Published by the Scarecrow Press, New York, in 2013
The subject matter of ‘The Classical Revolution’ is the current emerging of a new music, which is rooted in premodernist tonal traditions. In painting, figurative realism – which was marginalized by modernism (abstract art, concept art) but never entirely disappeared – is enjoying a revival; a couple of contemporary architects are increasingly successful in recreating something of the classical tradition in building (Krier, Terry, Adams, Greenberg), in spite of fierce opposition from the modernist establishment which still chases the utopia of the last century. And now also in serious music, ideas of revival and restoration are appearing – somewhat later than in the other art forms, as usual. There has already been written about new figurative painting and new classical architecture, but new classical music is still a rather virginal territory.
The year 2013, celebrating Wagner’s birth in 1813, provoked a flurry of (extra) performances, articles and books in an attempt to understand, enjoy, and make accessible the life work of one of the most controversial European cultural icons of the 19th century. Reading the reviews of the newly-published books and some of the extensive essays in the (cultural) magazines, makes clear that it is Wagner’s personality and turbulent life, together with his dubious posthumous influence – especially his antisemitism – that receives most of the attention, as do the plots of his operas and their possible interpretations. The music as music however, is hardly treated, and if at all, rather superficially and piecemeal. But what the music, in itself, is, and how it works, and especially how it is possible that the music turns so many music lovers into helpless addicts, living from shot to shot to keep their dependence intact – a sort of happy surrender to emotional experience in the form of tones that often looks like a passionate love obsession that cannot be quenched – that seems to be a ‘mystery’, difficult to rationally understand and impossible to analyse.
The works of Morton Feldman (1926 – 1987) represent one of the clearest demonstrations of mourning in terms of sound, and often beautiful sound. In 2006 the American music journalist Alex Ross dedicated an interesting article to Feldman:
Some quotes from the article:
In a way, his music seemed to protest all of European civilization, which, in one way or another, had been complicit in Hitler’s crimes.
So, all the achievements of Europe thrown, indiscriminatingly, as a whole in the dustbin of history. A good example of postwar nihilism, quite understandable for a composer who first and foremost identified with being Jewish (not American?), and with the ambition of becoming the ‘greatest Jewish composer’ (surpassing Mendelssohn, Mahler and Schoenberg?).
He was a hard-core modernist to the end, despite his sensualist tendencies, and he did not conceive of art a medium for sending messages.
And yet, his work communicates his very personal emotional life experience – a sad and empty one, in spite of living in the USA and having not suffered any war atrocity.
Three books on Mahler, one reprint of an old one and two new studies, have seen the light:
by Bruno Walter, with a biographical essay by Ernst Křenek, and an introduction by Erik Ryding
Dover, 236 pp., $14.95 (paper)
by Thomas Peattie
Cambridge University Press, 220 pp., $99.99
by Seth Monahan
Oxford University Press, 278 pp., $45.00
A review can be found at:
Mahler is often depicted as either one of the two last Germanic / symphonic composers (together with Richard Strauss) or the progenitor of atonal modernism in Schoenberg, or a combination of both, while in reality he was a category of his own, his music a combination of very diverse material from very different sources. There is much to admire in his music, as there is much to criticize, but in all respects this impressive body of work is a great wealth of musical experience and a stimulating challenge for conductors.
What education is about, the assumption was, is the attainment of culture. By culture was meant an understanding of life and what is most important in it. This understanding is obtained through experience, observation, insight, and the ability to get outside oneself to view the world from a larger than merely personal perspective. Culture at this depth comprised a compound of a sense of the past, an understanding of what morality was about, and intelligence. The Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa notes that “culture has always signified a combination of factors and disciplines that, according to a broad social consensus, are what define it: a recognition of a shared heritage of ideas, values, works of art, a store of historical, religious, and philosophical knowledge in constant evolution, and the exploration of new artistic and literary forms and of research in all areas of knowledge.”
