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.
Man kann in eine Kultur, sei sie auch noch so lokal entstanden, hereinwachsen, absorbieren, sich mit den Kulturwerten identifizieren. Die verschiedene Europäische Kulturen, wie von den verschiedenen Nationen ‘vertreten’, sind nicht ganz abgeschlossene Bereiche, aber nur verschiedene Betonungen von irgendwelche Eigenschaften die alle zusammen Europäisch sind, in der Urzeit aus Griechisch/Römischer und Christlicher Zivilisation entstanden und die sich weiterentwickelt haben, offen nach aussen und nach der eigenen Vergangenheit, und inklusive universeller humanistischen Werten, wovon man heute überall in der Welt die Reflektionen sehen kann.
On the website of Prospect, the British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton has written eloquently and profoundly on Wagner’s four-night opera cycle ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’:
Wagner wanted to be an opera composer, plus cultural philosopher plus political agitator plus founder of a new religion: ‘Kunstreligion’, centered around his own works which – as in Christianity – focus upon redemption. (R. Strauss: ‘I don’t understand where I should have to be redeemed from’.) In most articles and essays about the Ring, Wagner’s antisemitism is always put on the table as proof of one of W’s most serious moral flaws, and the question, whether charicatures of ‘Jews’ can be found in the operas. Scruton leaves that question alone, simply dismisses it, and concentrates on the possibilities of meaning and message.
The current mobilization of right-wing protests against immigration and acceptance of war refugees in Europe, stimulated by ignorance and distrust of politics and media, is fed by two interrelated sources which are generally left untouched by the political parties in favor of both the EU and a controlled immigration: national identity and cultural identity. Both are emotional in nature, and the reason that the traditional political parties and the gigantic organisational structure of the EU prefer to avoid to tackle these subjects, is that they (the organizations) are strongly rationalistic in nature, due to the bureaucratic challenges of the modern world which requires management skills above all else. Scale requires bureaucracy, and bureaucracy by its nature does not indulge in philosophical and cultural questions. Also the very different histories of the European nations forces collaborations to be rational, as to not tread on sensitive toes and muddle the waters with old resentments and suspicions. The tragedy of the EU is that it wants to be an overall structure unifying these different nations, and it sees – logically – rationality as the only way to transcend borders, appealing to common sense, concrete interests, intelligence and argument, instead of patriottic emotions which have created so much havoc in the continent’s past. So, a large territory of potential disruption has been left unploughed, where in these days the seeds of all those burried resentments and suspicions sprout into a fresh jungle of dangerous sentiments, where the progeny of fascism (laying dormant for decennia) are easy to detect (as can be seen in the ‘Völkisch’ appeal of movements like the German ‘Pegida’).
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.