“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?)”
One of the many insights found in Roger Scruton’s “The Aesthetics of Music” (Oxford University Press 1997, page 455). Musical culture is an interrelated field of experience where producer (the composer), mediator (the performer) and receiver (the listener) form a whole. Tradition is the framework within which musical experience can take place, including innovation, experimentation, and above all: interpretation, on the part of all three parties. In this sense, tradition is not prescription but ‘Leitkultur’, the basis without which musical culture cannot exist. Boulez’ work is not music because it denies the receptive framework of the European musical tradition, a framework which cannot offer means of understanding Le Marteau sans Maitre. Postwar modernism created a fundamentally new framework, in which the material does not exist outside the work itself as musical material, but as pure sound.
Therefore, the distinction between music and sonic art is not a disqualification of modernism but mere common sense which leaves sonic art its own receptive framework and tradition.
For further reading on this subject: see ‘A restoration of value: new classical music’, under ‘Texts’ on this site.
3 thoughts on “Receptive frameworks”
In the context of this article may I pose the question:
On the day that saw the passing of David Bowie and in the same period that witnessed the end of the Boulez era am I right in thinking that tens of millions will mourn Bowie whereas poor Pierre will be missed only by a few thousand.
They were both innovators and were multi talented musicians. So why the difference in the size of their following?
Well…. isn’t humanity built like a pyramid? The numbers of cultured and / or educated people are gradually decreasing towards the higher levels of civilization. In former times, cultured elites were the ‘trend setters’ and ruled society; because that was not always done very well – to say the least – rebellion and emancipation broke out in various waves of demands, and in our contemporary world, the idea of equality has not restricted itself in relation to the law, or to God for religious people, but has infected every level of human endeavor: the so-called ‘democratization of taste’. Which means that the masses dominate public space, education (universities adapting their curriculi to the limitations of students), and increasingly also politics. In culture, the primitive outnumbers the better phenomenae, so mr Bowie is now presented as a saint, a great man who has to tell us so much, our leader, ec. etc. Especially the BBC gets over the top with their commentaries and ‘experts’ discussing this pop musician / actor as if he were a Beethoven. It demonstrates the disappearance of artistic quality standards and the erosion of value frameworks, and the lowest denominator gets the most weight – in public space, that is. Educated people know better.
Classical music has become a niche taste, and people like Boulez have contributed to this development by claiming a place in that territory where his work really does not belong, adding to the misunderstanding that classical music is inaccessible, elitist, intellectualized, etc. etc.
On my blog I have written some ‘Notes on Boulez’…. wholeheartedly recommended.
Some 50 years from now Boulez and the rest of the serialists will be considered a rarity. Sonic art? Sonic it is, but art requires some public appreciation and in the era of the masses only education can produce that degree of the discriminatory capacity. Let us hope a more sensitive kind of education will be adopted that will reveal the power of harmony to all.