The Third Movement
(Adagio molto e cantabile) of Beethoven's Symphony nr. 9
I don't generally go for Hegelian definitions of the Sublime (or was that Kant), but if I was pressured to analogise the cool, abstracted air of Sublimity and had sufficient leeway of criteria, I'd choose the box marked Musical Art and lock in this Adagio.
It's best to define the Sublime by what it is not: it is not utterly bereft of melody, harmony or counterpoint. It does not, ultimately, eschew rhythm. It is neither narcotic, necrotic nor sentimental. It's neither abstractly restful or becalmed to such a degree that all movement is negated; it doesn't transfix or beholden the mind to its beguiling extremities. The Sublime does
seem to entail an air of rarefaction: of heights, unsullied skies and long horizons; of inner smallness drawn against the widest vista and emptied spontaneously into harmony with 't. It is high humanity drawn to near-abstraction without spiritual dogma; humanity without suffering or the mud of cloying hearts. (The Sublime is obviously incompatible with the African.) Neither Platonically ideal nor the Rilkean domain of angels, Beethoven's Adagio is absolutely
humane, that beyond which it is humanly inadvisable to speculate, for there is nothing further besides the vacuum of space and/or the dread void that looks back into you. His Adagio is sublime because it's subjectively rendered as though born of felt experience, or by a seeming-experience on the fly of composition/performance. You can't tell if it's art or deepest experience.
The backing of winds and strings allow the lightest escapades of melody; the backing draws in, builds and returns and then launches into austere freedoms of lightness. All the while progressing the movement of experience and time, seemingly natural-formed. A metaphorical tap into pure spirit as universal experience. The score, the sublimely narrative movement, is like a delicate instrument designed for handling the lightest, most delicate filaments and textures, and yet also capable of drawing and channelling the heaviest support and foundation. It is lightness anchored in the depths, a strong body singing the life of the mind. That contains its own action and rest in a single movement; that is coolly sufficient; that is both air and experience.
Notable point: the release into flight of the French horn at 9:00 (on the 1977 von Karajan/Deutsche Grammophon recording)