The Music & Writings of Graham Jackson


My book - The Spiritual Basis of Musical Harmony

Table of Contents



How to buy

Who is Graham Jackson?

How to buy

Special Events



The Music & Writings of Graham Jackson


If you have read the book, please send in your comments, so that we can post them here.  Send them to grahamhj at

Apparently many universities do not screen books themselves for inclusion in their libraries, but leave that to an agency like the John Coutts Library Services, now called Coutts Information Services.  I am delighted to be able to report that they have approved my book!  That means that since April 2007, it has been on a list from which the various libraries make their purchases. Thus, even though it contains so much of Rudolf Steiner's spiritual teachings that it could be used as a musician's introduction to anthroposophy, it evidently also has--as I intended--enough solid scholarship, serious thought and new contribution to the subject to warrant its being used in universities.

I wanted to find out from the Coutts agency which universities they service.  Their answer was as follows:
"We are a worldwide operation with offices in the US, UK, Canada and the Netherlands.  As such, our customer-base is worldwide. We provide libraries with books or new titles information according to their selected areas of interest. Although we do not divulge our customers list, I can inform you that notification had been sent to over 100 libraries in April of this year. The title is listed in our database and can be searched by title, subject, etc."

Thus, if you do not find it in your university library, you can ask them to order it!

It has been difficult to get the book recognized and reviewed in what one could call the mainstream media. Yet those who actually read it seem to like it. I think the problem is the word "spiritual" in the title. People are "spooked", afraid the book will either promote some dogmatic religious agenda, or be some kind of vague "New Age" waffle. When they read it, they find it does neither, but presents some solid musical ideas and history. Such people should consider the word "spirit" here equivalent, more or less, simply to "consciousness" as distinct from matter.

PETER VON HOLTZENDORFF, Lilipoh magazine, USA, Fall 2007
Jackson’s book addresses many of what he rightfully calls “fundamental” questions about music, using insights from Anthroposophy.  The results were for me, as a music theorist, singer and violinist, inspirational and increased my love and awe of the phenomenon of music. 

The book primarily surveys the development of music related to Steiner’s view of the development of human consciousness, but along the way are fascinating and insightful discussions of, among other things, ancient Greek musical theory, Druid music, the troubadours and the Holy Grail, and Steiner’s own statements about music of the future.  Jackson also presents fundamental concepts from Anthroposophy in an easily intelligible manner, and brings many profound and surprising insights into the music of specific composers and style periods.

One specific concern of Jackson’s is to bring the undertone series more strongly into musical consciousness.  Unlike the better-known overtone series, the sequence of pitches resulting when a string is divided into halves, thirds, quarters, etc., the pitches of undertone series, which result from the doubling, tripling, quadrupling, etc., of a string length are less well known.  Jackson argues very convincingly that this series of pitches is the key to understanding much of Greek theoretical writings about music, including those of Plato.  Jackson also attempts to use the undertone series to overcome the centuries-old theoretical difficulties with the minor triad.  While the minor triad is undeniably present in the undertone series, ultimately the theoretical problems lie in how theorists attempt to explain musical phenomena.  To say this differently, in the same way that the Fibonacci numbers are present in the organization of the head of the sunflower but are not its origin, so the undertone series contains the minor triad but is not its origin.*

In his final chapter, A Way Forward, Jackson brings his examination of the spiritual dimension of music to our present day reality, by describing how this new awareness of music can guide our musical listening and performing so that new health is given to this important art form.

*NOTE by Graham:   Peter von H. seems here to be negating the main point of my book, which was to establish the undertone series as the origin of the minor triad and the necessary complement to the overtone series.  From discussing this with him, however, I understood that he feels the same way about the overtone series and the major triad.  In other words, he sees the overtone and undertone series, not as the origin respectively of the major and minor triads, but as parallel phenomena. As a Waldorf class-teacher who has a degree in music theory, and who has obviously thought about these things, I have to respect his opinion.

