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Anyone who engages in a detailed study of the work and artistic theories of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) is made aware how successfully this artist was able to integrate two worlds that, unfortunately, are all too often divided by polemics: the worlds of scientific, analytical thinking and of the inspired, poetic desire for expression. For him, the fact that both of these coexisted indivisibly was equally clear as the fact that neither could exist without the other, since on a higher level they constituted a unity.
Leonardo’s belief in the unity of the world and all its phenomena (including art), which were maintained in motion by a primeval force underlying everything (the primo motore), is very beautifully illustrated by the following quotation. "Now, behold how Man, like a moth at the sight of light, is constantly possessed by the hope of finding his way home to, the longing to return to, primeval chaos…This longing to find one’s way home is the spirit of the elements in its quintessence, which, being imprisoned during the lifetime of the human body, is always seeking to return to its source. And know that this desire, in its quintessential form, is characteristic of nature, and that Man is nothing else but the paradigm of the world." The moment-by-moment equilibrium of the world was fragile, which stemmed from the fact that "Nature is ceaselessly at work and takes delight in the creation and formation of ever new lives and forms, [and thus] in its creation is harder working and quicker than is time in its destruction."
Without a doubt Leonardo’s speculations here refer back to pre-Socratic philosophy, with which he had become acquainted thanks to its transmission through Aristotle’s Physics and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
The binary opposition Apeiron (the unbounded, infinite) and Peras (the determinate, order) defined by Thales’ pupil Anaximander (611-546 BCE) was just as crucial to Leonardo’s work as his belief in a geometrical structure of the cosmos. Behind all conflicting appearances (pairs of opposites such as cold/warm, bloom/wither, birth/death, day/night) lies the same indestructible, primeval basis, in its essential nature unchanging. Thus there is neither dissolution into, nor creation out of, the Void. In this way an immaterial motion, a spiritual force which acts ceaselessly and is the origin of all life, conditions the interaction between the mathematical laws of nature and the natural structures of living things (and thus also of artificial ones). And hence the form and construction of an artistic work (as a reflection of life) is inextricably bound up with its poetic content.
Thus the Gothic cathedrals constructed according to the Golden Section (following nature’s example), the paintings of Piero della Francesca, and the artistic and theoretical work of Leonardo or Albrecht Dürer derived from Renaissance theories of proportion (the ‘Vitruvian man’) can all be considered coherent continuations of the pre-Socratic model. Similar concerns (in this case additionally resting, in part, on psycho-acoustic foundations) are also generally familiar in music from the twentieth century onwards, at the very latest. As examples, one might cite Anton Webern’s relationship to Goethe’s Urpflanze theory of an archetypal plant form (rigorous connections between the work’s smallest building block and the overall form, e.g. in the Symphony, Op. 21), Béla Bartók’s use of the Golden Section with the aid of the Fibonacci Sequence (as in the Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta) or Iannis Xenakis’ involvement with organic models of growth and proliferation.
This idea of an unchanging substrate which in its manifestations is always changing, disappearing and reappearing, but which in its innermost essence remains indestructible, obsessed me during my work on this piece and, indeed, seems to me to describe the nature of music in general. Naturally, however, it was quite clear to me that in art one-to-one correspondences carried over bodily can never succeed. For this reason, it never entered my head for one moment to 'translate' philosophy into music. Instead, what I attempted was to bring the 'unlimited' (an 'infinity' comprised solely of the combinatorial possibilities afforded by a large orchestral apparatus) and the 'determinate' (derivation from a few basic building blocks, plus a clear formal construction based on the simplest of arithmetical relationships) into a harmonious relationship with each other. My aim was to devise as large a variety of musical events as possible, which however are not arranged episodically, but instead constantly developing in accordance with a dramaturgy specific to the work. Even passages which sound totally different from a gestural viewpoint are always closely linked with each other on a higher organisational level, whether the link be of a harmonic, rhythmic, melodic or timbral kind.
The complete work, scored for 101 players, consists of six large sections of sometimes very diverse duration. It moves from quiet repose to orgiastic ecstasy, from concertante passages of chamber music character to sections using block scoring, which in their turn are succeeded by dense passages characterised by polyphony or timbral mixtures, sections that strive inexorably forward, or sections of near silence. At bottom it was perhaps no more than an attempt to awaken in the listener, for the duration of the performance, the impression of being harder working and quicker in the creation and formation of new lives and forms, than was time in their destruction.
The work is dedicated to Bálint András Varga in deepest friendship.
Johannes Maria Staud
(Translation by Peter Burt)
 Leonardo da Vinci, Folio 156v (LT 11-12) of the Codex Arundel. In: Daniel Arasse, Leonardo da Vinci (Köln: Dumont 1999), p. 131