On the weekend I had a bit of a CD spree at Title in Surry Hills and got Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin and John Coltrane and Cecil Taylor’s Hard Driving Jazz. The liner notes of both of these used the word ‘spiritual’. I get a little puzzled when people call music ‘spiritual’, unless they are talking about actually religious music, like spirituals.
On reflection, I think what people mean when they call secular music ‘spiritual’ is this:
(a) The music is either (i) intricate to the point of being dizzying or (ii) extremely simple to the point of being static;
(b) The music is experienced as either (i) ravishingly beautiful or (ii) boring, irritating or unmusical, depending on personal taste.
Bach liner notes in particular tend to waft on about spirituality in a way which makes me wish that one day I could buy a CD which described him as kind of a nut who would tank up on coffee and grind out all this sheer gorgeousness just to pass the time. Brahms said that if he’d written the Chaconne from the Partita 2 in D Minor, the experience would have driven him insane, and I can see his point.