A Review of Christopher Schlegel's "Symphony #3: The Virtues of Man"

G. Stolyarov II
Issue XXV - August 29, 2004
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A sample imageI  would like to introduce every man who appreciates classical music and Reason to the work of one of the most innovative and ingenious composers of our time, who has both built upon the legacies of great classical masters such as Beethoven and Mozart, and extended classical music’s possibilities for harmony, theme, and structure into a new and radiant realm. Christopher Schlegel provides the long-awaited reaction against those modernists who would wish to tear down the musical edifice of Western culture, and instead seeks to build it up to unprecedented heights. The traditional symfony contains four movements, but Mr. Schlegel’s “Symphony #3: The Virtues of Man,” exhibits seven purposeful and rationally integrated ones. Each of the movements is named after one of the seven cardinal virtues of the individualist as identified by Ayn Rand. Each is immensely rich in itself, and exhibits ample variety in form and content. Nevertheless, this symfony is united by several key elements: harmony, dynamism, logic, and purpose. It renders the Objectivist virtues accessible to the listener in a concrete form, which can inspire further visualization and conceptualization. In essence, it accomplishes what every musical composition should strive for, a consistent portrayal of its subject and theme. Rather than the static and dogmatic virtues propagated by the old faiths, the Objectivist virtues are to be savored for the very experience of their actualization. Learning about and adhering to the virtues is a reward, not a penance, and, accordingly, every passage of this symfony will be enjoyed by listeners with an ear for logical patterns, progressions, and harmonies. While focusing on these particular relationships, the apt listener will also be able to contemplate the macroscopic dynamic of this work, and the sort of image it conveys of the individualist creator, and the listener himself.    

Movement 1- Rationality

Immediately, this movement manifests itself in full. Rather than “easing” the listener into the melody, Mr. Schlegel exhibits it proudly, and begins to carry forward its dynamic progression. Powerful, rapid chords are intertwined with background passages that, in themselves, are intricately developed. These form a complex interplay that is designed for apprehension by the listener’s logical faculties. This movement properly depicts rationality as a process of applying logic to reality in a systematic manner. The rational man builds upon his own active processing of external data to reach ever higher levels of understanding, and this movement clearly demonstrates the rewards of rationality. Sometimes these rewards are magnificent and permeated with grandeur, like Mr. Schlegel’s swift and monumental passages for multiple brass instruments. At other times, they are gentle and bring about an atmosfere of comfort and enjoyment of the fruits of the mind; this is demonstrated in two passages, occurring during the beginning of the movement’s fourth minute and the end of the sixth, which proceed at a more gradual, flowing tempo. Wind and string instruments are prominently employed here; were I religious, I would have termed their effect “angelic,” depicting a radiant paradise, a paradise on Earth, that is here for man to enjoy, that any man can access through the use of his Reason, and that Mr. Schlegel has conveniently brought to the listener’s attention. This is not a passive paradise in the manner of “Heaven,” however! Gradually, the melody escalates once again, until, at the end of the movement, it reaches an unprecedented rapidity and grandeur. Mr. Schlegel juxtaposes and integrates the effects of the strings, brass, and winds into a culmination that epitomizes upward movement, as if to show that the rational man will continually rise in his accomplishments and endeavors, to ever greater triumfs.

Movement 2- Independence 

This movement begins with an escalating fanfare, which transitions into a steady and intricate melody for the winds that is soon after enhanced by passages of the strings and brass instruments. The fanfare is repeated in the latter half of the second minute; it is a formidable, firm, and determined exhibition of individual ability and prerogative. Following it is another passage for winds and strings, which is endowed with a variety of elaborate musical ornamentation, as if to show the diversity of accomplishments that an autonomous mind can produce, when it relies on its own creativity and initiative. The entire movement exhibits a richness which earlier composers would have used to depict a royal procession. Indeed, such a description is proper here, for the independent man is like a king unto himself, and, indeed, surpasses a king in his capacity to achieve. A final triumfant fanfare rewards him for this at the end of the movement.

Modern “sociologists” and “psychologists” have labeled the independent man as weak, vulnerable, and alienated. Mr. Schlegel certainly shows them what true independence is. After all, the independent man had written this composition!

Movement 3- Integrity

The beginning of the movement is soft and nimble, and the flowing harp appears twice, bringing about an atmosfere of clarity and understanding, qualities that the man of integrity constantly exudes. The strings have the greatest prominence during the first four minutes, and constitute a harmonious melody that is interesting to follow and anticipate. When listening to this part of the movement, I was surprised at my ability to foretell future developments in it, almost as if it could not have been written in any other way! The melody seemed to have a reliability of its own, much like a man of integrity, and this reliability has its rewards, as Mr. Schlegel extensively points out. Percussion supplements some of the climactic points of the movement and further adds to its pleasant, rhythmic character. In the meantime, the complexity of the anticipated melody serves to remind the listener that the man of integrity is not a crude simpleton, that he is in fact characterized by the utmost sofistication and depth of character. The melody becomes softer during the fifth minute, and harps are reintroduced. In contrast, the sixth and final minute is a tremendous escalation, where the strings and percussion instruments perform some of their grandest work in the movement. Such a conclusion invites the listener to focus on what the man of integrity will accomplish and what sort of life awaits him.

