THE CORRESPONDENCES OF MUSICAL
John L. Odhne
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The human form is universal, and is recognized everywhere by anyone who has a knowledge of correspondences. The human form is the marriage of love and wisdom. In the heavens, this marriage is imaged in the conjunction between the spiritual and celestial kingdoms. In the case of musical instruments, this marriage is imaged in the affections they represent and express, which are either spiritual or celestial. Each instrument expresses a different affection. In general, wind instruments correspond to celestial affections, or affections of good, and stringed instruments correspond to spiritual affections, or affections of truth (AC 8337, 9926, 4138, 420; AE 323, 863; etc.). The human voice also expresses spiritual and celestial affections, although in general singing corresponds to spiritual affections. The following chart shows how the Writings describe vocal sounds and the sounds of instruments which have celestial correspondences, and those which have spiritual correspondences.
From this one can get an idea of the correspondence of musical sounds with affections. One way to get a better idea of particular sounds is to pay close attention to the affections which those sounds stir in us as we listen to them (AC 8337). (For example, listen to gentle, soft flute music, and you may notice that it stirs a correspondingly gentle, innocent affection.)
order to understand the physics behind sounds which have a celestial
correspondence and sounds which have a spiritual correspondence, one
should know that each musical tone is actually made up of many
different frequencies put together (cf. DP 194). Usually one notices
only the lowest frequency in a tone—the fundamental. But a trained ear
or a spectrum analyzer can pick out many more tones—overtones—which
give quality to the tone. In most instruments, the frequencies of the
overtones of any particular note will be multiples of the frequency of
the fundamental. For example, if the tone heard has 100 cycles per
second (Hz) as its fundamental frequency, then the overtones will have
frequencies of 200 Hz, 300 Hz, 400 Hz, 500 Hz, etc. It is mostly
because they are multiples that the ear hears them as one note. The
quality of the tone depends in general on the relative emphasis on the
higher overtones, or on the lower overtones and the fundamental. From
study of the Writings and acoustics, I am convinced that in a
"spiritual" sound, the higher overtones will have emphasis, and in a
"celestial" sound, the lower overtones and the fundamental will. The
predominance of high overtones in a spiritual sound will make it
harsher and more vibrant. The predominance of the fundamental in a
celestial sound will make it smoother and more flowing.
way of seeing sounds is with an oscilloscope. This will give us a
picture of the vibrations of the air that reach our ears. A low note
would look something like this:
Figure 1. Low note.1
1 This and the other graphs in this article are based on original research work done in the Academy of the New Church Physics laboratories, Bryn Athyn, Pa.
And a high note would look something like this:
Figure 2. High note.
Both together would look like this:
Figure 3. High note and low note together
A pure tone (a fundamental without any overtones) is always
a sine wave:
Figure 4. Pure tone.
But when overtones are added, the wave will have a different shape. If there are higher overtones, the wave will be rough and jagged:
Figure 5. Note with higher overtones emphasized.
If there are only lower overtones with the fundamental, the sound
wave will be smoother :
Figure 6. Note with lower overtones emphasized.
With this in mind, let us look at some instruments on the oscillo-
scope. Compare first the French horn with the violin:
Figure 7. French horn.
Figure 8. Violin.
Notice how smooth the French horn wave is, and how rough and jagged the violin wave is. This illustrates one of the basic distinctions between a spiritual and a celestial instrument, namely, that in a celestial instrument the fundamental and lower overtones will predominate, giving a smooth, continuous wave-form, and therefore a mellow tone color, while in a spiritual instrument the higher overtones will predominate, giving a rough, discrete waveform, and therefore a harsher, stridulent tone color.
If we examine all the wind and stringed instruments this way, we find that there are three kinds of wind instruments that are basically celestial in structure, and two kinds of stringed instruments that are basically spiritual. The wind instruments are whistles, brasses and reeds. Whistles, such as recorders and flutes, are the most celestial of all the instruments. Their tones are closest to a sine wave, the fundamental and the first overtone predominating:
Figure 9. Flute.
