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Marsilio Ficino on the meaning of music

Stefan Conrady writes: ‘I found this excerpt from a letter by the Neoplatonic philosopher Marsilio Ficino in the booklet accompanying the complete recordings of works for lute by John Dowland. Ficino speaks of the role of virtuosity in Renaissance music-making:

“The soul receives the sweetest harmonies and numbers through the ears, and by these echoes is reminded and aroused to the divine music which may be heard by the more subtle and penetrating sense of mind. According to the followers of Plato, divine music is twofold. One kind, they say, exists entirely in the eternal mind of God. The second is in the motions and order of the heavens, by which the heavenly spheres and their orbits make a marvelous harmony. In both of these our soul took part before it was imprisoned in our bodies. But it uses the ears as messengers, as though they were chinks in this darkness. By the ears, as I have already said, the soul receives the echoes of that incomparable music, by which it is led back to the deep and silent memory of the harmony which it previously enjoyed. The whole soul then kindles with desire to fly back to its rightful home, so that it may enjoy that true music again”.

Somehow this struck a chord with me and I felt it was worth sharing this 500-year-old thought on the meaning of music.’

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