Quote from an important essay in The Weekly Standard of 2nd November 2015:
The longing for spring, for beginning with a clean slate, for the opportunity to begin something unhindered by other people’s work of yesterday, is deeply ingrained in the consciousness (and subconsciousness) of Western civilization. The curious and explorative spirit of Greece has suffused so much of Western thinking, that it is sometimes difficult to imagine a world without it, which sometimes shows in the rubbing of the West with the Islamic world and the civilizations of the Far East. Also, Christianity, with its promises of forgiveness, redemption, and the renewal offered by love, partly inspired the impressive developments that has given ‘the West’ such prominence, in spite of the abberations and devastating upheavels in its path. Interestingly, before postmodernism began to undermine its confidence, the West appeared to have arrived at some universal values which could be applied everywhere on the globe where people felt the appeal of progress and the urge to be liberated from circumstances which hinder any development to a ‘better life’. (We could think of ‘human rights’, ‘democracy’, ‘freedom from state suppression and control’, ‘social welfare’, and access to education, medical facilities and factual information.) What began as a local culture in Europe, has meanwhile developed to a global culture where the notion of ‘modernity’ keeps things moving at a seemingly unstoppable pace.
People, interested in more personal / subjective meditations, are advised to follow this link to ‘The Subterranean Review’ blogspot which may offer some entertainment and / or food for reflection:
For older postings: click on the link at the bottom of the page.
Since the beginning of the current financial crisis in 2008, classical music as a genre has become – in the West – increasingly under pressure. But it seems that financial pressures are only bringing other pressures in relief: the pressures of ‘exhaustion of old repertoire’, the aging of audiences, and the critique that ‘classical music’ with its endless repetitions of the same works is no longer compatible with modern, progressive, egalitarian and multicultural society and does not deserve the elitist and high-brow status and position as expressed through its funding, privately in America and by the state in Europe. Serious music, be it the old repertoire or new music, needs strong arguments to justify its position and funding, and needs to be able to formulate its meaning and value for society as a whole. This can only be achieved by demonstrating its connection with the best of Western culture, with its cultural identity and with the community: its relationship with audiences.
In such context, the ‘new music scene’ is in a doubly difficult position. Where new music forms a separate territory with performances on specialist festivals and in specialist concerts entirely dedicated to new music, its relevance has become nugatory, and where it is occasionally performed in the context of the regular, traditional performance culture, it is mostly met by a polite tolerance rather than an enthusiastic embrace of a much-needed injection of new life into an art form which otherwise may wither away due to its character of a museum.
For anyone, suspecting that the critique of modernism in all its forms, as expounded in these pages, are just expressions of a reactionary, conservative, fascistoid and frustrated mentality, the following articles are wholeheartedly recommended. They demonstrate an increase of well-thought attempts to take distance from petrified biasses and conventions of the last century which dramatically hinder new developments in the arts, including (serious) music. Independently from each other, critics from left to right begin to see the cultural reality which is in front of us, but which seems to inspire infinite denial in the various cultural establishments. One of the first thorough criticism of certain forms of modernism came from the British philosopher and musicologist Roger Scruton, and his subtle but irrefutable damnations have often been explained-away as coming from ‘the conservative camp’. But now similar observations appear from many different sides, which show that they are not politically or socially determined but resulting from a profound dissatisfaction about what our culture is capable of producing today and a profound wish to find solutions.
“We are amazed and exhilarated by Beethoven’s formal achievements – like the first movement of the Eroica – because the material which they organize lives separately in us. Le Marteau sans Maitre gives no comparable experience, since it contains no recognizable material – no units of significance that can live outside the work that produces them. (Could there be an arrangement of Le Marteau sans Maitre for solo piano? A free improvisation for jazz combo? A set of variations for string quartet? A fragment whistled in the street?)”
Music is a complete representation of a state of mind.
We know the heart of our civilization through music in a way we cannot easily know through anything else. We communicate not just with other people, but with other generations. Like Bach’s St Matthew Passion. The fact that such things exist makes available to us a vision of the world that is not only superior to ours, but has an awful lot to teach us about what we could be.
Two quotes from texts by the British philosopher and aesthetician and musicologist Roger Scruton, that have to be read metaphorically, he does not want us to become like 18C Leipzigers. Classical music as an inspirational, aspirational and transcendent vision requires from both musicians and audiences a serious state of mind and receptiveness which is harder to acquire in our technologically-saturated times than in a time, when life was much slower, calmer and quieter. In comparison with the bordering-on-the-insane ‘celebration of modern life’ of Elliott Carter, the bland, obsessive mindlessness of Philip Glass or the puerile fake sixties-rebelliousness of Louis Andriessen, it is the seriousness of the music of David Matthews or Nicolas Bacri on which any hope for a future of classical music rests.