“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.