Monday, 23 April 2018

Schönberg still alive

On the website of 'Slipped Disc' (Norman Lebrecht) again a fiery discussion was provoked by Norman's invocation of Schönberg's music. It shows that postwar ideological nonsense has gradually dripped-down through music life to compensate for exploring musical reality, like, for instance, the idea that what 'drove' music history was 'the line' Mahler - Schönberg - Webern into post-1945 modernism, as if the richness of early 20C music simply did not exist: Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Scriabine, Prokofiev, Szymanowski, Hindemith, the late Strauss, Poulenc, etc. - music which has entered the regular repertoire, in contrast with Webern and the later Schönberg.

Also interesting to see how famous performers are referred to with their entirely unthinking conventional repeating of nonsense, like Simon Rattle, thereby legitimizing a serious distortion of what really has been written.

It comes down to misconceptions about 'nature', a typical Western problem, where rational thought is considered as the only way to connect with reality - desastrous in the arts and especially in music.

Friday, 20 April 2018

German misunderstandings

This week there was on the 1st Program channel on German TV an extensive documentary about the German hiphop scene. Watching it was as disturbing as it was informative. Not only could the viewer expose him/herself to the primitive garbage of these types, but also hear the defenses of a number of thugs who said that their 'seemingly' awful, hateful, disgusting, antisemitic, sexist, mysoginist etc. etc. texts were not to be taken seriously, but were only artistic means. They were stilistic elements and structurally part of the genre. They claimed that ‘the artist’ was ‘free’ in his ‘expression’ and that complaints about their texts were a violation of their artistic rights on freedom. Not only was it completely and grotesquely ridiculous that their ‘entertainment’ was supposed to be ‘art’ (the voice-over of the program accepted this and took the defense seriously…. also incredible), but to see them taking-on the airs of ‘independent, inspired, creative artists’, with their hate-filled screaming in the background, was so crazy that from that moment onwards the documentary took-on the nature of a grotesque spoof.

Worried Jewish organisations pointed to the great influence these rappers had, through the internet, on young people. Confronted with the question of responsibility, these crazy types calmly stated that they were not responsible for the wellbeing of their audiences, and that for instance a teacher at a school had real responsibility, they were only making Art.

Of course most of these so-called ‘artists’ had a muslem immigrant background, but being born Germans, they wholeheartedly used the holocaust taboo to rub-in the fantasies of Jews ‘ruling the world’. Perversily, one of these thugs, who had hurled sadistic texts about the holocaust on his videos, explained (with a knowing smile) that he meant the word ‘holocaust’ in its original meaning, from before WW II, when it ‘only’ meant total destruction.

Because these people reach their (wide and young) audiences through the internet and not via a record label, they are free to spread their excremental hate unhindered. But one begins to understand the benefits of some form of censorship when one sees how the notion of ‘freedom’ is perversily being misused. I don’t think public space (including the internet) should offer any such diabolical ‘entertainment’ the possibility to influence gullible minds – and where are the German authorities? You saw an elderly lady of some official German communal organisation studiously and cautiously explore raptexts to find some legal proof of antisemitism in the precise wording of the ‘lyrics’, fully conscious of the danger of undermining an accepted ‘art form’. Why this dull-witted acceptance of ‘artistic freedom’ which is a grave violation of any notion of German, European civilized society? Where is Weimar classicism of civilized intelligence? Why this serious plodding-on through philosophical niceties about ‘art’ and ‘expression’, taking seriously something that belongs in the dustbin, the prison, and the psychiatric instution? Because acting straightforwardly would provoke the fear of being ‘authoritarian’, ‘conservative’ and maybe even ‘fascist’.

Today on the German news: there is a scandal developing in Konstanz, where a theatre play about Hitler involved the distribution of arm-badges with a swastika to audience members; everyone who dared to put it on was allowed to attend the production for free. The director’s idea was to show how easy it were to get people doing things they otherwise would not find acceptable.

Wearing a swastika is strictly illegal in Germany; in this case, the authorities let it pass because it was considered a case of ‘serious art’.

Jewish organisations protested and said that wearing the swastika should not be instrumentalized for artistic reasons.

The whole thing is misdirected, under the cover of ‘artistic expression’ which makes one long for the times of Prince Metternich.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Classical music as symbolism

With his Divan orchestra, Daniel Barenboim shows how equality before a common goal creates cooperation and reconciliation between cultural and political enemy camps. He says, that Israel will only be safe after justice has been done to the Palestinians. Thinking this symbolism through, one arrives at the conclusion that the only solution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the creation of a new country in which both groups have equal rights and equal shares in the benefits of Israel's Westernized society. This would mean a secular society run on the rule of law, human rights, individual freedom of both culture and religion, in combination with a strict protection of a safe public space. A new name for this new state would be an appropriate symbol of renewal - Judea?

