving a higher selfhood.
I feel at such moments that I am tapping the source of Infinite and Eternal energy from which you and I and all things proceed. Religion calls it God”.
“It is an emanation from a higher source. While I was composing those two operas, I was, …definitely conscious of being aided by a more than earthly power…a cosmic force.”
The Italian composer Giacomo Puccini: “I know from my own experience when composing that it is a supernatural influence which qualifies me to receive Divine truths, and to communicate them to the public through my operas”.
And: “A composer will never write anything of lasting value unless he has Divine aid also. There is a vast amount of good music paper wasted by composers who don’t know this great truth. We are dealing in this domain with higher spiritual laws.”
“An inspired person sees things in a totally different light from one who is not inspired. Inspiration is an awakening, a quickening of all of man’s faculties, and it is an overwhelming, a compelling force. In short, it is a Divine influence.”
The German composer Richard Wagner:
“I am convinced that there are universal currents of Divine thought vibrating the ether everywhere and that anyone who can feel those vibrations is inspired.”
“I believe, first of all that it is this universal vibrating energy that binds the soul of man to the life principle to which we all owe our existence. This energy links us to the Supreme Force of the universe, of which we are all a part. If it were not so, we could not bring ourselves into communication with it. The one who can do this is inspired.”
The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius:
“The composition of music is brought to life by means of the logos, the divine in art.”
The Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg:
“I composed as the spirit moved me, without comprehending clearly that I was working with great cosmic laws. Whereas Brahms realized, just as Beethoven did, that he was being aided by Omnipotence. It is only a supreme creative genius who can rise to such heights.”
“The composers are projectors of the infinite into the finite.”
The German-born composer George Frederic Händel said, while composing “The Hallelujah Chorus” of “The Messiah”, that for him the heavens seemed to open.
The Bohemian-Austrian composer Gustav Mahler, while working on his eighth symphony, said: “it seemed as if it was dictated”.
“It was a creating, totally out of the subconscious”, for the enormity of which he himself almost felt fear. Because he was convinced that an artist in concentration during such hours full of inspiration reached a higher level of life, he was in a condition of clairvoyance and clairaudience “…as a chosen instrument submissive to higher forces”.
The Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky:
“Usually the center of new work comes out suddenly, totally unexpected…with unbelievable force and speed…it is a revelation.”
But also Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Liszt saw their composition as spiritual experiences.
The statements of these great classical composers about their inner experience when composing, go straight to the heart of the question:
What is inspiration?
These statements show that inspiration (in it highest form) is not brain activity:
Johannes Brahms: ”Their works are purely cerebral…and I assure you…that they are doomed to speedy oblivion, because they are utterly lacking in inspiration”.
Richard Strauss: “Fully ninety-five per cent of today’s musical output is purely cerebral, and consequently of short life”.
Beethoven: “Ideas which are new and original arrive of their own accord and are not the product of conscious thought.”
Inspiration is a force that is superior to the intellect, it is an emanation from a higher source, a source outside and transcendental to the creative genius who is in contact with the infinite force of the universe.
The here presented quotations of the greatest classical composers make clear that they were convinced that they were in communication with a universal kosmic energy.
If their introspective perceptions are correct, than here are indications for the existence of a transcendent reality, for the existence of a higher world.