Why is America’s musicology Tsar cited 26 times in a new composer biography?main
Reviewing Musorgksy and his Circle by Stephen Walsh for the Wall Street Journal this weekend, I was struck by how many times the author referred – and positively deferred – to the dominant American musicologist, Richard Taruskin. I counted no fewer than 26 times and I referred to it in the review as ‘a kind of hat-tipping that verges on obsequiousness’.
Taruskin, professor of musicology at the University of California, Berkeley, is a contentious figure whose ascent, like Vladimir Putin’s, owes much to invisible networks of collegial relationships. His power, like Putin’s, rests upon the payment of tributes – of the kind delivered by Walsh in his otherwise engaging narrative.
Such obeisances inhibit free speech and original research. What will it take for an American Khodorkovsky to demonstrate that this emperor, too, has no clothes?
I haven’t read the WSJ piece yet (not a subscriber at home), but here’s one argument (at least) for Taruskin (who I find cranky and tendentious most of the time): he’s one of the few American musicologists who has enough skill in Russian to be able to speak authoritatively (or at least, more authoritatively) about Russian topics. American musicologists generally only have a mastery of one or two languages other than their own English, and usually that doesn’t include ANY Slavic languages, so Taruskin has that advantage. Our own Michael Beckerman at NYU is the maven on Czech topics, and though once there was a Czech interest group at the AMS which drew a few scholars (fewer than 10) I don’t think it meets anymore.
This seems a bit exaggerated…. Taruskin is not a politician, and as far as I know he has not been a member of the KGB, and his Oxford History of Western Music is excellent (especially on 20C music where he dethrones the conventional linear narrative of modernism).
Whatever one thinks of Taruskin and his work (over which I have considerable reservations myself), saying he is an “emperor with no clothes” simply doesn’t measure up to the facts: certainly when it comes to his scholarship on Musorgsky, which David Brown – a musicologist (and equally a Russian speaker) who has good reason to be bitter about his treatment by Taruskin – has given all due and considerable credit. Daniel Jaffe
All those who read Taruskin should also read the following brilliant two-part critique by Franklin Cox – http://www.searchnewmusic.org/cox_review.pdf and http://www.searchnewmusic.org/cox_taruskin_part2.pdf , and also that by Paul Harper-Scott in his book The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013). I will quote a section from the latter, with permission, here:
‘Richard Taruskin’s Oxford History of Western Music is the longest suicide note in musicological history. I mean this in a purely objective sense. Taruskin is one of the finest musicologists of his, and probably any other, generation. Yet the Oxford History is the End. It lays bare the entire thought of a career that has exercised as great a formative influence on the modern discipline as any other single writer, helped in no small part by his extrovert academic persona and fluent, if often orotund, prose style. The book’s ready accessibility (and searchability) in its new online version will ensure that the current generation of young musicologists, which like every new generation will see as its essential existential business the annihilation of its parents, can interrogate and supplant Taruskin’s readings with a convenience that no earlier generation could dream of. In short, in the Oxford History, Taruskin completes his function as a vanishing mediator – a ‘catalytic agent which permits an exchange of energies between two otherwise mutually exclusive terms’ – between the old and coming forms of musicology.
Taruskin claims with justification that the fourth volume, which focuses on the early twentieth century (the principal period of ‘modernism’ as traditionally understood) is the one which ‘differs the most radically from previous accounts’, though the fact that he excludes the fifth volume (on the post-war period) from this suggests that he is blind to its elevation of an American Cold- War perspective to the level of historical objectivity (see §1.5 below). In the fourth volume he hopes to achieve nothing less than the eradication of what we know to be modernism, which he treats – again, with justification, though I shall argue that this justification is not what he thinks it is – as an appendage to the romanticism of the nineteenth century, of which he says it is a ‘maximalization’ in terms of temporal and sonorous expansion, the range of tonality, and the tolerance of dissonance (from Wagner) and of the profundity of motivic relations (from Brahms).
Taruskin’s interpretation of the early twentieth century is a very exciting fantasy construction, and since his choice of emphases and their interpretation is an important contributing factor in the continuing deadlock over definitions of modernism, I shall begin my snorkel through the quagmire with an exposition and critique of his reading of the twentieth century in music. My contention is that Taruskin’s postmodern reading (for it is a postmodern reading, however much he might hate the designation), and the philosophical and technical definitions of modernism that we could personify in the two pivotal figures of Theodor W. Adorno and Arnold Whittall, as well as scholars working on music of the Western peripheries (especially Britain and Scandinavia), all share a fundamental flaw: they fail to recognize the constitutive ‘outside’ of their definition, the suppressed third term in their binary of in/out. [….]
Taruskin dismisses the entire historical claim of modernism with brisk efficiency. By page 2 of ME20C our usual definition of the ‘time of enormously accelerated stylistic innovation, accompanied by an enormous expansion of technical resources’, which ‘sounds like the very opposite of romanticism as originally defined’, is already tottering on its pins. Modernism’s focus on industry and urbanization is, he notes, a continuation of nineteenth-century developments, and the ironic attitude attributed to modernism is also a familiar trope of nineteenth-century music. By page 3 it is all over: there is no difference at all between ‘modernism and the “Zukunftism” (future-ism) of the New German School, epitomized by Wagner [ . . . ] Isn’t the difference between what we’ve already seen and anything we’re likely to see now just a difference in degree? Of course it is – with one possible reservation.’ The difference he cites is that Wagner, the putative forefather of modernism, despised the main figure of modernity, the ‘emancipated, assimilated, urbanized Jew’, yet it was precisely in this figure, in the individual persons of Mahler and Schoenberg, that modernism was established. There are two immediately plain reasons to dismiss this Wagnerian exception. The first is given by Taruskin himself: the gentile Richard Strauss is the third pillar of Taruskin’s modernism. The second is more substantial and reaches to the nucleus of Taruskin’s entire musicological project.
Like Wagner, Taruskin attempts to have his cake and eat it, and although it is a more capitalist confection, it is no less xenophobic. Taruskin’s xenophobia has long been evident to Europeans like me who are the target of it, but the capitalist ideology of his aesthetics and historiography (as opposed to occasional explicit references to the markets as funders of the arts, and so on) has never been thematized, so far as I know, perhaps because most of his readers, Old and New World alike, share his investment in that ideology. Reading the world from a childlike Cold-War subject position in which all Europeans appear to him as either fascist or communist, Taruskin treats the figure of the European – racist, imperialist, hidebound to a class system, anti-American and anti-Semitic to a pitch of frenzy – as the reification of what is wrong with modernity, which is to say the communist/social-democratic limitation that Europe imposed on Capital in the twentieth century. The rejection of the European that Taruskin associates with the undesirable excess of modernity can leave in place the fruits of modernity, the global neoliberal economic model and its concomitant ideology, which following Badiou I shall call democratic materialism: in this, as I shall show, Taruskin is an archetypal postmodernist, and despite his own advice, a propagandistic advocate of Capital. Literally everything in Taruskin’s reading of music history, particularly in the twentieth century, is held firmly in place by this xenophobic–capitalist ‘quilting point’ of the figure of the European, and perhaps particularly of the English, person.’ (pp. 3-7)
It sounds as if Franklin Cox has his own (Marxist) axe to grind. It appears that the pot’s impugning the kettle. I often vehemently disagree with Taruskin, but at least his questioning of the assumptions of the HIP movement seem to have had a noticeable and salutary effect on its course.
(When it come to musicologists, give me Philip Gossett any day although he mostly labors in the rather unfashionable fields of the primo ottocento.
Most of the observations of any consequence by Taruskin about the HIP movement had already been made by Laurence Dreyfus and Daniel Leech-Wilkinson. A good deal of the rest relies upon black-and-white dualisms (geometric vs. vitalist, antiquity vs. modernity, and so on), rarely backed up by serious historical research which would demonstrate a much more nuanced picture, a tendency to jump on single sources which might help his argument (e.g. Schindler on Beethoven) and ignore others which give different messages (e.g. Czerny or Ries – on this subject the work of George Barth, in The Pianist as Orator, is far more subtle and well-researched), and a good deal of booming rhetoric accompanied by Taruskin’s self-appointment as the spokesperson for listeners, not to mention his customary way of disdaining anything he might label ‘modernist’ in increasingly shrill terms. That some attributes of performance he might characterise as such, and especially situate in opposition to Germanic traditions (which is precisely what he does in some of the essays in Text and Act), might actually have a longer history in performance than just the twentieth century, is almost entirely absent from his arguments, but there is plenty of historical evidence to suggest as much.
Also, with respect to Cox’s detailed critiques, whether or not you think them Marxist (note that the passages quoted above are from Paul Harper-Scott, not from Cox), does this amount of detailed critique not at the least suggest some severe problems with the OHWM?
My critique is not Marxist. You are welcome to read the review at http://www.searchnewmusic.org/ (Issues 9 and 10).
Dear Mr. Cox,
I am glad to learn of your articles about Taruskin, to whom you are far too kind. His over-estimation in some spheres is really dumbfounding, and can only be explained as the fallout of several levels of wake-up calls having been ignored in domino succession: impartial-history failure; failure to identify cheesy-social-theory-that-only-convinces-High-School-students; propaganda alerts failing to go off (through no fault of yours); etc.
It is gratifying to me to know that a writer such as yourself, who pointedly but all too discreetly warn that “Tarruskin’s narrative techniques” bear a “close resemblance to propaganda,” notices that Taruskin’s is the kind of what I would call recherche criticism that “resembles” propaganda. But I say he has really gone further than that by histrionically claiming that everything – without exception! – that Charles Rosen ever wrote is “Cold War propaganda.” I might understand that a backward and partisan critic would accuse a leading Modernist of “propaganda,” not because Carter is guilty of it, but because that is the (propagandistic) position of the politicizing anti-Modernists. Few people defend Modernism, still fewer defend it well, so Modernists are used to being accused of all manner of abuses. But it is obvious that the accusation that, for example, Rosen’s book The Classical Style is “Cold War propaganda,” is completely over the top.
His claims against the likes of Carter and Rosen have quite the character of what we in California call a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” which is “a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate or silence critics so that they abandon their criticism or opposition.” I personally get a lot of that. Any outspoken Modernist does and always has. We need a Defense Against Absurd Accusations Act.
I remark now only in a first glance, conversational way to your articles except to notice that your first footnote, which is not too much to take in quickly, is important to your discussion and that it has a couple of things in it that might explain hesitancy or claims against being Marxist.
First, though I for one believe your distinctions about Historicism do function quite well, I remind you that any reference to Historicism is still considered almost as settled an issue, in favor of Historicism being viewed as part of the Marxist Realist philosophy, as the supposition that discussion of entrenched Soviet propaganda in 2013 (my formulation of the situation) cannot possibly be relevant. Some eyebrows might go up at the word “historicism.” In case it is not clear, let me say that my position is that there are tons of critics and at least one musicologist who regularly enforce the policies of Socialist Realism to this day, to make sure that the public paradigm of what is good art, and what art is for, will remain a paradigm malleable only under Realist hands.
(I have considered just dropping the “Soviet Socialist” aspect of allegiances such as Taruskin’s, or our host Mr. Lebrecht’s, and just working with the fact that theirs is certainly a form of “Realism.” This is a philosophical fact, though I never assume that what I think is obvious will be agreed with by anyone. Those who are not convinced that ours is a time of entrenched Realism, but who are willing to think about it, can if they like reverse-engineer the allegiance to Soviet Realism from the Realism of its American heir, Hollywood Realism. I say that the Soviets were unfortunately right about what the people “want,” and those who “got it” are now making tons of money in Hollywood while controlling Classical programming lock, stock, and barrel, and in addition trying to float the idea that academia “suffered” from Modernism’s presence, which supposedly needs to be thoroughly routed. All of these goals or attitudes are completely consistent with Soviet positions expressed since before World War II. All the Realists are saying is that their doctrine is good, and enforcing it is a liberation of those horribly oppressed academics and their abused students, while their doctrine is all-beneficent, and institutionalizing it is in no way a tyranny.
(However, leaving off the Socialist Realist aspect of the Realism which rules the day and claims its reign is not absolute enough would I believe be a mistake. We can I think fruitfully separate a generalized and often unconscious Realism from the recrudescent Soviet Socialist Realism that we are in fact contending with. I say recrudescent because writings like Taruskin’s would simply not have failed to be properly identified thirty years ago as insipid Sovietism. But we are still dealing with the same damn propagandists of fifty years ago, and they have a lineage – Taruskin even wants to put himself forward as an authority on Russian music, and has written a history of music that tries to support a simplistic “socially responsible” philosophy. To get more propagandistic than this Taruskin would have to put knives in the teeth of Modernists and say we eat babies. So it is important to call a spade a spade, and point out the critical and political allegiances of those who are in point of fact the adversaries of forward progress.)
The existence of people like Taruskin obviates the need to explain why Modernism is not popular. They inveigh against it, just as critics did during the Zhdanov era. Such people shout fire in a theater and the firemen respond, and the production is ruined. The fact there was no fire is just part of the Modernist’s problem. Non-partisan critics ought to be saying there is something wrong with the person wrongly shouting fire. The only serious fault of Modernism is that anti-Modernists don’t like it and are willing to say so louder and more often than Modernists ever get promoted. Modernists are being too erudite and discreet and anti-Modernists seem to know no other mode than denouncement. Was Rosen being a “Cold War propagandist” when he pointed out that in the decades immediately following Mozart’s death the public and critics disliked his music, and that it was only the faithfulness of the performers themselves that accounts for his survival? Obviously not. When, today, performers (all too seldom) support really new works in the teeth of lack of support, public disinterest and critical denouncement, they are doing nothing more, and nothing less, than what was done for Mozart. I suppose Professor Taruskin would like us to believe that those players and singers in 1800 were engaging in “Cold War propaganda?” That Liszt giving the Beethoven late sonatas for the first time in public was “Cold War propaganda?” Or is it propaganda to mention such things? Jaques Ellul says everything is propaganda. Maybe he is right. In that case, I would simply say there isn’t enough pro-modernist propaganda.
What is the “propaganda” of Modernists, really? James Joyce’s writing was “pro-Irish propaganda,” perhaps? Was Alban Berg engaging in “sexual propaganda” when he wrote a secret sexual program into the Lyric Suite? If there is one thing that retrenched and unstated erudition in an artwork isn’t, is propaganda. But against the chance it might be appreciated, certain nations and their adherents have waged a continuing war against them.
The second item in your footnote that could unsettle anti-Marxists (of whom I’m not necessarily one), and does unsettle me a bit, is Berman’s use, which you quote, of the term “formalism,” defined by him as artworks in which “meaning emerges from formal properties not themselves inherently meaningful.” This category allows for Realist attacks on works that could be thought to have been written in this way, and there were of course unrelenting Soviet attacks against “formalism,” then allowed to be more vaguely defined. Taruskin’s attacks are similar. The accusation of the “properties not themselves inherently meaningful” line is that the materials of High Modernism are not “meaningful.” Let’s be real: it is clear that, in practice, in music, this means that tonal triads are meaningful and dissonances are not. It is a simple thing for an anti-Modernist to dismiss that a “formalist” work’s “assemblage yields meaning,” so anti-Modernism is well-served by Berman’s definition generally. Some of Berman’s remarks may be interesting but it is not clear from your quote who it is that he is working for. We all understand that Xenakis was accused of “formalism,” and Berman’s definition speaks to his techniques. Without a concrete example of what these actually are, then sonata form might be classed as “formalist.” This seems preposterous, but then we have an accusation from Taruskin that The Classical Style is “Cold War propaganda.”
We are kicking up some dust in what are really propaganda wars, first by pointing out that there’s an attack going on. That’s what an avant-garde does, after all. For someone on long-term lookout, this is a big relief, water in the desert. What I think is also going on is a broader debate between philosophical Idealism and philosophical Realism. The Realists are making all the money and having a much easier time of it getting political support, and they control public opinion through the Socialist sword of populism; theirs is a Realpolitik. But in science the Idealists are quietly living in reality and are doing the physics and are known to be correct. There exists no matter as we understood it. There has been a gradual shift in philosophy away from Realism toward the Idealism that is proved by modern physics. There is far too great a gap between these positions, and the likes of Professor Taruskin maintain that gap by keeping Realism alive.
What is really amazing, just completely out of step with any common sense, is to consider that Charles Rosen or Elliott Carter or anyone writing even broadly like them were representing any kind of “American Cold War” position. That is just plain out of whack. There are some success stories, but as everybody knows most of us have been starving all this time, getting few performances, suffering the most severe and unrelenting critical attacks, very lucky to get even a part-time job or two performances a decade, certainly marginalized. All this because there never has been in America anything remotely as effective as the Soviet arts program. One sign of its effectiveness is that Richard Taruskin can hold forth as he does. The NEA music program gives less than the value of one postage stamp to each American citizen. There has never been an American arts reply to Sovietism – not fifty years ago, not to this day.
Again, thanks for posting the link to your articles.
Thank you for your comments. I was using the term “historicism” in the Popperian sense used in his critique of Marx. Popper’s use of the term was unfortunate, possibly a result of his not getting the old-school humanist training: “historicism” means something quite different in the German historical tradition. But in Anglo-Saxon lands, the term usually has some connotations of history conceived as a series of fairly discreet stages unfolding according to some sort of logical progression; this is why I distinguished between several varieties of historicism. “Progressivist historicism” is what I use for the Marxist-type of historical drama. This said, I don’t see that it has had all that influence in the American arts scene outside of circles of Modernists until fairly recently, when conservatives discovered that it was useful as a means of “overcoming” Modernism. Conservatism traditionally involved the preservation of existing traditions instead of hitching a ride on the forward-moving train of history. But conservative intents combined with a dynamic historical conception usually produce reactionary results. This is the discourse of the fascists of the 1930’s: we are the leading train in history, and we’re going onward into the past.
I agree with your comments about Taruskin’s assessment of Rosen; it is ludicrous. Taruskin is addicted to the very essentialism he claims to abhor. In the Cold War, everyone was afflicted by Cold-Warism, because it was the historical era of the Cold War. Every time Charles Rosen typed the word “the”, it was a different sort of “the” than he typed before the Cold War started. I suppose even the daisies in the field looked different.
And then all of reality changed when the Berlin Wall fell. Did you notice the sudden, complete transformation of Charles Rosen’s aims, style, and subject matter when the Cold War ended? Funny, I didn’t, either. Aha…it’s because he was a recidivist. And on it goes.
As for Berman’s terminology, I find it extremely useful. His dead-end model of Modernism is not adequate, because it can’t take account of developments over the last few decades (think of architecture, for example). But I found it extremely illuminating, because it gives a map for understanding the varieties of Modernism we have seen over the last century. I noticed a long time ago that when writers on Postmodernism provide a parallel list of Modernist/Postmodernist attributes, they almost inevitably include in the Postmodernist list attributes that clearly belong to earlier stages of Modernism. In practically every case, one finds that the Postmodernist authors are reacting against the stage of Modernism they are adjacent to–namely, Formalism, rather than against Modernism as a whole. In fact, many want to bring back anarchic elements in earlier stages of Modernism (Lyotard started to view Postmodernism as in a sort of cyclic relationship to Modernism).
Berman’s definition doesn’t require reification of tonal chords; in fact, he was thinking more of Greenberg’s Formalist focus on meaning arising out of the organization of elements on the picture frame. One can view Babbitt’s system as being inherently Formalist, as it does not rely on any external references for its meaning, but assumes that meaning arises solely out of the organization of the elements chosen. In a sense, you could even view Cage as a Formalist. I remember seeing a film documenting Cage’s creation of a film of himself playing chess, I believe. The cameraman showed him all the controls in the movie camera, but Cage said something to the effect of, “I don’t don’t want to know what the result is; I only want to know what can be altered.” He then composed a structure of alterations (zooms, tilts, etc.).
I don’t believe that we’re all trapped in Formalism, or that the only options are Formalism, Postmodernism, or Conservatism. For about 12 years I’ve been co-editing a book series, New Music and Aesthetics in the 21st Century, in which composers have been exploring other conceptions of music that one might consider “late Modernist.” I, for one, do not accept many of the premises of Formalism, and view it many respects as a trap that many once fine composers, such as Boulez, got trapped in.
I think it is very astute and useful of you to point out that “In practically every case, one finds that the Postmodernist authors are reacting against the stage of Modernism they are adjacent to–namely, Formalism, rather than against Modernism as a whole. In fact, many want to bring back anarchic elements in earlier stages of Modernism (Lyotard started to view Postmodernism as in a sort of cyclic relationship to Modernism).”
One thing that us Baby Boomer Modernists got used to in those horrible, oppressed, totalitarian colleges in the US during the Cold War era was that there were scarcely two composers – of any represented generation – whose work was really so similar that you could deduce consistency, let alone real “schools.” And when composers as different as Babbitt and Cage both are thought in the same boat then the definitions are certainly loose. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that Berman’s or similar efforts to find trends in Modernism are wrong.
I will look around for your books. Do you have a site link to them? Just what I needed – another reading project.
Your reply has some interesting perspectives, but the fact is that the male-bonding orchestras such as the VPO are getting a vast majority of the government funding for their activities, whereas your imagined female-bonding ensembles receive a pitiful amount.