But an orchestra can only function within a strict discipline of a professional, time-tested tradition, and led by a leader. Only through the application of a functional framework, such reconciliation between enemy groups can develop. Democratic orchestras without conductors inevitably descend into discord and incapacity to reach professional standers - some rare examples excepted.

The brutal reactions in these days by the Israeli army: shooting unarmed protesters against the occupation, further undermines any justification of claims of legitimacy of the Israeli people. The waiting is for new generations who are prepared to get rid of ever-bleeding wounds from the past and turn historical experience into something constructively new and just.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Identity politics and hyperliberalism

"The politics of identity is a postmodern twist on the liberal religion of humanity. The Supreme Being has become an unknown God – a species of human being nowhere encountered in history, which does not need to define itself through family or community, nationality or any religion. Parallels with the new humanity envisioned by the Bolsheviks are obvious."

Thus an interesting article in the Times Literary Review by John Gray. If freedom from traditions go hand in hand by selective deconstruction of identity (exclusively exercised on traditional values, not on minorities), the result is the tyranny of bland conformity, because every individual is different and in the same time, somehow similar. How the human mind creates the very result it set out to overcome:

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

The lessons of history

"Our preoccupation with the last war, as revealed in films such as 'Dunkirk', is to him striking: 'It seems to express a mood, and yet a lot of things that have happened recently have done so because the generation that is running the world has no memories of it. The world we grew up in was created by people who were terrified the war could happen again, and they tried to make sure it wouldn’t. Less nationalism, more cooperation. Now real fascist rhetoric is creeping back into the mainstream. The old taboos are fading because of lost memory.'"

Ian Buruma - current editor of the New York Review of Books - in a recent interview in The Guardian.

With the last century gradually eroding in the memory of so many ignorant, uneducated people, oblivious of history and suffering from a failed education, old ghosts come back to haunt us. This is not a normal process, but a dangerous accelleration of the usual generational forgetfulness: in a society obsessed with utopia and progress (progress as getting forward on the time line of history, not progress in terms of improvement), the lessons of history get lost, and history may be repeating itself.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Fluctuating stasis

"If there is such a thing as the march of history in music, it is certainly not a uniform movement; on the contrary, the more closely it is examined the more it is seen to be varied, tumultuous, and contradictory. There are always individuals and groups who are out of step: some drag back, some press forward ahead of the crowd, some move in other than what seems to be the prevailing direction. Moreover, each individual, if his work is of any significance at all, has something to say that is unique and that cannot be adequately subsumed under any general description of the period."

Donald  Jay Grout in 'A History of Western Music', WW Norton & Co, New York / London 1980, page 401.

In the light of this common-sense observation, any prescriptive idea about how contemporary music should sound, can be considered uninformed and totalitarian.

But Grout still looks upon history as if on a time line, with a 'forward', and thus also a 'backward', so that the composer who is presenting something original and unusual, is seen as producing something 'new' on the time line, instead of something original in the context of his historic environment. So, Debussy is 'avantgarde' in the context of his time, while it would be better to see his work as something very original. The confusion of historical placing and artistic value and meaning has created the absurdity that works are judged artistically according to their being 'new' on the historic time line, instead of their intrinsic value.

For instance, Stravinsky's Octet is often hailed as a groundbreaking work leading into his neoclassical period, giving it an importance which is partly the result of its historic placing. But is it a good work on its own accord? Stravinsky has expressed himself very positively about Satie, because he gave him a couple of hints for his neoclassical aesthetic (although he could not bear Satie's regularity), and compared Ravel negatively to Satie by labelling him (Ravel) as conventional. What a blunder.... Ravel is an infinitely more gifted artist than Satie, whose limitations shaped his originality. The artistic qualities and personal character of Ravel's work should, by now, not be subject to doubt: almost all of his works are original master pieces. But Satie seemed to explore an aesthetic which became trendy in the Parisian twenties, so his position on the time line gave him a reputation not altogether balanced by the musical substance of his works.

The same problem with Wagner: 'Tristan' is considered the non plus ultra of premodernism, leading towards atonality, while 'Meistersinger' and 'Parsifal' are often suggested as being 'less important' in comparison because their idiom does not match Tristan's extraordinary chromaticism. But 'Meistersinger' could also be considered the result of a restorative impulse, with its neobaroque elements, and 'pointing towards' the postmodern situation as predicted by Leonard B. Meyer in his 'Music, the Arts, and Ideas' where he describes the future of 20C music as probably resulting in a situation of a 'fluctuating stasis', a bold idea when the book was written: 1967, when modernism raged through music life. (University of Chicago Press, Chicago / London). In a fluctuating stasis, aesthetic ideas bubble-up and take-on some prominence for a while, only to withdraw into the background of public awareness again to make place for other ideas, and all of them circulate within a cultural field which can be best described, metaphorically, as a space in which historical possibilities freely float to be reworked and/or developed free from historical determination.

