Saturday, 9 January 2016

Jerome Ducros: modern anti-modernist

"Being modern, we learn, is refusing the norm. OK. But what should we do when the modern has become the norm? When my teacher instructs me to be modern, explaining that being modern is disobeying one's teachers, what should I do?" The French pianist and composer Jerome Ducros in 'Is there a music after contemporary music?'


"If real modernity demands that one combines an attitude and an aesthetics entirely dominated by it [modernity], then one is forced to conclude that, today, it is impossible to be modern."

What does this sentence mean? For Ducros, there is a difference between the modern attitude and modern aesthetics. The first is a psychological position with at its centre: independence and authenticity, i.e. objecting to conformity as laid-down from outside. The latter is referring to a style in which the anti-conformist attitude is embedded in the musical language itself, a musical language written, as it were, against some conformity. And when non-conformity has become conformity, you cannot be modern.

Article in the 'Libération':

It may seem a rather tortured logic, but it is merely the logic at the heart of modernist ideologies (as, for instance, advocated by Boulez). The musical tradition was, in postwar times, seen by composers who considered themselves the torchbearers of musical development, as something stale, as conformity, as following rules and nothing more. This included especially using a tonal language because tonality was the widespread basis of all music, including the despised entertainment music (Adorno) and the wornout clichées of bad composers who could only faintly imitate the late-romantic excesses of the core repertoire, popular with audiences. Thus anti-traditionalism gradually became a tradition in itself and got stuck in its own contradictions.

Jerome Ducros is a brilliant and very gifted and sensitive pianist. His own music, with roots in Fauré, Brahms and Rachmaninoff, as far as I can hear, could have been written by the end of the 19th century.  I think it's very courageous to present it as a serious endeavor, however scorned by modernists. Whatever critique I could have is not related to the musical language as such, but to the way in which it is handled: to my taste, the idiom is a bit impersonal because of so closely following the grammar of those halicon times, and textures are too obvious, too easily applied - pianistic arpeggios all the time. But I am in full sympathy with it: all this works excellently as music.

In 2012 Ducros was invited to hold a lecture at the Collège de France, an important academic institution, a lecture open to the public, where he criticized established atonal modernism in France, demonstrating the obvious flaws of the concept with elegant irony and effective demonstrations on the piano. This lecture provoked a scandal and a flurry of reactions in the french media, amply demonstrating the paranoid ambitions of a crumbling modernist establishment in France, not allowing for alternative points of view. Ducros was even accused of nazi sympathies by the defenders of modernism. The entire lecture can be seen on YouTube:

An overall review of the affair can be read on Ducros' Wikipedia website:

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