Thomas de Hartmann, 1955

Gurdjieff International Review

On Listening

to the Gurdjieff / de Hartmann Music

[The following notes were written for the Gurdjieff International Review by a senior member of the Gurdjieff Society in London.]

It is now over forty years since I first heard the Gurdjieff / de Hartman music. Someone played me a piece from a record and, although I have no idea which piece it was, the memory of the moment remains quite clear. To start with I was only mildly attracted by it, but then at a certain moment something quite unexpected occurred. I had the impression that a feeling had been touched which I had never experienced before. It only lasted a few seconds and then I found myself again listening with only a slight interest and even a certain boredom.

Over the next few years I heard a great deal of the music, on records, played live and also, in a halting fashion, by playing it myself on piano. The initial sense of contrast was confirmed many times. Often I could make nothing of it, and then, out of the blue, there would be this inner turning which, in spite of my passion for music generally, I had never previously encountered. What was clear was that these moments had nothing to do with my ordinary emotional responses. Quite soon I came also to delight in the music just as music, but this other sound came as it were from a long way off, sometimes hardly heard, but which spoke of a new world.

But this new world was strangely mixed with something familiar. I remember hearing a piece played and saying to myself, “Ah, yes—that piece. Now, what’s it called?” I had a good memory for music and so felt quite frustrated not to be able to put a name on something I knew so well. After a time I realized that in fact I never had, and never could have, heard the piece before.

However the contrast in impressions was quite independent of my familiarity with the piece. I once was playing to myself one of the hymns which I knew very well. As often happened I felt a sort of emotional blank inside. Then, about half way through, with no intention on my part, every note began to resonate inside me. When I finished the piece about three or four minutes later, I was utterly bewildered. As I put it to myself, it was as if I had lived through six months worth of intense and highly varied experiences.

I could not avoid trying to make some sort of sense of all this with my mind. It was beginning to become more and more apparent to me that behind my ordinary emotional responses lay a hidden world of feelings which were quite independent of liking and not liking, of beauty and ugliness. They spoke of something central but apart from me, of what was. The contrast was similar to my responses to nature. I remember once looking at some ”beautiful” countryside, saying to myself with a great sense of enjoyment how beautiful it was, and then, suddenly, experiencing its reality. The reality had nothing to do with beauty, was even hard and relentless, but was so much vaster, richer and more alive than the beauty I had been taken by, that, together with the wonder, I felt quite disgusted with the triviality of my moment of enthusiasm.

So, it became apparent that for music to say what it had to say depended as much on the listening as what was listened to. In a way I had always known this. From early on I had been aware of the perpetual inner commentary that relentlessly accompanied my listening, a commentary, both of the mind and the tensions of the physical body, which was shocked into silence only at certain privileged moments. But with this music the contrast was far more marked. One of the titles given to a collection of this music was “Journeys to Inaccessible Places,” and there seems no better description for the strange inner travelling I was called to, when available to it. At such moments there was a sense of total “consonance” between the vibrations of sound, a passing phenomenon in a temporal world, and the resonance from a world which has always been.

The music is very varied, from folk songs to sacred hymns, and the responses evoked are equally varied, sometimes speaking of the suffering and joy of a human life, sometimes eliciting a strange and quite unfamiliar coloration of the feelings, and sometimes, for me at least, as if conveying a definite knowledge hidden from my ordinary thoughts. But when I listen tomorrow? I have no idea. If only it simply depended on the music! But it also depends on me.

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