Preparing Atopy. A lecture in 6 parts. Part 1: The long Goodbye
(This is the English translation of a 6 part lecture that I gave in Mainz about the possibilities of what I call „atopical“ music)
THE LONG GOODBYE
It’s downright impossible to talk about the end of something. Endings tend to come later than one thinks, and when they come early, one usually didn’t expect them.
But still, I want to say it here, because it is true and because it is important to understand the full ramifications of this truth: that what we call “Classical Music” is…perhaps not completely dead, yet. But completely futile.
I have to differentiate: Classical Music like we understand and teach it at the moment is futile, artistically dead like a non-functioning member, a tumor, a bulbous tumor perhaps on the buttocks of a decadent, ridiculously wealthy and ridiculously dumb society. How often have we heard: Classical Music is dead, not salvageable. At the same time we get arguments of neurologists that studying and playing classical music makes you intelligent and will turn your children into ever-so-efficient prodigy drones (and I write this without any irony, as many parents would really wish their children to be like that). I don’t know which of the arguments I find scarier.
The signs are there, and they are unambiguous. Classical Music has already died, but lives a long and sometimes even prosperous pseudo-life as a shambling and rotting zombie. I write this as an academician, and I know that the many, many music academies educate thousands of fantastic young music students every year in Germany alone, and many of them will be successful in reviving the revoltingly decomposing undead body of Classical Music with new life and energy.
But with each „international music competition” in some obscure town in Tuscany Classical Music is killed. With each Tchaikovsky prizewinner Classical Music is killed. And with each „Echo Klassik“ award (note: a much hyped but artistically dubious award for classical music in Germany) Classical Music is not only killed, one hurls it onto the ground, sticks a brightly lacquered boot in its face and turns the heel on it. And if André Rieu and David Garrett join the fray it becomes a veritable gang rape.
I am not talking about dwindling audience numbers or empty concert halls. I find it absolutely perverse to measure the worthiness of something on commercial success, as it is equally perverse to confuse social status of people with their inner values. We all know that a powerful politician is not necessarily a good citizen, and we also know that a stadium concert in front of 60.000 people can be without any artistic merit whatsoever, so why do we measure the value of music in sold tickets?
I don’t talk about the greying hair of the audience, because that hair was gray already 100 years ago, and that was a time when Classical Music was relatively healthy. No, we have made up the corpse of Classical Music with some eyeliner and lipstick, and have sat her on a throne, and in front of this throne crawl the last upper class intellectuals of this world and repent, because they feel that this will open the gates of paradise for them. And that’s hell on Earth.
You might be surprised after all this to hear my confession: I love Classical Music. Deep from my heart, with a true and undying love. I don’t love it because it sounds “nice” but because it belongs to the highest and most elated achievements of human culture.
This is also not a frustrated love – I love playing Classical Music. I am not frustrated because I can make a living from playing Classical Music. I have dedicated my life to the idea of Classical Music and never regretted it. And yes, I would love to convey this love to my students, to talk with them about the exquisite subtleties of Schumann, the celestial inspirations of Mozart, the great artistry of Stravinsky. I also wish for this music to prosper and live in the future, that it is played well and that it is – most important of all – understood for the right reasons. Because this music opens up possibilities, enlarges our mind and transcends our low existence. But I don’t want to call this music “classical”, because for me it is not like a classic statue that I put into the museum but a music that deserves to live, to be healthy. But if it continues like now this will not be the case anymore. Classical Music will become a “Musique d’ameublement” which runs under a commercial for BMW. And that is worse than the museum. It’s like dressing up the statue of David by Michelangelo in a cheap outfit by H&M.
Classical Music is “used” these days. One has to “do” the music by Wagner, by Beethoven, by Brahms, a fledgling conductor is told. Preferably with a really good orchestra that can play second fiddle to the conductor’s own orgy of masturbatory baton love. And to prove oneself one has to conquer this music, like a general. One speaks of “commanding” a piece – nowhere else the vocabulary is so close to military drill like in orchestral Classical Music. Conductors like a Christian Thielemann don’t want to make music primarily, they want to triumph by the means of music. That’s a major difference to earlier generations of “Maestros” who were perhaps more modest and dedicated to the cause when entering the concert hall.
