Are there cultures without music?

Culture : There is also music without people

Christiane Tewinkel, who is trusted by readers of this newspaper as a music critic, has written her second book. After a “musical instruction manual” under the title “Am I normal when I'm bored in a concert?” It now introduces “A Brief History of Music” (DuMont, Cologne, 250 pages, € 14.90). With a gentle tone she wanders through the history of music from ancient Greece to the present day. In the following we print an excerpt.

Our everyday life sounds different than that of our ancestors a century or two ago. Cricket chirps may have existed in earlier times. In the cities you could hear the clatter of hooves on cobblestones and the occasional military drum. There were harvest songs that we no longer know, brilliant music for church services on Sundays. In the evening, when there was still enough light, one sat together harmoniously doing handwork, kept quiet or talked about something and sang a few songs.

Well Maybe not. But music still sounds everywhere. The rustling chestnuts in our inner courtyard or the dough mixer from the bakery on the ground floor that drags the house to sleep. Everyone should have something like that, as the final echo of music that also exists without people, like that noise that the ancients meant when they spoke of the eternal harmony of the spheres. The robin also sings in the city, the chaffinch beats in broad daylight. Even in the love world of Tristan and Isolde or with the young people that Boccaccio let flee from the plague-infested Florence, birds had provided heavenly entertainment.

I can hear my neighbor's radio through the open kitchen window. Deutschlandfunk broadcasts baroque music in the morning. Early sounds at the early hour, strokes, tackers - jingles can be excellently cut out of music that does not yet know the built-in urge to develop in sonatas and symphonies.

The refrigerator snaps shut. Sound engineers take care of the noises in our everyday life. Engines should sound sensible, car doors should slam discreetly and reliably. The bagpiper in the market square, almost like Alfonso of Castile's, only it would have been warmer back then. But the fifths are beautiful. A sirloin that sounds far out. Even today, fourths sound particularly pure and sharp.

Some people think that our world has become so gray because there is only technical noise in it - machine buzzing, machine noise, the cracking of engines. But can't heaters also rustle quietly? Computer hardly make any noise? Some people are able to hear a pitch from the buzz of a lamp.

Our ear was actually always open. Even for sounds from distant lands and times long past. But when little girls from Nagasaki put their Madonna CD aside and sit back at the piano to their Mozart sonata, they don't know what it's like to grow up in Salzburg. But most of us don't know that either. When Italians are invited to Turkish weddings in Cologne, this is probably the first time they hear the music of davul (drum) and zurna (shawm). And the East Westphalian Waldorf student who hears GangstaRap can probably not imagine what it is like when the little sister is sniffing and the older brother is already back in prison. The ethnomusicologists who deal with the music of other cultural areas know only too well that we can only understand parts of it. What lies beyond it remains alien.

Music may come with a bunch of little labels: tell me what you play and listen to, and I'll tell you who you are. But it is universal. Rhythm is important - regular pedaling while cycling, the calming back and forth of windshield wipers reminds us of this. We need sound, voice, physicality and silence. We just like music naturally.

Concert in the evening. Daniel Barenboim conducts his West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in the Berlin Philharmonic. Beethoven's Ninth is played, with Schiller's “Ode to Joy”. You can tell from him that European music is not familiar to the orchestra made up of Israelis and Palestinians. Other instruments are played in the Middle East, and baroque string music that comes from the radio in the morning will not be played there. But when the encore sounds at the end, foreplay and Isolde's love death from Wagner's “Tristan”, something wonderful happens. Suddenly the strings pull together from everywhere: In medieval Europe, Gottfried von Strasbourg was inspired by the love story of another poet-singer; in the late 19th century Richard Wagner thought of his beloved Mathilde Wesendonck and rewrote the material for a musical theater piece in a new style; around 1920, when the Tristan chord was no longer of any help, Schönberg devised his “method”. Daniel Barenboim once laconically said of Richard Wagner's anti-Semitism that something like this was almost part of the normal equipment during his lifetime. Now he is conducting a Palestinian-Israeli orchestra that shows what the optimistic origin of the symphony genre could actually be about: freedom, equality, brotherhood.

When I get home late at night, the lights are still on upstairs. I ring my neighbour's doorbell. Yesterday I saw him standing in front of the club over on Greifswalder Strasse. “What I always wanted to ask you,” I say when he opens the door, “what kind of music is that that you always hear so loud?” He looks me up and down. He wears black, I wear green, he has sneakers, I am in a suede skirt, he puts out his cigarette, I polish my glasses. “Marilyn Manson,” he says. "Are you from another planet or what?"

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page