PAMELA MARGLES, WholeNote Magazine, Toronto, June 07
For Graham Jackson [the review here said "Gordon Jackson"!] music today is in need of healing. He takes a spiritual approach to the problem.  But his remedies are pragmatic, and lie in the basis of harmonic language, the natural overtone series and what he presents as its more neglected counterpart, the undertone series.

Jackson has been researching this book for over forty years, applying the ideas of anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner to music.  A Toronto teacher and pianist, Jackson starts with an interesting historical survey of the development of tonality, and its deconstruction in the twentieth century.  For Jackson, renewal lies in a return to a tonally based harmonic system where all dissonances are eventually resolved.  This would lead away from the atonal music of our post-Schoenberg era, where the tension between major and minor tonalities has been lost.  He even proposes a new tuning system.

Even if you don't agree with Jackson's views on the current situation, you can appreciate his ideas about how composers expand tonality to produce meaningful music.  But he doesn't deal with the works of today's composers like Pärt, Gorecki, Kancheli, and Silvestrov, who are using tonal systems to address spiritual issues in their music.  While he discusses Hindemith's theoretical writings at length, it would be interesting to look at Hindemith's compositions, like the opera, The Harmony of the World, which is based on mathematical principles of extended tonality.

Footnotes and an index, but no bibliography; this book has been well produced in a broad format to accommodate charts, musical examples, and reproductions from historical manuscripts.

DOUG CARMAN, technician, music-lover, Toronto:
No one I have ever met or read, has done a better job of explaining the ideas of Rudolf Steiner than Graham Jackson.  With concise language, he brings out the essence of what is often difficult to digest from Steiner's direct translations.  I experienced this in Mr. Jackson's lectures and now enthusiastically in his book on Musical Harmony.  

Of course this is but a part of the content of this fascinating book.  Musically and acoustically this book has much to ponder for those interested solely in music.  I do not profess to be more than an amateur here, but I found the musical theory fascinating.  Ideas and experiences about music here deserve some serious study by musicians.  For example, the adjustment of A to 432 Hz and the retuning of our tempered scale should be given serious consideration by musicians, orchestras and singers.  Better still, they ought to try it out and see what happens.  These and other ideas make the book worthwhile by themselves.

But that is not all.  The coverage of the history of music and the development of humanity was the area that I found of the most interest, and this should be interesting to anyone who is interested in themselves and their fellow men (male and female), even if one knows nothing about music.  Even if one were to ignore all the technical music sections of the book, the rest would be worth reading for general interest and to ponder the spiritual aspects of the development of mankind. 

The only possible complaint I could have is that I wanted more!

RICHARD BUNZL, from New View magazine, Spring 2007, London, U.K. 
This is a very serious study into humanity’s relationship with musical harmony from ancient times through to the present day.  As we discover from the book’s Preface and back cover, it is also the amassed fruit of a near life’s work (the author gives a symbolic 42 years) with both music and Anthroposophy.  Its central thesis, though, is that musical harmony has its primal roots in the so-called undertone series as well as the more familiar overtone series.  In particular, Jackson observes that the major triad appears very distinctly across the 4th, 5th and 6th degrees of the overtone series.  It also has the very harmonious geometrical quality that if a string or pipe is divided into 12 with the proportion 3:4:5 (which are also the proportions of the sides of a triangle upon Pythagoras’ Theorem is based), the major triad will sound.  “But what,” Jackson asks, “of the minor triad?  Is it not equally important in classical music, forming the other pole for our feelings—the sadness to the joy?” (p.13).  Jackson points out that it does not appear in the overtone series (at least not with such clarity); but when the latter is turned “upside down”, and the length of a string or pipe is multiplied instead of divided, it emerges with equal clarity as the major triad.  However, this undertone series, though it can be produced by increasing string lengths, does not sound in outer, audible nature in the same way as the overtone series. Rather, it has a quite different quality.

