After I attended her informative masterclass, I found an intriguing video of pianist Imogen Cooper giving a lecture on 'The Hidden Power of the Re-creative Process in Music' at the University of Oxford, May 2013.
I love how she starts out this lecture. Not only is her British accent quite captivating, but the profundity of her topic grabs my attention immediately. Early on she quotes Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: “Music cannot be expressed in words. Not because it is vague, but because it is more precise than words.” This is true of my playing, and I struggle to choose just the right words to describe a piece of music, both in informal conversations with friends and when addressing a more “public” audience. There are things that must just be heard, and felt.
Ms. Cooper goes on to say, “A discussion between a non-professional music lover and a practicing musician is inevitably somewhat of a three-legged race. Both hear the same sounds, but there is a gap in common language to discuss it adequately…Words fall short here, too.” She is convinced in a “power that live music has to show us, performer and audience, our own inner world. It has in its wordlessness a force unlike any other performing art. This justifies investigation, if only to understand more clearly that to which we should pay attention, that which we should nurture, and that which we should safeguard.”
Not said, but implied, is the idea that the force behind the creation of music (meaning, when the composer first wrote it down) is the same as, or at least related to, the force behind the re-creation (meaning, when the performer tries to bring it to life). I think of this force as more personal than not; I believe the force she’s referring to is the hand of our creative God who first inspires and then continues to inspire, and who, after all, is the ultimate Creator. We are merely the vessels that He uses to bring the creation to life, or at least to one’s attention.
Ms. Cooper maintains that the composer and interpreter are part of a whole; the passing of time is irrelevant. When any musician feels the life-giving power of an “old” piece, written hundreds of years ago, he knows this to be true. Within music there is a connection across the generations between composer and interpreter.
Authors C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle both explored this idea of the fluidity of time. Christians believe that our final destiny is a New Heaven and New Earth where time is eternal, no longer restricted by the measure of days and months and seasons. The study and enjoyment of music can help us transcend the boundaries of time briefly, giving us a glimpse of what is to come.
I don’t know that Ms. Cooper had in mind the Christian ideas of a personal God (in her reference to a force), or the eternal nature of our existence (in her reference to the passing of time between composer and interpreter being irrelevant). Perhaps she did. In my mind, her words describing some of the indescribable-ness of music hint at the true integrated life God desires for those who believe in Him: not one of secular and sacred, but one where the two worlds intersect and illuminate truths in each other. Maybe after all, my attempt to describe the depth of meaning this perspective on music and timelessness has for me in my word-filled blog post comes up lacking. Music says it best.