Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Imagining an alternative


The contemporary neo-traditionalist, or neo-classical movement in architecture and urban design, was first imagined by architect Léon Krier. It is now inspiring many architectural and urban undertakings all over the world, in spite of immense opposition that Krier had to face, and devastating critique from all corners of the profession. New architecture inspired by the past is now a widely  accepted option, and no longer some kind of marginal oddity cultivated by people 'who don't understand their own time'.

A new way of interpretation of contemporary art, different from 'received wisdom' of half a century of ideological domination, first has to be imagined. Krier's imagining of an alternative brought him back to the achievements of the past, where he found universal laws, or dynamics, which determine form, function and expression.

Krier got the idea that there was such a thing as objective laws in architecture, that these laws remained more or less the same over time, and that in the West, classicism - in the widest sense - was the best expression of these laws. These laws are not fixed rules at the surface, but function on a deeper level, where the dynamics of invention and creation and fantasy operate in the subconscious of individual artists, and where they are fed and stimulated by examples. Related to music, we could say something similar: the internal dynamics which operate in all Western classical, serious music since its beginnings in medieval times, find ever new forms but their nature remains similar. The tonal dynamics under the surfaces of Stravinsky's Violin Concerto are of the same nature as those who give Monteverdi's 'Il Coronatione di Poppea' its compelling expression, as Wagner's 'Parsifal' makes use of the same dynamics that radiate from Palestrina's 'Missa Papae Marcelli'. 

In the context of a music world where modernism and its watery progeny has built something like an ideological consensus network of vested non-musical interests, to be adhered to (by composers), or to be ignored (by most classical performers), or to be criticized (by audiences), an alternative has first to be imagined before a new music can be written in full awareness of the implications, in other words: not in a spirit of denial of reality, but of full understanding of that reality and thus, deciding to explore different, alternative paths. This is something different from merely continuing a musical language of the past without taking into account what has happened since the beginning of the last century. To reject something, it is good practice to know it first. Therefore, in 'The Classical Revolution' much space is given to descriptions of the fallacies of modernism, misunderstood by some critics as an extremist attack. Where the subject matter is extremist in nature, a description cannot avoid showing the nature of the thing. (A description of the nazi concentration camps cannot be a pleasant and polite exercise.)  I believe that a true rejection of modernism (and its weak following) needs a full awareness of what it has brought into the world, so that something different can be imagined and created.... a renaissance of music, no less.



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