Bach and Beethoven

by Morris Klein

PLEASE NOTE: ALL of this that is written here is completely in my own words, possibly many things may be erroneous, incomplete, misunderstood by me and absolutely, absolutely unofficial. In any case, I am the only person to be blamed for any possible inaccuracy of my memory.

I asked Sri Chinmoy if he would explain the essence or the quintessence of Beethoven, as opposed to the essence of Bach. I explained to him that both composers have inspired me tremendously in my life, but I was wondering if he could explain how two such great composers could be so different. I also asked Sri Chinmoy if spiritual seekers could make progress by listening to these two composers.

Sri Chinmoy began his response with a rhetorical question, asking if anyone in the world knew less about these things than he does. He paused for a few seconds and then added, "My mind does not understand, but my heart appreciates it [their music]".

He said that when he listens to Beethoven he feels that his music is like a fully blossomed tree: branches, leaves, flowers, fruits. But then thunder comes and the tree is shaking- but the tree is not coming apart. And all the branches are moving, moving, moving- each branch is moving in a different way, but the branches are not fighting.

He explained this analogy by saying that in Beethoven there is unity and complexity at the same time- like a fully blossomed tree. The thunder, which shakes the tree, is Beethoven's unparalleled musical capacity. And the branches are moving, each branch moves in its own way, but they are not in conflict with each other. In other words, inside Beethoven's complexity he was able to preserve unity. With most composers and artists, once complexity comes, unity goes away. But Beethoven was able to keep both at the same time.

He also said that because Beethoven was deaf, he had to get the music from his inner eye, his third eye. Once he became deaf, he heard and received the music through his third eye.

He then spoke about Bach. He said that prayer-life was a very important part of Bach's personality, and that he appreciates Bach spiritual depth. He said that he does not find simplicity in Beethoven's music, but that Bach's work is simple and yet very, very deep. I think he said that we can dive deep, deep, deep into Bach's music. I also think he said that inside Bach's music there are prayers, that he imbued his music with a prayerful consciousness.

He then said that if we use our heart we will say that oneness is the only reality, and that we don't have to judge these two composers, or say which one we like better. But if we are completely honest with ourselves then immediately we will know of whom we are most fond.

He then said that Beethoven is like a rose, and Bach is like a lotus. And that a garden has so many flowers, and each flower is indispensable to the glory and beauty of the whole garden, but the gardener definitely knows which flower he likes most.

He then commented that Bach and Beethoven are like a flute and a drum- again so often a flute can play the role of a drum, and a drum can play the role of a flute.

So, that was, according to a possibly inaccurate memory, Sri Chinmoy's answer in a nutshell.

I'd be really grateful if other people who had been there would contribute what they remember of Sri Chinmoy's response. I was standing right in front of Sri Chinmoy, but didn't really catch much of what he said. Like Beethoven I can't hear very well. But I'm quite happy not to open up my third eye at this stage in my spiritual development! :)

I enjoyed Sri Chinmoy's kind and expansive answer to my question as I also love Bach most. I'm not putting down Beethoven at all, on the contrary! I'm just saying that Bach's music, especially his Passion music, contains some of the most haunting devotional feeling I have heard anywhere. It seems to come from another world entirely. I think any seeker from any path would benefit from listening to Bach.

Thanks for the opportunity to share this, Prachar!


originally posted on Sri Chinmoy Inspiration group by Morris Klein

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