The German composer Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-1970) came-up with the idea of a 'Kugelform der Zeit', a metaphor where all different times exist together in one mental space, without a 'time line'. He tried to realize this in his controversial opera 'Die Soldaten', which is a twelve-tone 'Totaltheater' where indeed things happen simultaneously - a rather literal interpretation of his idea. But the timelessness of his Kugelform idea touches on an a-historical vision which may only become better understood in the 21st century: nowadays, with so many sources of information being accessible, many different approaches of 'contemporary music' are being written and presented, in which what happened in history is repeated, developed, interpreted, reworked, restored, - including postwar modernism (sonic art), surprisingly. But it is a truly good prospect if pluralism is more widely accepted and works judged according to their artistic merits instead of their style or historic references.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Belgian integration experiment

The current political tensions in Europe are no longer the usual little tremors structurally part of democratic processes, but signify the important question about the future of the continent. The difficult relationship with Russia, the apparent withdrawel of the USA, Great Britain's exit from the EU, are all part of this pandora's box, but the most troubling is how to deal with the many immigrants - both the millions of second and third generation of (mostly muslem) immigrants and the many newlings, fugitives from war and devastation. As we know, the regular islamist attacks within Europe keep it awake to this ongoing, disruptive problem, fuelling the destructive influence of rightwing extremist parties (supported by Russia). The integration of non-European immigrants, people coming from countries with a very different cultural and political history, is thus one of the most important challenges for a Europe if it wants to preserve its character in the future.

Belgium has, so far, produced the greatest number of young muslem men who went to Syria to fight for IS, an embarrassing proof of an enormous failure of integration: where immigrant groups feel completely excluded from society and locked-up in an existence of poverty, destitution and isolation, without hope on a normal life, the morally underdeveloped of this group are vulnerable to a narrative which seems to answer all the longings which have been so drastically frustrated by experience. No doubt, one has to be very primitive to begin with and carry around a burning, vengeful need to destroy, to believe the archaic nonsense of those diabolical 'warriors for Islam'. But integration in a society where people will feel accepted as anybody else and with similar chances, will raise the treshold to destructive violence considerably.

An interesting experiment in the Belgian town of Mechelen appears to demonstrate the obvious solution. The town has a large immigrant community, mainly consisting of muslem families, and a ruling party: Open vld - Groen, which has provided the mayor, Bart Somers, who has developed a strategy to counter the incredible problem of many towns and cities in Belgium where hundreds (!) of young men have gone to Syria to help IS. This strategy is an example for every community in Europe. There are two lines of action: a) an intense educational program at all schools about civilized behavior, the development of social awareness and skills, and wide-spread sports programs where children learn to deal with each other and handle difference and freedom; and b) a zero tolerance strategy towards disruptive behavior both in public space and at schools across the board, with lots of police officers monitoring streets and markets, and with two police officers related to every school who immediately come-in where pupils misbehave and, when necessary, arrests are made. This policy has been in operation for many years, and while other towns have produced many disaffected youngsters going to Syria, Mechelen had none, and most people appear to be very happy about the improvements in public space. Of course, chances on employment have to fulfil the promises of the program, but it appears that this is working as well. The process does not touch the cultural customs of immigrant families, which - of course - are unrelated to the radicalisation of disaffected youngsters, and prepare young people for living as Europeans, being part of a society type which is universal, based upon enlightenment values, human rights, tolerance and hence: a protected individual freedom. Only in such way can European society be preserved for the future.

If culture as such can freely live under the umbrella of a secular, enlightenment society, would not the typical European culture as it has developed over the ages: its visual arts, architecture and music, disappear? As we know, this character has already disappeared in every cultural field in terms of new creation, and only its museum culture (the museums, the architectural monuments, the musical institutions like orchestras and opera houses) are kept alive through subsidies (mainly) and sponsoring (sporadically). If this heritage is to survive the 21C troubles, and - maybe - provide an impulse for a Renaissance, understanding the richness and meaning of this heritage should be a natural part of such educational programs as being practised in Mechelen, and it should be an important part of the policies of the European Union. The Mechelen way of treating the integration problem is a hopeful sign that it is indeed possible to find a fruitful solution to the problem.