Gelassenheit is for me synonymous with nirvana.
It’s a word that comes from German and doesn’t translate easily. I love those words. They give you permission to devote a whole paragraph to their honour. You’ll need at least a paragraph to describe the exotic decadence of loanwords to your monoglot friends. Although Gelassenheit is not yet accepted into English, if I have my way, it will be. English is just one big quilt anyways, what’s another stripe?
Gelassenheit comes into English and breaks into some very different translations, like a river that breaks into smaller ones and covers a wider terrain: composure, calmness, serenity, repose, imperturbability.
It’s the noun form of the adjective gelassen, which translates to cool-headed, composed, or poised. Gelassen comes from the verb lassen which does a lot of semantic heavy lifting. It’s in partnership with a lot of other verbs, but essentially boils down to let, or to leave be. Now you see how the word “composure” doesn’t capture the aspect of release that is part of Gelassenheit?
Strangely enough, I did not brush elbows this word from any of my German classes or the endless sea of vocab lists that comes from them. Instead I encountered it in an article on spirituality and jazz, where the author described it as “’releasement’, the unbinding of all preconceptions and expectations”. That’s some risky territory. In a musical context it means “openness, the willingness to let go and forego ownership to the music at hand”1. This word is my new friend. I have a lot to learn from it. You don’t have room for creativity if you don’t have room for mistakes. Oh hi Miles, I hear you there. Lil Doc Davis has a word for us all.
[Public Safety Announcement:
Until Gelassenheit is seen for what it is the English language, it will keep masquerading as calm, cool, and released. You’ve been warned! The meaning it carries is operating under various false identities! It only shows a fraction of itself at a time. Educate yourself! Until Gelassenheit is exposed for what it is, it will continue to enjoy the cushy status of italicisation of foreign words. Wake up people!]
So the moral of the story is that I’m growing into this idea of release where music and artistry is concerned, and that I’m a nerd because I make friends with words.
- Reynolds, Thomas E. “Jazz Spirituality: Human Transformation in a Musical Key” Emmanuel College.