Among many comparisons the author makes, the one he begins with is the polarity between space and counterspace which grows from the principles of projective geometry.  The undertone series has more the quality of sounding from within us, such that it may thereby “represent the spiritual pole in life, whereas the usual overtone series then represents the bodily pole.” (p.15)  Indeed, it is not so much a matter of hearing, rather, “One has to pay attention to one’s own involvement with the tone, and bring that to life so that it begins to move. Then the undertone series will unfold, out of that tone.” (p.183) 

Jackson then traces how human consciousness has woven polarities such as up and down, matter and spirit, outer and inner into its expression of musical harmony and musical tunings.  In the West, we play our scales beginning upwards on the lower note.  However, in Ancient Greece, scales were felt to descend first, that is to say, they were felt to begin on the upper note.  This is discussed in the context of the musicologist Kathleen Schlesinger and her work on the so-called aulos scales. The aulos was an ancient Greek wind instrument with equally spaced finger holes, from which Schlesinger was able to reconstruct some of the actual sounds and tunings of Ancient Greece. 

Jackson presents Schlesinger’s findings and their significance very clearly, in particular how these aulos scales were based on sequences from the undertone series, rather than the overtone series.  He also gives good summaries of aspects of Heiner Ruland’s book Expanding Tonal Awareness, as well as the work of a number of other authors, not all of them working out of Anthroposophy. 

In one of the most difficult but also intriguing sections of this book, Jackson presents in some detail the findings of the American musicologist Ernest McClain on the musical symbolism behind Plato’s descriptions of four ideal cities, Calliopolis, Athens, Atlantis and Magnesia.  On the surface, Plato appears to be describing a different political system for each;  however, “It is the absurdity of some of the rules [such as in Magnesia, where children are not allowed to walk until they are three] that clearly shows they are not to be taken at face value.” (p.56) Indeed, the accomplishment of MacClain is to demonstrate that any reference to number is always the expression of an ideal musical principle.  Thus, while referring to Ancient Greece,  “As much of this culture was either pre-literate or so esoteric it was not written down, Plato’s work, according to McClain, becomes what has been called  “our living Rosetta Stone” to unlock its musical implications.” (p.57) 

Later on, in the chapters “The Music of the Druids” and “The Celtic Mysteries”, the author lays the basis for a redrafting of much conventional western music history, which for various reasons (predominantly those connected with what survives in manuscript form) has been dominated by church or sacred music.  Meanwhile, the music of the Celtic Mysteries (along with other traditions such as the Troubadours of southern France) shows some startling harmonic traits which, Jackson demonstrates, are underpinned by the undertone series.  Thus, the connection is drawn between the spiritual pole of the undertone series, and some of the principal spiritual streams (including those emanating from the Grail mysteries) of western civilization. 

Moving forward, Jackson pays tribute to the great German musicologist Hugo Riemann (1849-1919) as the “chief champion of the undertone series.” And for pointing out that, “it was the gradual victory of the overtone series that reversed the direction of scales from down to upwards, as well of course as beginning the recognition of chords, especially as reckoned from the bottom”. (p.118)  We might say that this is the real crux of the this book:  that the root of a chord can just as logically be considered its top note as its bottom note.  In some ways this is a technical musical matter;  in others it is something we are all capable of entering  into, most especially when we endeavour to experience minor triads as having their root on top and descending downwards.  On this basis, harmonic movement and harmonic progression, which is traditionally analysed “root upwards” undergoes a process of internalization and spiritualization;  and Jackson give some very interesting examples of chord sequences where this is the case. 

The final chapters consider the role played by specific composers, such as Wagner, Bartok, Stravinsky and Scriabin, in expanding out experience of harmony.  These chapters are well researched, and offer clear expositions of many 20th Century developments such as Schoenberg's 12-tone music.  Jackson also looks at the work of more recent researchers, notably Maria Renold and her book Intervals, Scales, Tones and the Concert Pitch C=128Hz.  Again, aspects of her work are well summarized, although Jackson does not go into what for me was one of the most striking ideas in this book, namely Rudolf Steiner’s suggestion that a C of 128Hz is always the prime.  It is also not until the penultimate chapter that we find any real detail concerning Steiner’s own indication on the essence of music, such as the idea that in the future, we must listen for the melody in the single tone, or the statement, “What is music?  It is what one does not hear.”  (p.175) 

