If you skim-read through it, OMG, the first thing which jumps out visually is that there are quotes, extensive quotes in German. From Hermann Hesse’s Siddartha and Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Like tricky music, it’s the kind of gesture which will put some people off. Maybe that was the intention? A pianist thing?
It’s a fascinating piece of writing, and far from dry, in fact the language gets pretty colourful.
Mehldau’s subject matter is personal. He remembers the first encounter with Coltrane’s music at a classical music summer camp:
I was sweating and freaking out; it was awesome. I had never heard any music remotely like that. When we emerged again from the cabin, I was changed. Sometimes music can do that to you. It raised the bar for my expectation as to what music could – and should – be.
…that guitar solo seemed to carry the grief of the world on it, and it was so deep and beautiful that I was just lost to it.
And an acknowledgement that these are the kind of experiences which remove certainty, seem enormous, like a religious conversion.
You confront something that is greater than you and greater than what has until that point been safely contained in your worldview.
The remainder of the essay uses these experiences to jump off into probing what these kinds of experience mean, and looks at similarities and differences between the experience of art and of religion and belief.
Music dissolves these boundaries [between spiritual and sensual], or at least questions their stability. When we confront the sublime in great music – when we confront the sublime anywhere – hopefully we are ready for it. Hopefully we can submit to it, letting its power fill us, even while we remain humble, awed by its beauty.
It’s well worth a read. There are people for whom music is background, priddy toons, useful for selling stuff. And there are others for whom it is the most powerful thing they can ever experience. Which gives it its value.
Come to think of it, Thomas Aquinas and Descartes never heard Coltrane or Hendrix, so the ontological argument for the existence of God may now have serious flaws.