About-turn: German avant-garde festival invites British conservative

The the Donaueschingen Festival, second only to Darmstadt as a fortress of the postwar avant-garde, has invited the British conservative philosopher Roger Scruton to give a lecture next month.

One observer suggest it’s like Martin Luther being invited to the Vatican.


Scruton’s lecture, ‘On Zukunftsmusik’, will take place on 16 October in the Strawinsky Saal.


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    • Not at all. My infamous lecture at Darmstadt in 2003 ended in such uproar that the mood in the audience (the ‘fine fleur’ of younger generations of modernists) escalated into a general fist fight and the local police had to escort me back to the hotel, where I was insulted by the porter who accused me of terrorism.

    • You were being facetious, weren’t you? Something tells me we’ll get Mr. Bortslap’s lecture whether or not we want it.

  • Interestingly, this year’s festival theme is the ‘critical function of the avantgarde’:

    “….. the music of the avant-garde is a critical authority. It is an other that forces us to take a position of our own.” (From the introduction on the festival’s website)
    In other words: when confronted with avantgarde works, their authority is so powerful that we are forced to have an opinion. There is apparently no other way to arrive at some opinion than through the avantgarde’s authority, implying that we could not form opinions on our own. Obviously, the German avantgarde is offered to those who are in desperate need for opinions of their own.

    “Music sharpens our critical awareness at the very point where we succumb to it.” So, if the listener embraces a work of music, i.e. gives him/herself unconditionally to the work – which means: leaving the critical function behind, letting onseself be engulfed – he/she not only gets a musical experience but gets his critical function back, through the music itself. This may seem tortured logic, but with some effort you can imagine something like that when listening to Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, early Stravinsky. But what happens when we embrace a work not of music but of sonic art? Do we get our critical function returned through, for instance, a work called ‘Cold cadaver with thirteen scary scars’ by Bernhard Gander, for Hammond-Orgel, E-Bass, percussion and ensemble?


    Scruton’s lecture is about the music of the future, a term coined, I believe, by R. Wagner. It would be very sad for Wagner to not only be held responsible for Hitler but also for the German variety of sonic art. In his ‘Aesthecis of Music’, Scruton deconstructed all the avantgarde ideas of half a century ago, and even Schoenberg’s, and showed that for music to be effective as music, it needs tonality as its basis. I hope he will get body guards in Donaueschingen.

  • It’s so curious to see how avant-gardists do not see they are living in the past…They are the most conservative. If nowadays exist a tendency is the return to tonality

    • Feldman’s 1984 lecture at Darmstadt was along these lines.
      “The people who you think are radicals might really be conservatives” , Feldman said on that occasion. ” The people who you think are conservative might really be radical.” And he began to hum Sibelius’s 5th.

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