Scholarly Confirmation Requested

Everyone knows that Gita Sarabhai gave to John Cage the definition of the purpose of music that her teacher had given her: “to quiet the mind and render it susceptible to divine influences.” And everyone knows that Cage found confirmation for this definition in the fact that his friend Lou Harrison found the same words in a 1676 publication by the lutenist Thomas Mace. But I’ve been through just about all of Mace’s Musick’s Monument, his only treatise on music and his only book published that year, and I can’t find any such words. I haven’t yet plowed through all the practical sections on playing the lute, admittedly, but Mace is so verbose, so rarely concise, that no such pointed phrase seems possible in his style. The closest I’ve found is his statement that, listening to an organ, 

I was so transported and wrapt up into High Contemplations that there was no room left in my whole Man, viz., Body, Soul and Spirit for anything below Divine and Heavenly Raptures. 

Also, Mace was such a minor figure, a humorless, deaf, 63-year-old singing clerk at Cambridge trying to buttress the then-moribund art of lute playing against the vicissitudes of fashion, that even could I find such a phrase I can’t imagine seeing it as much more than a piffling coincidence – it’s not like he was a major philosophical figure of Baroque music with any authority. And now I’m starting to imagine Harrison and Cage sitting in rapt discussion with Gita Sarabhai, and Lou saying casually, “Why, that’s similar to something that Thomas Mace said,” whence – fwoosh! – it flies into the Cage mythology and assumes a significance all out of proportion to the source. Am I missing something? Does anyone have a more specific citation? The literature on Mace and that on Cage and Harrison don’t seem to intersect at all, and I can’t find that anyone has ever looked into it.
And while I’m at it, happy birthday, John.
UPDATE: I found an article by Austin Clarkson, “The Intent of the Musical Moment: John Cage and the Impersonal,” that traces half the phrase to one passage in Mace and the other half to another. Obviously Cage was free to accept whatever definition of music appealed to him, but it’s odd that he would have put so much stress on such a weak, tangential source. Or perhaps what’s odd is that, all his life, he collected sources (in Thoreau, Suzuki, Norman O. Brown, and on and on) for the things he wanted to say himself.
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Comments

  1. says

    I think it’s great that Cage’s (and Harrison’s) attention rescued a minor figure who was trying to beat back the tides of fashion. After all, can’t one’s love an art blind one to fashion’s tides?
    I happen to like piffling coincidences. Cage’s music would help me in that liking, seems to me. As would my (shallow, scanty) reading of Jung.
    I agree, though, that Cage’s lifelong seeking of masters with whom to study is a curiosity. The discipline of discipleship is a Zen trait that Beat Zennists (to use Watts’s old-fashioned terminology; perhaps “American Zennists” or “pop Zennists” would be more inclusive of the phenomenon) would tend to shun.

  2. says

    You wrote:
    “Or perhaps what’s odd is that, all his life, he collected sources (in Thoreau, Suzuki, Norman O. Brown, and on and on) for the things he wanted to say himself.”
    This doesn’t strike me as odd in the least, probably because it was my own initial reaction when I started to have ideas that I thought needed defending (no one is going to listen to me, after all, but they might listen to a “source” with a name). Perhaps it’s only now that Cage’s stature has grown to where we view him as an important source himself that his collecting of other sources seems odd? Any source or precedent for his ideas would seem to me to be useful thing to be able to point to, particularly as he is still so often mocked and tokenized by people who don’t really give a you-know-what about his music or his ideas. On the other hand, maybe we are attached to the idea of the innate genius coming out of left field with revolutionary ideas fully formed ahead of time.
    Or maybe I’m just not understanding what you’re saying here…
    KG replies: I think it’s perfectly normal – unless what you want to say makes you start going so far out of your way that you’re quoting things your sources didn’t actually say. In that case, it seems a lot easier to just say it yourself, especially if you’re already as famous as John Cage. (William Brooks has a brilliant article showing that Thoreau didn’t really express the ideas Cage claimed to have gotten from him – not that Cage was dishonest, just so full of ideas that he easily thought he’d read what he wanted to hear.)

  3. peter says

    john said: “The discipline of discipleship is a Zen trait that Beat Zennists (to use Watts’s old-fashioned terminology; perhaps “American Zennists” or “pop Zennists” would be more inclusive of the phenomenon) would tend to shun.”
    Maybe this statement is true of American Zen practitioners in general, but I don’t think it true of the Beats themselves. The relationships that Kerouac, Ginsberg, Carr, et al, had with the (older) Burroughs and with Cassady were forms of enchanted discipleship, and, indeed, discipleship is one theme running through all of Kerouac’s fiction.

  4. says

    Peter,
    Interesting point! And, of course, Ginsberg became a devotee of the Tibetan Buddhist lama Chögyam Trungpa, even defending Trungpa when his followers, on Trungpa’s order, physically attacked the American poet W. S. Merwin and Merwin’s girlfriend.
    (Sorry, off-topic!)

  5. kraig Grady says

    I read this comment in Coomaraswamy book on the art of India, which i had thought was where Cage had found it.?
    KG replies: That’s not what the books say. Please let me know if you have a citation.