The brass instruments have somewhat bumpier wave-forms (Fig. 7). Hence their sound is not as smooth; there are more of the second and third overtones than in the flute. This difference can perhaps be ascribed to the fact that in the flute the only thing vibrating is the air itself, while in the brass instruments the buzzing of the lips give a somewhat spiritual, rougher quality. The last group of wind instruments, the reeds, are also basically celestial instruments, but they are closer to the spiritual than the other wind instruments. In the clarinet there is emphasis on the fifth and sixth overtones as well as the fundamental (Fig. 10). But
Figure 10. Clarinet.
in the oboe, because it is a double reed instrument, the fundamental plays a much less important role. The wave-form of the oboe is rather rough (Fig. 11), and approaches the wave-form of the spiritual instruments.
spiritual instruments are either plucked or bowed. The plucking action
itself gives the strings a discrete sound, since the volume decays and
cannot be held continuously. At the beginning of the tone, when it is
plucked, the quality of the tone is very rough—the higher overtones
predominate. But since the
Figure 11. Oboe.
higher overtones die away more quickly than the lower ones, the tone tends to become smoother as it dies away, verging toward the celestial. But the bowed instruments are different. The bowing action is actually a series of very quick plucks very close together; so the tone is harsh and discrete. The wave-form is very rough and jagged (Fig. 8).
and singing can also be either spiritual (discrete) or celestial
(continuous). Speech consists of sound and articulations of sound, that
is, of vowels and consonants. The vowels, or sounds, or tone of voice
express the affections, and the consonants or articulations express the
thoughts. The sounds and articulations together express the affections
and thoughts conjoined. It is easy to see that the vowels are in
themselves continuous and that the consonants make them discrete or
divided. The celestial angels, because they are more in affections,
have speech which is soft and continuous—the vowels predominate, and
there are no rough or harsh consonants, and sometimes no consonants at
all. It is significant that the harsher consonants (such as "t" and
"s") consist mostly of high frequencies, which the celestials seem to
avoid. Mostly they use the vowels "o" and "u," which have more of the
bass and a smoother wave-form; an "oooo" (as in smooth) looks like Figure 12: very continuous,
Figure 12. "oooo."
smooth, pure. The spiritual angels, because they emphasize the
thoughts, have speech which is more articulate, thus more discrete, using more harsh consonants, and more of the vowels "e" and "i." An "eeee" looks like Figure 13: rougher, with emphasis
Figure 13. "eeee."
on higher overtones, more discrete. "Ahhh" is in between the spiritual and the celestial and looks like Figure 14, with emphasis on the in between overtones (HH 241; SD 5112-5114).
Figure 14. "ahhh."
What determines the tone color in the voice is primarily the shape of the oral cavity, depending on the position of the tongue, the lips, etc. For any given position of these there will be certain groups of overtones which will be resonated more than others. For instance, in the vowel "eeee" the overtones in the neighborhood of 300 and 2,300 Hz will be resonated more. These areas of resonances are called formants, and each vowel sound has its own distinctive set of formants, regardless of the fundamental pitch. For this reason, the same vowel will have quite different wave-forms at different pitches, but the general rule will hold that the celestial vowels will appear smoother and will have more oj the bass, while the spiritual vowels will appear rougher, and have more of the treble.
is not only the sounds of the instruments which correspond to
affections but also the form of the instruments themselves. It is the
shape and material of the instrument which gives the tone its quality
(cp. CL 86; AE 323a). Compare for instance the French horn and the
trumpet. The trumpet has a mouthpiece with an edge on the inside of the
cup (Fig. 15). This edge
Figure 15. Trumpet and French horn mouthpieces.
