It occurs to me that in my defense of intractability, etc. I have made myself vulnerable to Richard Taruskin’s charge of irrelevantly clinging to the dying idealogy of German romanticism. And my case wouldn’t be appreciably helped if I substituted intractable works by say, Gesualdo or Scriabin for the works I did invoke by Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Berg. Oh, well, let it stand. When somebody believes in something, it is only too easy to find reasoning that seemingly makes one’s own point of view appear to be the best point of view. To borrow a rhetorical tool from Nietzsche, here are some “maxims and arrows” related to the subject at hand:
- A composer creates his own audience.
- Yes, he creates it, and then like as not abandons it.
- What is the difference between some run-of-the-mill divertimento in D Major by a Classical composer, and some piece for three amplified percussionists, called “Resonances” by a Darmstadter?
- In every way, John Cage is more old-fashioned than Rachmaninov.
- Yes, and Philip Glass is more old-fashioned than Puccini. Compare “Satyagraha” and “Boheme”.
- But Schoenberg, despite vociferous hype to the contrary, is not old-fashioned. You can’t be old-fashioned before you’ve been digested (and being an icon for a generation of university composers is not digestion).
- Mozart wrote approximately three times as much music as Beethoven. They have roughly the same number of masterpieces. Does this make Beethoven better?
- No. He just has a better batting average.
- Taruskin’s words, “accommodation” and “German romanticism” are new words for that old stand-by of Schiller’s, the “Naive and the Sentimental”.
- Re Taruskin: Beethoven is sentimental in this dichotomy, agreed, but is Shostakovich “naive”?
- Polemics are like junk food; they taste great at first, but anything more than a few bites leaves you feeling a little nauseous; one wants fresh air.
- Popular and “high brow” music aren’t the same subject and shouldn’t be compared; they serve different functions; but sometimes they overlap.
- The composer is closer to the poet, never the scientist. Beauty can’t be “proved”.
In “A Shostakovich Casebook”, Taruskin wrote movingly of an experience he had listening to a Shostakovich symphony with sophisticated musicians, in the Soviet Union. He relates that he looked around to see if there were expressions of condescension on the part of his Soviet colleagues, and was taken aback to see how deeply involved with and moved by the music they were, and it appears he had a sort of epiphany, or awakening, which led him to question the biases in our higher musical education system. Could this be the beginning of the train of thinking that led to his article, “The Musical Mystique”?