Sunday, 4 October 2015

Liberated from music

Benjamin Britten was, by all accounts, a great composer of music, and definitely one of the most important composers of England. He created a musical centre, Aldeburgh, little town on the east coast, complete with concert hall and all kinds of musical facilities. Read the latest initiative of the organisation:

"Aldeburgh Music is as much a retreat where artists can create new work as it is a venue. The organisation has new work at its heart and is one of the UK’s leading facilitators in music and other arts."

The result can be admired in the videos under the heading 'Made in Aldeburgh':

Now, while Britten continued to write successful new music - successful in both the artistic sense and in terms of audience reception - John Cage, at the other side of the pond, wanted to liberate new music from its grip by the restrictive, intellect-driven serialist avantgarde by exclaiming that all sounds can be music, and that we only have to listen carefully to understand this great and unexpected insight. Cage's gospel of liberation quickly found acceptance all over the globe, thousands of young people with musical ambition sighed with relief: suddenly composing music became accessible to really everybody. The slogans of 'new' and 'young' became offical stamps of garantee that the future of music was now finally within reach of the egalitarian society, where quality requirements, individual talent and personal expression became symbols of bourgeois suppression of the masses and had to be fought against as means of unfair class war.

Britten wanted new music to be accessible for anyone, and had no patience for the elitist, hermetic ideologies of the serialism of the time. But that did not mean that he wanted to discard notions of musical craft, invention, quality, and meaning. Accessibility means: lower the treshold of art, but not the qualities of its offerings, because in that case there would be nothing left to lower tresholds for. Cage's puerile ideas were, in fact, populist: doing away with the notion of the work of art, together with its long, impressive traditions of which the museums with the great collections, and the orchestras and opera houses are the preservation institutions, keeping the cultural flame alive.

In these days, when a populist critique of classical music threatens to undermine its funding and thus, its existence, and when pop music of the lowest kind fills every corner of public space, in established institutions which were set-up to serve music as an art form, the idea of something being 'new' and 'young' began to act as a quick solvent of any common sense and helped populism to intervene even in a place like Aldeburgh. One could ask: so what? Isn't this merely contributing to a healthy pluralism? Alas, the answer can only be no, because the populism of an egalitarian world view excludes the possibility of cultivating quality, individualism, and the maintaining of cultural traditions which are all based upon hierarchical notions of artistic value. And what is more: the money spent upon this nonsense should be used to support real music, and not the meaningless and immature attempts by obviously untalented people to steal the glamour of 'classical music' to acquire an easy income. It is nothing less than parasitism upon society.

Benjamin Britten strove, again and again, after musical quality in his work. He never saw a contradiction between his artistic ambitions and the idea that music should be accessible. Present-day Aldeburgh has decided to open its doors to the masses, not on the audience's but on the producing side.

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