The problem goes much deeper than this. If full citizenship is granted to all members of the state (including women), then government support must be apportioned to all citizens with a reasonable degree of fairness. One can either attempt to balance out “essential” differences, i.e. funding for balance male-bonding rituals with funding for female-bonding rituals (isn’t this pretty ridiculous?), or the state can refrain from offering privileged support to any such rituals, instead focusing on the public function of state-supported institutions.
The question I think turns on this type of question: should the existing organizations change their nature to conform to ideas of equality, is that not a cultural change beyond the call of duty, or should opportunity be created allowing similar achievement.
If you make people change the type of clubs they like to have you are asking too much of a culture.
New organizations that speak to the old organizations is the most obvious cultural development. A women’s orchestra, for example. If you want to prove that a men’s orchestra is culturally obsolete, you don’t prove its obsolescense by killing it.
But this is reflecting an egalitarian, politically-correct world view in which something like classical music cannot have a place. High art (like classical music) is hierarchical and individualistic in nature, and cannot be subjected to egalitarian distribution of means. People are different, achievements are different, and the acceptance by governments of islands of high art achievements within the nation, which contribute to the nation’s cultural identity and thus contribute to its stature in a wider context, is a signal of civilization and not of some suppressing policy. And I was ironic about the women’s orchestra idea… which is not as ridiculous as it may sound.
Pardon–I wrote this all too quickly and trapped myself in the trap of using “trap” too often. Maybe “,,,,as a trap that many once fine composers, such as Boulez, got caught in.”
I believe that you are living in a system in which all taxpayers end up funding cultural activities. Granted that this is the case, you are essentially arguing that classical music should not be funded at all. If you claim that “it cannot be subjected to egalitarian distribution of means,” then you should also object to the egalitarian collection of taxes, and the attempt to balance out support for various cultural activities but government arts organizations.
The basic unit of modern democracies is the notion of the citizen; in the view of the legal system, all citizens should be treated equally. So there is a built-in tension when you claim that high art is hierarchical and individual in nature. Why should other citizens fund individual composers such as you? Maybe they’d prefer to use the money to buy a Justin Bieber album.
And the case that William described with the Munich Philharmonic was a legal one. Courts are obligated to treat all parties as equal before the law.
Of course there is a tension between the idea that high art (in this case: classical music) is hierarchical and the idea that in a Western liberal democracy everybody ‘is the same’ in the eyes of the law, and of the government, etc. Tax payers also pay for things like roads, also when they do not drive a car, and for police, also when they live in a safe neighbourhood, etc. etc. so it is normal that there are things which are in principle good for every civilian also when they choose not to make use of it. Culture is an enriching, civilizing field open to every civilian and to keep it that way, the state should make sure it will go on to exist. I don’t see why this should be something to argue over.
In the past, it were church and nobility who made sure there existed something like culture, which was not or hardly accessible to the average man. Nowadays culture is accessible to everybody. That is a good thing…. and undermining its reaison d’etre in a wealthy society is just crazy. In WW II people who survived the bombardments huddled together in unheated concert halls to hear some classical music, to feel again – for a short while – what it is to be human. In London during the blitz people continued to go to theatres and concerts, in spite of the lethal danger, because there was something important to experience there. And be sure it was NOT Stockhausen or Xenakis.
I don’t know whether the last paragraph holds any truth – I would have to read Taruskin again – but the whole argument seems a bit confused and twisted.
Just a short comment upon the nature of ‘modernism’: modernism in music as a ‘Weltanschauung’, a paradigm, is best defined as a thoroughly materialist and rationalist approach to the art form, whereby the entire psychological and aesthetic dimension (where things like ‘expression’ and ‘communication’ found a place) had simply been deleted, as it was considered a dependable appendix to a decadent past culture. It were the notions of ‘progress’ and ‘structure’ and the urgent need to be ‘modern’ that dominated the history of modernist music, which would be better described as ‘sonic art’ since it split itself off from the central performance culture and concentrated on a quasi-scientific goal: sonic research. The problems of modernism in music cannot be understood from a political angle, which is too restrictive, but much better from a psychological point of view. Modernism has its roots in the 19th century only in sofar as the idea of ‘being modern’ and ‘progressive’ is concerned; but in that musically-brilliant century these notions meant something VERY different from their 20C meaning. For instance, Wagner strongly believed in the spiritual essence of his works, which is proven by the works themselves, and nothing could be more removed from 20C modernism as spirituality. And then, nothing has been more misunderstood as Wagner’s Tristan, which is supposed to be the beginning of undermining tonality, as the conventional 20C justifying narrative goes: instead of undermining tonality, Wagner – in his later works – intensified tonality and its manyfold potential.
The German music theorist Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz has amply analysed the relationship between musical modernism and war trauma in his fascinating study ‘Avantgarde und Trauma’ (www.wolfgangandreasschultz.de), showing the thoroughly psychological reasons which lay at the root of 20C modernism. It all becomes quite clear if one asks oneself: what does this music SAY? ANd that may be different from what the composer has meant to say: the ‘modernist composer’ did NOT want to ‘say’ anything whatsoever, but thereby eloquently demonstrated his inability to treat the art form as a form of communication and meaning. The meaning of modernism is its negation of meaning, its absense – the nihilism of postwar mental misery.
That certainly seems the most parsimonious explanation I’ve heard though it requires an assumption that prewar pieces like Erwartung, the 5 Orchestral Pieces, or such postwar almost hyperexpressive works like Wozzeck are pre-modern, fundamentally Romantic?
Indeed. These works operate ‘at the edge’ of what still can be called music, because in their background an entire symphonic, tonal tradition is implied/suggested. (For instance, Schönberg’s ‘Vergangenes’ from the 5 Pieces for Orchestra is a beautiful dying of something, a love death of romantic orchestral writing.) Against that background, the dissonances, deliriums, pathetic screams etc. etc. become expressive. For instance, in Wozzeck (a work I greatly admire) the insanity of ‘the human world’ is aptly expressed through the insanity of the music, which is merely hold together by fairly traditional gestures, although the relationships between notes more often than not make no sense, which is exactly what the music means to say. The great Interlude in D is suddenly very traditional, because it needed a certain grammar.
But remove the traditional background and there is left nothing but sound, without the expressive dimension. Compare Pierrot Lunaire with Le Marteau sans Maitre… and the difference will be clear.
Though, in Wozzeck, the hysteria and insanity of the characters and their world, is certainly structurally controlled to the nth degree by Berg, e.g. the scene in the mad Doctor’s office set as a Passacaglia, 12 tone theme with variations. But to this day singers still sing the wrong pitches and intervals in performance and it doesn’t seem to make much difference!
Yes, your contrast between Pierrot and Marteau is telling.
Your remarks are complete rubbish, except when you say that you greatly admire Wozzeck. I suggest you reflect more about that one matter before holding forth.
There is no “insanity of the modern world” etc., or if there is, it is specific to that work. If you hear off-the-shoulder expressionism in a WWII movie, you don’t generalize about the whole modern world, you just get into the WWII movie. You don’t believe that all sound tracks will be about the insanity of the modern world. If you like Wozzeck it might mean no more than if you like WWII movies. You ought to be as direct with Wozzeck and Erwartung.
A confrontation with a tragedy in an artwork does not mean that the whole idiom is insane.
Arguing with movie scores at hand is not very sophisticated…. What is obvious to anybody who has studied Viennese expressionism at the beginning of the 20th century a bit, is that society appeared quite ‘insane’ to many sensitive artists at the time, which they expressed in their work. I am not going to list them since they can be found in any book upon the period.
It’s typical of a person such as yourself who says stupid stuff about Wozzeck that you think your ideas are sophisticated, or even that sophistication is a preferred state of affairs.
Opera is the least sophisticated genre of Classical music. It compares quite well with movies. Wozzeck is a “World War One opera.” If you want to understand Modernism, generalizing to the natures of Modernism from a World War One opera is wide of the mark.
The first reaction to a work is usually irrelevant to it.
Get you head out of your “pocket.”
Here we see the modernist mentality in all its naked, primitive nature: as soon as different opinions are discovered, the whip is taken-out. Thank you Mr PhD, for the clear demonstration of what I wrote about modernism.
Your comments are a fine example of the problem of treating Formalism as representative of Modernism. It’s not. Everything that Berg wrote was expressive. Schöenberg’s Moses und Aron is one of the most expressive works I know. Stravinsky’s music is often profoundly expressive, as is Bartok’s. None of these composers reduced music to “sonic art.” You are treating a later development–Cage famously defined music as sonic art, a revival of Italian futurist ideas–as representative of the entire history of musical modernism.
I’m glad to learn that in quoting Berman on “Formalism,” which you say he says is a later stage of Modernism, you don’t necessarily subscribe to that idea. From the way you wrote I didn’t think that was the case. I plan to read Berman; even if his categories are wrong his effort might have some usefulness.
Not long ago I read Christopher Butler’s Very Short Introduction to Modernism. I was shocked to read that he considered Modernism to have died in 1939. As if the breakout of the War were decisive in the development of aesthetics. And as if there had been no Modernism since.
I like the phonetic shorthand of OHWM… expressing the tired reluctance to read a tome of THAT size.
I can’t read the whole of the WSJ review, but just looking at the beginning, would point out that it is very inaccurate to say that Russian music begins with John Field. There was, for example, a tradition of opera in Russian dating back to 1755, with the opera Tsefal I Prokris by Italian composer Francesco Araja (who had run an Italian operatic company at the Imperial Court in St Petersburg since the 1720s), various other Europeans taking up positions in charge of opera some time before Field arrived, and early successes such as Mikhail Sokolovsky’s Mel’nik-koldun, obmanshchik I svat (1779), which ran for three decades, and especially the works of Yevstigney Fomin (1761-1800), which drew upon the collection of Russian folk tunes by Nikolai Lvov, which would be used by various later composers as well. Russian music goes back a good way before Field and Glinka.
Ah, the moldy smell of jealousy. Come on, Norm. You know as well as anyone that Taruskin deserves every bit of attention that’s poured on him. The man’s scholarly works are legendary. It’s no mystery that Stephen Walsh’s sources would include Taruskin. With such a body of work as his, he is rather unavoidable.
Also, having seen the full review now, wanted to say something with respect to the following:
‘In May 1867, Stasov announces the birth of “a small but already mighty kuchka of Russian musicians.” The kuchka is denounced by his rival Serov, who resents the movement’s exclusion of his own tepid compositions. He rallies a reactionary resistance and finds support from the novelist Ivan Turgenev, who, visiting from Paris, declares: “What terrible music! It’s sheer nothingness, sheer ordinariness. It’s not worth coming to Russia for such a ‘Russian School!’ ” Confused, the young composers retreat from Russian ethnicity to romantic orientalism. Balakirev will write “Islamey,” Rimsky-Korsakov “Scheherazade.”‘
The concert in question, from which Stasov coined the term kuchka, had the following programme:
Mikhail Glinka Kamarinskaya
Aleksandr Dargomïzhsky Kazchock
Mily Balakirev Overture on Czech Themes
Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov Overture on Serbian Themes
Franz Liszt Fantasia on Slovak Themes [incorrectly called Hungarian Themes]
Stanisław Moniuszko Aria from opera Halka
Stasov wrote: ‘I shall finish my remarks with a wish: may God grant that our Slav guests will never forget today’s concert; may God grant that they retain for ever a recollection of how much poetry, feeling, talent and ability is possessed by the small but already mighty handful (moguchaya kuchka) of Russian musicians.’ It was only afterwards that the term (which would originally appear to apply to Glinka, Dargomïzhsky, Balakirev and Rimsky-Korsakov) came to be applied to the group of Balakirev, Cuí, Musorgsky, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. A minor point, for sure.
But an interesting one. And the influence of the Pole Moniuszko on Russian music would be likewise interesting to trace. Many decades later, 1952, Halka was recorded complete, in Russian, by Melodiya, with Bolshoi forces under Kondrashin. The appearance of an aria from Halka in that 1867 concert was clearly no mere happenstance.
I’ve read all of the Taruskin I can get my hands on, and he fully deserves the many accolades he receives and many more. He is an original, and has turned musicology on its head in many different ways. Because of this, musicology is no longer the musty old collection of anecdotes about the “great” composers I was taught before Taruskin came on the scene. I know very little and care nothing for his “invisible networks of collegial relationships,” although it should be pointed out that most successful academics have them–in Taruskin’s case, deservedly so.
I don’t have much time for this; there is a rather long queue in my reception room of people waiting to kiss my ring. And I hope my adult friends will be forbearing as I descend briefly into this arena. But Mr. Lebrecht’s paranoid fantasies about me have a very specific history, and those who are interested in this thread may wish to know it.
They stem from my role in debunking Testimony, a book by a friend of Mr. Lebrecht’s, Solomon Volkov, which purported to be the memoirs of Dmitry Shostakovich. I am not to be credited with the research that discredited Volkov’s fraud; that was the achievement of the late Simon Karlinsky, writing in The Nation, and Laurel Fay, Shostakovich’s biographer, writing in the Russian Review. (As a longtime subscriber and faithful reader of The Nation, by the way, I would merely offer that fact to refute Paul Harper-Scott’s equally bizarre fantasies about me.) My role was that of amplifier only, since I had access to the music pages of the New York Times and was able to reach more readers than the ones whose research I was publicizing. But since the Times exposure was the decisive one in discrediting the book, I have become Mr. Lebrecht’s bête noire. Well might he rage, because no responsible reader now credits that book’s authenticity or veracity, save those for whom anything sufficiently anti-Communist is ipso facto the truth (which is no better than believing that anything sufficiently anti-Semitic is ipso facto the truth), or those, like Mr. Lebrecht, for whom cronyhood trumps honesty.
Mr. Pace is also someone who never lets an opportunity pass to sling some rocks in my direction. But note, please, that he does not sling his own rocks. preferring to borrow what he must regard as the more adequate rocks of Franklin Cox and Paul Harper-Scott. Res ipse loquitur.
I hope I have enraged you all so that you will keep this entertaining thread going for a few more days. Happy new year to you all.
What an entertaining reply. Thank you, Mr Taruskin.
But if we’re talking paranoia, let’s have some facts. Mr Volkov is not a personal friend of mine. We have met once, perhaps twice.
His book, Testimony, was and remains the most powerful and important insight into the Soviet cultural system – a validity endorsed by a host of eminent musicians from Vladimir Ashkenazy to the late Slava Rostropovich. Whether it was dictated by DSCH or merely inspired by conversations with him is a matter of conjecture. Many who knew DSCH affirm that this is his language, his syntax, his voice.
Mr Taruskin, having first endorsed Testimony, later led an academic rat-pack in discrediting it. He demanded proof from Mr Volkov, a signed document from DSCH in a terror state where anything signed risked a trip to Siberia. Mr Taruskin took umbrage when, in a Daily Telegraph essay a dozen years ago, I likened his position to David Irving’s on the Third Reich. That is the entire history of our conflict.
I could go on, but the real world is far more engaging than the petty jealousies of tenured academics. I wish Mr Taruskin a happy new year and an even happier retirement.
I cannot endorse nor refute Volokov’s book on DSCH, but found the book qua content and what it revealed about totalitarianism very convincing. It showed what such a society does to people’s mentality. Also it highlighted what a totalitarian mentality does to music, something that also could be observed within modernist circles in the fifties, sixties and seventies – all the more ironic since modernism was presented as a demonstration of Western freedom in artistic matters.
Are you maintaining that modernists wiretapped phones, held families hostage, and sent non-modernists off to gulags?
The “totalitarian mindset” in Russia was a response to brutal, violent actions in the real world. Nothing remotely close to this occurred in American universities in the 1960s and 1970s.
You are employing what is known as a “weak analogy.” In Logic, this is considered a fallacy.
I was talking about mentality, about mindset. In Soviet music life, it was totalitarian state power that created the top-down power structures which put nitwits in the position where they could hinder or destroy the competition, not based upon artistic merits but because of the political power situation. The arguments were the communist ideologies, non-negotiable, and held in place by the punishment of critics. In the West, and I mean particularly W-Europe, ideologies of progressiveness and ‘material research’ formed a similar hierarchical, non-negotiable climate, where it was not artistic merit but conformity to modernist ideology which was used as a weapon to protect the orthodoxy and to excommunicate deviant rivals. This resulted in a totalitarian quasi-structure, with avantgarde groups writing sermons, ‘dictating’ partylines, administering condemnations, carrying-out excommunications etc. – all within the modernist circles which organized themselves with festivals, summer courses (Darmstadt etc.), curriculae at conservatories and universities, monitored financing schemes, and specialist institutes (IRCAM: Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique, which would be better defined as Institute for the Retrograde Conservation of Abominable Musicians), which wasted millions on the idea that in those laboratories the ‘music of the future’ was being created which would find a big, rightful place at the centre of music life. Since the Western states had no political power to send ‘wrong’ composers to concentration camps, the self-appointed party leaders could do no more than excommunicate others and call then ‘terrible names’ like ‘regressive’, ‘outdated’ and the like. But surely, if the avantgarde generals could have their way, they would have preferred to take the old guillotine out of the barn and carry-out some nice chopping in name of the Revolution which would bring the True, Good and Beautiful into an old, reactionary world which was still listening to Beethoven, the bourgeois composer-hero who had expired long, long ago in an undemocratic, feudal era. Both in Soviet bureaucracy and Western modernist circles, leaders were ‘inspired’ by revolutionary zeal… and that these ideologies had opposite points of departure could not prevent them from meeting each other in their extremes. Read Boulez, read Xenakis, read Babbit, read Ferneyhough (creator of particularly insane prose), read the head-banging verbiage of Lachenmann… all ‘revolutionaries’ who had the delusion that they had ‘The Truth’ in musical matters in their pocket and could send-out directives into the world, like old-Testament prophets, and with a similar absence of arguments. Modernism in music was a belief system, not an aeathetic; it was a group cult, like nazidom in thirties Germany. There was an unhealthy cult of utopic fanaticism at the time which created a reality of its own from which all ‘impure’ elements had to be eradicated. The comparison with totalitarian societies is obvious… the mentality was the same, and fortunately in the West deviating composers were merely pushed aside and deprived of their income and teaching positions, but were allowed to keep their life and freedom so that they could pick-up another profession.
The history of modernism in music is a subject not for music history, but for anthropology and criminology. Because modernist music mainly happened outside public space and did not get much attention in the wider performance culture, this crazy little world of play-acting ‘musical revolution’ went generally unnoticed.
John Borstlap, the programmes for the first twenty years of the Darmstädter Ferienkurse can be viewed here – http://internationales-musikinstitut.de/images/stories/PDF/Darmstaedter_Ferienkurse_1946-1966.pdf (and those for the Donaueschinger Musiktage here – http://www.swr.de/swr2/festivals/donaueschingen/programme/-/id=2136962/xdzs6y/index.html ). They give a far more nuanced picture of the music performed there than your paranoid picture presented above (comparing with ‘nazidom in thirties Germany’).
The context / cultural framework of Darmstadt etc. is based upon assumptions which are rooted in paranoid ideology. Anything coming from that background incorporates the misconceptions about what music, as an art form, is; and you demonstrated this paranoia quite aptly in the videos on your website. Let us call a spade a spade!
It is fun now and then to let loose with an oratorical frenzy, but it is painful for the reader. Your entire posting is riddled with fallacies, above all those of weak analogy and slippery slope. You are not making a reasonable argument, but venting grievances that are clearly long-cherished.
Do you have any proof that modernist composers were planning on sending non-modernist composers to gulags, but were prevented from doing so?
I don’t think so. In fact, your rhetoric (“criminology,” nazi “cult,” etc.) indicates that you believe that modernists were a deviant sect that you believe should be abolished.
There are many tastes and many types of music in the world. If it gives you such displeasure to listen to modernist music, then the healthiest solution would be to not listen to it. But you appear unwilling to admit that other people of sound mind and constitution might find pleasure, sense, and deep emotion in the music that you abhor. Is that a tolerant attitude?
I was talking about mentality… the mindset of people who got quite unhinged by ideologies which had a specific attractiveness to them. As many communists from the first hour were inspired by revenge upon the ‘privileged classes’, postwar modernist composers discovered a field of action where the competition with dead white males from the past, which were far superior in musical terms and which were kept alive in concert life, did not exist. All this is not a matter of taste, as criticism of fascism is not a matter of subjective taste (like discussing politics over tea in 1940: ‘I REALLY don’t like what Hitler does…. do you? Please, have another cookie.’), but a matter of penetrating through the smoke screen of ‘art speak’.
Serious art music, in Europe, has always been based upon the notion that different notes can relate to each other, and this idea – which is based upon demonstrable frequency proportions – has produced the current wealth of available great music, upon which the central performance culture rests. With modernism in music, something was created which was much more new than even the authors realized: it was sound art, where notes have lost this capacity to relate to each other, and wherein very different norms define the result. So, it escapes the definition of music. There is nothing wrong with this in itself, but calling it music and using ideologies of ‘musical progressiveness’, trying to claim part of musical territory where it obviously does not belong, means undermining the notion of art music. Sonic art is not to be abolished but should be kept out of the musical territory, should not be treated as music.
Musicality is the capacity to understand this interrelatedness of different notes and to pick-up the expressive meaning of a musical score. For sound art, very different capacities are needed, and that explains the unmusicality of so many people practicing sonic art, be it in terms of creation or performance (see Ian Pace’s website). And again, this is not intolerance but observation…. To return to the tea party: a supporter of Hitler would have countered any criticism with the same quasi-argument: ‘Your criticism shows quite a lack of tolerance! You don’t understand the great job he’s doing for our beautiful country!’