This leads to a more general point.  This book covers an incredible spectrum of subjects, from projective geometry to the nature of the Christ and mystery of evil as embodied by the beings of Lucifer and Ahriman.  As such, there is quite a lot which will be familiar to the “well-read Anthroposophist”, albeit in a new context..  Conversely, this same material may seem very strange to someone for whom Anthroposophy is entirely new.  The first chapter especially presents so many far-reaching esoteric concepts that it may put off some readers right from the start.  And this would be a pity, since there is a lifetime of insight here, always very well referenced, waiting to be discovered.  There is everything from the limitations of recorded sound through Celtic initiation rites to Jackson’s succinct pronouncement on the problem of much contemporary music:  “One can tell when a piece of music has been composed just out of the head when one’s reaction after hearing it is: ‘interesting, but…so what?’” (p.182) 

Any book review should endeavour to answer the question:  Who is this book for?  In this case, this is an unusually difficult question because of the demands it places on the reader, both technical and spiritual.  In answer, therefore, I would say that, as well as being for all those interested in music, it is also a book for humanity in general, since it is evidently the fruit of a free and selfless act on the part of its author.  As such, I am sure it will find its own path into the world, and come to inspire many people on their own unique musical journeys through life.

MERWIN LEWIS, composer, class teacher, London Waldorf School, Ontario
For anyone who wishes to contemplate the nature and being of music in a deep way, Graham Jackson's The Spiritual Basis of Musical Harmony is a godsend. I have known Graham Jackson and have been aware of his quest for many years.  That it has finally come to fruition in this beautifully presented, deeply considered, and well-written book is a joyful occasion.

I must confess that as a composer for more than forty years my inclination has been to say "never mind the why's and wherefore's" when it comes music theory.  I have always felt that music theory can get in the way of "doing" music, composing it, performing it, listening to it, and appreciating it.  Certainly one must know some music theory for all those activities, but for me all those numbers and labels can easily take the life out of music.  I have known people who, when listening to music, can give a play-by-play description much like a sports commentator ("Now we are in the subdominant, moving to the dominant"), as if theoretical concepts were the music.  I once heard the composer Iannis Xenakis, responding to a question from the audience about what to listen for in his music, say: "Listening is not the point--what is important is the underlying algorithm."  For him it seemed the theory was the music.  For me composing out of a theory would be pedantic and ultimately deadening.

And this is where Graham Jackson's book seems to me to be unique in the realm of music theory.  By recognizing and describing music (specifically musical harmony) as having a spiritual basis that can be made objective, he actually breathes life into his subject rather than analyzing it to death. His source for his insights is the work of Rudolf Steiner.  His book is an outstanding example of how the ideas of Steiner's spiritual science can be put to work in grappling successfully with the deeper questions of human experience.

For me what is of prime significance is this:  by bringing us closer to the spiritual nature of music as opposed to merely its physical nature, Graham Jackson has given us an approach which can truly enlighten, refresh, stimulate, and inspire our relationship to the being of music in our various roles as composers, performers, and listeners, and lead music into the future.

Much of the book is technical and some prior knowledge of music theory and music history would be helpful to readers, but he leads us through the technicalities with as much clarity as one possibly could.  The descriptions of the music of various recent composers and popular forms of music are insightful.  I would like to have seen a lengthier discussion of the music of the contemporary composers mentioned, especially Arvo Pärt, who I believe comes closest to leading music positively into the future.

For a more detailed review of the book, see the view by Richard Bunzl in the Spring '07, issue of New View.  For my part I can only send my humble thanks to Graham Jackson for the great gift he has given us with this book to which he had devoted so much loving care and wisdom. (from The Library Bulletin of The Anthroposophical Society in Canada, May 2007).

JOSCELYN GODWIN, Author of Harmonies of Heaven and Earth, Music and the Occult, The Theosophical Enlightenment, etc., Professor of Music at Colgate University, N.Y.
In a letter, Dr. Joscelyn Godwin wrote some mild criticisms of the book, such as that people not familiar with anthroposophy will find it difficult to get into, which may have some truth to it, although I think a careful reading will easily overcome that.  In fact, I often tell people if they find, for instance, the chapter on Plato, hard going, to just skim in that part.  They will still get the main message.  

