chapter  15
16 Pages

Spiritual music: ‘positive’ negative theology?

ByJONATHAN HARVEY

On the whole there is rather little agreement about what spiritual music might be; it is very difficult to prove this or that to be spiritual music. We have to say it is a subjective thing. And if we try to define the spiritual per se, we end up with what Wittgenstein called a cluster of properties rather than any property in itself. But what one can say is that the most important property of spiritual music, or even perhaps of good music, is that it is ambiguous, or that it is perceived as ambiguous. One could also say that only ambiguous music is good; unambiguous music is banal music, or chaotic music. If music has a certain quality of complexity and subtlety – we might even find it in a ‘simple’ good pop song – then it has something ambiguous. That could probably be proved with some analytical diagrams on manuscript paper. It is quite close to saying that all good music is spiritual. Intriguingly, Stockhausen also, when asked what spiritual music is, recently said ‘good music’. But this needs explaining.