The point is that the Eroica sublimizes an experience of real-life into an autonomous work of art, like a perfume is distilled from rose leaves which wither away after the process. Beethoven extracted an emotional essence from his (mixed) admiration of Napoleon, or rather from his projection upon Napoleon as the savior who would liberate society from oppressive privileged classes, inspired by the writings of the Enlightenment philosophers, human rights and all that. It is THIS spirit which is breathing through the symphony, so it is NOT a reference to Napoleon as such. The same with Shos: the oppressive, claustrophobic atmosphere of Soviet life is not something exclusively found in that time and place, but can also be experienced anywhere, which explains his popularity in the free West: life can sometimes be like that, or be experienced as such, to a more or lesser degree.
A musical work is both an autonomous product of the mind AND a reference to something outside the work, it embodies life experience in a stylized, autonomous product. It forms an integral part of a communicative system consisting of the author (composer), mediator (performer) and receptor (listener); they are all three part of the same cultural framework.
Beethoven did not read the Enlightenment philosophers.
Beethoven grew up in the area of Cologne which was run by a bishop who was strongly influenced by the Josephine reforms, a princedom which was rife with enlightenment ideas circulating among the elite which Beethoven was frequenting. He belonged to a group of friends who avidly read the French philosophers.
Pardon…”let loose in a oratorical frenzy”….
So, to John Borstlap’s last, is modernism as objective an evil as fascism, then? The comparison is ludicrous – there have certainly been fascist modernists (and Stalinist modernists), but modernism is not fundamentally an ideology with death and mass murder at its heart.
How many times should one need to say the thing that people cannot, will not, don’t want to understand? I was talking about mentality, mind set, not about mass murder. The process that ends with mass murder begins with mind set.
John wrote, “Serious art music, in Europe, has always been based upon the notion that different notes can relate to each other, and this idea – which is based upon demonstrable frequency proportions – has produced the current wealth of available great music, upon which the central performance culture rests.”
Which proportions, John? We don’t use the Pythagorean tuning system, which was based on 3:2 proportions. I don’t think you’d find the 256/243 half step very pleasing. And if you mean just tuning, with the new world of 5/x proportions, only a very small number of instrumentalists ever got this down accurately, and was not widely used in instrumental music from the 1600’s on. Meantone proportions? Those sound quite different than what you’d probably enjoy. You must mean “equal tempered proportions”, which in fact are based on the 12th root of 2 and, excepting the octave, are not whole-number proportions.
And you must be aware that Schoenberg defined his twelve-tone method in terms of the relations of notes to each other. In fact, he disliked the term “atonal,” because he believed that it disregarded the tendency of each tone to provide temporary centering.
As Schoenberg correctly pointed out, the term “atonal” has exactly the opposite the meaning intended. Whatever such music is called, it is the music of ALL the tones being used, not just rotating selections of them. It would be more correct to call this music “Pantonal.”
Again as Schoenberg pointed out, calling music “atonal” because it uses all the tones is like calling Van Gogh’s painting “achromatic” because it uses all the colors.
It should be clear to anybody with a minimum of intelligence that conferring the same value to any note of the chromatic scale cancels-out any possibility of hierarchy and thus, movement from one degree of coherence to another. ‘Pan-tonality’ is the same as ‘atonality’. Tonal coherence is only possible in a context where there is a hierarchy among the used notes.
John wrote, “How many times should one need to say the thing that people cannot, will not, don’t want to understand? I was talking about mentality, mind set, not about mass murder. The process that ends with mass murder begins with mind set.”
Exactly. You are reducing a century of horror to a convenient trope with which to attack what you see as your aesthetic enemies.
Totalitarianism was something that happened in the real world, and affected–and often destroyed–tens of millions of people. There was actually a range of “mindsets” that went into the creation of totalitarian regimes, some left-wing, some right-wing, but the proof is in the pudding: did your “mindset” get realized in the world of reality.
Plenty of people have horrific mindsets and never do much harm in the world; you can be full of rage and hate, but do a tremendous amount of good in the world. Many saints had this tendency. Many of the people who ended up helping Jews in the Third Reich were outsiders and oddballs, full of resentments against society.
Alternatively, one can have the most beneficent conceivable view of humanity and end up bringing about or allowing great harm, especially if one doesn’t recognize how harmful some people can be.
So the mindset alone doesn’t matter. You wrote, “The process that ends with mass murder begins with mind set.” You claim that Modernists had a totalitarian mindset. But as of yet, no Modernists have yet set up a system of mass murder, and the likelihood of their ever doing so decreases as their influence wanes. So you statement does not correspond to what has happened in the real world.
sounds like the crazy bullshit Jonathan Powell would make up
Richard Taruskin would be wrong if he thinks I have no time for his work – I regularly set readings for students from across the breadth of his output, and have fought hard against quite some opposition for a mode of music history teaching which does not assume the centrality of an Austro-German canon (or, for that matter, a canon focused exclusively upon Western art music) and treats other musical traditions with equal respect and seriousness, which in turn can make the history of nineteenth and twentieth centuries look very different, in line with some of the project of the OHWM. I would however draw different conclusions about the nebulous concepts of ‘romanticism’, ‘realism’ and ‘modernism’, all too easily employed as monoliths for the purpose of didactic points. And I would agree with much of his censure of music and musicians which serve as propaganda for Stalinist regimes. Furthermore, I regularly fight battles against approaches to music teaching concerned only with compositional intent and means (and thus against the ‘poietic fallacy’) or formalist, anti-hermeneutical approaches to contemporary music, against those who would prefer to adopt the Columbia-Princeton approaches to analysis, or treat the teaching of modern music as a support system for certain types of composers. But I detect a strong xenophobic current in his work, towards Europeans in general, and especially Germans and Britons – this is made most explicit in such pieces as his essay on Klinghoffer. And I think one can do a lot better than believing that anything sufficiently anti-German is ipso facto the truth.
However, the citing of Cox and Harper-Scott in my earlier post was in response to the implication that there are no musicologists prepared to enter into a more critical engagement with Richard Taruskin’s work. There are a few, though not many.
Well, this seems to blow away some dust…. Achievement always provokes envy, but fortunately the queue in Mr Taruskin’s antichambre is growing every day.
Thanks for the links. I’m happy to see these interesting, if rather broad, binaries being addressed: European modernism/social democracy vs. American post-modernism/neo-liberalism.
Seen in very broad terms, Ian’s repertoire seems to be centered around modernist composers most commonly found in Europe’s social democracies, while Taruskin’s views often reflect the postmodern, neo-liberal ethos of America’s more market oriented new music scene. America’s postmodern “new musicology” – which is often resented by more traditional European colleagues — is added to this very complicated mix.
It is interesting that postmodernism was developed by European (mostly French) philosophers, but that in contemporary classical music it has been mostly strongly embraced by Americans and held at a distance by continental Europeans. The result is that there is a larger gap between American and European new music than in any time in history. As a result, it might be the first time in history that America has developed genuinely unique musical styles separate from Europe.
These binaries are also defined to some degree by their respective funding systems: Europe’s public funding for the arts is suited to the maintenance of an elitist modernism (sometimes negatively referred to in German as Beamterkultur,) while America’s neo-liberalism is better suited toward market-oriented populism (sometimes referred to as parochial eclecticism.)
I have noticed that many American composers are reluctant to acknowledge correlations between postmodernism and neo-liberalism. This seems to create an internal tension in their work. The negative social effects created by an unmitigated capitalism in a borderless world of free trade are difficult to reconcile with the socially progressive ethos artists often want to maintain.
It’s also interesting that during the cold war America championed modernism as a manifestation of freedom and individuality. (The CIA even formed a front organization called The Congress for Cultural Freedom to promote modernism in art.) Now it seems that Europe’s social democracies and modernism have become the ideological enemy. They are seen as a hindrance to neo-liberalism’s privatization, deregulation, free trade, and market orientation. As always, no one perspective, especially stated in such broad terms, describes the truth which is impossibly complex.
There is a complacency in European circles towards some of the challenges presented through ideologies characterising themselves as ‘postmodern’, and a comparable mode of taking for granted the privileged and subsidised status afforded to a particular notion of ‘new music’. The particular view of musical ‘tradition’ and automatic status afforded to ‘high culture’ was always in need of some type of critique, and the glaring fact that classical music remains dominated by white men from the higher classes, perhaps to a greater extent than other art forms, also needs to be addressed. Some parts of the new musicology have considered the ways in which certain ideologies and hierarchies might be sedimented into the very language of Western art music; it is possible to present this in a very simplistic form, and also to fall back upon crude stereotypes, but still I believe there is something in this argument. To portray the success and status of Boulez, Stockhausen, Birtwistle, Lachenmann, Ferneyhough et al as the last bastion of unchecked white male hegemony, and the relative autonomy of some of their work, and especially its distance from music with a more obviously bodily component or that which gains more of a mass audience, as epitomising an overtly elitist and misogynistic set of attitudes given musical form, is to my mind hyperbole, but I would be wary about denying that their might be at least a grain of truth in some of these arguments.
However, when this is translated into an all-purpose celebration of American-style free market capitalism and consequent advocacy of leaving music to market forces, as if the market somehow represented some form of mass democracy, and any form of patronage involving the state is oppressive, whilst that dependent upon private capital entails ‘freedom’ (this sort of argument can be found to varying degrees in the writings of Susan McClary, Georgina Born and Alex Ross), is when I think postmodernists and new musicologists show their true right-wing colours.
This pretentious text should be understood against the background of mr Pace’s advocacy of modernism as demonstrated on his website: http://www.ianpace.com where, in a couple of videos, some examples of sonic excrements can be heard, performed with impressive panache.
Is it really necessary to resort to vulgarity?
I really enjoyed reading your comment, Ian. I’ve been writing about the neo-liberal ethos of postmodernism for years but mostly to deaf, American ears. In 2004 I published an article here on ArtsJournal in which I compare America’s neo-liberal, postmodern ethos to the art world created by Europe’s public funding systems:
I first submitted the above article to NewMusicBox, the webzine of the American Music Center, but they censored it so strongly that literally half of the article was removed. And I do mean censored. The political and social meaning of the article was entirely altered. I stepped on the toes to too many composers, ensembles, and ideologies the magazine’s editors championed – though in the 9 years since then they might now better understand what I was trying to say. Fortunately, ArtsJournal took the article and gave it a good ride.
Or see this article, 14 years old, which discusses how postmodernism’s moral relativism can undermine some of its core beliefs such as feminism:
And this commentary also written 14 years ago which discusses the extreme rightwing history of one of postmodernism’s principal advocates:
One difficulty is that it is impossible to pigeon-hole the political identities of modernism and postmodernism without being reductive and essentializing.
Even though postmodernism has elements that can be used to reinforce rightwing ideologies, I wouldn’t, for example, describe McClary, Born, and Ross as right-wingers. They are clearly social progressives (e.g. they stand for gay and/or feminist ideals in their persons among many other things) but seem unaware of the full implications of some aspects of postmodern ideology – as I discuss in the above articles.
Libertarianism might better describe some aspects of the confluence between postmodernism and neo-liberalism. It captures to some extent the way these two ideologies conflate tolerance and forms of unmitigated capitalism.
It is one thing, for example, to accept and support the unique perspectives of women, homosexuals, and ethnic minorities in the name of freedom, but another to embrace market philosophies that subtly allow 800 pound corporate gorillas to also do whatever they want. Both are done in the name of tolerance and deregulation, but the former creates openness and acceptance, while the latter allows for economic and political oppression.
It is unfortunate that postmodern theorists have not adequately addressed these inherent conflicts in the meanings of tolerance, populism, and deregulated capitalism in their philosophy. They need to address how artists and capitalism have both appropriated and misappropriated their work.
All that said, I also sometimes sense a hidden agenda when some European modernists attack postmodernism. They really do seem to inure themselves to the white, masculinist elitism their community all too often represents. That would be yet another essay…
Your article on arts funding is excellent–thank you! I lived in Germany for seven years and appreciated tremendously the wealth and density of cultural opportunities one can find throughout the country. Ordinary people have ready access to a range of plays, concerts, dance, opera, and so forth that far outpaces what we have anywhere in the U.S., except possibly in New York. Shortly before I left in 2002, some politicians were trying to cut the arts budgets, and thousands of people protested.
Congratulations also on the article about sexism in the Munich Philharmonic.
Two of the links I list above have an extra space and thus don’t work. Here they are corrected:
Thank you Franklin. And I enjoyed your detailed and passionate response to Taruskin’s Oxford History. To see two such intellects exploring classical music shows that it has a lively and meaningful future.
I’m just reading the arts funding article as well now, and it is indeed absolutely excellent – really commend it to everyone here, and wish I’d come across it earlier! There is such a lack of clear thinking and writing on this subject.
To Ian Pace,
I made sure to visit your website, especially when I heard you were playing excrescences. I’m am glad to know of it and will visit again.
When you say “the glaring fact that classical music remains dominated by white men from the higher classes, perhaps to a greater extent than other art forms, also needs to be addressed,” you are engaging a paradox. It is enough that no doors of opportunity be closed to people, beginning with audience members. “Addressing” the issue of who is involved encourages artificial “solutions” to a situation that is only meaningful if it develops naturally. There is no such thing as “reverse discrimination.” There is no greater encouragement than creating a genuine feeling of welcome. All meaningful participation involves bilateral work.
On a different point, and in a different sense, there is and can never be such a thing as “Post-Modernism,” and to posit the existence of a “post-Modernism” is another paradox. I am not the first to maintain that what is usually called “Post-Modernism” is just collage. Since “modernism” is “of the present moment” there cannot be something beyond that that is put forward at the present.
I conclude that all existence aspires to the condition of the event horizon of the present moment, which is the modern moment. There is we always hope something beyond that, but you cannot notate it in the present.
What you are calling “Post-Modernist” is sometimes just another genre of Modernism, but as collage it often employs pre-existing styles, and the use of pre-existing styles is properly called “Neo-Classicism.” The term does not require that the pre-existing styles be from anyone’s idea of a “Classical” style, only of a style that already exists.
The ways in which ‘doors of opportunity’ remain closed relate to many factors, notwithstanding some claims of inclusivity which might be made. Not least amongst these is the existence of many informal networks (often defined by common background, education, etc.), enabling small cliques to favour their own and exclude others. Active measures, and if necessary a greater degree of state intervention, are needed to combat these means of exclusion, I believe.
And could this state intervention not lead to something like the Soviet Union?
To Ian Pace: Elgar was famously stymied and denigrated by a very large and powerful clique represented by academics in the Parry and Stanford circle. Yet he was able to succeed in spite of that prejudice (“he’s not really one of US, you know”) thanks to his own genius and public acceptance. He lived to see them largely forgotten. He certainly didnt require government intervention.
The idea of “balancing programs” which Ian Pace recommends and believes is a positive thing has long since been instituted in the US and is one of the things which the Right quite reasonably dislikes. You don’t have to wait for the Soviet Union to be reinvented: the California Arts Council has long had requirements of racial mixes in performing personnel for the granting of its funds, etc. The problem with this is that it is an artificial way to guide culture. There just aren’t many Mexican-Americans or Negroes interested in opera, for example. It’s difficult to keep the same balance of Asian-Americans in a singing group than in an instrumental group – that has to do with natural cultural preferences. My point to Pace is that you might like to guide this sort of thing but doing it in an institutional and enforced way is counterproductive. Culture comes best from those for whom it is natural, and most people have preferences of one kind or another, and there is nothing wrong with that. It was difficult or impossible to meet the CAC requirements and I don’t hear much about that anymore.
Your ethics sound to me to be very liberal-PC puritan, and I think they grind a bit against the pleasure principal. I think you’re a thoughtful person so let me say this as a suggestion. There is nothing wrong with a clique having its preferred standards or tastes. Let people have the kinds of clubs they want. Telling them they have to do culture some other way than gives them pleasure, or somehow forcing it, is actually tyrannical.
One other item, there is no “American-style free market capitalism.” As George Soros has pointed out, there has never been a period longer than three years in American history when the Federal Government has not stepped in to “correct” trends in what would otherwise be a free market. So America, the supposed paradigm of free-market capitalism, has never in fact allowed this “freedom.”
The “free market” paradigm is a fiction, spun with great force during the Reagan era.
I’m afraid Chomsky is correct when he points out that the truth about the “American-style free market” is that in America risk is public while investment is privatized.
The ‘free market’ is certainly a myth, for sure, requiring high degrees of state intervention to protect the interests of private capital. But there remains a difference between a system of cultural production controlled primarily by the owners of private capital on one hand, and that which attempts more socialised and democratic means of distribution and patronage on the other.
There’s a difference between those, yes, but that’s an old theory that doesn’t account for the manipulation that’s presently going on. We are no longer in a state of raw markets versus more ethical systems. Both “systems” are being used to the advantage of the super-rich. We are in a state in which ethical systems are being finessed so that Capitalists are benefiting from State support. The risk is being socialized, the profit is still privatized.
Some developments indicate a more benevolent possible combination of the two systems. Netflix for example is a company that asks only a reasonable fee for the use of DVDs. It doesn’t sound “socialist” on the face of it but one aspect of Socialism, the absence of personal ownership is very evident. For a small fee it is now possible to avoid ownership of the DVDs. Personal property, which used to be so desirable, is being proved inconvenient. This “lack of ownership” was exactly what used to be considered a “dis-empowering” aspect of Socialism, that was supposedly evidence of the weakness of that effort – non-ownership was the “evidence” of the lack of freedom purported to Socialism, and even its economic viability, since only through personal ownership was motivation possible. But now we think it’s great not to have to have all that “stuff” around.
When Netflix realized that it could have gotten more money from its subscribers, it tried to put a different spin on its product and double its fees overnight. The subscribers balked and Netflix had to back down.
What we need now is for a lot of people to “balk” at some of the things that are being done. Socialism can be financed. Meanwhile, if we default too readily to a combative aspect to the supposedly polar opposites, someone who is thinking less theoretically will create a product that defies the categories, and that usually result in making the rich richer.
Christopher – as is frequently the case. See Julie Walters just recently calling for am increase in state funding for acting:
Her logic seems to be that because British filmmakers have been successful, the state should pour in the cash. Privatising profits, socialising the losses. I’ve no problem with her and the rest privatising the profits, mind – it was their efforts that made them – but I’d look more kindly on her cause if she believed what she is campaigning for enough to stick her own private funds in that direction rather than expecting the taxpayer to cough up.
Far better for both the losses and the profits to be privitised. The State tends to do terribly when it seeks profit; bureaucrats are exceedingly bad at picking winners.
Thanks for that. I don’t know Julie Walter’s case, it sounds like the usual call for more state support. I am not against state support, I only point out that it is ghettoizing and can never approach the kind of phenomenon that a heavily invested popular culture event can become. (And a lot of problems about the immediacy of popularity are simply solved as business problems, and given PR or other spin that, if applied to serious work, would make serious work much more competitive.) Also, the big problem with state support in a democracy is that democracies have to answer to their people, and great art is not created on such a cost-accounting basis. (Basically, democracy as a system is hostile to high art. The forms of art that thrive under democracy resemble the democratic voting process – just as in government the people make their preferences known by casting large numbers of otherwise valueless votes, in the arts they buy large numbers of cheap products. For 75 years the vast majority of art purchases of tickets, records, and books have been under $20 each – sometimes well under that. But this method of support cannot support a symphony or an opera.)
The situation I am referring to about socialized risk and privatized profit being blended into the same “system” is along the lines that Professor Chomsky has been saying recently. This is not about small or medium sized industries like Classical music, or theater or art cinema. This has more to do with bailing banks and auto companies out with public money despite the fact they are failing. Really, really large amounts of money are being taken in taxes and given to the supposedly profitable bastions of capitalism. On top of that, huge bonuses were still being given to a lot of executives who were responsible for the failures. There is such a wide use of public capacity that it WOULD be the reverse of capitalism, except the people are getting shafted, and the super-rich are getting richer, as is usual with capitalism. I had been using the term “Rapatious Capitalism” to describe the phase we are in and then the New Yorker used that very term so my prescience was compromised. Anyway ours is now just a type of capitalism that makes use of socialization in order to make money. It’s even more like stealing than earlier forms of capitalism, involving even more of what Marx called the “alienation” of the working class, than before.
Precisely correct. Thank you. Krugman had an outstanding article a few years ago describing the transfer of utopian energies from the Communist project to the free market project. In both cases, they were motivated by utopian aims. One important difference is that the free market ideology almost never admitted that no advanced society in the world has or does operate on strict free-market principles. In fact, capitalism was highly restricted throughout its history, even in countries such as 19th-century England that had fairly liberal political structures. Free-marketers can never point to a historical or current example of their paradise without fudging the facts. Especially when a nation gets large enough or has to interact with other nations, a strict free-market system is inherently too unstable to survive.
It’s a pleasure to agree with you, especially when you say “One important difference is that the free market ideology almost never admitted that no advanced society in the world has or does operate on strict free-market principles.”
You are quite right to suggest that the rhetoric of the American Right (which is not right much of the time anymore) is based on nothing better than simple denial.
