A Review of Christopher Schlegel's "Symphony #6: The Values of Man"

G. Stolyarov II
Issue XXVI - September 16, 2004
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Christopher Aaron Schlegel’s endeavor to musically represent the fundamentals of the Objectivist ethics has led him to compose two major works, his “Symphony #3: The Virtues of Man,” and his “Symphony #6: The Values of Man,” in which the three movements are named for the three concepts of greatest worth to the individualist, Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem. With lengths ranging from twelve to seventeen minutes, each movement contains enough room to be comprised of several logically related sections that convey a systematic quest to achieve the value portrayed and/or a struggle to preserve it in adverse circumstances. Within the context of the entire symfony, features can be found in common to all the movements: the frequent juxtaposition of minor and major passages, highly mobile and wide-ranging voices for the strings, and the frequent side-by-side presence of moments of delicateness, serenity, and peace with bold fanfares symbolizing prodigious activity and accomplishment.

Mr. Schlegel’s multifaceted portrayal of the three values, of their pursuit, gain, defense, and rewards, renders this symfony quite an adventure for the listener, as well as an excellent guide in analyzing the experience of man as man deserves to be.

Movement 1: Reason

This movement features a powerful opening using the string instruments. It is interesting to observe the audible mathematical relationships within it, as the melody dives downward twice, and then ascends twice, in such a manner as if to provide the listener with a mirror image of the downward movement. This pattern serves to remind the listener, from the very beginning of the piece, of the capacity of Reason to discover, interpret, and apply the plethora of orderly relationships in the universe. From this point forward, the melody continually becomes more elaborate as it proceeds, and rapid work by the string instruments creates the impression of experiencing a swift, dynamic, sweeping discovery. During the second minute, the melody’s upward movement “levels off” somewhat, and it becomes more focused on the development of specific melodic patterns combining the wind instruments and low passages on the strings. Toward the beginning of the third minute, another upward sweep occurs, followed by a calmer passage for brass and strings once again concentrating on pattern development. This movement suggests that Reason can be characterized both by meticulous, systematic observation and by bursts of insight resulting from a thorough and consistent integration of one’s knowledge. Often these two types of passages alternate and flow into one another and demonstrate how a man of Reason deals with the universe, through data collection, concentrated analysis and elaboration, leading to a triumfant realization, which is then followed by another rational investigation.

Another notable feature of this movement is the immense degree of control that it manifests. Amid all the melodic variations and developments, there is a steady rhythm, often supported by the percussion instruments. This rhythm connects the entire movement and reinforces its sense of direction as well as its display of the power of Reason. Reason is man’s sole means of comprehending the external reality, and, when used optimally, it allows man a colossal amount of ability to wield the elements in accordance with his designs. In this movement, there is never a sense of aimlessness or helplessness. Great volume, complexity, and variety are present in this piece, but they are firmly harnessed toward the movement’s purpose; they never pose the threat of dissolving into something incomprehensible to the listener. Through this means, Mr. Schlegel demonstrates how Reason can be reliable and exciting, secure and always open to progress, magnificent and safe.

Movement 2: Purpose

Throughout this movement, the melody is distributed among many instrument types, and, often, a passage for the strings might culminate in a measure played by the winds. Nevertheless, the various voices do not seem to be apart from each other; rather, they are all integrated into a single melodic progression, and are employed without encumbering the piece or deviating from the main thread of its melody. This is a movement of contrasts in tempo and volume; at times, the melody becomes extremely quiet, almost inaudible, and notes are sparsely placed. Nevertheless, these notes are not mere space-fillers; they are parts of a deliberate design to prepare for a future intensification of the melody. And indeed, a few measures later, there emerges a melodic current which briskly carries the listener forward. These contrasts can be said to embody two components of Purpose: planning and actualization. The individual who deliberates and plans his future action need not, during the present moment, perform the fysical deeds that will achieve his goals, yet he is setting the stage for an efficient, dynamic, systematic activity to come, and thus attains a degree of precision, productivity, and success impossible without knowing in advance what one wants, why one wants it, and how to obtain it. 

Large sections at the beginning of the movement contain themes of an intense minor, and correspond to tense and challenging situations that a man will face along the way to achieving a major objective. Yet, so long as he amasses the inner fortitude to continue on the way toward his goal, he can still carry through with his task. Similarly, the melody maintains its firmly directed nature even during these minor passages, and, as success nears, minor transitions to major, and the movement exhibits a triumfant finale.

Movement 3: Self-Esteem

How can a melody convey the struggle of a self-respecting individual against the hordes of societal forces that seek to suppress his high estimate of his own ability and worth? This movement seeks to portray such a state by exhibiting three main sections, which can be designated “struggle”, “resistance”, and “victory.” The “struggle” section contains several minutes of a melody in a tense minor, which at times becomes so rapid as to bombard the listener with its intensity. The listener is placed at the center of the struggle and is able to identify with the challenges faced by a man who seeks to unashamedly act on his self-esteem. Nevertheless, to parafrase Ayn Rand’s description of Howard Roark’s fortitude, the struggle only goes down to a certain point; it cannot destroy Self-Esteem itself, it cannot break man’s will to resist hostile forces. Thus, the melody remains fathomable and, though in an intense minor, free of dissonance.

The “resistance” section still contains several minor passages, but they have become more tempered by this time, and major chords and themes are beginning to shine through. The self-esteeming man has endured the worst of his trials and has been able to, through the strength of his mind and the continuity of his effort, diminish the force of his adversaries’ attacks, until the menace is utterly overcome. This section ends with several peculiarly disjoint notes, perhaps the last futile efforts of the collectivist menace to assail the man of Self-Esteem, the remnants of the powerful barrage of minor chords that had existed at the movement’s beginning.

The “victory” section is the longest of the three, in which all forces opposing Self-Esteem have been defeated. A similarly rapid theme as existed in the first movement now contains wholly major passages, including fanfares that urge the man of Self-Esteem onward, to greater accomplishments, and celebrate his endurance against the forces that had sought to overwhelm him. Steady percussion and brass parts are accompanied by string passages that swiftly encompass an extraordinary range of notes and grant this section a quality of openness and freedom, and the ability to convey an impression of the intricate opportunities available to a man who has recognized his own supreme worth and has held his own against those who sought to unseat his ego from the throne of his mind.

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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.