Monthly Archives: January 2017

Neuroscience and aural confusion

Some research in neuroscience appears to support the claim that confusion, resulting from listening to postwar avantgarde atonal works, is not due to lack of musical understanding and a conservative taste, but the logical result of works without structural patterns that relate to the mind’s hardwired, pattern-seeking abilities. But of course, acculturation plays a role, but not the only one.

Abstract convention

There is an increasing number of observations demonstrating something of the emerging of common sense about the established art history of the last century, as found in an article on the website of ‘The Smart Set’:


20th-century modernism marked the transition from a world of regional civilizational artistic traditions to the bright, shiny, new, universal society of airports, hotels, and office buildings which are the same everywhere on the planet, with the same color-blob paintings in the lobbies and corridors and the same metal tripod or other abstract sculpture out front.

Permitting waste in the realm of verse

The Literary Review newsletter of 2/11/16  held a review of a biography of Jonathan Swift, exposing one of the striking cultural prejudices of the last century, which still hangs in the air of our own times:

“In his everyday life Jonathan Swift was fastidiously clean. In his writing, however, he was capable of what was disapprovingly called an ‘excremental vision’. Yet this at least showed him to be less hypocritical than his ‘grubbier’ contemporaries, who ‘refused to permit the filth, decay and human waste around them to enter the realms of verse’, suggests Freya Johnston in her review of John Stubbs’s ‘sensitive and capacious’ new biography of Swift.”

Predicaments of pluralism

Pluralism and freedom of discussion are of fundamental importance for culture; where societies become dominated by populism and / or rightwing extremism, this pluralism is under serious threat, and the arts will become politicized, open to blackmailing and manipulation, of which history offers many examples. In the Western world, the freedom of pluralism is under threat, both in the USA and in Europe, where the central performance culture is an integral part of society, especially in the German-speaking lands. Will it be strong enough to resist the threats which are also appearing in the heartland of the classical repertoire?

A new movement?

While working on an extension of a chapter in my book, as a preparation for its 2nd edition by Dover – it is the chapter where a number of new tonal composers are mentioned by way of examples – there appear to be many more of such composers than imagined before. One wonders who else is out there, of whom hardly anybody has heard, and whose efforts are valuable contributions to the art form in spite of not being performed. Herbert Paul’s fascinating study ‘Two Centuries in One’….

….. already revealed the richness of the field, but my impression is that not all of these composers – having been performed, having enjoyed successes – will have achieved the artistic level that can survive the erosion of time, in other words: there will have been works which do not invite repeated hearing. But that goes for all music produced in any age, the general production provides the context within which the great works can blossom.