[An older text from my first attempts to get to grips with the “music of man”, Musica humana. See footnote for reference to Boethius, from whom the term Musica humana stems.]
This is a basic factor representing BREADTH, the opposite of narrowness or monomania. Staying on the level of Musica instrumentalis*, I want to point out three kinds of breadth.
1) The ability to play just about every note on your instrument. Your hands must no be too small. A pianist needs to be able to strike the highest and lowest keys of his instrument simultaneously. Child prodigies cannot do this, nor handicapped people. Not everybody allows this to be a handicap, however. Remember Paul Wittgenstein, for whom both Ravel and Prokofiev wrote piano concerti for the left hand.
2) The ability to play in different styles, at least from Bach to Bartók. Saying about a musician: “Everything he plays sounds like Beethoven” is not a compliment. It points to a lack of stylistic breadth.
3) The ability to strike different emotions in one and the same piece. To go from poetic calmness to wild passion in no time, with minimal take-off run. Just as you need to be able to play piano pianissimo (ppp) after forte fortissimo (fff), or a very high note after a very low one, you also need to be quick and mobile when it comes to the emotional keyboard. This is a talent that instrumental musicians share with the actor.
So, a musician needs to be broad and not narrow. (I realize that this is in part dictated by the current state of the music world. Every musician has his temperament, his fortes (and also his pianos, so to say). Formerly an opera singer could tour with very limited repertoire. He only sang what he knew best. In those times his profession was close to that of the circus artist.)
He has to know himself as a musician: know which strings his instrument has, which styles he can play well and less well, which emotions he can express easily and with more difficulty.
Most of this, and so much else, are taken for granted in music.
MOVING ON TO MUSICA HUMANA
So, what can we learn from the musician´s basic relationship with his instrument? What are the consequences for Musica humana?
First of all, a violinist must know that his instrument has four strings. The guitar has six, the piano eighty-eight. How many strings do we have as human beings? Do we adjust our out-of-tune strings, or even notice them?
We can observe interesting differences between different kinds of “out of tune strings”. When a violin string is out of tune, the musician adjusts it immediately, possibly even replaces it. When an accompanist tells a singer that (s)he sings out of key, the singer replaces the pianist… And if somebody dares to point out our weaknesses to us… watch out!
A string is a tone that is often played. Transposing this to our inner life, a thought only once thought, an emotion only once felt, is not a string.
We can picture ourselves as a large keyboard with broken and missing keys.
Standardization is impossible; no two people have identical keyboards. Nevertheless, each of us stand in a certain relation to the Ideal Keyboard We Could Be. Usually we do not know ourselves as we know our violins and pianos. We do not know our repertoire, which keys we possess and which we are missing. We don’t know when we are out of tune. We also lack a standard, the 440 Hz of human normality.
Footnote: * Boethius says there are three kinds of music: Musica instrumentalis (what we nowadays term music: playing, singing, sounds, CD-s. etc. This is all we have nowadays.), Musica humana (the music of man, not very clearly explained as I remember, the subject of my studies), and Musica mundana (the music of the world, what we call the “music of the spheres”, something very abstract and probably meaningless for most of us.).