The resemblances between modern America and the Soviet Union are not only in Classical music and dance, or, as I claim, in “Hollywood Realism.” There are other ways in which the United States is beginning to resemble its erstwhile adversary, the Soviet Union. For example, during the Cold War there was a lot of drum beating in the US about how sinister the Soviet Union was to throw so many people into the Gulag. That was one of the facts that was routinely used to indict the Soviet Union with finality. When I’m not reading here about how as I Modernist I might be a totalitarian, I read reference to the Soviet Gulags and shake my head: the United States at this moment has more people behind bars than the Soviet Union ever had at any one time. We are becoming our former worst enemy. And when we throw people in jail, we throw them into privatised jails, that make more money the more prisoners are thrown in jail. So we are only more oppressive on the point of getting undesirables out of society than the Soviet Union was. And throwing people in jail was never part of Marxist ideology, it was just was those in power did (as had all Russian leaders before them). But when WE throw people in jail, we now do so in a way that proves we very well might be the greedy bastards that the Soviets accused us of being, and it IS part of the supposed “free market” ideology.
“The CIA even formed a front organization called The Congress for Cultural Freedom to promote modernism in art.”
Dear Mr Osborne – you don’t seem to know the first thing about the Congress, its birth, its goals and its role in the post-war, half-occupied Europe. Maybe this list of some of the participants in the original Kongress für kulturelle Freiheit (Berlin 1950) could give you a hint : Bertrand Russell, Arthur Koestler, Leon Blum, André Gide, Raymond Aron, François Mauriac, Albert Camus, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Dos Passos. The first executive committee includes Margarethe Buber-Neumann. You could learn more in Pierre Gremion’s brilliant book L’Intelligence de l’anticommunisme (Fayard 1995).
The exact purpose of the CCF was to create secret front organizations through which it could control members of the political left such as those you list. This is well documented in Francis Stonor Saunders’s book “The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters.”
It is unfortunate that there are people such as yourself (whoever you really are) that extol the secret manipulation by governments of intellectuals and artists.
Gremion’s book is now dated, and glosses over the more questionable aspects of the organisation; Stonor Saunders’ is a rather gossipy journalistic account which is responsible for the misinformation that the CIA funded Darmstadt. There is better and more balanced work by David Caute, Michael Hochgeschwender and Ian Wellens on the CCF.
The three you mention are either wider (Caute : the whole cultural Cold War; Caute had written earlier a very good book on fellow-travelers) or narrower (Wellens on Nabokov, Hochgeschwender on Germany). Grémion, whatever its limitations, remains the only serious monography without blatant, ideological bias (of the anti-anticommunist kind).
Also Hugh Wilford’s book The Mighty Wurlitzer
But, William, I thought you were thoroughly in support of government funding for the arts? Does it really make any difference whether then funding cheque has “CIA” stamped on it, or “American Embassy or Wherever-stan” or “Ministry of Culture”?
So – you really don’t know, and don’t want to know. Too bad.
The Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik was founded by Wolfgang Steinecke and Wolfgang Fortner, first with the permission, later with the active financial backing of the United States military government — which is something very different from the CCF.
Do you have a reference for Saunders saying the CCF funded Darmstadt? I don’t recall that. And if so, references proving the CCF didn’t? I could imagine that Saunders mentions the CCF gave money to some of the composers that participated, but that wouldn’t be the same as funding the festival.
The Oxford History of Music discusses the history of the US military financing Darmstadt. It notes that the military government shared common aims with the CCF, but stresses the important distinction that the military acted openly, while the CCF acted in secret. A part of the article can be read here:
@ “Anon” and “Backson” – the checks never had CIA stamped on them and the CIA kept its role secret. The moral issues here involving the secret manipulation of artists are so obviously problematic that it is yet another reminder not to answer the ignorance and stupidity of anonymous posters. Expect no more responses from me to such individuals.
Dear Mr Osborne, you have used this “anti-anonymous” stanza before. It comes handy, but it betrays one interesting bias: for you it’s not WHAT is said, but WHO says it. Very old.
Otherwise: yeah! they were anonymously paid, and therefore manipulated to do exactly what they wanted. If you know someone ready, willing and solvent, send him to me: I’d LOVE to be manipulated this way.
I don’t think it is at all obvious that there is “manipulation” going on if an organization decides to support something. It could be as simple as something like “We have a reception on so-and-so date and we want an American piece on the program. We want it to be impressive, and not too obvious politically or religiously. Not too many players, let’s keep it cheap. Let’s see, a string quartet would do. Hm, we need the person to be someone without too much presence internationally. But he has to be credible to put forward. Hm, this Elliott Carter would do. Now, how many cases of champagne?”
I have spent a good deal of time in various archives trying to find any evidence of CCF involvement with Darmstadt (so have several others) and found not an iota – either directly or through a front organisation. The significance of OMGUS or HICOG funding is easily overstated – it was not that large, and only during a few years. Much more of a local and state initiative. Fortner’s involvement in the idea comes basically from his own account; I haven’t found any other evidence for it. More likely (as Michael Custodis also suggests) that Steinecke was in part influenced by the founding of the Internationales Musikinstitut in Berlin in January 1946.
The OHWM is very misleading on the foundation of the Ferienkurse, as is Stonor Saunders – they both portray it like an OMGUS conspiracy. Any cultural venture needed a license; OMGUS did little more than sign off this (there are no references to the courses in Darmstadt, Hessen or OMGUS minutes until very soon before it began). More significant in terms of US involvement would be the Zeitgenössische Musiktage in Frankfurt.
The Ferienkurse was founded in 1946, and OMGUS was eliminated in 1949 when its work taken over by the High Commissioner for Germany — so there can be little doubt that OMGUS influence was limited. By sheer coincidence, the Commissioner appointed in 1953, James B. Conant, was a distant relative of my wife Abbie Conant.
Details of actual CIA involvement in the arts are becoming gradually available, and as they do this will be a matter of great interest. However, there is no way that the entire amassed involvement of all American intelligence activities, if that is what they were and not merely the paying of a few concert bills, in the arts taken together could even approximate that of the Soviet Union. In a world where the chief adversary of the US made no secret of the political use of the arts, with full attendant critical, propagandistic, and full-blown representation inthe US of Soviet evangelism with each new Shostakovich symphony and a pony express of faux defectors who then hosed the country with Soviet music, a condition that prevails to this moment, there is no question in my mind that it would be fully appropriate for the CIA and every other intelligence agency in the country to have something or other going on to deal with the reality of the situation. As I have been saying for some time, it is shameful that there was so little intelligence involvement. At the very least, it would have been an obvious call for the intelligence community to have been writing papers on the actual doings of Soviets and their propagandistic music and what part it played in the canvas of the time as it unrolled. But there is no indication this occurred, and much reason to believe this aspect of the relationship between the US and the USSR was completely overlooked.
Taruskin wants everybody to assume that if the CIA were involved then there is an indelible taint on anyone due to assumptions of CIA evil. The fact that international state “actors” (a term of art in intelligence) were crossing national borders to effect their agendas would make the problem of interest to the CIA, part of their disputed activity within the US in their undisputed domain of running spies and their undisputed territory to the effect that the doings were outside of the US.
In fact Taruskin’s beloved Russia has made far more effective use of intelligence in music and has a many-centuries head start on the US. I say, bring on the revelations about CIA involvement, if there are any, as an American citizen who knows we were culturally trashed in the Cold War it would be a solace to know there was some American cognizance of the problem, even action.
There were no American symphonies about “Presidents Day.” No operas about the “market economy.” The American Bicentennial was celebrated in opera by a commission of a Polish composer to write an opera based on John Milton.
To belabor the obvious, art and history are far too complex to ever be defined by one perspective. I wonder why musicians, musicologists, and even arts journalists are so often unable to entertain multiple viewpoints. Excessive absolutism takes the life, and often even the truth, out of the art form.
Taruskin’s answer is everything but entertaining, indeed. He does not give any answer to the critics, and just uses his usual vague and contemptuous style that one should take for granted, and which is supposed to replace arguments. Happy new year mr Taruskin.
Wow! There’s nothing like academics getting their claws out. ‘ipso facto, res ipse loquitur, Zukunftism, Weltanschauung, geometric v. vitalist, primo ottocento, historiography, the suppressed third term in their binary of in/out (sic).’ High horses indeed, Norman! I’m more concerned about getting bums on seats for our local CBSO.
I was in Durham/Newcastle at the weekend. 60 old people attended Evensong (set in aspic) in the wonderful cathedral. Two hours earlier over 50,000 attended Newcastle v. Arsenal. Fiddling while Rome burns?
It is really a grossly inaccurate statement to call Richard Taruskin the “dominant” musicologist. He is just another enforcer, and a particularly petty one at that, with certainly unsustainable arguments about the social aspects of the development of music. Tempest in a teapot lowbrow veiled paranoia. And I know paranoia. The Oxford History of Western Music is a ton of lard, that is simply not credible as social history.
The controversy between him and Charles Rosen was settled resoundingly in Rosen’s favor. Taruskin thinks he can call Elliott Carter a CIA stooge because it was learned that once a SMALL chamber music concert in Europe with one piece by Elliott on it was paid for, or in part, by the CIA. So Taruskin shouted at the top of his lungs that Elliott was a creep and meanwhile ignores the huge Soviet involvement in the Russian music he writes about. For every string quartet performance the CIA may have paid for there were 500 institutions and 10,000 Soviet musical programs all more strategic and all far more influential than anything the US did. And now we are feeling the pain. For a mere reception with some string quartet music on it I would not be surprised if the caterer got more than the musicians. Rosen writes nobly about that in his book Freedom and the Arts. Taruskin is NOT a “good guy!”
Personally I think that one of the reasons American music is in such dire straits now is that, blockheads that we certainly are, we ignored the cultural aspect of the Cold War. We should have required the Soviets do an American George Washington symphony for every Soviet Vladimir Lenin symphony they were permitted to do here. America is the victim of a serious intelligence failure, right up there with 9/11 and WMD for seriousness, and Richard Taruskin is part of the problem. As far as music is concerned America lost the Cold War, and hearing a crass absurdity such as Richard Taruskin is the “dominant” musiciologist only confirms me in my estimation about the real political agenda at this blog.
Good Gawd, why can’t we take or leave Carter’s music on it’s own terms and leave the chi chi and market women’s gossip out of it? But then, as Alice Duer Miller said, “ladies must live” and out of such things are lucrative careers built, apparently including Taruskin’s. And what does it matter in the end? Hell, if that opportunistic creep Khrennikov had written a great piece of music, I’d happily listen to and applaud it.
To Dr Christopher Fulkerson, Ph D:
“Personally I think that one of the reasons American music is in such dire straits now is that, blockheads that we certainly are, we ignored the cultural aspect of the Cold War. We should have required the Soviets do an American George Washington symphony for every Soviet Vladimir Lenin symphony they were permitted to do here.”
This sounds as if the US should behave as the Soviets did, which would have been quite ironic. Beware of such ‘musicology’.
Prof. Dr. John Borstlap, MA, BA, M.Phil, DMus, BAS, PhD, PhQ+ S, Dmt Fr, Légion d’Honneur 1st Cl, Restr.Order 2nd Class.
Not to mention winding up with a lot of cookie cutter works like most of Roy Harris that you can’t even give away.
And “Mentioned in Despatches”?
There is nothing “musicological” about the recommendation that when works of an enemy nation were presented in the US the very idea should have been denied unless done in a way that employed the same ideas of reciprocity that other interactions did. The US became a battle ground of the Cold War arts, and the US lost that battle. It takes no “musicological” knowledge at all to understand that a symphony called “May Day” or “Lenin” is political. It was sheer stupidity on the part of our political leadership to fail to understand that they were being duped. I still have doubts about who was in charge of the arts in the US during the Cold War.
In the years immediately following WWII it was the policy of the US to put former military officers, who had some idea of the kinds of propagandistic uses of the arts that the Axis had made, into positions in charge of museums and schools. That generation was retired by the 1970s, and military officers now like to retire into more warfighting-related businesses.
If that list of credentials of yours is real it’s too bad it hasn’t gotten you to rely less on “sophistication” in your remarks. Or maybe if it isn’t real that explains why you’re a boor.
Time to close the tap, mr Lebrecht?
You’re the one who called the music Ian Pace plays “excrement.” I remarked at you employment of vulgarity, but you did not respond. It appears that you want to be free to use vulgarity but want other posters to be censored when you think they’ve stepped over the line.
Is that a tolerant and honest position to take?
I apologize for the slipping of the word ‘excrement’ through my typing fingers at the time…. What I heard on those XXXCENSORSHIPXXX videos was really something of unbearable XXXCENSORSHIPXXX, and in spite of the dedicated intensity of the performance it was all so incredibly unmusical, it has nothing, but really – nothing to do with music.
And don’t infer from my remarks all kinds of authoritarian intentions, I just say what I think, and argue my observations, and please feel free to counter these, that makes for interesting discussion. If you have read my comments carefully, you should notice that my concern is the claims of modernism i.e. of sonic art to be music, while I say: no, it is something else, and should be kept away from the musical field. Taruskin had the courage to knibble at the modernist version of music history, and that is why this discussion landed on the nature of modernism. I have nothing against sonic art, some of it is – in my opinion – really beautiful like Morton Feldman, but not so if listened to as music. It is this misreading which creates these silly accusations….
Oh happy we, poor beknighted simple music lovers, who can sit down and listen to a good piece of music and not, say, have to regard Shostakovich’s oeuvre as a series of diary entries about living under Stalin. Some of us actually hear the scherzo of the Tenth as exactly that, without once thinking of Stalin. Or the Lone Ranger or whomever. If DSCH, or Prokofiev, or name your composer were as lucky as Shakespeare, all detailed knowledge of their private lives would be unknown to us and we would have to derive all meaning from the works themselves. There’s some who’ve actually listened to the Eleventh Symphony, all sixty-plus minutes of it, with immense pleasure and stimulation, putting even Shostakovich’s own sobriquet “1905”, or whatever Stalinist Soviet subversive subtext some scholar is pleased to assign to it in his program note, clean out of our heads; hearing it as–a piece of music.
Or, as Toscanini said anent the Eroica, “Is not Napoleon, is not Hitler, is Allegro con brio!”
I believe that you meant to say that the relationships between notes in Wozzeck make no sense to you. I am willing to take you at your word. But it is a fair stretch to convert your personal reaction into a universal claim.
The notes in Wozzeck are obviously supposed to make no sense to the listener in the way as they make sense in older, more traditional music, hence the avoidance of tonally-fixed linear and vertical combinations…. This is not a subjective matter of taste but arguable observation. If Berg had wanted to have the notes in Wozzeck make sense in the same way as they make sense in, for instance, Wagner, where the notes (still) follow a quite straightforward tonal logic, he had written a different opera. It is exactly the ‘spilling-over’ of lines and vertical combinations in Berg over the edge of such logical structures, which create the intended effect of alienation and ‘falling-apart’, which is the subject of the opera. That is why Berg needed, for himself, some structural idea like ‘Passacaglia’ and ‘Sonata form’ to hang his textures on, because these textures were disintegrating. If one does not hear this ongoing process of disintegration in the work, one misses the (expressive) point entirely. If one hears Wozzeck as a perfectly normal, logical work of music, one cannot hear it as it was intended to sound. The overal dark and lugubrous atmosphere as created by Berg’s handling of the material and style, is supposed to be experienced: he wanted to re-create the experience of life as a sort of nightmare where there is no humanity, no goodness, no logic, no connection, etc. etc. Hence the protagonists who wander in this mental and emotional darkness, victims of cruelty, misdirected emotion (the murder), despair (Marie reading the bible), utter loneliness (the child at the end with its ‘hop hop’, a chilling image).
It may be worth pointing to the lack of understanding of the protagonists in this opera of what is happening to them and around them. We, the audience, are supposed to understand it all too well. If we don’t, we become the sort of people which are depicted in the plot – and I’m sure many people operating in the modern music scene are exactly THAT.
But John, you’ve changed your proposition. You originally wrote, “…the insanity of the music, which is merely hold together by fairly traditional gestures, although the relationships between notes more often than not make no sense…”. Now you’ve changed it to, “make no sense to the listener in the way as they make sense in older, more traditional music”. This is a completely different assertion.
I agree about the expressive qualities that resulted from Berg’s procedures, but he nevertheless wrote the music in such as way that with an reasonably accurate performance, the tonal relationships (i.e., relationships between tones–this is the Schoenbergian sense) can be traced, often by ear. One can follow the developmental logic clearly. This is one of the reasons the piece has retained its appeal for so long–it is both powerfully expressive, humane, and exquisitely crafted.
The expressive qualities you mention are important to the piece, but some of them tend to fade as one grows more familiar with the piece and with Berg’s musical language. Even the most fearsome passage I knew when I was a teenager–say the “terror chord” in Mahler’s 10th, 1st movement–tends to fade in impact. Much of Schoenberg’s 12-tone music sounds beautiful and lyrical to me now. Even quarter-tone music has started to sound familiar to me, if it is well-written and expressive.
I think it may have been Stuckenschmidt who pointed out that the first use of the term “atonal” was a positive one, by some Viennese music critic who said of a Schoenberg piece “It isn’t music, but I like to listen to it. Maybe we should call it ‘atonal.'”
I think it’s just about impossible to create geniuinely non-tonal-centric music. Even the piano solo at the Xenakis Eonat, which seems to have been created as an attempt to create a completely statistical pitch selection, floats from one kind of tonal center to another.
The ear, and the mind, will find the tonal centers, even when they might not have been intended.
To Franklin Cox re Berg:
“But John, you’ve changed your proposition. You originally wrote, “…the insanity of the music, which is merely hold together by fairly traditional gestures, although the relationships between notes more often than not make no sense…”. Now you’ve changed it to, “make no sense to the listener in the way as they make sense in older, more traditional music”. This is a completely different assertion.”
No, it is the difficulty to formulate precisely what is happening in Wozzeck, although to the ear it is perfecly sensible. The sense of Wozzeck’s note organization lies in the way it makes no sense in the older sense. Quite sensible isn’t it?
I agree that it does not make sense in the older sense. It’s just that you originally made a quite different assertion that was universal in scope.
If someone makes a very true observation, he is in danger that everything he says will be inflated to much bigger proportions than he originally intended, because the observation seems to catch a much wider territory than the thing that provoked it.
Music, i.e. really good music, has more layers of meaning than just the notes or the sound, and that is why it is so difficult to articulate precisely what one’s experience of the music is. That is why we have musicology, which is really a science, although not empirically so as ‘hard science’, but yet very valuable, also if one does not agree with Dr Taruskin or Dr Pace. (I would like to refer to the British philosopher and musicologist Roger Scruton who has achieved the almost impossible, in terms of articulating musical processes, in his monumental ‘Aesthetics of Music’- Oxford University Press.)
“No, it is the difficulty to formulate precisely what is happening in Wozzeck, although to the ear it is perfecly sensible. The sense of Wozzeck’s note organization lies in the way it makes no sense in the older sense. Quite sensible isn’t it?”
Which makes it clear, that Wozzeck’s appeal depends on the antagonism to the “old” harmonics based system. Take the old system away, and Wozzeck loses it’s appeal. You can’t trick the human perception of musical phenomena, it’s “hard coded” into the deeper levels of our minds. You can write against the tradition, but it will only work as an antagonism to tradition, but do nothing to musical perception as a singular phenomenon.
Again, that’s part of what Bernstein was saying in his “Unanswered Question” Norton lectures.
Many thanks, William – I will read your articles with great interest. Re McClary and Born – both of them actively argue that market-driven musical production serves the interest of various identity politics better; they are entitled to their view, of course, but I think it is hopelessly deluded, and far from substantiated by their arguments (both writers are very far from being rigorous and scholarly thinkers on the whole, and rely a good deal upon rhetoric). Also, today I would question whether any necessary link can be drawn between identification with certain identity politics and any left-liberal ideology; there are plenty of Asians who would naturally reject racism but otherwise adhere to a very conservative set of social policies, and a recent poll in the UK found gay voters considerably more likely to back the Conservative Prime Minister than his Labour rival (46% to 37%).
While we’re on this topic, here is another article, this one from 2007, that briefly looks at problematic aspects of the “high-low” leveling concept that eventually became a central part of “new musicology” and American contemporary classical music:
On the other hand, even though I often criticize postmodern theory in music, I still appreciate the work of McClary and Born, perhaps because I see large differences between the goals and methods of systematic vs. historical musicology. Both old and new musicology have limitations, but when taken together they at least partially address each other’s weaknesses and blind spots.
Agreed about old and new musicology in general, but not about McClary and Born – both are prone to making grandiose and attention-seeking pronouncements about whole fields of activity on the basis of a few tawdry attributes or stereotypes, or whole fields of music without showing any evidence of having listened to them. Much of what they have to say about modernism can be safely discounted for this reason (see Björn Heile’s article ‘Darmstadt as Other’ for a more detailed critique).
your earlier post detailing all the programmes in Darmstadt 1946-66 makes for instructive reading and demolishes stereotypes one might have: a healthy sprinkling of Milhaud, Francoix, Honneger,Henze, Bartok,Debussy, Racine Fricker, Stravinsky (Duo Concertant). along with Stockhausen and Boulez.
I don’t get the sense of an aggressive party-line, certainly with the benefit of hindsight,
ie. at the time, Bartok and Debussy may have been perceived as ultra modern.
