On Resonant Thoughts: Sarah Bakewell’s “At The Existentialist Cafe”

At the Existentialist Cafe Sarah Bakewell 2016

“This experiential music is the one I can speak about with certainty.”
– Sarah Bakewell, At The Existentialist Cafe, p. 41.

“If I want to tell you about a heart-rending piece of music, phenomenology enables me to describe it as a moving piece of music, rather than as a set of string vibrations and mathematical note relationships on which I have pinned a personal emotion. Melancholy music is melancholy; a sweet air is a sweet air; these descriptions are fundamental to what music is. Indeed, we do talk about music phenomenologically all the time. Even if I describe a sequence of notes as going ‘up’ or ‘down’, this has less to do with what the sound waves are doing (which is becoming more or less frequent, and longer or shorter) than with how the music plays out in my mind. I hear the notes climbing up an invisible ladder. I almost physically rise in my chair as I listen to Ralph Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’; my very soul takes flight. That’s not just me: it is what the music is” (42).

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