A man of integrity, whose principles consistently guide him in his deeds without fail, is a thoroughly colorful and integrated character, just like this movement.

Movement 4- Honesty

A theme in the beginning of this movement is taken up, in succession, by the winds, strings, and brass. In the string passages, it is considerably developed in its rapidity and complexity, and, in the substantial parts designed for the harp, it radiates clarity and beauty. This theme could be termed, “the Truth.”  The Truth can be soft or loud, gentle or booming, but it is the reality with which man must live and which he must acknowledge in order to exist in a state proper to man. The man who is honest with reality and with himself gets the truth to work in his interest; toward the end of the movement, the Truth theme is repeated, and develops into a rapid outpouring of melodic benevolence. The listener is left with impressions of reinforcement and affirmation, the things the honest man receives as a result of his characteristic readiness to be true to himself, others, and reality.

Movement 5- Justice

A grand and noble string melody marks the start of this movement. Its bold, heroic style is in many ways reminiscent of the work of Ludwig van Beethoven, Mr. Schlegel’s favorite composer, and mine. During the third minute, the movement enters a Beethovenesque state of struggle, a struggle without dissonance. I am inspired to envision a man of justice passing an undaunted, unmitigated judgment over a wrongdoer, and meticulously pouring over the evidence which would substantiate such an opinion. This is followed by a brighter passage, similarly meticulous, but with a clearly benevolent approach, perhaps to symbolize the just man’s perception of another man of integrity and reason. This movement’s contrasts bring to mind the recognition that justice necessitates the stormy and stern disapproval of some actions, and the radiant, comforting affirmation of others. He who wishes to be just must face both the tumult of condemning what is wrong and immoral, and the satisfaction of praising what is good and noble. In both situations, he must exhibit control over what he thinks and what impels him to such a decision. The man of justice must always utilize his own mind and be above external disruptions. In this movement, Mr. Schlegel exhibits a firm control over the melody; even during its stormiest moments, as if to demonstrate that a man of justice, who acts on his principles consistently and objectively, will ultimately determine right from wrong so as to base his interactions on a standard proper to a human being.

Movement 6- Productiveness

Extensive dynamism and energy are present from the very beginning of this movement, and a steady rhythm is established, which serves as the pattern into which a multitude of creative passages are subsequently integrated. The productive man wastes no time and works steadily to constantly invent and devise new things and ideas. Often, the passages of this movement flow into one another, just as one productive effort inspires another endeavor that follows. One workable idea may become the trigger for the next. “Productivity” should not be confused with standing beside an assembly line and repeating the same rote task over again. Rather, by the vibrant and marvelously complex string passages, Mr. Schlegel presents true insight into the creative process, into the constant innovation, extension, and variation required to be truly productive. The melody presents a portrayal of the mind as replete with energy that is continually being put to use; it is teeming with new ideas. At the same time, Mr. Schlegel clearly demonstrates that this energy is not employed by the productive man haphazardly. Focus, coordination, and consistent effort are also required to accomplish a task of the caliber that the rational man will wish to undertake. Thus, the melody of this movement is an unbroken thread. There are no breaks, no pauses, no losses of concentration, just the sheer determination of knowing what one wants, the effort that it takes, and the energy that one will need to invest. This resolve has its own allure, by the way, and the listener will find himself wanting to keep oriented on the melody, limiting all distractions within his mind, as he seeks to follow along with a truly great and worthy endeavor.

Movement 7- Pride

This is not a humble movement! It begins at a colossal volume, tempo, and scope, in a whirlwind of expression, as if stating, without any ambiguity, “I am the individual, and I am proud to be what I am!” Following such a fenomenal introduction, a joyous, cheerful melody comes about, carried by the wind instruments and the strings. It could be considered a “light” melody, without the weight of shame to encumber it, in the same manner that Mozart’s melodies could be viewed as “light,” though they do not lose their profundity in any manner due to this quality. It is a lightness without frivolity, a lightness that renders itself easily compatible with grandeur, as the latter parts of this movement make abundantly clear. The dignity and presence of brass, the expressiveness of winds, the swiftness and variability of strings, and the magnificent backdrops provided by percussion, are all ingredients for one impressive culmination.

It is quite fitting, of course, that a movement in honor of Pride would be composed in an undiluted major. There is no conflict here, just the fenomenal unity, peace, and empowerment experienced by an individual who recognizes himself to be objectively capable of the highest possible triumfs and accomplishments. Mr. Schlegel has indeed provided quite a treat for listeners like myself, who, at the end of a long, productive day, have obtained their deserved dose of intellectual fuel from this eternal manifesto of man’s efficacy and glory.

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This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA Statement of Policy.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.