Not at all: one should not forget the special circumstances in postwar Germany where all ‘degenerate’ music had been forbidden for a decade. Debussy and Bartok had been played elsewhere on a regular basis; in Germany they had to catch-up, and these composers were interpreted as ‘forerunners’ of the Musical Revolution, with hindsight a quite silly idea. Read the material as appeared in Die Reihe (the German modernist magazine at the time). Older music at Darmstadt had a function: to show that ‘music’ had ‘evolved’ from this to that, and that the then new music as formulated by modernism was the legitimate heir of the European musical tradition. This would support the modernist claims, as it were not accepted in the central performance culture. That the thorough break with tradition was in blatant contradition to this view of ‘logical development’, was not understood: the claims of modernism had somehow to be ‘proven’ because it was in a defensive position (why was Darmstadt needed at all?). Hence the linear rewriting of music history: with Tristan, Wagner had begun the process which eventually resulted in Boulez and Stockhausen. It can easily be demonstrated that this is simply not true, but this ‘herioc’ narrative of avantgardism related so well with the spirit of the postwar general self-understanding of utopian progressiveness, that people did not bother to research the idea.
The cult of Darmstadt, Donaueschingen etc. did contribute to a considerable extent to the transition of the central performance culture into a ‘museum culture’: the link with contemporary music was broken because modernism was based upon premisses, fundamentally different from this culture.
I would describe Luigi Nono’s refusal to shake Ben Britten’s hand as, if not rigidly fascistic, certainly petulantly childish. Such doctrinaire gestures were by no means uncommon fifty and more years ago, one composer telling another, “You are not allowed to write like that!” (i.e. in a tonal style.)
Spot on. THAT is what I mean all the time in this blog and what so many people simply don’t want to know…: the refusal of ‘modernist idealism’ to accept pluralism in the artistic field. It was doctrinaire, and totalitarian at heart. The status of Benjamin Britten’s work is growing by the day within the central performance culture, and instead of Nono’s postwar marxist protest works against a culture which produced two world wars – because of not leftish enough – Britten wrote his War Requiem, leaving all that Nono produced lightyears behind.
I would not mind if there were such a thing as an identifiable “Modernist idealism,” but in fact Modernism and Idealism are not automatically associated. Probably, you mean some casual “idealism” as merely something like “consistency.”
There is nothing wrong with refusing to accept pluralism, I think it is patently obvious that people should be allowed to have preferences and favorites, and refusing to admit this is simply doctrinaire. Modernism is so vast that you are only showing how narrow-minded you are by trying to assume there is some kind of “totalitarian” character to Modernism, which in point of fact is a consistent victim of totalitarianism. Which totalitarian regime would that have been that used Modernism as its idiom?
Benjamin Britten was a poster-boy of Soviet “idealism,” the most frequently performed foreign composer in the Soviet Union. As usual you are way off base with most of what you say. But I imagine you are enjoying the attention you seem to be getting, and finding retrenched things to say can be fun. Would it be totalitarian of me to suggest that it is better though to say retrenched things that are, at least, true?
Then what do you make of Britten’s dismissal of practically all of his fellow composers in his Aspen address, as described in Taruskin’s History? At the height of the Cold War, the most prominent composer in England emphasized that some of his fellow composers–I’m sure he intended Nono, Boulez, etc.–were “dangerous.”
I make nothing of it because Britten said nothing of the kind about his fellow composers. What he called “dangerous” was critics and, well, why paraphrase, this is eaxactly what he said: “There are many dangers which hedge round the unfortunate composer: pressure groups which demand true proletarian music, snobs who demand the latest avant-garde tricks; critics who are already trying to document today for tomorrow, to be the first to find the correct pigeon-hole definition. These people are dangerous—not because they are necessarily of any importance in themselves, but because they make the composer, above all the young composer, self-conscious, and instead of writing his own music, music which springs naturally from his gift and personality, he may be frightened into writing pretentious nonsense or deliberate obscurity.”
I’d say he pinpointed the danger very well and if Mr. Taruskin claims he said what he did not say, that speaks to him and not Britten. Britten set aside part of the Aspen money as a prize for British compositions so he was hardly condemning his fellow composers out of hand; I dare say some of the money might have gone to young composers with whom he might have been personally out of sympathy or disliked him (e.g. Luytens perhaps?).
I might add that Britten had little use for Brahms or Vaughan Williams, to name two composers I personally esteem greatly–but at least Britten added greatly to the credit side of the ledger of Western music and with the War Requiem probably created the most important work to come out of the 1960s–something not many would claim for the works of Nono, Stockhausen, or Boulez. But if they do I wouldn’t dream of stopping them.
If Britten meant to warn for modernism in this address (which I don’t know), then he was damn right.
This may be an informative story: in the Netherlands, the music of Britten was very popular in the fifties and sixties, and he regularly came over to conduct his own music with the Concertgebouw Orchestra – and these concerts were very successfull. Then came the ‘modernist revolution’ in the late sixties and suddenly Dutch programmers were informed by the Angry Young Men of New Music that Britten was ‘passé’, bourgeois, outdated, derivative, etc. and that programming his works would create a barrier to the development of music. And indeed – Britten was no longer invited and some orchestras hesitatingly made some space in their programming for contemporary works which were forward-looking, groundbreaking, modernist, in short: going ‘beyond tradition’. Sometimes they even invited conductors well-known for their modernist specialism like Maderna, to show their tolerance and openness. (I once noticed Maderna conducting Beethoven IX with his head in the score because he did not know the piece – he conducted it excruciatingly badly and it was puzzling why he was asked to conduct this piece at all). The excellent orchestra in The Hague which was one of the finest in the country, an orchestra of international standard and status which had featured conductors like Toscanini and had people like Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky conducting their own works, dedicated itself to introducing new, modernist works on a very regular basis to an audience which was mainly stunned. Eventually, the orchestra lost its performing culture and professional position, audiences gradually dwindled and nowadays it probably has to merge with the Rotterdam Philharmonic. Nothing remains of its status and glamour: its culture had been too thoroughly undermined. The programmer at the time of modernist intrusion, mainly responsible for this process of erosion, later-on declared in a radio interview that he ‘missed out’ Shostakovich (who had meanwhile entered the main orchestral repertoire but was never played in The Hague) because he had to give so much attention to all the new things. But these new things have not survived and have fallen into the abyss of oblivion. A whole book could be written about the onslaught of modernism on musical culture… and actually, this book exists, but I won’t mention it, to avoid more offence to readers of this blog.
My comment is also directed toward you. Does not Britten’s dismissal of practically all of his fellow composers and his decision to label those whose aesthetic views he abhorred “dangerous”–mind you, at the height of the Cold War–demonstrate, at the very least, a severe lack of tolerance? The premise of your complaint about Modernists is that they are severely intolerant. However, you appear to condone intolerance when it is directed at composers whose aesthetic views you abhor.
Taruskin explicitly emphasizes (Vol. V, p. 259) that Britten “picked only three composers to praise by name” (Shostakovich, Johann Strauss, and Gershwin) and claims that Britten was engaging in a “not-so-covert polemic against the other side of the mid-twentieth-century divide.” This is his segue into his chapter on the covert CIA agent Elliott Carter.
I’ll have to read the entire address in order to make sure of the context of his remarks; I might have made a mistake in trusting that Taruskin’s presentation was minimally reliable, which I should never have done.
In Taruskin’s context, this remark has to do with the social (Britten)/asocial (Carter and the other evil Modernists) split, which he casts as the central storyline of the last two centuries. You believe that Britten was solely concerned about the influences that might hinder the individual composer from “writing his own music, music which springs naturally from his gift and personality.”
Hm…is this not a fairly clear example of Taruskin’s dreaded “poietic fallacy”? If the proper role of composers is to please their audiences, then which should composers be free to “write their own music”? Who should care what “springs naturally from his gift and personality”?
And is it not possible that a composer might naturally gravitate toward modernist music (Britten did this when he was young–he wanted to studied with Berg)? And are avant-gardists necessarily snobs playing tricks on their audiences?
But thank you for pointing out another viewpoint on Britten’s intentions.
By the way, John clearly believes in Taruskin’s ideological interpretation, and his last comment is openly cheering on Britten for labeling Modernists as dangerous.
I’d be curious, John, to know how often Britten included the works of Nono, Boulez, Stockhausen, Maderna, et al., in any of his concerts.
Without having read the Taruskin entry, I can cite off the top of my head numerous sources where Britten extolled Mahler and Berg. Both were decisive influences on hs music. This seems like another example of a sweeping Taruskin statement with no foundation in fact.
I remember once speaking with Babbitt about the generations of American composers – he pointed out that his and one or two earlier and later generations of American composers started out in jazz, including himself. This put me in mind of the number of composers my generation and since who have started out in rock and roll, myself included. That was us, doing the music that “came naturally to us.” In the United States, the composers have always come from the “other side of the tracks” than the nice kids who grew up playing orchestral instruments, and who to this day are satisfied playing Socialist Realist programs, or merely season after season or warhorses.
When I got to college, I had just begun listening to the New Viennese and Xenakis, and I was thrilled with the stuff, having made the leap directly from rock to Modernism. And I knew why: these Modernists were, as I thought of it in my ignorance of the “atonal,” doing what I called “using all the notes.” That was what I said at age 17 and that’s the same thing I’m saying now when I point out that “atonalism” is “pantonalsim,” the employment of ALL all the pitches. So this call for “doing what comes naturally” just doesn’t sound “natural” to me at all if it is supposed to result in the music of Benjamin Britten.
Within days of getting to college I learned that it was supposedly socially irresponsible to write “atonal” music. This white boy immediately became part of a true minority, and I have always been in this quarter. And my white male professor was very discouraging of my effort – I had to fight tooth and nail to write as “came naturally.” On the point of naturalism, it simply did, and always has, been abundantly clear to me that tonality is artificial, and non-tonality more natural.
None of the remarks here about supposed preferential treatment for atonalists in academia sound anything like reality. There were no professors who were unrelentingly Modernist – you had to know all about the classics, and well, or you didn’t teach. Andrew Imbrie never talked about advanced techniques, he only talked about what was on the page. Babbitt had many non-academic students.
As far as John labelling Nono doctrinaire and totalitarian on account of his not shaking Britten’s hand, but then John himself delivering a stentorian dismissal of much of the century’s modernist music, this seems an obvious case of pot and kettle.
Here is Britten’s Aspen speech – http://www.aspenmusicfestival.com/benjamin-britten/
I agree…Britten was clearly deeply influenced by Berg. But Taruskin has put Berg pretty safely in the “asocial” camp and Britten securely in the “social” camp.
This exemplifies the sort of incoherency that (predictably) results from his thesis-driven history. Either his thesis is wrong, or the empirical historical record is wrong.
Thank you, Ian.
Taruskin claimed that ““picked only three composers to praise by name” (Shostakovich, Johann Strauss, and Gershwin)”. Funny, isn’t it, that section VI focuses directly on Schubert’s Winterreise. How could Taruskin have neglected this? He places this within perhaps “the richest and most productive eighteen months in musical history.” Britten speaks primarily about the magic of this music, not its social function. He speaks of the relationship between composer, performer and listener not in relationship to the Taruskinian divide between social composers and asocial modernists, but rather in terms of live concert performance versus hearing the music emanating from a machine.
As I read Britten’s address, I do not at all get the impression Taruskin gives one that Britten was engaging in a “not-so-covert polemic against the other side of the mid-twentieth-century divide,” i.e., between social and asocial composers.
And I wonder how free-market ideologists would respond to the following:
“The ideal conditions for an artist or musician will never be found outside the ideal society, and when shall we see that? But I think I can tell you some of the things which any artist demands from any society. He demands that his art shall be accepted as an essential part of human activity, and human expression; and that he shall be accepted as a genuine practitioner of that art and consequently of value to the community; reasonably, he demands from society a secure living and a pension when he has worked long enough; this is a basis for society to offer a musician, a modest basis. In actual fact there are very few musicians in any country who will get a pension after forty years’ work in an orchestra or in an opera house. This must be changed; we must at least be treated as civil servants.”
I’ll admit that I made the mistake this time of trusting that Taruskin’s account was minimally reliable. I won’t make that mistake again. I wrote this section of my review several years ago, and as the publication date approached didn’t have time to check over all of the original documents. The further I delved into Taruskin’s history, the more I realized that one can find serious misrepresentations literally everywhere.
I notice that in at least this instance Britten does not say anything about the artist bending his ideas to achieve the end result that “his art shall be accepted as an essential part of human activity, and human expression; and that he shall be accepted as a genuine practitioner of that art and consequently of value to the community.” The onus, from this excerpt at least, could easily be put on the audience to accept the composer, not the composer to accommodate the audience.
When he says “We must at least be treated as civil servants,” that squarely indicates state support, and that means an attitude toward government involvement that is compatible with the Soviet method.
I have pointed out earlier that Britten was the most frequently performed foreign composer in the Soviet Union. There was a reason for this; he talked a line quite compatible with their agenda, and he wrote in a way that was compatible with their preferences.
In the comments here about Nono not shaking Britten’s hand, a refusal for which I am completely on Nono’s side, I don’t hear a really concise understanding of the meaning of that gesture.
Nono knew that Britten was a silent representative of Sovietism in the West, and as a Marxist persecuted when not ignored in the Soviet Union for his artistic commitments and for his use of the full Modernist palette, he would have understood that Britten was a participant in the very machinery that resulted in his own marginalization. Britten was a better politician than many another composer, and he was, like his contemporary Leonard Bernstein, an advocate, practitioner, and enforcer of a quite perceivable policy everywhere in the West that was consistent with Soviet policy when it was not already Soviet. Between them they configured a lot of Western preferences in a way fully consistent with Zhdanov’s.
Nono’s refusal was that of an openly Marxist composer who suffered at the hands of the silently Soviet composer. Nono was the hero of freedom of expression in that encounter.
Second thought on Britten’s Aspen address. It was at the time perceived as a criticism of the avant-garde, and this interpretation is still floating about (http://www.sfsymphony.org/Watch-Listen-Learn/Read-Program-Notes/Articles-Interviews/International-Britten.aspx).
Britten emphasized, “In totalitarian regimes, we know that great official pressure is used to bring the artist into line and make him conform to the State’s ideology. In the richer capitalist countries, money and snobbishness combine to demand the latest, newest manifestations, which I am told go by the name in this country of ‘Foundation Music.'” This is quite a strong statement. Let’s compare the situation for a “dissident” composer in each system. Punitive pressure in a totalitarian country might mean a torrent of official criticism, a total ban on performances, and might even include imprisonment; this is as equivalent to criticism from certain wings of the musical system, a possible lack of funding from a foundation or foundations, and an inability to attain as many performances as attained by those who work the system more effectively. Isn’t that a pretty clear case of a weak analogy?
And wasn’t Britten himself an integral part of the establishment? Kildea documents that massive amount of state support he received; at one point, his opera company, which ostensibly was performing various composers’ works, had given I believe over 400 performances of Britten’s operas and one of another composer’s opera. And weren’t his opera company and the Britten-Pears foundation “foundations”? Didn’t they push their own agendas?
One could maintain that Britten was meeting the needs of listeners. Yes, some listeners. Many detested his music and resented his dominance of the British musical landscape.
I’m not saying this because I dislike Britten’s music; I admire some of it very much. But one needs to admit that he was an extremely fortunate composer, received a massive amount of state support that was inequitably distributed, that he was front and center in the classical musical establishment (which many in England resented for what they perceived as its snobbishness), that he had a great influence on shaping tastes, and that he was an integral member of the elite class in England.
Coincidentely, I happen to know something about this territory – I studied a year in Cambridge with Alexander Goehr, who is considered the Grand Old Man of modernism in the UK, being the son of Walter Goehr, emigré conductor from Germany and close friend of Schoenberg. Goehr brought Schoenberg’s aesthetics and serial ideas to England and, as he himself claimed, knew and understood Schoenberg’s mind as well as Schoenberg himself. Britten was a highly gifted composer with a measure of natural, compositional talent, far superior to Goehr’s or P.M. Davies’ or Birtwistle or anybody in the modernist camp. In the UK, modernism never got the suffocating influence as it got in Germany or France or Holland, due to the much more traditional nature of the country, and the conspicuous presence of so many objects and signs of an impressive past: tradition still being quite alive. England had not been occupied in WW II, or suffered a Zivilisationszusammenbruch as Germany had to go through. Goehr and his circle tried to present modernism as something progressive in England as an antidote to the perceived traditionalism of Britten and his supporters, and he complained that Britten never did anything to support ‘the case’ of modernism ( the ‘case’ of utopian avantgardism). But the difference in terms of musical talent was so obvious that Britten had been able to create something like an island of real music in a postwar cultural climate which tried to define England’s new music scene as parochial, oldfashioned, and thoroughly conventional and bourgeois – in short: the usual ideological nonsense. I am sure it was Britten’s understanding of what music really is that kept him away from modernism, and his warnings against these utopian ideologies was just very apt. Comparing him and his foundation and the creation of the Aldeburgh Festival with ideologicallly institutionalized modernism in the West or ideologically institutionalized traditionalism in Soviet Russia is crazy. Britten’s success and influence was won through talent, achievement, and the nature of his work which is bedded within a living tradition, as still practiced in the central performance culture which has meanwhile embraced Britten’s music as part of its regular repertoire. In contrast, modernist and soviet ideologies were not based upon musical talent or achievement but upon utopian, historicist ideas which, in the West, postponed judgement of the works to a new era, beyond understanding of the ‘bourgeois concert public’, and in the East made musical works ‘measurable’ according to political, not musical ideas. Although much less physically dangerous in the West, both utopias were driven by powers that had nothing to do with musical culture as such.
Britten achieved his position and influence as a result of the acceptance of his music within the central performance culture because it shared the same fundamental norms of musicality, and thus offered an injection of new music, i.e. new in all meanings of the term, into a dynamic tradition, thus combining the old with the new. In comparison, Goehr’s music is professorial, stultified stuff, due to his lacking of the fluent technique and musical ease of Britten. We have here really two different musical cultures: traditional musical culture and the modern scene with different norms.
Correction (end of first paragraph):
Let’s compare the situation for a “dissident” composer in each system. Punitive pressure in a totalitarian country might mean a torrent of official criticism, a total ban on performances, and might even include imprisonment; Britten treats this as equivalent to a situation in non-totalitarian countries in which a “dissident” composer might be subject to criticism from certain wings of the musical system, a possible lack of funding from a foundation or foundations, and an inability to attain as many performances as attained by those who work the system more effectively. Isn’t that a pretty clear case of a weak analogy?
As soon as a financing system for new music gets in the hands of people with modernist ideologies in their head, it begins to function along lines similar to totalitarian systems. An informative example may be Holland where the payment of commissions has been regulated over a central arts fund, populated by ideologically-driven advisory committees who – without realizing it – operate exactly in the same way as the Soviet central committee. ‘Dissident’ composers, especially successful ones, are deprived of their income and thus forced to either leave the field or choose a life of poverty when they want to continue composing. In the Netherlands, composers fighting the system through court cases discover that the law system protects the subsidy system against critique, and the result is quite comparable to Soviet mentality – except the physical threat of being imprisoned and / or executed. Also one should consider Boulez’ fulminations against the competition, contributing to a climate of ideological divisons which have nothing to do with musical quality or success in concert practice. Etc. etc….. the goodwill towards ‘modernism’ nowadays is mostly based upon ignorance about its nature and the mentality of its practitioners.
John wrote, ” Britten’s success and influence was won through talent, achievement, and the nature of his work which is bedded within a living tradition, as still practiced in the central performance culture which has meanwhile embraced Britten’s music as part of its regular repertoire. ”
John, you are apparently incapable of acknowledging factual reality. Read the book by Kildea I cited repeatedly in my essay. Kildea is a strong supporter of Britten’s music, but he is also an ethical scholar–i.e., not a liar. He documents the overwhelming degree of state support Britten received. This was not achieved solely owing to “talent, achievement, and the nature of his work which is bedded within a living a tradition.” (Please note that Taruskin, whose efforts you support, undermines notions you adhere to, such as inherent ability, inherent meaning, and so forth).
The proof? You can read the citations in my essay, or you can dig out the overwhelming evidence that Britten was championed by “forward-thinking” elements in the state support structure at the expense of more conservative composers. Yes, I’m sorry to inform you that the “living tradition” in England was insufferably conservative, and Britten was supported as a young progressive who might shake up this deadening conservatism.
There is a confusion of meaning here. Britten’s socialism is something different from the Soviet totalitarianism. And Britten being considered ‘progressive’ in relation to ‘more conservative composers’ is still something within a traditional framework, where modernism – at the time – was obviously excluded from this framework. And if Taruskin contends that something like ‘inherent meaning in music’ does not exist, he is wrong. Namely, if this were the case, we could not possibly enjoy or understand renaissance or baroque music, or Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven etc.
Well, why can’t tonal composers succeed without subsidies, if their music speaks directly to audiences and meets their needs? Why don’t tonal composers form orchestras and ensembles to perform their music? Why sit around complaining that you’re not getting as much as you think you deserve? And you still haven’t answered my question why you think you deserve anything. After all, you claim that classical music is hierarchical and individual. Why should taxpayers support you in your belief system? At least Britten had a rationale for subsidization of composers, namely that they would provide services to society in turn.