He also queried some omissions, for instance of some modern composers who also strive for spirituality in their music. I had left them out mainly because I felt their approach would have led too far into irrelevant and fruitless discussion. 

He did however make the following remarks:
“What I did appreciate, much more than the systematization, were the incidental remarks scattered here and there, which became more and more frequent in the latter chapters… 

…Your treatment of recent musical history, both popular and classical, was very much to the point, and often found me cheering you on. My favorite chapter in this regard was no. 23… 

…It is surely one of the best Anthroposophical books on the subject, and from what it tells me of your biography it is the fruit of a life well spent in service of that profound philosophy.” 

JANA SKARECKY,  composer, pianist, and faculty member of the Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto 
This book takes the reader on a fascinating journey on many levels. Graham Jackson brings together and integrates research as well as insights not found in most mainstream books on music history and theory, weaving in along the way many other branches of human experience which are deeply connected to the development of music. He looks at music of various time periods and styles in the light of the physical and non-physical effects this music has on a listener, and so brings increased consciousness to the listening experience. He encourages us to look within and notice what happens in our own interactions with music, to try out the ideas the book presents to discover their relevance. 

Having been aware of some of these ideas as a teacher and a composer for many years, I am happy to see them here in print. The undertone series, a central part of this book, needs to be better understood and more deeply explored by creators of music as well as music scholars and music lovers. The threads which wind their way through successive ages of music history (and human history) shed light not only on the consciousness of the past but on experience of music in the present. Unlike in past ages, today we can hear the music of any historical period – at the push of a button, and often also in live performance. How does the experience of hearing widely different styles of music affect our being and our life? For that matter, how does hearing music when pushing a button differ from experiencing live music flowing from performer to listener? What happens in our body, and in our subconscious, as a result of various kinds of music? These and many other questions are addressed in this book. 

Graham Jackson makes a convincing case for an idea that has existed as long as music, as long as humanity – that music does matter. That not only can we learn about the past through the music of the past, but we can influence the future through the music of the present. He proposes the revolutionary idea that not only the music which people create, but also the music to which people listen, “can change the course of history”.  

He invites us to learn to listen more intensively, to become more aware of what we hear. To notice the quality of feeling in the music, the way it contracts and expands and "breathes”, its balance, its beauty. It is refreshing to have a thoughtful and sensitive musician not only present valuable historical and technical research, but at the same time affirm the validity of the “subjective experience” – without which, after all, the rest wouldn’t matter. The qualitative aspect of music, which goes beyond the physical phenomenon, is what both the musician and the listener ultimately care about. In this realm the difference between everything and nothing can be subtle, but everything depends on it. As Graham Jackson writes, “It is the same in life: a hair’s breadth separates the dead-end, self-centered routine from an awareness of the flood of divine grace that makes every little perception, every little act and event – even the “unwanted” ones – into a part of the enveloping web of significance and caring within which we all live.”  

This book is about music and life. They are inseparable, they sustain each other, they flow together. One is an image of the other, and each has a profound influence on the other. Whether or not the reader agrees with all the ideas presented here, this book provides a window for the exploration of something important which needs to be explored. It opens possibilities for understanding music, the world, and ourselves more deeply, and so makes an important contribution to the writings on this subject. If you care about music, you will find much here that will speak to you. Look for yourself.

Virginia Sease, Member of the Executive Council, General Anthroposophical Society, Dornach, Switzerland, letter:

Dear Graham,
Despite my silence, I wish to assure you that I received your very fine book on music which you so kindly sent to me.  It certainly attests to your life-long penetration into music from many aspects and I think it signifies a real contribution in regard to deepening one's approach.  I am grateful to have it also because it seems that often students with a strong musical background come to the Anthroposophical Studies Program in English at the Goetheanum and it is good to have literature in English available for them.

With warm greetings and good wishes for your future work,
(signed) Virginia
Dr. Virginia Sease

*     *     *