Why is Classical Music a hopeless case? It is not healthy because it has become a “genre”. A “genre” is needed to find something in our search-engineered (or should I say enginized?) world. I read thrillers, so Amazon recommends thrillers to me. I read Science Fiction, so Amazon recommends SF novels to me. These are genres. Each genre has its own clientele, and that’s fine with me. Great art is always different, though. The really good crime novels – let’s take Raymond Chandler – are not only genre, they are more than that, they define a time and a place and a feeling and a yearning much more aptly than the average dime novel with a detective and a dame. There is something about these novels that make you think and ponder instead of just feeling entertained. “Don Quixote” famously begun as a parody of chivalrous romances, but then became so much more, a masterwork of literature. Edgar Allen Poe was not “horror author” by today’s standards, he invented the contemporary horror genre, and the contemporary short story and the contemporary Detective story as well. There was no genre when he started writing, he entered new territory. He is not genre, he is the founder of a genre, and that’s a big difference.
In all arts we know the free space of a more general term for everything. Literature can be genre literature, “high” literature or pulp literature. We all know that in this shark pool of possibilities crap is usually dominant, but when we talk about literature we still speak of a living art form, ebooks or not, because there is a need to get to grips with the labyrinth of our reality through the means of words, through the creation of inventive or even rhymed prose. In literature there is a Hemingway next to J.K. Rowling, Albert Camus next to Stephen King. “Classic literature” – like Shakespeare – survives because it is constantly reinvented, interpreted, filmed, set to music, whatever. Because of that classic literature lives. At the same time there is a great need for contemporary literature, because language is changing like perception is changing. If we say the word “literature” we therefore don’t think of Homer and Ovid only, but of contemporary authors first. And that comes very natural and without feeling forced. Even if we rather read Balzac than anything from today (which is probably very rare among readers) we still automatically acknowledge that there is a need for new words.
In the visual arts it is similar – “art” can be design, craft, decoration on buildings or Picasso, but first of all it is something that has been created out of the impulse to recreate an inner image. We adore classic art, we love the Sixtine Chapel, but we don’t want to live in Sixtine Chapels only. We want to surround ourselves with a style that feels contemporary, that is in tune with our visual hunger, with the vibe of a certain time. Only very few of us only want to exclusively look at Flemish art from the 17th century, even if this art is indeed very nice. When we speak of art we speak of Michelangelo as well as Andy Warhol, and that is right and good.
But Classical Music is no art anymore. It was an art, it is not anymore. In its veins flows no blood. It sleeps because its heart is not beating anymore.
Classical Music as treated by our culture in the last 60 years or so is a cold and dead statue. No, it is like the discarded broken arm of a statue. It is like an amputated member, it is not part of a living and breathing musical culture anymore. An amputated arm cannot survive in Medicine, except when we immediately reattach it. But it is very well possible that it is too late in the case of Classical Music.
Classical Music is like a frozen genre, like Dixieland Jazz. Of course Dixieland still exists, and there are still good Dixieland musicians. But only very few people would dare to state that Dixieland is a living and forward looking musical genre instead of a quaint nostalgic one that we keep around because it used to entertain us. And one needs a certain kind of stubbornness to only like and play Dixieland music exclusively. Woody Allen only manages because he does some films as well.
Of course you can argue that the body of Classical Music is somewhat richer than Dixieland, and that is true. But what has been done to this body of music? One has picked out of it, like crudely plucking a beautiful flower, approximately 200 years of music history only, and from these 200 years only the most beautiful bits. These bits have been frozen in amber, which in German incidentally means “Bernstein”. In this Amber, like ancient insects from the age of dinosaurs, we can discover a lot of beauty, but still it is an archeology of fossilized beauty.
Classical Music is not living anymore because it is not part of our living presence. It could be, but most concert organizers don’t know this anymore and put the same three pieces on the program, until kingdom come. You can bet that “Bolero” is one of these three pieces. Music of our time is not featured, and if it is, chances are it is film music or computer game music, different genres altogether.
I’m not the first to say this, but as long as in concerts of Classical Music an average of 1% contemporary music is featured, and mostly as the first piece in the first half so that concert goers who hate it can come late, it cannot be alive. This 1% is nothing more than a bloody alibi. This 1% is the cleaning agent that you put on the amber to free it from dust. Nothing more.
As long as it is like that Classical Music is a genre that cannot evolve, that is atrophying and freezing in endless repetition. A genre without any hope of revival, and the hollow eyed porn star styled Claasical Music stars of today, posing on their Facebook pages like a parade of androids, only confirm this notion.
Whoever realizes this has to draw consequences. And about these consequences I want to talk next.
(TO BE CONTINUED)