Category Archives: List of articles

Reviving the Muse

“Tradition is a succession of successful innovations.” – Pier Carlo Bontempi

Who is Bontempi? He is a contemporary architect, like Léon Krier, Quinlan and Francis Terry, Alan Greenberg et al who cultivate new traditional building, based upon older styles and methods.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pier_Carlo_Bontempi

http://interactive.wttw.com/bontempi/video

Everywhere, new architecture which revives older styles is bubbling-up: in America and England of course (since it has never entirely disappeared there), in Poland, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Ireland.

Intention, expression, aesthetics

As music is intentionally a kind of language, meant to share a musical vision (even the most abstract works like some Renaissance polyphony or fugues by J.S. Bach), a vision which is meant to be experienced emotionally, the performance context is defined by expectations of listening where communication is at the centre. We know that the means through which musical communication travels, is tonality, i.e. the interrelated system whereby individual notes derive their meaning from the location in the tonal network, forming a whole with different layers of coherence. With sonic art, i.e. atonal modernism, it is the level of pure sound and its ordering which forms the communication: ‘the medium is the message’. Although the sonic surface may be structured in an aesthetic way, as to create an aesthetic impression, this impression differs from the communication which forms the heart of the art of music.

Contemporary music risks

There hangs around classical music, and especially around its subspecies: contemporary music, an atmosphere of initiation: the listener has to know something about it to experience it to the full. Therefore people with knowledge of classical music, and especially contemporary music, are often considered ‘special’ or / and ‘elitist’, invoking feelings of inferiority with people who never go to classical music concerts, let alone new music concerts, but who do go to the new films, know about the new fiction that is reviewed in their newspaper and occasionally visit the museums of modern art. In contrast with contemporary visual art, of which we only see in the big museums the concept art variety and not the contemporary figurative painting, contemporary art music operates in the margins of the margins of the central performance culture. Its audiences are remarkably small when compared to the visitors of concept art exhibitions. Also, the money which is going around in the ‘contemporary art market’ is astonishing, and devastatingly different from the money which is spent on contemporary music – with the exception of the Netherlands where millions of euros are spent by the government on concept music which has practically no audience at all.

Museums of modern art draw thousands of visitors, in spite of the mostly unbearable nonsense on show there. Why this abyssmal difference?

Prescribing art

“Making and consuming art lifts our spirits and keeps us sane. Art, like science and religion, helps us make meaning from our lives, and to make meaning is to make us feel better.”

That the arts can be benefitting for our health, has been known for ages, in fact: in Antiquity this was already common understanding. Now, a report in the UK has offered some more concrete evidence:

www.theguardian.com/culture/2017/jul/19/arts-can-help-recovery-from-illness-and-keep-people-well-report-says

Aesthetic perception and nature

Some strange facts of life have a strong meaning, for example that proportions in nature conform to certain mathematical principles, which in turn can be grasped by the human mind – i.e. in the human mind there is a receptive system of mathematical properties which lay at the heart of natural formation. Our mind is part of natural evolution and the laws along which it proceeds. This implies, among other things in the cultural field, that tonal relations in music are grounded in nature, and that the beauty of musical works is related to both how the human mind works, and how nature is structured.

Classical music and humanism

Classical music is often considered as an art form which embodies humanistic and ethic ideals, and is supposed to inspire moral awareness in its listeners. This aspirational vision of serious music is one of the results of the Enlightenment as it developed at the end of the 18th century, when in aesthetic theory ‘the artist’ became an ‘independent entity’ and no longer a mere craftsman in the service of church, court and nobility. This vision formed an important strand in 19th culture, where it had to struggle with the reactions its sometimes dry rationalism provoked, inadvertedly stimulating romanticism with its vague but profound  emotional urges, so strongly disqualified by Goethe.

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’:

Quote:

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?