The greatest thing that happened to my life was learning from Eli Siegel and Aesthetic Realism that wanting to be just makes a man sure of himself. I am grateful I no longer have to go through life desperately trying to impress people while inwardly feeling I am a fraud. I learned the way to be just to the world and other people is to see them as they truly are—as a oneness of opposites.
This is what happens in art, and it is what every man, and every woman, needs in order to be really sure of ourselves.
Eli Siegel described for the first time in history the largest debate in every person: it is between justice and contempt. When a person wants to be just, he asks: "What do objects, ideas, other people deserve from me?" When a person goes after contempt, he asks: "How can I use people, objects, and ideas to glorify myself and feel superior?" Contempt, I learned, inevitably makes for deep unsureness.
In Self and World, Mr. Siegel explains writes:
I will comment tonight on the meaning of these sentences as I talk about my own life and also about the life and art of Franz Joseph Haydn, the composer who is known as "the father of the symphony." He lived from 1732 to 1809, and wrote some of the world's most beautiful music.
1. Justice to the World in a Haydn String Quartet
I learned that when a man is interested in justice, he does not stop with the first quality he sees in a person or thing, but looks further. He wants to see reality fully.
In l796 Haydn wrote his String Quartet in C major, Op. 76, #3, known as the "Emperor" Quartet. I believe the way its sounds are organized shows Haydn was impelled by a musical desire to be just to the variety, the surprising possibilities, of the world.
Here is how the quartet begins:
[listen to opening 4 measures]
That is barely ten seconds of music—but how much of what reality is, as opposites, is there! We hear sound that is loud and soft, sudden and lingering, sharp and expansively deep. Haydn begins boldly:
[Listen to opening phrase: 2 seconds]
But this opening phrase is not just bold and assertive; it is also yielding as it falls carefully from its opening high note. And this phrase is, moreover, just five notes long—which means, even as it thrusts, it also is modest.
Here is how the music continues, with sounds that growl and are sweet, that are rough and also delicate, that are neat and precise—yet tumble over each other:
[Measures 5-25, and fade]
Haydn's mind worked beautifully as he wrote this music. He was hearing what Aesthetic Realism explains is the permanent structure of reality itself—the oneness of opposites—and the result was magnificent self-expression.
2. Glorifying Oneself Is Dangerous
I learned from Aesthetic Realism the biggest cause of a man's unsureness is his desire for contempt. Men throughout America need to learn this because contempt, the feeling one is in a position of superiority to the world and other people, is associated with self-confidence, but it is really the cause of great pain. "Contempt," Mr. Siegel wrote in the "Preface" to Self and World, "is not interested in knowledge as knowledge, only in knowledge making ego the one thing."
This describes what went on in me, even as I cared for music and wanted to study it seriously. In High School, though I barely had begun my study of traditional harmony, I sought out a composer who wrote in a complex, dissonant style, and asked him to teach me.
I had a picture of myself writing music most people wouldn't understand, and I liked that. It made me feel superior. I also thought I could exploit this man to rise in the music world.
This way of seeing people and music would have ruined my life had I not had the great good fortune to meet Aesthetic Realism. In a General Lesson in the summer of l975, Eli Siegel taught me the reason I was unsure of myself both as a person and in my work as a composer. He asked:
Then Mr. Siegel asked me if I wanted to be a musical adept, a virtuoso? I said, Yes. He asked:
The kindness and logic I heard changed my life. Nothing is more important and joyful for a person to know than this magnificent principle of Aesthetic Realism:
3. A Haydn Symphony Can Teach Us About Sureness and Unsureness
Unsureness can be good; in fact, when we want to be just, we not only welcome questioning of ourselves, we seek it out.
It happens some of the most surprising music by Haydn deals directly with the question: what should we do with our unsureness? In his Symphony #60, from 1775, Haydn shows unsureness can be presented with gusto, and it results not in the humiliation I once thought would come from showing doubt of myself, but in music that has verve, assurance, and good cheer.
The symphony is subtitled "The Distracted Man"—"Il Distrato"—and was inspired by a comedy of the same name. Haydn, as you'll hear, gets the feeling of absent-mindedness into the music. The orchestra seems constantly to lose its direction, and then, with a lurch, to find it again. Writing music that is so irregular, and yet making it coherent, takes great sureness on the part of the composer.
Here is the "Finale" of this symphony—beginning with the transition into it. This transition is a technical oneness of sureness and unsureness. It is an accelerando: you hear the same phrase eight times in a row. And yet each time you hear it, there is something un predictable in the tempo—usually a little spurt forward:
[Listen to Transition and Finale]
4. A Composer Who Wanted to Be Just
In his essay, "Are Feelings Objects?", Mr. Siegel writes:
Franz Joseph Haydn, more than most men, felt that in thinking well of something else he was good to himself—and as a result, he had a confidence which made for music that has lasted through time.
