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.
In one of the more respectable German music magazines, the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik (New Journal for Music), set-up by Robert Schumann in 1834 and still in full swing, a devastating article has appeared in the 06/2013 issue about my book ‘The Classical Revolution’, tearing it to pieces with a vehemence, mostly reserved for religious quarrels among fundamentalists. The author: Konrad Boehmer, is a Dutch/German sonic artist, born in Germany in 1941 from a father working for the regime but nonetheless killed in the war, grown-up in the DDR, later-on fleeing to West-German Cologne which was in the fifties the centre of electronic celebration. Later-on mr Boehmer landed in Holland where he quickly became a member of the modernist establishment, the small circle of self-made revolutionaries who planned the Brave New World in music. I do not know him personally, nor have I ever done harm to him, I have not even mentioned him in any of my writings, since his works never gave me a reason to give them much attention. But I owe him my sincere gratitude for the efforts he put into the mentioned article, because it fully and wholeheartedly confirms and demonstrates what the problems of the modernist mentality were.
Since modernist ideologies have, helped by government subsidies, established themselves as expressions of ‘modern times’ (whatever that may mean), younger generations of composers who did not suffer from the postwar spiritual hangover found for themselves a great opportunity for moralistic preaching, where they would not be hindered by any musical understanding – since that, together with conservative music-making, belonged to the past. The old repertoire as practiced in the ‘regular performance practice’, i.e. the central performance culture, could then be seen as merely ‘soothing people’, massaging the battered nerves of contemporary audiences suffering from the results of progress, with nostalgic and thus, ‘safe’ works from the past, blotting-out consciousness of reality, being carried-away by escapist dreams of a ‘better world’ which has never existed anyway.
The other day, a neurobiologist (who had recently published a book, doing away with the ‘romantic notion’ of ‘personality’ and ‘soul’), accused me of being merely a bag of neurons. ‘Speak for yourself’, I reacted, since her happy smile betrayed her accusation to be perfectly referring to herself, and went out for a walk to the stables.
Why are there so many people around with the burning wish to put the fluent, immaterial aspects of life down do physical phenomenae? As we know, the radio set is for the programme, not the other way around, and understanding the working of the human brain does not reveal anything worth knowing about the personality using this organ to interact with the world. Why are there so many musicologists, music theorists, composers, music aestheticians, pursuing the goal of explaining music in rational, scientific terms?
After the storms of 20th century developments in the arts, provoked by changes in society, wars and their aftermath, increasing industrialization and technological advance, and overviewing the multifarious cultural field today in the Western world, it may be appropriate to return to the fundamental question concerning the raison d’être of the arts: where are they for?
In spite of the complex cultural situation of today (which can only be fully understood after having become the past to future generations), the answer may be short and simple: the arts are there to make the world a better place, and in this sense ‘improving’ it.
In the last century, very often the concept of ‘progress’ was projected upon the arts as a measurement of quality: ‘good art’ was ‘progressive art’: if an artist did not commit some ‘groundbreaking’ artistic deed, his work was considered worthless. While progress in science is a fundamental notion, in the arts it is meaningless, because the nature of art has nothing to do with progress. There may be progress in terms of physical means, like the types of pigment used in painting that got more stable in the last century, or the availability of relatively cheap music notation paper during the 19C industrial revolution, or iron fittings in architecture to vault bigger spaces. Also the discovery of perspective by Bruneleschi in the 15th century was something of progress, like the invention of the ‘sfumato’ brushwork Leonardo da Vinci developed, and which gave painters the opportunity to create a hazy atmosphere on the canvas. But expression, artistic vision, the quality of execution has never been dependent upon the physical means of an art form: Vermeer has not been superseded – in terms of artistic quality – by Picasso or Pollock, Bach not by Mahler or Boulez, Michelangelo not by Giacometti or Moore, Palladio not by Gropius and Le Corbusier. And we can appreciate the brilliance of the ‘primitive’ masters of Flanders, who lived before the great surge of 16C inventions in Italian painting, as we can the music of Palestrina who had no clue of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Chopin, simply because he lived in an earlier time.