By the way, most composers in the United States, tonal or post-tonal, Modernist or anti-Modernist, have to make do without any subsidies. So we form our own groups and festivals.
The ‘museum culture’ was long established before the foundation of Darmstadt in 1946 or even of Donaueschingen in 1921. Between around 1770 and around 1870 there was a major shift in concert programming (detailed in William Weber’s magisterial study The Great Transformation of Musical Life – though this does neglect Slavic concert traditions, where the process was somewhat slower) from a repertory in which the majority of works were by living composers, to that where the majority were dead. This came about for a variety of reasons, as traced by Weber; primary amongst them were the growth of nationalism and the associated constructions of nationally-based musical canons (for which Mendelssohn’s work in Leipzig was very important, as was the rediscovery of pre-revolutionary ‘early music’ in France, linked to attempts to resist Germanic hegemony).
Die Reihe was a highly specialised journal belonging to a particular faction, many of them based in or around Cologne, and there were only a handful of issues. Melos, which ran from the 1920s until the 1930s, and then continuously from 1946 to the present day, is much more representative of influential opinion.
You will probably be right, thank you. But Die Reihe… or Melos… or the contemporary German MusikTexte… they all stem from the same factory, where the mentioned fantasy-framework is implied in everything they publish.
So the details and the facts don’t matter to you. I’m glad that you’ve confirmed this. Can you please tell us the address of the factory which produced Die Reihe, Melos, and MusikTexte? Can you tell us who is in charge?
Without wanting to denigrate Melos in any way it hasn’t had the kind of influence on a generation that Die Reihe had on the postwar generation. Even back then it was recognized as having an influence out of all proportion to its few issues. Basically, it was the voice of the alternative to orthodox twelve-tone composition such as was practiced in the US. Later developments would not have been possible without it; a “European serialism” probably would not have developed.
It depends who constitutes that ‘generation’. There were many very different composers within postwar generations, only a minority of whom adopted the most advanced avant-garde idioms. Melos (which was/is a monthly journal, widely read – and written for – by all the major players in the modern music world) is much more representative of this range than the very particular types of arguments and positions presented in Die Reihe. And by the time the latter came to an end in 1962, European avant-garde music had moved on in large measure, from abstraction to music-theatre, elements of indeterminacy, text scores, the Sprache als Musik movement, and so on. These later developments were not unrelated to those which had preceded them, but the types of avant-garde positions given expression in Die Reihe only had serious currency for a short period of time in the late 1950s.
“When, today, performers (all too seldom) support really new works in the teeth of lack of support, public disinterest and critical denouncement, they are doing nothing more, and nothing less, than what was done for Mozart.”
This is a clichée: if audiences don’t understand a piece, it must be very good. There are no rules on this point since audeicnes can accept or dismiss things for numerous reasons, and they cannot be properly examined and statistically tested on musical reality. Modernist composers have (mis-)used this clichée time and again to support their claims on being a Mozart.
Such a phenomenon began quite some time ago. Hubert Parry rewrote a movement in one of his symphonies because it had been so well liked by the public at the premiere he figured there must be something wrong with it.
Makes me think of Oscar Wilde’s quip: ‘If many people agree with me, I get the feeling that I must be wrong.’
Your comments about McClary and Born’s sweeping judgments are true, though modernist commentators just as often make similar judgments of music they oppose. Both sides display characteristics they so passionately denounce in each other. In the process, many composers have been harmed.
I would like to read the Heile article, but the journal where it is published wants $30 for a download, which is ridiculous.
McClary pilloried modernism by claiming it has a fetish with technical innovation; an obsession with aesthetic autonomy at the expense of social signification; and a celebration of difficulty that amounted to a contempt for audiences. The comments are obviously too broad and stereotypical. The music of Berio and Stockhausen show how deeply felt and expressive modernist music can be. They were both modernist and postmodernist at the same time. The music of Darmstadt and Donauseschingen cannot be pigeon-holed.
I’ve noticed that both sides in the debate accuse each other of not being sufficiently familiar with their music. On the other hand, how much Madonna or Radio Head does a contemporary classical composer need to know before feeling that it is not the direction they want to go? Does McClary need to cite works and measure numbers to justify her rather broad claims? Even more balanced commentary by people like blogger Daniel Wolf note that aspects of modernism suffered from hubris and exclusionary politics. And as with my censored article about arts funding, and the general hostility I faced in discussions on NewMusicBox, do we doubt that the Postmodernists aren’t just as ready to be exclusionary when their views and tastes are challenged?
Are there limitations to the sort of binary thought under discussion? Do they lead to narrow modes of orthodox thought and musical expression? Is it worthwhile to try to take a less partisan view? Or do these dualities actually spur creativity?
It seems to me that one should be very careful with describing works by Stockhausen or Berio as ‘expressive’, since this means – most of the time – something quite different from the meaning of the word in music. Where Berio is more digestible than, let’s say, Lachenmann, it is because he uses the sound material in a more decorative, sensuous way. ‘Expression’ in music means a transformation of emotion into a stylized work, something the splinters of which can be heard in the ‘postmodern’ moments of ‘modernist composers’, as ‘objets trouvés’ of older music floating on a chaotic surface. Listen to Berio’s ‘Sinfonia’ where, I believe in the 1st mvt, he continuously contrasts a traditional chord of the 7th with utterly chaotic sound clouds. I am sure Berio regretted he ‘had to be’ a ‘modern composer’, hence his reworking of Brahms’ viola sonata for orchestra, and ‘Rendering’ (a compilation of + commentary on sketches of Schubert’s 10th symphony). These people sniffed at admired objects from the past without drawing conclusions from what they found.
Do you really possess the only valid “meaning of the word in music”? In fact, you’ve got such a narrow ideology that a great deal the innovative music in the Western musical tradition probably would not fit your definition of “expression”. Surely you would admit that some of the late fugal works of Bach, Beethoven’s late works, Wagner’s music dramas, Bruckner’s symphonies…and on and on…would not fit your definition. Sure, we recognize now many of the patterns underlying much of this music, but this does not mean that people at the time perceived the result as “stylized.” In the case of Beethoven’s late works, most people perceived the result as incoherent. In the case of Wagner’s music, his adherent perceived an unending flow of emotion.
In fact, many composers throughout the nineteenth century were fighting what they felt was a losing battle against the oppressiveness of the tradition they had inherited.
And who forced Berio to be a modern composer? No one. He had a very successful career as a composer and realized practically all that he had to say in musical form.
Concerning mr Cox’ blurb: this looks a bit confused to me…. and I don’t have the patience to refute all the misrepresentations of what I wrote. (Just for the record: I love innovative music, like late Beethoven, late Wagner, Debussy, Mahler etc. etc. but ‘innovation’ does not mean the same in every era.) The point is, that there is a difference between music in which the notes – let’s be generous, the IMPORTANT notes – establish relationships among themselves, and music where this is not the case and where the placing of the notes is, in fact, random and can be changed without affecting the result. The only claim I make is that this is a totally new concept of art which uses sounds, and a materialistic concept at that, and that it goes beyond the most fundamental norm of what music has meant in Europe from Gregorian chant onwards. It should occupy a separate territory and not claim to be music. This is not a ‘narrow-minded ideology’ but an attempt to demonstrate something fundamental to the art of music. To delete the dimension of interrelatedness from music opens the doors to people without understanding of what music is, with the result that the art form itself erodes. The existing concert culture tries to close itself off from the products of sonic art, and rightly so; it should be restricted to all the specialist ensembles, festivals, summer courses etc. where people can indulge in these things, without intruding in a territory where they have nothing to seek.
That is all…. And Berio was not a composer in the traditional sense but a brilliant sonic artist who occasionally used snippets from music to spice his works, a procedure some musicologists like to call postmodern. But quotations or collages from music have always been a part of modernism.
Coherence in music has gradually widened in terms of possibilities since mr Mozart… but this does not mean that this process can go on infinitely. The best way of creating coherence in music has empirically proved to be the interelatedness of notes. When this understanding is ignored, music looses its capacity to ‘speak’. This is not ‘conservatism’, but merely practical common sense. The lack of understanding of audiences in former times has been used as an escape route from judgement by composers who felt committed to modernist ideologies and has become the most conventional clichée in music life.
In the 19th century, ‘tradition’ had been encoded in the educational institutions and a ‘canon’ of ‘classical works’ was formed which were considered examples of excellence, but when such a thing is treated too literally, younger generations rebel and go to the other extreme. But thanks to the ‘canon’ we still have a concert life, so it was not all that bad. In my opinion, in the 19C ‘tradition’ was not understood in a dynamic way (as it had been before) but in a static, academic way, and this turned tradition into a threat to new innovation. But tradition has by now completely disappeared so where would sonic artists be objecting against? Instead they follow their own encoded traditions which, to my ear, are far more conservative and academic than ‘academic tradition’ in the 19C ever was.
And to return to Taruskin: he had the guts to refute the linear rewriting of music history by modernism – the story of Tristan setting in motion a process of weakening tonality which was eventually leading to Boulez, Stockhausen, Lachenmann and the rest. And he was just totally right in this. Congratulations to the Oxford University Press that they dared to print this correction, given the fact that types like Mr Whittall, who has never noticed a difference between music with and without tonal relations, go on writing books about music which expose an embarrassing lack of musical understanding.
I did not misrepresent anything that you wrote.
If Berio was not a composer, but instead a “sonic artist”, then why did you write, “I am sure Berio regretted he ‘had to be’ a ‘modern composer’, hence his reworking of Brahms’ viola sonata for orchestra, and ‘Rendering’ (a compilation of + commentary on sketches of Schubert’s 10th symphony).” Who compelled Berio to be a modern composer? Did you know Berio well enough on a personal level to be able to prove that he “sniffed at admired objects from the past without drawing conclusions from what” he found? Is this not your own highly subjective assessment of Berio’s personality?
And you still have not responded to my observation that Schönberg defined his twelve-tone method in terms of the inter-relatedness of notes. You claim that ” The best way of creating coherence in music has empirically proved to be the interrelatedness of notes.” Why do you believe that Schönberg’s method of creating interrelations of notes is fallacious, whereas yours is correct? I noticed that in one of your orchestral works you provided a near-quotation one of Schönberg’s 12-tone pieces (Variations for Orchestra). Was the aim of this to prove that Schönberg’s 12-tone method was incapable of interrelating notes, or to prove that it was capable of interrelating notes? I’ve noticed as well that several of your pieces appear to have been strongly influenced by Schönberg’s late-Romantic tonal language (which I love dearly). Do you believe that Schönberg later went off the deep end? Can you seriously maintain that he was incapable of interrelating notes when he wrote the Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte? Really?
You appear to have a clear conception of what “music has meant in Europe from Gregorian chant onwards.” But music has meant many different things in many different cultural contexts from Gregorian chant onwards. Not only much of the Gregorian chant that has come down to us in imperfect transcriptions, but also much of Medieval polyphonic music would fail to meet your criterion of “the IMPORTANT notes – establish relationships among themselves, and music where this is not the case and where the placing of the notes is, in fact, random and can be changed without affecting the result.” So you’ll have to move the starting line forwards. As a teacher of Renaissance counterpoint, I’d buy your criterion starting in this period, because here one has highly rationalized system distinguishing structural tones from passing dissonances and so forth.
However, Renaissance music meant something very different for Baroque composers (i.e., the old, largely outmoded and dead style) than it did during the Renaissance, and it meant something different for early Romantic artists such as Hoffmann (e.g., the true church music), and meant something different again for Stravinsky, or for us now. Artusi cringed at musical figures that became commonplace a generation later.
Just a few comments upon this list of accusations…
Re Berio: ‘highly subjective assessments’ can be right as well as wrong. Since music is a highly subjective art form, and sonic art a derivative of music, and in its intentions as subjective as any art form, one can deduct the nature of its products from what they appear to ‘say’, or to represent. In his arrangement of Brahms’ viola sonata for orchestra, Berio added a short orchestral introduction since he seems to have found the beginning of the original ‘too direct’. But this introduction is a stumbling imitation of a ‘Brahms style’ and very flawed as such, it does not fit at all to the piece. The scoring of the piece as a whole is also quite different from what Brahms would have done, and simply less good for that reason; this is comparable with Schönberg’s orchestration of Brahms’ trio in G which does not do justice to the music because of being overloaded with late-romantic textures. Composers write their self-portrait in a symbolic way and part of musical understanding is that you can pick that up. Berio had never touched old music scores if he were not interested in them.
Re Schönberg’s 12-tone idea: that was an obviously flawed one because order in an arithmetic way says nothing about musical, audible order. Music does not exist on paper but in performance. (This blog is not the place to go deeper into this, but it forms an important part of my book.) Sch’s idea of interrelatedness is based upon a purely rationalistic, formalistic notion of order instead of a musical, i.e. tonal order. It is an order, projected upon the material without consideration for the fundamental differences between the various intervals of the scale. Sch felt this himself later-on in life and that accounts for his incorporation of tonal passages in some of his later works, i.e. de Ode. Sch thought he was ‘emancipating’ dissonance, but that is not a thing that can be ‘emancipated’ since dissonance only exists in a context; if there is no difference between consonance and dissonance, dissonance is not ‘emancipated’ but simply cancelled, which can be clearly heard in his later, dodecaphonic music which is static and bland. – Where I quote Sch’s Variations (the first bars of that piece), you can hear that I use them in a tonal context: the chord resolves and glides into another, showing that this passage could be treated in quite another way. The passage is static and symmetric, but the stasis is resolved if treated tonally and that is what I wanted to show. The original passage is an example of Sch’s attempts to incorporate tonal elements within a dodecaphonic structure, which is a contradictio in terminus: tonality offers the possibility of flowing and breathing, dodecaphony hinders this all the time. It can be argued that Sch was looking for order on the wrong level. These first bars of the Variations are the best of the piece exactly because they CAN be treated tonally, according to context. The Variations are a brilliant score but flawed as music… In my opinion, Sch was a composer of genius who got off the rails, due to personal character traits, a difficult private life, and the state of the culture around him, WW I + II, antisemitism, etc. etc. I greatly admire his early works, esp. the 1st Chamber Symphony which is performed much too rarely.
Re ‘cultural contexts’: music both as an art form and as folk tradition is always based upon the natural correspondences of overtones, in every culture, in every period. Music as an art form is a human construct UPON this system of natural correspondences, plays with it, makes use of it, and thus this ‘tonal gravity’ is working WITHIN any musical construct. It was denied in modernism though, which is not difficult to hear. In monomelodic music like Gregorian chant, as in any folk music from any period, the melodic lines follow the relationships between the notes, their effect of order and ‘togetherness’ is fully dependent upon them: the notes are ordered according to their modus which is, again, a human construct based upon a natural system of correspondence. That is what I meant by ‘empirically proven’…. It is not a simple straightforward thing but an interpretation by culture of something natural. Mind that the strongest overtones, octave and fifth, are very different in force from the weaker ones at the top of the series where they fizzle-out into the void. This field of differences has been explored in the course of music history and, it seems to me, postwar modernism arrived neatly into that very void. We now know and understand the limits of the possibilities of the tonal field.
Re your last paragraph: I think we should not confuse stylistic changes and processes of getting used to new practices, which all operate on the surface of music, with the level of fundamental norms. Art forms do have their roots in some basic notions which cannot be altered without the entire building collapsing – that is why fundaments exist at all, like everywhere else in life: they are support structures to offer the opportunity for the mind to take-off.
Wasn’t Bernstein making much the same arguments in his Norton lectures, in an inter-disciplinary way by analogy with instinctive human language substructures and Chomskian analysis? And Bernstein was execrated in many circles for it. Seems you are in good company.
I always try to be in good company. That’s why I avoid modernist composers at parties.
John, you wrote, “Sch’s idea of interrelatedness is based upon a purely rationalistic, formalistic notion of order instead of a musical, i.e. tonal order.” However, when Schoenberg received an analysis of one of his 12-tone pieces tracing all of the notes to their row forms, he wrote something to the effect of “this is not *twelve-tone* music, it is twelve-tone *music*. I actually do not like most of his 12-tone music as much as his earlier music, but I place the problem elsewhere: I think he got trapped in the rhythm of alternating hexachords, which imparts a squareness to much of this music, and he employed the entire chromatic all the time, making it difficult to change the intensity at this level. I prefer, for instance, the Serenade, in which he was not trapped in this rhythm, and through most of which he is not using all twelve tones consistently; I find that the piece breathes much more than his early 12-tone pieces, which I don’t like all that much. But I do prefer Schoenberg’s version of the Variations for Orchestra to yours.
And it is a far stretch to claim that for Schoenberg, mathematics replaced or excluded music. I believe that both were in play. They certainly were for Berg, who I believe developed a tremendously rich and coherent 12-tone musical language. Yes, it employs tonal elements throughout, but this is not the same sort of tonality that existed before the 12-tone method came into being. Schoenberg actually described his approach as pantonal, which I believe is the most effective way of understanding it. The Babbittian approach to analysis has tended to obscure this approach and emphasize only the mathematical aspects, which is unfortunate. You can hear much of Schoenberg’s 12-tone music as existing in two keys at once, or as floating between keys. This would be one of the most interesting paths for theory to develop, as I don’t believe a very ramified theory of pantonality has yet been developed.
I just wanted to mention as well that music and mathematics existed very closely together in Medieval music. In fact, the theory of the time did not focus on overtones, but rather on mathematical relationships between intervals. Composers often used highly abstract means of constructing their pieces. There were, of course, what we would recognize as precursors of tonal music (regular use of stereotyped cadential patterns, etc.), but much of this music doesn’t really fit the tonal template. I think you’d be wiser to place the beginning point of your claims with the Renaissance.
All this is the result of confusion of jargons and interpretation of terms. For instance, ‘tonality’ can be understood as both the major-minor system of 18th-19th century music (a restricted interpretation)and the natural relationships created by the overtone series, which are two different things (I prefer to define tonality as this last description, which leaves much more freedom in the observation). Mathematics in medieval music meant something totally different from the mathematic character of dodecaphony or serialism, as the structural complexities of Bach’s polyphony are based upon notions of order, totally different from Berg’s polyphony. Schoenberg’s idea of mathematic organisation merely created barriers to really creative composition, he himself admitted that he only could go-on composing again after WW I when he had devised the twelve-tone system – i.e. his natural fluency had been damaged. Berg’s perverse attempts to combine some residu of tonal organisation with dodecaphony was totally unnecessary and utterly pointless. Wozzeck is, as far as I know, NOT twelve-tone music, and it is in no way artistically inferior to his later dodecaphonic works, I think it is a better work because much more free. His violin concerto, a great work, did not need the system to achieve the artistic result…. Working on Lulu he complained about the tiresome and slow composition process because he thought that he should try to maintain the system as well as write according to his expressive inspiration. Tonal organisation and dodecaphonic organisation are mutually exclusive principles and the attempt to combine them can only appear in the mind of people under the influence of historicist, rationalistic ideas which obviously were not good for them… think of the crazy obsessions of both Schoenberg and Berg with numbers… cases for Freud’s or Jung’s sofa. Think of Webern’s top-down hierarchical thinking, and his naive conviction that his music were the perfect music for the Third Reich (he was quite puzzled by the refusal of the regime to recognize a musical system which so clearly reflected the hierarchical ideologies of the nazis). So many people don’t realize these things… and take the utterances of the Second Viennese School and their advocates for granted ( 2nd Viennese School… pretentious nonsense! as if Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven had created the First one).
When / if these confusions by Schoenberg and his followers is properly understood, all the progeny that bubbled-up in their wake can be put in a perspective which will greatly contribute to the understanding of the current state of contemporary music, which – I strongly believe – is in a serious crisis, as ‘classical music’ as a genre increasingly is as well. All this has to do with the understanding of what music really is and what its meaning is within the wider context opf culture and society.
Voilà. And now I need to instruct my staff for my horse ride tomorrow.
That’s exactly correct, trapped or not, Schoenberg involved “in the rhythm of alternating hexachords, which imparts a squareness to much of this music.”
One of the first things that happens when most composers, even great ones like Schoenberg, get involved in orthodox twelve-tone composition is that the number of repeated-note ideas, and the amount of time spent in ideas that rock back and forth on repeated sections of the row, increases. There are a variety of clever things that composers have come up with, but in orthodox twelve-note composition, by which I mean composition in which the pitch order is determined once the row, and perhaps even its extended treatment, are decided, then invention becomes limited, it’s as simple as that. Since Schoenberg was the first it’s not surprising this happened, but what’s really amazing is that he discovered combinatoriality almost immediately, and did do some wonderful things. (However I too prefer the music of almost all his other periods, Moses und Aron excepted.)
Another problem with fixed-choice orthodox twelve-tone writing is that the harmonic rhythm is not always detectable. There is no harmonic rhythm in most of Milton Babbitt’s music. That is to say, the statistical variation of all twelve tones does not create motions of harmonic rhythm. It is, I insist, possible to hear the row in operation, but this is in my experience about the nature of the row – it is not tonal rhythm to move from thirds to fourths, it is tonal rhythm to go at different rates of speed according to different purposes. But in a closed system, the “different purposes” are predicted, and then there is no variation. That’s just fine if you want to write music the way Milton did, and create pieces that don’t occupy time and space the way other music doers, but it’s off-putting if you want harmonic rhythm.