brings out the overtones, giving it a brighter, more spiritual quality. The sharper the edge is, the more the overtones will be reflected and the brighter the tone will be. The French horn does not have this edge; rather, the smooth curve serves to dampen the overtones and bring out the lower frequencies, giving it a soft, mellow, celestial sound. The shape of the bells and other curves in the instrument have similar effects. This fits with the teaching that spiritual things are represented by angles, and celestial things by curves (AC 8458), showing how the shape and sound correspond with each other.
material of which the instrument is made also affects the tone, as in
the difference between steel and nylon strings on a guitar. The steel
strings give a brighter sound because they bring out the overtones. The
softer nylon strings mute the overtones, giving a gentler, more
celestial sound. There is a similar difference between the normal felt
hammers on a piano, and hammers with tacks in them, which give the
strings a tinnier, more spiritual sound. This is because hardness
corresponds to what is spiritual and softness to what is celestial (AC
It is easy to see that "spiritual" and "celestial" are somewhat relative terms. There is a general division between wind and string instruments, but there are more particular divisions as well. Within the string class, although all the instruments are spiritual, some are more spiritual than others. As we have seen, not only the difference between guitar and violin, but also the difference between one guitar and another (i.e., nylon vs. steel strings) can be described in terms of what it corresponds to. Furthermore, a single guitar can be played in either a spiritual or a celestial manner, as we shall see.
Besides the tone quality, the shape of the instrument, and the material of which it is made, there are other reasons why string instruments are called discrete, and wind instruments continuous. One reason is that stringed instruments are usually plucked or struck. If the tone is to be sustained for any length of time, the string must be plucked repeatedly, at discrete intervals. A graph of the volume would then look like this:
Figure 16. Volume of a plucked or struck instrument
A wind instrument, on the other hand, can sustain a tone, or
swell the tone, and might have a graph like this:
Figure 17. Volume of a blown instrument.
The violin and other bowed instruments are an exception to this, because the bowing gives them a continuity similar to that of a wind instrument. This gives a certain celestial quality to its phrasing. Its tone, however, is very spiritual because the action of the bow on the string is a series of very small, rapid discrete plucks.
reason that stringed instruments are divided or discrete is that they
have several strings, often one for each note (as in a piano or harp),
whereas a wind instrument has only one tone producer (e.g., the lips,
or a reed) which is continuously adapted to play any note in the range
of the instrument. There is a similar difference between the
fingerboard of the guitar and that of the violin, the guitar being more
discrete because of the frets. Having many strings and/or many frets
prevents the stringed instrument from giving a smooth slur between
notes. The wind instrument is more flexible, thus more continuous and
Just as a person goes through many varying states according to influx of thoughts and affections from the spiritual world, so
instrument goes through many varying states according to the influx of
affections in the form of music. Each piece of music, and even each
phrase of a piece of music, corresponds to a different state of
affection, sometimes spiritual and sometimes celestial. Music which is
sharp and staccato, for instance, is more discrete and spiritual than
music which is soft and flowing and continuous. Music which changes
mood suddenly is more discrete and more spiritual than music which has
continually the same mood or changes gradually. Music with dissonant or
incongruous harmonies is more rough, discrete and spiritual than music
with pure, soft, consonant harmonies. Furthermore, the tone of an
instrument can vary. A violin can be bowed or plucked. A guitar can be
plucked with soft fingers or hard picks. A trumpet can be blaring and
brassy, or soft and full. A skilled artist will use all these
variations and more to express a variety of affections, and all of them
are variations with respect to the spiritual and celestial qualities of
can use scientific knowledge in many ways to confirm and illustrate
these and other teachings in the Word, but let us remember that we can
never discover the correspondence from scientific study. A real
understanding of these correspondences will come when we are in
affections of good and truth from a life according to the Word. Then we
will know the spiritual and celestial correspondences of the
instruments because they ultimate and stir those affections in us. "Men
learned this at first, not from science and art, but from the hearing
and its exquisite sense. From this it is clear that it does not come
from any origin in the natural world, but from an origin in the
spiritual world" (AC 8337).