Op vrijdag 30 augustus 2013 publiceerde Dagblad Trouw een summiere aankondiging van mijn artikel dat de dag daarna verscheen in haar bijlage ‘Letter & Geest’: Kunstsubsidie is corrupt. De aankondiging was voor het Fonds Podiumkunsten (FPK) onmiddellijk aanleiding voor het volgende commentaar, dus nog vóór het artikel verschenen was:
Van de site van het FPK:
vr 30 augustus 2013
Belangenverstrengeling en vooringenomenheid bij Fonds Podiumkunsten?
Toen het Fonds Podiumkunsten in 2008 voor het eerst meerjarige subsidies verstrekte, deed het Fonds dat op dezelfde manier als de Raad voor Cultuur dat daarvoor deed. Bij de Raad was het gebruikelijk dat adviseurs die betrokken waren bij een aanvraag alleen bij de behandeling van die aanvraag de kamer verlieten. Deze praktijk was voor 2008 nooit door een rechtbank getoetst. Dat is wel gebeurd naar aanleiding van de eerste ronde meerjarige besluiten die het Fonds Podiumkunsten nam. De rechter oordeelde dat ‘het op de gang gaan staan’ niet voldoende was: een adviseur mocht dan ook niet meepraten over andere aanvragen. Het Fonds heeft zijn werkwijze natuurlijk direct na de eerste uitspraak uit 2010 aangepast. Twee andere uitspraken die ook gingen over de praktijk uit 2008 volgden nog, maar toen had het Fonds dus al een andere aanpak ingevoerd die bovendien verder gaat dan het zorgvuldig samenstellen van adviescommissies.
“Alleen ‘moderne’ kunst komt voor subsidiëring in aanmerking” (John Borstlap in TROUW 30 augustus 2013)
Regularly the accusation of ‘conservatism’ is thrown at me, in the way a shoplifter is caught with his hands in the jewelry box, but without arguments and without consequences, so that the occasion passes like a cold draught on a sunny afternoon. But delving deeper into the possible motivation of such burbs, may contribute to the understanding of one of the more urgent questions in the field of culture today.
Today – 23/8/13 – I stumbled into an article on the interesting website www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/ which is, I believe, run by an American radio station called NPR. Under the title ’An American Maverick Turns The Symphony On Its Head’ the well-known musicologist Jan Swafford celebrates the modernity and genius of Charles Ives, who was so much ahead of his time, etc. etc. – so, harping on postwar modernist mythology of the ‘groundbreaking genius’ who, with great courage and ignored by an ignorant environment, stormed the barricades of modernity and brought American – if not Western – music into the future of 20C composition. Audiences who ‘could not take it’ were, of course, conservative, did not understand the forward-looking spirit of the prophet in their midst. And so forth. The article was enlivened by a video of Stokowski conducting the last movement of Ives’ Fourth Symphony, considered his ‘master piece’. You saw the worried faces of the performers, anxious to get their clue in time, an extra conductor at the back, a small choir singing something of a hymn at the end of the piece. I am almost certain that many musicians played wrong notes or missed their entry, but the difference with right notes at the right moments must have been minimal. In such music, there are in fact no wrong entries or wrong notes, because ‘wrongness’ is irrelevant in an ‘idiom’ where everything is ‘permitted’ and any combination of sounds, or of notes, or of harmonies – as Ives’ father contended – is OK. Who could suppress a reaction at such extensive naivety? So I entered a comment:
Reading Bruce Haynes’ The End of Early Music, an excellent exploration of the performance movement generally referred to as the ‘early music movement’ or HIP (Historically Informed Performance), a couple of things struck me as relevant for contemporary composition:
I’m beginning to realize that, just as all concert music – even that of last night’s New music concert – is music of the past. Whether we use the style of three hundred years ago or the style of ten years ago, or ten days, it is some kind of tradition we are using; the only difference is the age of the tradition. A style ten years old has to be self-consciously learned exactly like a style of three hundred years ago. The issue, it seems, is a matter of how far back you feel like going.