As a child he worked as a choirboy. At 17, when his voice lost its boyish soprano, his parents suggested he study to become a priest. But Haydn wanted to be a composer. He played violin on the streets of Vienna, gave harpsichord lessons wherever he could, and studied late into the night in a small, unheated attic room. He knew great hardship, but he told his biographer, Georg August Griesinger: "When I was sitting at my old worm-eaten clavier, I envied no king his lot."
It seems Haydn never took kindness for granted. Once, a merchant gave him a small loan with which to find lodging. Haydn not only repaid promptly, but 60 years later, in his will, left money for the man's granddaughter, in memory of the good will once shown him. And though his poverty prevented him from owning many books of music, he studied what he did have deeply and critically, and when he found beautiful work, he loved it.
Years later, when he was the most famous musician in Europe, Haydn proudly told his biographer of the joy he felt as a young man coming across the sonatas of Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach. And Griesinger adds:
Here Haydn illustrates what Eli Siegel writes in Self and World:
The greatest instance in Haydn's life of his pleasure in finding something he could honestly praise was his friendship with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Twenty-four years older than Mozart, and far better known, Haydn could easily have resented the younger musician. But he didn't. Hearing Mozart's music for the first time, he turned to the composer's father, and said:
There is a beautiful poem about Haydn and his way of seeing Mozart by Eli Siegel. Mr. Siegel wrote it within a copy of Rosemary Hughes' biography of Haydn. It is a poem a man can use to encourage and criticize himself, and to learn how really to be sure. I read it now:
Some scholars have called the friendship of Haydn and Mozart a "miracle." It wasn't; it was simple good sense. It made both men surer of themselves. Their friendship contradicts the competitiveness men so often have used in an attempt to be sure of ourselves. In a class, Mr. Siegel criticized this competitiveness in me. He said:
It seems many musicians in Vienna resented the respect Haydn and Mozart had for each other and tried to undermine it. But Haydn saw his opinion of Mozart as a large matter, having to do with beauty itself, and he felt it was a privilege to express it.
When the Prague opera house invited him to compose a work for them, he declined—telling them: Mozart could do it better!
In his great essay, "Art As, Yes, Humility," Mr. Siegel writes:
5. Haydn, Bold and Modest
There are aspects of Haydn's life in which he was less sure of himself than with music. He had pain in his marriage, and also difficulties in some of his business dealings. But throughout most of his life, there was a beautiful mingling of modesty and boldness.
For over 30 years Haydn worked as music director for Prince Esterhazy at his country estate in Hungary. Because of this, Haydn was largely isolated from other composers. In fact, he never went on a concert tour until he was nearly 60.
Haydn worked in quiet modesty, but he worked with tremendous boldness. Every one of his compositions has something surprising, something new—and he wrote 104 symphonies, 83 string quartets, 52 piano sonatas, approximately 20 operas, and much, much more!
Haydn tried to fulfill the prince's orders, even when they were strange—such as: to write over 150 pieces for a rare and awkward string instrument, the baryton, which few people in all of Europe, besides Esterhazy, wanted to play. Yet Haydn's modesty was not unctuousness or cowardice. he once risked his job in order to have justice come to other people.
Esterhazy, in l772, decided to separate his musicians from their families—forbidding visits on pain of dismissal. The musicians asked Haydn to intervene, and he did. He wrote a symphony known as the "Farewell" Symphony, in which, during the last movement, one by one the musicians rise, blow out their candles on the music stands, and leave the stage. By the end of the symphony only two solo violins remain.
To give an idea of the effect Haydn had in mind, listen to the contrast between the start of the movement, and the conclusion some seven minutes later. It is a contrast between agitation and serenity, brusque assertiveness and sweet modesty. Yet when one hears the entire movement, the two grow naturally out of each other. Here is the opening:
[Listen to Symphony #45—opening of Finale]
And here is Haydn's surprising conclusion:
[Listen to Symphony #45—conclusion]
Esterhazy, to his credit, took Haydn's musical criticism, and the next day everyone returned home. "When we see anything rightly or justly," Eli Siegel said in an issue of TRO entitled, "The Victory of Ethics," "the result is ethics, but the procedure is aesthetics...Ethics is the art of enjoying justice."
Haydn in his music shows we don't have to go back and forth painfully between arrogance and despair; we can express ourselves with both confidence and modesty. He shows that it is possible to be both restrained and abandoned at once.
Every man hopes to say: the world from which I come, and of which I am a part, looks beautiful to me; makes sense; is worthy of praise. This hope is what gives us confidence.
In the same copy of Rosemary Hughes' biography in which he wrote his poem on the friendship of Haydn and Mozart, Eli Siegel also wrote these lines, which he titled:
I am proud and grateful to take part in the education which can enable every man to feel the sureness of learning what is true about the world and himself.