a cruel beauty

Plato described music as a moral law that gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. I could not have said it better myself. Aldous Huxley also made an excellent point when he said that after silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

Last night I had the privilege of attending an intimate performance by Sea + Air, an act that was all but unknown to me before I saw them perform (this is more of a reflection of my ignorance than their profile – they’ve supported the likes of Sufjan Stevens, the White Stripes and Jose Gonzalez). This husband-wife duo’s carefully crafted music filled the room with, in the words of Benjamin Britten, a cruel beauty: a beauty of loneliness and pain, but also strength and freedom. A beauty of disappointment and never-satisfied love. The cruel beauty of nature and the everlasting beauty of refuge. I felt it washing over me the way that an unexpectedly strong wave might, washing away from my soul the dust of everyday life (Berthold Auerbach). Music is, after all as Claude Debussy describes it, the expression of the movement of the waters, the play of curves described by changing breezes. Do yourself a favour and give these guys a listen.

But wait. There’s more. This morning a friend of mine introduced me to Balmorhea, a magnificent instrumental ensemble from Austin, Texas. I have only listened to a couple of their songs but this must be the kind of music that Victor Hugo was talking about when he said: “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” I look forward to hearing more of what they have to offer – they will be playing in Berlin on Friday evening. And I find myself back where I started, quoting Plato: “Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.”

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