Molly the Miraculous Music-Theorist for large orchestra was written in 2017 as a companion piece to the symphonic poem “Die Ideale” (The Ideals) by Franz Liszt, which was first performed by Liszt and the Staatskapelle Weimar at the unveiling of the Goethe and Schiller monument at the Weimar Theaterplatz in 1857.
The Liszt piece is inspired by passages from the poem of the same name by Friedrich Schiller, and in turn by the classical ideal of beauty and a depiction of the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion pertaining to the sculptor who fell in love with the statue he carved of a beautiful woman. Similarly Philip Armstrong's piece looks to Schiller's theory of artistic taste and freedom as presented in his “Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen” (Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man), written in 1794.
Building on the work of Immanuel Kant, Schiller developed the concept of a play-drive (spieltrieb) whereby human mental capacities are able to combine seemingly antithetical opposites such as reason and aesthetic sensibilities, the necessary and the contingent, the empiricism of the Hume tradition and the rationalism of the Leibniz tradition, into one. This play-drive empowers the freedom of human agency to act as the unifying intermediary between the phenomenal experience of beauty and deliberative acts of morality.
In order to further develop these ideas, Philip Armstrong's piece was written in conjunction with a drama that features Molly the miraculous music-theorist in discussion with the Weimar Musaeus. A link is revealed by way of the drama with Mary the super scientist, a thought experiment proposed by Frank Jackson in his article "Epiphenomenal Qualia", written in 1982. Even though she was colour-blind, Mary was fully informed about the science and empirical facts pertaining to light perception. She knew the physics of photons and she knew the neurobiology of cognition. But when, one day, an operation restored her vision and she experienced colour for the very first time, suddenly she realised, despite her comprehensive knowledge of the physical world, that she was unable to explain the ‘feel’ of the experience of colour. Jackson’s knowledge argument sought to establish the coherency of a reduction of conscious experience and knowledge to non-physical properties. Similarly the Weimar Musaeus seeks to demonstrate that Molly the miraculous music-theorist is unable to describe music fully without recourse to an account of the phenomenal and aesthetic experience of music perception.
In the course of the drama, the Musaeus calls upon the Weimar heritage of metaphysical doctrine to affirm an idealist approach to substantiating truth conditions. Just as Schiller used a regulative approach to contend that aesthetics entails ethics, so the Musaeus does the same. Hypotheses are justified in terms of two-dimensional semantics, of Bayesian probability, and of modality by way of possible-worlds theory. The Musaeus uses David Chalmers' scrutibility thesis from his “Constructing the World”, written in 2012, to examine the relationship between linguistic expressions and necessary essence, and thereafter to justify an ontological equivalency between the realms of physicalism and phenomenal experience, and accordingly between music formalism and music aesthetics. Just as Schiller’s poem is quoted in the Liszt score and emulated musically, so the drama invoking the Weimar Musaeus and Molly the miraculous music-theorist is carried into Philip Armstrong’s music. While not programmatic in the manner of the Liszt, it emulates a naturalistic duality that links musical expression and universal essence, and that encompasses ontologies for both body and mind.