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Education: Rotterdam Conservatory, Cambridge University // Activities: composition, writing

Saturday 31 July 2021

Sweelinck Festival

This October there will be a festival in the Netherlands celebrating the musical heritage of 17C Dutch composer Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, an oeuvre which has led an existence more or less in the shadows, given the lack of interest in musical matters in the country. Hopefully the festival will correct such entirely undeserved neglect:


In the 17th century, music written in the Dutch Republic had no cultural identity of its own but was simply North-European music, hence the easy way it was spread to the German lands, via Sweelinck's students to J.S.Bach. Sweelinck's music is indeed of the greatest quality and full of expressive surprises, and is certainly not enough performed, in spite of the wide-spread HIP movement (Historically Informed Performence).

The Dutch Republic, being the first bourgeois republic in Europe, never had a specific cultural or political identity (which was a continuing debate among its leaders). It still does not have a national identity, it simpy imports everything from abroad and makes it smaller, according to its own mindset. Culture has a very low priority in the country, so there is not much interest in Sweelinck's music as a 'symbol' of cultural identity.

Later composers never developed a national identity and were rooted either in music from Germany or France, which was the only way to develop at all. The first 'typically Dutch' national style in new music was created by Louis Andriessen in those jolly sixties of the last century, and an aesthetic embarrassment for any serious adult musician. Sweelinck would have turned in his grave if he heard it.

Hopefully this festival will draw the attention of musicians abroad, so that the music will travel into more wholesome air.

Monday 26 July 2021

Where does romanticism come from?

In the 19th century, romanticism was a strong force in classical music, as it was in poetry and literature. But where did it come from? Why this cultivation of the subjective, of individualism, sometimes beyond all reasonable boundaries?

When – in the course of the 18th century – philosophers began to write about the Self, about the awareness of the individual interior space, it was part of the Enlightenment movement (with its strong emphasizing of rationality) which gave increasing importance to the individuality of man. The gradual unmooring of the subjective part of Self mirrored the process of objectification of the world: the rational, objective view of the world as advocated by the Enlightenment philosophers meant that there was less and less place for the subjective as part of that world, and the subjective became one of the driving forces of the movement of Romanticism in the 19th century, which was cultivated in intellectual and artistic circles, feeding the rest of society with works that compensated for the increasing lack of subjective engagement with an increasingly rationalistic and materialistic world.

Saturday 10 July 2021

The threat of convention

 The first obstacle that the creative mind faces in its development, is convention. The creative spirit wants, above anything else, to do things its own way - it wants to learn from examples to be able to develop, but it does not want to be chained by what many other people think or want, it want to be free to delve into all the possibilities, in all the varying options, that appear in the space of its imagination, and to be free to accept and to reject anything entirely according to its own inspiration and instincts.

What is convention? It is custom, and a social thing, making communication and exchange possible without the aggression of knife and club. It is a gentle theatre of manners, ideas, behaviors, which are the most easily accepted by the average mind, and which lead to bridges of understanding, compromise and identity confirmation - the human being is a social being. There is, in principle, nothing wrong with this. But for individual artistic achievement, this can be a hindrance: of course the creative person has the same social needs as anybody else: the need of acceptance, of identity confirmation, of support, of feeling that he shares meaningful values. But not on the condition that he sacrifies his innermost convictions or ideas or inspirations.

So, what happens in the development of the creative psyche, is a long trajectory where it has to overcome its perfectly natural social needs to be able to realize its potentialities. The sacrifice this entails, can be very painful and harming on a personal level, depending upon the degree of conventionality of the environment. The very thing that has to function as a bridge between people, becomes an impenetrable wall, cutting-off the normal channels of human connection. The artist can still maintain a social network which nevertheless fails to understand what he is doing, which creates a sharp cut between the outside and the inside of his life - two spheres disconnected. 

The price for individual achievement is thus isolation and loneliness. Hence the absence of great artists in our time - that is, either they don't exist because the price is for most people in our spoiled and materialist world simply much too high, or we don't know about them because they are behind that impenetrable wall that surrounds them and prevents them from emerging into public space. Hence the suffering of the greatest artists, even if they appear to be socially integrated, and the deprivations of the world: it is bereaved of something it never came to know, let alone understand.

This means that convention is always the deadliest threat to art, also today where convention simply has taken other forms than in the past but functions in the same way.


Thursday 8 July 2021

Capitalism destroys classical music

Interesting short article in the 'Politisches Feuilleton' of the German radio station Deutschlandfunk, correctly complaining that the way in which society often looks at the classical music world, is entirely wrong. It is the capitalist, materialist way of treating classical music not as an art form, but as a business, so that it is run as a business is run, thereby completely bypassing the nature of what the art form is. Namely, classical music is neither entertainment (although it forms a relatively small part of it), nor a business which is motivated by making profit, but an art form as a common good for the whole of society, in which money is invested to make it available. So, losing money by funding classical music is not losing at all, but an investment as paying for motorways is an investment, or the police force or the army. Nobody complains that the police force doesn't make any profit. The crisis of the art form has more than one source, but the entirely ignorant way its funding is treated, is one of the most serious ones. This hangs together with the idea, that classical music is a museum culture and has less and less relationship with the modern world, which ignores the strong influence the art form has on human psychology, which is resonating with everything classical music has to offer, since its dynamics are universal and not locked-up in history.

Looking at the art form as a museum culture, as a business, and as entertainment for the happy few, is a lethal combination of ignorance and indifference - in other words: decadence and barbarism. It is like throwing the family jewels in the dustbin because gold, diamonds and antiques don't show enough similarities with plastic, stainless steel and diswashers.