You appear to be spectacularly ignorant of the sonic results of overtone tuning. Modern major-minor tonality is only an abstraction of overtone tuning. Actual overtones–such as major thirds–are spectacularly out of tune with equal temperament. If you want to explore overtone-based tuning, please look into the music of Ben Johnston, Marc Sabat, et al. The music of yours that I have heard would be incredibly difficult to perform with overtone tuning, and would probably sound horribly out of tune to you. In fact, even a simple I IV V I progression sounds quite awful it performed with overtone tuning (the “la” must necessarily have a shift of a syntonic comma between the IV and V chords, which produces a queasy effect. Sechter, the teacher of both Schubert and Bruckner, recognized this and required that the IV chord be replaced by a ii6 chord.).
You are clearly addicted to an ideology you have cobbled together out of various sources, and you are using your private ideology as a hammer to strike back at all the music that offends you. And it is obvious that most music that currently exists offends you.
I’m so sorry that you are so offended that the overwhelming majority of people in the world do not adhere to your ideology. You clearly believe that most people in the world have gone off the wrong tracks and should instead adhere to your ideology.
And what would be the likely results if sufficient power were put in your hands to “correct” the overwhelming majority of people in the world of their errors?
“You appear to be spectacularly ignorant of the sonic results of overtone tuning. Modern major-minor tonality is only an abstraction of overtone tuning. Actual overtones–such as major thirds–are spectacularly out of tune with equal temperament.”
That’s an irrelevant argument. Equal temperament is just a performance practice compromise, to make the universal harmonic reality that is apparent in the overtone phenomenon usable for instruments that are not flexible in tuning like keyboard instruments. Most other instrument have flexibility to tune according to overtones and that’s what musicians and singers instinctively do, unless they have to coexist with fixed intonations of keyboard instruments.
Overtone harmony is not an “ideology” as you strangely put it. It is a natural law instead, a scientific fact.
Many phenomena that make music “work” in us emotionally, are due to the very harmonic natural laws that the harmonic overtone structure has imprinted in us that have ears and brains that interpret the phenomena transmitted by vibrating air molecules.
The downfall from the tensed fifth Dominant to the relaxing Tonika is such a basic phenomena based on natural law.
It is impossible to define musical phenomena without the harmonic overtone structure, and so called modern music ideologies – here the term fits – that deny these universal natural laws, can never transcend from noise – no matter how elaborate the performance instructions are – to actual music.
Denying the harmonic overtone foundation is working against anything we today know about the human evolution and the human mind. It might have been excusable cul de sac of musical development in the 20th century, but today we know more about our cognitive and mental setup and what makes us hear music as a different quality than other basic (or sophisticated) noise.
A brilliant and compact formulation of musical practice and its roots in both nature and culture. It should be hung over the bed of unfortunate people with modernist sympathies, to remind them of the realities of the musical world.
Wholeheartedly recommended to Dr PhD.
Sigh…David, you’re repeating the precisely the same mistakes that have been made again and again, and you appear to be lacking a great deal of knowledge. Yes, major chords in equal-temperament do approximate the overtone series, but the vast majority of melodies are not arpeggiations of chords, but instead scalar. It’s actually hard to sing a scale in the overtone series unless you have gotten some training in it (or have a drone tone under you), and the scale itself is not derived from the overtone series. It is also quite hard to sing equal-tempered scales and intervals accurately. These two systems do not map onto each other neatly.
In fact, overtones were discovered quite late in the game; in the Medieval period, musicians focused on 3-limit whole-number proportions, expanded to 5-limit in the Renaissance. But several musicians noticed that the pitch would necessarily drift (usually syntonic comma shifts), even in fairly straightforward diatonic passages, so various varieties of meantone tuning were developed. Equal temperament came quite late in the game, and is (especially with stretched-tuned pianos) strikingly un-harmonic; for the difference, listen to some of Ben Johnston’s overtone-based (extended just intonation) piano pieces.
Yes, there are various strongly-held ideologies of overtone-based tuning, such as Harry Partch’s or Ben Johnston’s. They both believe(d) that Western tuning was “all wrong”, and Western music had gone off the wrong path. In many respects the ideology of just intonation is very close to that held by both you (apparently) and John. However, just-intonation composers have taken the step of living by their convictions and have created overtone-based music. In using this term, You and John are just using overtone ideology to attack music you don’t like.
By the way, in using the term “ideology” I am not using it in the sense of “false ideology,” but rather in the sense of a coherent (or at least consistent) idea/belief system. I support the music of Johnston strongly and organized a conference about it several years ago, and I have recorded two of his works. Believe me, real overtone-music such as his is extremely difficult to learn. I used computer models to help me learn the pitches properly.
Overtone harmony is not a scientific fact; the lining up of partials in a harmonic series is. Our ear can accept some deviations from this and still hear the partials as components of a fundamental tone. Chords are built on the same principle. But even in a C-major chord, you end up with three harmonic series that start colliding with each other quickly. Over the last few centuries, we’ve seen a gradually widening of the acceptance of these non-harmonic phenomena. The rise of instrumental music was crucial to this development; organs couldn’t be re-tuned every time a syntonic shift came, so slight distortions were built into the tuning system. These distortions increased as equal-temperament gradually became dominant throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries. Even then, though, most orchestral performers could not tune accurately in equal temperament until deep in the 20th century. Brass players still will often tune in just-intonation when they can, because it produces a richer sound–and just intonation triads are much easier to tune by ear than equal-tempered triads. But this can lead to glaring conflicts with other sections.
The gradual dominance It took centuries before sevenths sevenths were accepted as chordal members instead of passing or suspended dissonances. Ninths took less time to be accepted, and many people would like to stop there or at elevenths. However, the overtone 7th, 11th, and 13th are horrifically out of tune with equal temperament, and microtonalists trained in quarter tones would recognize the 11th partial as a discrete pitch. So your overtone-based rationale doesn’t get you very far. Considering that you are not willing to put your overtone ideas into practice, why don’t you just accept that the harmonic system is an artificial one, with analogies to the overtone series.
The problems get worse with syntax. As I mentioned before, just intonation causes serious problems for instrumentalists even for simple progressions such as I IV ii V I. You either have a glaringly out-of-tune chord or two, or you have a syntonic shift–you don’t end up back at the same I you started with. And if the harmonic series determined harmony, the IV chord would be in a different system than the I and V, because you can’t get the 4th scale degree from one overtone series. In fact, I can’t think of many (or any) harmonic progressions in Western music that go up and down the harmonic series. Your rationale is based on an analogy that is very weak.
And what of counterpoint? Contrapuntal motion is based primarily on motion by steps, but 2nds are pretty far up the overtone series.
Sorry, but your rationale doesn’t hold water.
The equal temperament tuning is an adaptaion and a construct, within which the strong pull of octave and fifth hold the tonal field together, as it were. In the harmonic series, the first intervals have strong correlations, which can work as a gravity field; higher-up the series, this gravity diminishes. It is THIS (natural) phenomenon which makes tonal music, harmony and interrelated polyphony possible. Focussing upon microtones etc. destroys that possibility, which simply means that composers would do other things with their material, all right. I would say: listen to what happens when the piano tuner visits again, and to what Bach does, and to what Harry Parch does.
Correction: the sixth paragraph should beging “It took centuries before sevenths sevenths were accepted as chordal members instead of passing or suspended dissonances.”
Yes, and that is old hat. A chord of the 7th still works as a dissonant chord in a stylistic context where it functions as such, that is why we can still listen to Beethoven without getting bored to death because ‘there are no dissonances in it’. Debussy discovered numerous augmented chords which could work like autonomic colorings, and he developed a style where this was perfectly normal and effective. The nature of a chord changes in every stylistic context, like dissonance: when everything is dissonant, dissonance is cancelled and the result is opaqueness. This is not some complex theoretical thing but simple aural awareness plus a minimum of musicality.
“Re ‘cultural contexts’: music both as an art form and as folk tradition is always based upon the natural correspondences of overtones, in every culture, in every period. ”
Except all of those folk traditions that are not based upon the natural correspondences of overtones, that is. Tuva throat singing melodies are directly related to the overtone series, because they consist of overtones. Gamelan music is emphatically not based on the overtone series. African drum music is not based on the overtone series. You should do a serious study of world music, because your statement does not hold water.
If you want to shift your statement again and claim that there are overtones present in all of this music, you would be correct. But this would also be a trivial statement, because all sounds except sine tones contain partials (overtones), although in many cases these partials are not lined up in whole-number ratios.
But don’t exceptions prove the rule? COngo drumming has no overtones because it is drumming; gamelan music DOES uses overtone relationships PLUS lots of tones which don’t blend with the drones in the music (that is the reason why it is organized in layers: heterophony, they could not possibly relate the tones to each other as in Western classical music). And so forth. The very fact that overtones are a natural phenomenon does not mean that different cultures should not adapt differently to it.
By the way, gamelan music is, in itself, beautiful, but it seems to me that it cannot develop very far beyond its tonal traditions for the very reason that it is kept ‘fixed’ on its tonal organization.
It’s a bit incomprehensible what you are trying to argue. Much of your long post above I do not even disagree. It’s kind of common knowledge.
You seem to beat a straw man counterpart, but I guess we don’t disagree that overtone harmonics and thus harmony is the foundation of music and music perception.
When that “natural law” of music was negated, beginning prominently with Schönberg’s (failed) attempt to create a new system of “dodecaphonic mainstreaming” 😉 the musical perception – that as long as mankind exists is based mainly on instinctive “Natural” and archetypical perception, based in the frequency realm mainly on the spectral harmonic system – the human nature was challenged and music could not be perceived anymore, instead we perceived artistically charged “noise compositions”.
Re your “African drumming” argument: You fail to recognize, that the two main cartesian domains music is happening in, is the tonal domain, frequency/tone over time – and the rhythmical domain, beats/noise over time.
The drumming lacks the frequency vs time domain mostly, thus is irrelevant in our discussion. Our western musical tradition is unthinkable without the tonal/melodic domain.
“all sounds except sine tones contain partials…” That’s simply wrong. Everytime you speak a sharp “s” you create a noise that contains no partials, for instance.
And stop the silly attempts at patronizing the discussion, like “sigh…” makes you look bad.
A classical composer does not necessarily need to have listened to any particular amount of some type of music before deciding not to pursue that path; for someone wishing to make broad claims about a body of work in a scholarly journal or other publication, however, I would expect a degree of familiarity with that body of work, rather than just a few stereotypes which could at best apply to a tiny handful of pieces. Certainly some modernists profess exclusionary aesthetics, but (as I think you imply above), I am not sure whether this is any less true of other camps (and in the nineteenth century as well).
Darmstadt and Donaueschingen are often singled out as hotbeds of uncompromising hard-line modernism; as noted above, the programmes give a different story. But also, there were plenty of other new music festivals and concert series in West Germany – in Stuttgart, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Munich and numerous other places, the programmes for which give even less of such an impression (this has been my own major research project for some years, and I have extensive files of the programmes, reviews, internal correspondence, meetings at which funding was decided, and so on). The notion of music’s having to ‘catch up’ mentioned by John Borstlap is not inaccurate – that type of argument was regularly used by many right after the war looking to secure funding. On the other hand, the assumption upon which the argument was founded – that Germany had been cut off from modernist and international developments for 12 years – is no more than a half-truth. Much international music was heard so long as it was from countries allied to Germany at the time – there were various features of Italian music, Spanish music, Romanian music, even a range of Russian works programmed by the Gürzenich orchestra during the period of the Nazi-Soviet pact. Some twelve-tone composers made modest careers in Nazi Germany, and Stravinskians such as Orff and Egk did well; Bartók was excluded from the Entartete Musik exhibition because he was assumed to be part of some vital Central European tradition, unlike Stravinsky himself, seen as one of the Slavic Untermenschen (both composers complained, for opposite reasons). The Darmstädter Ferienkurse came into being in quite a hurried manner, without any particular grand plan (or, if there was one, there is little evidence of it); one faction within the courses came to have some reasonable international influence, and it is mainly for that reason that they are assumed to have been completely dominant.
I can send you the Heile article if you e-mail me at ian AT ianpace.com .
It appears that the defenses of modernism against American postmodernism are being written mostly by British authors. This is to be expected since it is easier for them to obtain and read American literature. Have similar articles being written by continental authors? Perhaps I have missed them.
Given the animosity modernism faces in the English-speaking music world, and the culture war neo-liberalism is conducting against Europe’s social democracies, it’s unfortunate that the continental new music world often weakens its position through a poor representation of women which often averages around 5% of concert programming. I sense a very slight improvement in recent years, but nothing that would effectively counter claims of at least a de facto sexism.
It is, of course, absurd to say that public funding by necessity reinforces hide bound, masculinist cronyism, but appearances can make it can make it seem so. This leaves the public funding system and the aesthetic itself vulnerable. So why has this problem with the inclusion of women on the continent been so slow to change? Can it be blamed solely on factors outside the community itself?
Sometimes this has led to more than just a benign exclusion, as the Ars Electronica Festival in 2000 illustrated. Media artist Stahl Stenslie gave a talk in which he said rape can be an “art creational strategy.” The comment was also printed the festival’s program book. And another guest, the evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill, gave a talk in which he said rape is a natural phenomenon and that women should adapt their behavior accordingly. There were many other presentations with similarly sexist perspectives. Since there were almost no women included among the artists and speakers, there were few opportunities for alternate views. The festival even held a contest to see which participants had the best sperm. (I’m not kidding.) I wrote a review of the festival for MSNBC which can be read here:
Most of the work my wife and I do is oriented around feminist music theater. We regularly faced open heckling in new music festivals in Germany such as the Stuttgarter Tage fuer neu Musik and the Munich Biennale.
For better or worse, circumstances such as these reinforce the views of authors like McClary, Born, and Ross and lend them weight. And they give neo-liberals opportunities to make specious attacks on Europe’s system of public funding. This is an unfortunate circumstance, so what can be done?
(Ian, I’ll send my email for a copy of the Heile article which I’m really looking forward to.)
William, these are really important points, which I would also extend to race – see http://ianpace.wordpress.com/2013/12/14/the-british-composers-awards-have-been-criticised-in-terms-of-gender-but-what-about-race/ . There need to be more carefully articulated feminist critiques of new music that are not just from America (or Britain); a more white male world and culture is hard to imagine. And this is manifested in various ways, not least the denigration of so many things culturally coded as feminine (especially with respect to the human/emotional dimension of music, except where it is manifested as solipsistic male individualism) and a cult of pseudo-scientism and systemisation of composition, that awful culture around electronic music types where they ask each other about their software like dogs sniffing each other’s bottoms, and so on. McClary certainly touches upon some of these things, but this is matched by an equally uncritical attitude when it comes to their equivalents within the culture industry.
Hi Ian, I just don’t think the problem is as great as the urgency of your message when you write that “a more white male world and culture is hard to imagine.” I learn of counties in the North of England where there are serious problems at public schools that “refuse” to teach in Arabic (or Farsi or whatever the hell that bit was about). Here in the US there is scarcely any remnant of that cliche “white male” world, not in popular culture, not in high culture. You would be on the cutting edge of perception if you were writing in 1955. The billboards now are all about the vast cultural mix; poster-boy straight white males are a specialist crowd now. There is even a long history of remakes of earlier pop culture with minority or females cast in formerly prize white male positions – in Battlestar Gallactica, Apollo was a woman; in the Wild Wild West of 1999, Artemus Gordon is black. If you want to discount popular culture on this point I think a concern such as you express shouldn’t be one to worry about. Within the arts, it is simply not an urgent matter anymore. In the US there was the Affirmative Action agenda for forty years, making sure that people with white skin and penises didn’t get humanities jobs (the sciences and mathematics were less affected, since it is harder to BS in them). I guarantee you that there is no threat of white males getting the majority of premieres at symphonies and opera companies in this company, and it is thought self-evidently offensive to even consider that heterosexuality should be a category to represent. As usual the race to defeat race has resulted in some absurd things, such as non-US-citizens getting commissions from the NEA, etc., just to make sure the statistics are PC. Even some of the apparent white male paradigms are only around because they appeal to ethnic stereotypes – Arnold Schwarzenegger is a perfect example of this. He would have not particular presence if it weren’t for the non-white-male spin he has capitalized on. We don’t need traditional Chinese instruments in the opera orchestra just to prove our goodwill to the Chinese element.
Don’t these crazy conferences show the perversity at the heart of ‘modern music ideologies’? To talk about rape in that way is the result of the urge to ‘challenge’ limitations, to ‘transgress’ boundaries, ec. etc. ideas which were cultivated in postwar modernism. In the end, they result in absurd, degenerate decadence.
This seems to me a far more important issue than the question of gender equality. Which woman of some minimal decency and intelligence would like to have her gender share in such nihilistic and stupid nonsense?
Ian, I enjoyed reading your two articles about the lack of racial diversity among contemporary composers. The comment about electronic composers is hilarious and all too true. The ICMA has been working on these problems. I believe the membership of women is now up to about 15%.
And it’s true that McClary casts a more jaundiced eye on classical music than on aspects of popular music and the industry behind it.
John, the ideas represented in the Ars Electronic Festival are much more than an arty desire to transgress. They represent a wide-range of misogynic attitudes that can also be found in very traditional classical music environments like some orchestras. For example, see this interview of members of the Vienna Philharmonic:
You’re quite right to say that “Stravinskians such as Orff and Egk did well” in Nazi Germany. A lot of people today forget that, or pretend it wasn’t so.
Some of the uses that popular culture has made of contemporary music have rendered us intellectuals irrelevant. I noticed for example that one documentary series about Nazi Germany remained blissfully ignorant of any aesthetics we might think are necessary or evident, and used some of our favorite dissonances to depict the Nazis. In the “Occult History of the Third Reich,” Stravinksy and Bartok were the composers whose music was actually used to depict Nazi Germany. The Symphony of Psalms was used as background music to Nazi atrocities. While we are talking pie-in-the-sky “facts” about the “meanings” of this or that music, Hollywood Realism is grinding both us and Nazism down.
The point is not that it makes sense – the point is that this is being done.
My undergraduate Symphonic Literature course was taught by the Dean of the Conservatory where I went to school, and he was one of the retired military I was talking about earlier. When he played the slow movement of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony he said “And this is the music they played in the background of the films they showed us of the bombing of Dresden,” and he got a glassy look in his eye which many of us in the class noticed. All this propaganda goes two ways, and is usually bad.
I have enjoyed reading this stuff. I engage with musicology only rarely. Now I realise why. I have also been entertaining myself listening to the works of Mr John Borstlap, on his website.
I can only second jonathanpowell’s remarks. I have really enjoyed the knowledge and passion that you have all devoted to this argument. I must also say that I have really enjoyed listening to Mr. Borstlap’s music. It is superbly written stuff, and ties in perfectly with his arguments.
Another second here. And in the context of this thread, a Hans Sachs among Beckmessers.
Here are people with a very alert brain and ear….
Modernism has, in my opinion, always been a Beckmesser thing. We know what happened to Beckmesser. I always feel sorry for the guy, he got such bad accompaniment from the pit at the meadow scene (modernists would probably argue that Beckmesser’s music is just ‘more difficult to understand’). It is puzzling that he got the function of ‘marker’ in the first place, as we should be puzzled that so many sonic artists claim a territory that is not theirs.
I actually saw a production once in which the opera’s director claimed that Beckmesser’s unintentionally parodic perversion of the Prize Song was really avant garde beautiful poetry and even had the translation specially printed in the program.
But aside from such commentary on the richness of the fabric of the Emperor’s nonexistent raiment, which was in itself unintentionally parodic, surely one of Wagner’s points in Meistersinger was grounded in his own experience, that quality will always out, and the public will sooner or later judge rightly while critics and academicians will decry what doesn’t adhere to the “rules” or the prevailing orthodoxy. So Sachs says let the public judge at the Festweise to ensure the masters haven’t become locked in their ivory towers. Babbitt’s (and his colleagues) “who cares if you listen” attitude only ends in cul de sacs.
The public embraced Wagner well within his lifetime while the Hanslicks of the world rejected him; even Verdi was despised by the critics while immensely popular with the people. Within 25 years after it was written, Le Sacre had become fodder for Disney. And was popular with the public long before that. Conversely, the professors made a cult figure of Webern while the public still runs the other way nearly 70 years after his death. His most frequently played piece is his Op. 1. Britten and Shostakovich are still sneered at and, at best, patronized by elites but only become increasingly popular at the ticket office.
Regardless of the idiom one chooses to express oneself in, Sturgeon’s Law applies to music as it does everything else; the public will eventually figure out which 1% is worthwhile. Most of Hindemith is forgotten or neglected (in fact, when was the last time you saw even Mathis on a concert program?), the Ives boom seems to have ended even though there was a time when he was pushed relentlessly (I’d say only three or four pieces of his ever get programmed and all the least or only moderately dissonant) while a couple of pieces by Ligeti seem really to be popular and Berg, authentic genius that he was, is in no danger of neglect. Though, if you want tickets to the Met, go on a Wozzeck or Lulu night.
As RVW said, Bach was considered passé and old-fashioned in his lifetime; a composer can only write as he feels and let the chips fall where they may.
Indeed… indeed…. indeed. I say amen to that.
OF course, John, you do know that Beckmesser was a stand-in for Hanslick, the Jewish critic who supported Brahms, don’t you.
