The music that friends make together

Friends who are each other’s “other self” make music together. Music making sets the tone of their dialectic.

We hear such a dialectic in a melodic passage of a Schubert piano piece where the left hand, moving right and left above the right hand, alternates between the registers of the two friends, singing their reciprocity. Just watch the hands of Andras Schiff (2:40-4:55) or Alfred Brendel (2:54-6:16):

These two to three minutes are an epitome of German Idealism.

The first of Schubert’s four Impromptus, D. 935 (written in 1827, op. posth. 142) is structured A1–B1–A2–B2–A3. In episode B, having introduced an utterly lyrical theme (sempre ligato), Schubert proceeds to introduce a second theme (appassionato), using a unique effect to dramatize the fundamentally dialectical character of the lyrical: “the left hand presents short melodic fragments in form of antecedent and consequent, steadily alternating between the upper (antecedent, creating a crossing of the hands) and lower (consequent) registers of the instrument; the right hand accompanies with an even flow of semiquaver arpeggios in the middle register; the sustain pedal further enriches the sonority, and the dynamics are mostly pianissimo, as often in Schubert’s music.” This is exactly how self and other self converse in friendship. Thanks to my left-handed other self, pianist Pantelis Polychronidis, I can hear the impromptu’s left hand playing the dialogue that the two of us develop together.

The friends’ dialogue as music making represents a philo-sophical synergy. As philosopher Ronna Burger explains, the English phrase “second self” is used to translate two separate Greek phrases: “Dialogue allows and requires movement in two directions – not only an extension of awareness from self to other, but also the ongoing constitution of the self. The friend was originally designated an allos autos (Nicomachean Ethics 9.4.1166a32), suggesting the replication of myself in an other; as a partner in dialogue he becomes heteros autos, forming a pair with me precisely because of the differences that make him genuinely other. Sharing speeches and thoughts is motivated by and in turn produces an awareness of one’s partial perspective or incompleteness” (“Hunting Together or Philosophizing Together: Friendship and Eros in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics” in Eduardo A. Velasquez, ed.: Love and Friendship: Rethinking Politics and Affection in Modern Times, 2002, p. 50).

Political theorist Francis Vander Valk amplifies the distinction to emphasize Aristotle’s point that, in speaking of the second self, difference is as important as identity: “The appearance of allos autos might be taken to signify a kind of moral identity (although it is just as easily taken to describe circumscribed types of friendship), but heteros autos obviously denotes a sense of separation between different individuals for whom distinct spheres of selfhood happen to overlap in a partial sense” (“Political Friendship and the Second Self in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Innovations, 2004-5, p. 60).

The identity-in-separation of two different individuals generates ethical reciprocity. Political sociologist Hauke Brunkhorst explains: “The friend with whom one shares everything is, as Aristotle says, ‘another oneself,’ in whom one can objectively recognize, viewing from the outside, what is good and right for oneself [Nicomachean Ethics 1166a, 1170b]. Friends are strictly reciprocal models [Vor-Bilder] for each other. They represent one’s own self-ideal in a form that is, while highly intimate, still separated from one’s own body and person and therefore visible, objectively perceivable. Of course, the other recognizes the ethical good in the friend only if the friend also has the features of an ethically virtuous character. But then one sees, as in a mirror, the value and the dignity of one’s own life, which one could never really perceive in oneself alone because one is too close to oneself and could not see oneself objectively without the mirror of the alter ego. For the people of ancient Greece, a gaze inward was still as unimaginable as an object of pure knowledge separated from a subject or a soul separated from the material world. To see something is to come in contact with something to which one is always already related. As Vernant puts it, ‘it was always by looking, not within one’s soul, but outside it, at another being related to it, that one’s soul could know itself’ [“Introduction” to The Greeks, p. 17]” (Solidarity: From Civic Friendship to a Global Legal Community [2002], 2005, p. 14-5).

November 20, 2015

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