And Brian , you do know that Wagner’s characterization of Beckmesser focuses on his blind obedience to asserted universal rules based on tradition, don’t you? Do you not understand that John’s assertions of universal rules–which have, by the way, not stood up to any of my challenges (one must note how many times he’s changed his original proclamation after a challenge, without thanking anyone for pointing out his error or even acknowledging an error; I don’t believe he has yet admitted that he was flat-out wrong)–are characteristic of a Beckmesser? Do you not understand that Wagner abhorred precisely the opinions that John has been proclaiming? Do you not understand that the Beckmessers of Bach’s day were those demanding that everyone simplify their music so that everyone could understand everything and conform to eternally valid laws of music–usually discovered ex post facto–which is precisely what John has been doing?
And of course, you make the de rigueur attribution of “who cares if you listen” to Babbitt, probably ignorant of the fact that this title did not come from Babbitt, but was invented by the author of the article.
And of course Britten and Shostakovich are celebrated and performed ad nauseum in the Classical musical industry, making your assertion appear ridiculous. And you are also completely wrong about Hindemith, whose works are performed dozens of times every year in my university, as they are ad universities throughout the country.
Did someone challenge you to crowd as many factually false or unreliable statements into a single posting as possible? Or did you decide to do this on your own initiative?
Just a short correction of mr Cox’ wild assertions… He is protesting against a JB of his own making: I have never established universal rules for music, but merely articulated and repeated some observations deducted from music practice. I never changed my position on this, or ‘escaped’ judgement, but instead patiently elaborated these observations and added my opinion. Of course I may be entirely wrong in all this, but still I don’t think so. Time will tell.
When you make universal statements about what music is and so forth, you are making universal rules. Please show a bit of responsibility. And you did try to weasel out of your statements by changing them–several times. And you never really took back your claim that the music that Ian plays is “excrement.” You have displayed a notable lack of honesty.
In contrary: I have been very honest all along, and I still find the ‘music’ Ian played in those videos on his site excrementally bad, even as sonic art. I apologized for the word ‘excrement’ and promise to no longer use the word ‘excrement’ in relation to excremental sonic art, but I really tried to be as straightforwad as possible. If you can’t understand my arguments, I don’t blame you, but I don’t think it is ‘honest’ to blame the messenger…
All nonsense aside: I appreciate your committed concern about the subject, which I share, but my impression is that your comments – all in all – show very much knowledge, factual and interpretative, but they are somehow hanging together rather loosely and suffer from a lack of rootedness in musical practice. They are quite rational, which is OK in itself. (I present this as a personal opinion.) Therefore I would strongly advise to stick with the territory of sonic art, where this kind of rationality is perfectly appropriate. Music however, is really another territory.
@Franklin Cox Yes, Mr. Cox, I am perfectly aware of what Wagner was getting at with Beckmesser (and you may not know he has originally toyed with the idea of calling the character “Hans Lick”). My point, perhaps not clearly expressed, is that in the post WW2 era, the Beckmessers were the serialist and dodecaphonic “avant garde” clique that condemned out of hand any music not written by “the rules” (their rules) or, later, didn’t at least involve tape recorders and some form of Musique Concrète or, still later, computer-generated sound (Mr. Borstlap’s “sonic art”). Examples of the pressures put upon “tonal” outcastes abound. William Glock’s blacklist at the BBC is pretty well known; Barber was slated when his Vanessa traveled to Salzburg in 1958; and Copland started writing serial music to maintain his standing with the ivory tower crowd. Mind you, I’m not at all suggesting the latter was insincere or lacked conviction in writing these later works (earlier works like Symphony 2 can be pretty thorny) but he did recognize it was necessary for his professional reputation and survival to write them. But it doesn’t take much savvy to know that the vast majority or audiences would see Appalachian Spring on their programs and not Connotations.
I knew someone would bring up that old canard about Babbitt’s High Fidelity article but Babbitt was at best being disingenuous. The fact is the HF editor (probably Roland Gelatt) chose a title that summed up the gist of the piece neatly.
I’m glad to hear that Hindemith is alive and well at universities (what would viola students do without him?) but it would be nice to see more of his work on American symphonic programs. I’ve badgered people at the Met off and on for twenty years trying to get them to mount Mathis, and all of it, without cuts. My only point is that time eventually sorts things out and obeys Sturgeon’s Law. Very little of Milhaud’s vast output is heard, likewise (alas!) Martinu. Very, very few pieces that have come out of “Composer in Residence” programs have a toehold even on the fringes of the repertoire.
And the fact that Shostakovich and Britten are frequently performed doesn’t erase the fact that they are sneered at by many in academia. And let’s not forget that George Rochberg was vilified as a backslider in those same circles.
Brian, much to the point that you mention Rochberg. He was a brilliant dodecaphonic, until his son died, a most horrible private tragedy which made him rethink his entire artistic project. And he concluded that music should be more than sophisticated games with sound and mathematically arranged notes, however intricate and complex and thus interesting for people who find that interesting. He went searching for examples of music which had something of meaning to say about the human condition, i.e. which seemed to touch the emotional layers that, in his case, were ravaged by tragedy and the seeming meaninglessness of human life. He found his examples in late Beethoven and late Mahler, and tried to find his own musical voice through learning from these examples and from their aesthetic and style. In my opinion he did not quite succeed, but that does not diminish the rightness of his conclusions. Another story: Peter Lieberson began as a capable modernist, until he married Lorraine Hunt who not long after died from illness. In his Neruda Songs – composed before his wife died but probably under the influence of his love for her and the knowledge of her fragility – he let himself be freely influenced by older music, thereby finding tools with which he could express something that would have been utterly impossible with a modernist aesthetic. These songs are beautifully expressive AS MUSIC, and ‘conservative’ and ‘regressive’ as ‘modern music’. He became more traditional and thus a better composer OF MUSIC. As a sonic artist, he was finished. But he will be remembered rather by his Neruda Songs than by his modernist stuff.
It’s much too simplistic to subsume Hanslick as “the Jewish critic”. While Hanslick was born to a mother with Jewish heritage, his father, a Catholic who originally wanted to become a priest and later studied philosophy and aesthetics, was most influential on his son’s education and later professional life.
This discussion is a storm in a teapot. A discussion of eunuchs about eroticism.
No ideological stance whatsoever will change the realities of music and their phenomenological representations within our perception, that go back to millions of years of human evolution.
No matter how hard the intellect tries to deny the human archetypical and biological heritage as well as the physical realities of the universe around us, for instance the direct emotional properties of simple musical-emotional phenomena like a falling or rising fifth, it will fail to appeal to us directly.
The very fact that music stopped appealing to wider non-insider audiences, after it left the realm of nature with Schönberg et al, should be evidence enough that music that is based on intellectual concepts, while denying the natural foundations of musical perception, will never reach people as “music” per se.
Spot on. And that’s why awareness of the nature of sonic art as an art form, different from music, helps to understand sonic art itself. Let it be, but let us not call it music. In the 19C the development of photography next to painting was the appearance of a new genre, as concept art was in the 20C next to painting and photography, and sonic art next to music.
If I were a sonic artist, I would be irritated like hell if people would compare my work to music, because then all the preconceptions from a different field would get in the way of understanding of my own stuff. That is why I really don’t understand the protests of sonic artists against the assertion that their work is not music.
A short (?) comment on WIlliam Osborne’s mentioning the Vienna Philharmonic’s supposed misogyny (2nd January 11:20 AM).
I read this interview with great interest (it is a bit outdated, the VPI is now gradually allowing women in their midst). I can only endorse, in a general way, the idea that symphony orchestras should employ good musicians irrelevant of gender. But orchestras should be FREE to organize their practice in the way they think best for themselves. If occasionally an orchestra prefers to be and to remain a men’s club, they should be FREE to do so. Contrary to what WIlliam Osborne seems to conclude from these highly revealing utterances in the mentioned text, I see something different shimmering under the surface of ambiguous, half-quilty defence reactions by the orchestral members: the ‘Ur-feeling’ of the ‘male bonding atmosphere’ free from female interaction as can be found in male sport clubs, London gentlemen’s clubs, and the like. The political correct narrative which wants us to believe that men and women are somehow ‘alike’, does not allow for the obvious differences between the sexes. Both women and men should have the same rights in comparable contexts but that does not mean that the different sexes are equally suited to everything. Why aren’t there ‘women orchestras’? It should be stimulated, if necessary with state subsidies, to compensate for orchestras dominated by males.
It is a psychological and spiritual thing. A close group of men, all of them passionately dedicated to a spiritual undertaking, be it religion or classical music, and given the profound emotional commitment some works of the repertoire invoke, creates a certain emotional climate which can be as deep and strong as a personal, intimate relationship on an individual level, only without real, physical intimacy. But the ‘togetherness’ can, in terms of emotional bonding, be almost as strong as sexual relationships, and this is something that goes back to prehistoric collective experiences. Instead of the males going to war to defend their gods, they form a phalanx to climb an artistic Olympus; in the process they surrender much of their personal identity and become part of a collective one, which greatly raises emotional intensity, more so than would be possible on an individual level. The player feels uplifted to a level of emotional awareness that would be inaccessible on his own. Of course this phenomenon, which is often very hard to understand for women, can be applied for bad as for good ends… which is proven by the VPO’s past in the nazi era. The submerging of the individual into group identity greatly reinforces group achievement (this was well understood by the Greek of antiquity who even allowed male eroticism into their military organization). It is possible that even homo-erotic emotions flow around in such highly-charged situations as created by orchestral performances, real or subliminal, but that is a perfectly natural reaction, since music making is a sensuous art form where all kinds of emotions are sublimated on a higher level. This has nothing to do with homosexuality as such or misogyny, but everything with very old, atavistic experiences of group masculinity, where – naturally – there is no place for women. It is perfectly understandable that the presence of women in such situations break the emotional group feeling (the highly-charged submerging of the individual man into the group), and suddenly the male players feel much more individual and personal since ‘woman’ – in symbolical terms – means a personal, individual relationship. Her presence changes the atmosphere – such can be the power of female presence.
So, the VPO does nothing more than mobilizing deep layers of male group experience in order to give their very best in musical performance. Also they would prefer to do this in a way, rooted in their locality, i.e. Vienna; this entirely fits into the Ur-experience of group bonding and feeling ‘at home’ when they perform together. People from other cultures would, like the presence of women, disrupt this group experience. Probably the players have no idea what they are doing, and if questioned, they may express their inner feelings about the matter in traditional, and possibly rather misogynist terms since there is not much jargon to express those fundamental and archaic emotional experiences, but that does not mean that they are indeed misogynysts. They probalby know by instinct that it is somehow ‘right’ what they are doing. I don’t see why especially THIS orchestra should have to adapt to modern norms of gender equality if there are other opportunities for female players to contribute to the art form. Again, let there be orchestras mainly formed of women, what kind of performance culture would that create? I would be very interested to hear the results. Maybe all-female orchestras would create a comparable group identity experience, but probably somehow different from the males. Nothing wrong with that….
In the light of the subject of the negative side effects of modernism, some of it already observed by Taruskin, it might be interesting to provide some answers to the list of mr Cox’ worries of 3rd January 10:59:
“1) Well, why can’t tonal composers succeed without subsidies, if their music speaks directly to audiences and meets their needs? 2) Why don’t tonal composers form orchestras and ensembles to perform their music? 3) Why sit around complaining that you’re not getting as much as you think you deserve? 4) And you still haven’t answered my question why you think you deserve anything. 5) After all, you claim that classical music is hierarchical and individual. Why should taxpayers support you in your belief system?”
1) If orchestras and ensembles have their own earmarked budget for commissions, tonal composers can live from their work. So, the performing body should find the money for this, be it sponsoring or state subsidy. Generally in Europe that is the case, except in Holland where money for commissions goes through a Central Committee filled with sonic artists.
2) Tonal composers – I would prefer the term ‘new classical composers’ – write for the existing central performance culture where the complete apparatus of performance is ready, complete with a long-standing performance tradition. Why invent the wheel again? New classical music is, musically speaking, as difficult to perform as already existing pieces in the repertoire, it is based upon a long tradition: the very tradition which forms the central performance culture. That is where it belongs. And where new classical music can overcome the suspicion that it is as bad as the usual contemporary music, it is welcomed. Modernism has created an immense prejudice against ‘new music’ within the central performance culture… and new classical music will have to close the gap. It offers a fresh injection of life into what otherwise is considered a museum culture, instead of an intrusion by something unpalatable that does not belong there, like a gorilla at a wedding party.
3) I don’t understand where this is meant for. New classical composers are very busy – people like David Matthews, Nicolas Bacri, Richard Dubugnon, James Francis Brown, to name a few whom I happen to know, are busy as hell and are performed and get commissions. And as far as I am concerned, I am not complaining but observing things in this blog in the hope it will contribute something to the understanding of modernism, and for the rest busy as well.
4) Composers who have proven that they contribute something of value to musical culture, have the right to be paid for their work like any plumber, dentist, cook or accountant. People who think otherwise, should stay out of the cultural field altogether. The existence of high art makes the world a better place and that is why it is cultivated, and any attempt to get rid of it signals the prospect of suicide of a civilization. If this sounds much too pretentious to you: imagine Bach or Beethoven or any composer of some stature of the past had not been immensily ambitious….
5) In Europe, tax payers pay for the common good, what nowadays seems even to include sports events. A civilized society has culture, and makes sure that it can exist and that people who produce culture, can pay their bills. That has nothing to do with ‘beilef systems’ but with being civilized.
I hope all this is a bit helpful?
Don’t get me wrong–I’m all in favor of subsidization for art. But you claimed that classical music was “hierarchical and individual.” I feel as though I’m talking to two different people. At one moment, you claim that classical music should be exempt from all framework, then when I confront you with the consequences, you turn around and provide a perfectly reasonable justification for the embeddedness of art in society. At one moment you’re screaming about how modernists have destroyed music, and the next you claim that “new classical composers” are doing fine. If they’re all doing fine, then why are you complaining?
One thing that’s obvious here is that you are the intolerant one. You hate a lot of types of music different than the type you write, and you clearly would be glad to see it destroyed.
My attitude is different. I write complex, microtonal music and perform much of it myself. I and some colleagues put on festivals and concerts, where we play the sort of music we like, and we have a small but loyal audience. However, most of the music I play is classical music (I’m a cello/theory professor), which I love. I end up playing a fair amount of new tonal music, and I try to do the best job I can. I’ve performed far more minimalist music in ensembles than I have New Complexity music, which I’d rather be doing. But I love music, and I find it useless to consume my life in hate.
And what is more, I would prefer that many different kinds of music exist at the same time, because they illuminate each other. I’m putting on a small festival of minimalist music, even though I’m not crazy about minimalism, simply because I feel some of these composers have done something original and worthwhile. And the fact that minimalism exists allows me more clarity about what I am doing.
You clearly have defined your aesthetic position out of opposition to Modernisnm, but the difference between us is that you want to destroy your enemy. And if you succeeded, what would you have gained? Don’t you see that the people who like your music perhaps find more meaning in it because modernist music also exists?
Without entering the labyrinth of misunderstanding again, I can merely add: new classical music is slowly being accepted within the central performance culture where it is up against an immense suspicion against new music in general, which is caused by postwar modernism. It is a restorative movement within the central performance culture, and has nothing to do with the separate territory of the conventional new music including sonic art, with its specialist festivals, ensembles, audiences. It is not conservative but explorative, since the ‘tonal tradition’ has died in the last century; there is nothing being ‘conserved’. The claim of sonic art to be music undermines the understanding of music proper, blurs boundaries, fuels suspicions everywhere, and in the end undermines credibility of sonic art itself as well: one should listen to it without the norms of music in one’s ears. This discussion started with Taruskin’s correction of the linear narrative of modernist historicism, which helps to understand better what happened to contemporary music in the last century. I have nothing against sonic art, or microtonal music, or congo drumming, or cross-over or minimal music, but want to stress the particular qualities of a long and precious tradition which is often misunderstood BECAUSE of modernist ideologies.
More intolerance from John. You want to force everyone to stop calling anything “music” outside of your music and the music by composers you admire. It’s a good thing you don’t have the levers of power in your hands.
Well, this is really going much too far…. For the sake of clarity concerning the subject we are supposed to have discussed in this blog, let me try to describe what is happening here. I try to imagine what is going through mr Cox’s head. He does not seem to have noticed any fundamental, artistic, aesthetic, intentional difference between the ‘old music’ and what happened to ‘new music’ in the last century, i.e. the ‘new music’ which was considered at the time as the more relevant type of new music, i.e. modernism and everything that followed in its wake (so, Brit & Shos as being just ‘conservative’ and thus ‘less relevant’ to the ‘developments’ of new music). He is convinced that sonic art is merely a form of music, and a form of contemporary music at that, and that somic art deserves the same umbrella as older forms of music. I assume that mr Cox has diligently studied all that modern education has to offer to budding musicologists and composers. From his comments I deduct that he adheres to the usual, by now conventional narrative of musical developments in the last century. I don’t blame him, since there must have been a lot of effort and intelligent investment in the subjects. Then he is confronted with a different narrative, which claims to detect a difference between music based upon tonal relationships and music going beyond that notion, thus exploring quite a wide range of possibilities in terms of combinations and of sound. This other narrative however, makes a distinction between the level of sound and the psychological level of expression, the latter being – supposedly – only possible if tonal relationships are used. Resulting from this notion is the conclusion that music without tonal relationships is different from ALL older music on a fundamental level. Either we change the definition of music, or we create a new term for this non-tonal art which does justice to both art forms. Up till now, this is a logical argument, based upon a practical observation which can be empirically proven. If mr Cox does not, or cannot, empirically prove this difference in intention between the two forms of art which use sound, this alternative narrative must appear to him as sheer nonsense, undermining an entire belief structure about the notion of what music – in a general sense – is. And if this alternative reading seems to hold some authority, or is expressed as something that should be clear for all to see / hear (I admit: my fault), suspicions of authoriarianism, domination, exclusion, etc. etc. are quickly taking form.
So, I think this explains the continuous misreading by mr Cox, which to me confirms he is firmly rooted in the sonic territory, thereby merely proving my points concerning the difference between music and sonic art. I think the term ‘sonic art’ should liberate sonic art from the cumbersome and falsifying comparison with music. That is ALL I mean to say…. and it seems to me that it says enough about ‘honesty’.
Enough. This has strayed way off topic. The thread is now closed.
Yes, and when the government pays for common goods, it gets to make some rules for their usage. That’s why we have speed limits and safety rules. And rules that are fair to all citizens: unlike Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to drive. If a group gets government funding and arbitrarily decides to disallow some of their fellow citizens from participating because of their sex, skin color, and the like–and assuming the people involved are capable of meeting the standards of the ensemble, then the government will probably get involved. It doesn’t really matter how wonderful the group feeling is when people of other ethnicities or the other sex are excluded.
I’m going to call a close to these discussion, because I have to leave to perform in a festival. Some closing thoughts, though. The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend. You must not have read the Oxford History, but you concurred with its attempts to invalidate Modernism, etc. Fine, but you should look more closely at its central thesis: that Western art music, which he defines as a literate art form, is soon reaching its terminus. That is the central thesis of the Oxford History, and a great deal of evidence is skewed and left out in order to achieve its aim. Non-literate music making is the future. That appears to run directly counter to your intentions.
Second you switched your claims again. You made a claim about all folk music, but now you claim that percussion music is different. And gamelan tunings are not overtone tunings. Of course overtones are involved, because overtones come with pitched sounds. The question is whether the tunings are overtone based, i.e., whether there is an intention to tune in overtones. So your original claim is false. And you are now attempting defend your claim by denigrating gamelan music. That’s the problem with making insupportable universal claims.
Third, I’ve spent a lifetime studying, performing, and writing music. I’ve studied traditional counterpoint fairly deeply and teach a very rigorous course in it. I know the masterpieces of the Western tradition well and teach them. Everything I’ve learned goes into creating my pieces. But you claim that I am not writing music.
Sorry, but you can’t reasonably make that claim. Yes, you can invent some reasons, but they don’t stand up to any scrutiny. I can’t stop you from making that claim, but you destroy your credibility the more often you say such things. Maybe you should show some more tolerance.
The antagonism you claim between counterpoint and the harmonic system is simply not there. Counterpoint is a technique that just elaborates on the harmonic system with polyphony (and polyrhythm possibly). The art of counterpoint is the art to transcend the two-dimensional musical field of tension between consonance and dissonance into a three-dimensional field, the new dimension being the polyphony.
Of course there’s an interaction between polyphony and harmony. But counterpoint doesn’t come from the overtone series (nor does scalar motion), and counterpoint is much more than a matter of stringing chords together effectively. And if you think that people sing naturally in the overtone series, as John does, try singing some of the extended just intonation music of Ben Johnston or Toby Twining. It takes a lot of training to do well.
No, counterpoint doesn’t “come from” the overtone series. Nor is it only a “matter of stringing chords together”. Nobody has claimed any of this. Neither do I claim that people sing naturally “in the overtone series”. I said they tune “accordingly”, which is a different quality. You need to comprehend language more carefully and fall less into the trap of your own projections. Seeing lees nails because you only have a hammer so to speak.
Having only a hammer and by far not enough nails to hit on, is a very typical characteristic of modernism; hence Boulez’ famous / notorious piece ‘Le Marteau sans Maitre’ (The Hammer without a Master; 1953-54) which is an unintentional, devastating self-portrait.