Preparing Atopy. A lecture in 6 parts. Part two: The Big Sleep
THE BIG SLEEP
I am often asked at parties what kind of music I write. This is a horribly difficult question to answer. Because “music” is of course a near endless term. “Music” can be St. John’s Passion or the music of the „Beatles“, both is „music“. I also think it is reasonable that both of it can be called “music”. Because in all kinds of music – be it popular music, dance music, Jazz music, improvised music, ethnical music, experimental music, film music – the chances to encounter horribly bad music are absolutely equal. This is the common trait of all music. But in each of these “genres” we can of course also find works of genius. For me there is no quality difference between the music of the Beatles and the music of Stockhausen. I actually also know which of these two I absolutely prefer!
So what should I answer to this guy at the party? If I say “I write Classical Music” then he will think I write like Mozart or Bach, which might only very rarely be true. If I say that I write “Contemporary Music” he will think I write Pop Music. If I then explain that I write “New Music” with a big “N” I first have to explain him what subgenre of a subgenre this actually is, and that it has something to do with something we call “Second Viennese School” and a German philosopher called Adorno. This is the moment when my conversational partner might lose any interest in what I try to tell him and will wander off to the buffet to get some tacos under some lame excuse.
Imagine you would ask someone at a party, and he tells you he is breeding dogs. “What kind of dogs?” you ask, and he says „chihuahuas“. And you say “Ah, these cute little tiny dogs?”. And he says, „no, you are wrong, I am breeding North Afghan giant chihuahuas, who are somewhat bigger than south indian giant chihuahuas, but also smaller than honduran giant chihuahuas, but only the ones close to the Brazilian border“. When your conversation partner now continues to tell you about this really rare and special breed of Chihuahuas you have never heard about in your life you might be able to imagine the pain that someone feels when you try to tell him what “New Music” with a big “N” actually is.
New Music with a big “N” is part of “Classical” music culture, though. It is dependent on highly trained individuals who have studied hard at our academies beyond whatever was on offer as a curriculum. And therefore New Music is part of sleeping zombie Classical Music, like it or not. It comes out of it like pus out of a festering wound.
I don’t want to see Classical Music sleeping like sleeping beauty anymore, detached from current developments in music, always repeating the same. And with this I don’t only mean developments in current New Art Music but developments in all kinds of music.
There is something like the sum of all music on this planet, and this sum encompasses high culture, pop culture and sub culture. All these cultures can contain relevant discoveries, new aesthetics, new sounds. High culture is actually rarer on the cutting edge than we all like to think, but it is often the most refined incarnation of the cutting edge. In “high” culture things can be dissected and researched without any borders or commercial rules. Composers like Mozart and Schubert were absolutely aware of the popular music of their times, but they have heightened it by looking behind the facade of mere practicability, and they have uncovered things that touch us deep in our soul.
But their achievement came out of a continuous process – one cannot state that something like a plateau or a last wisdom has already been achieved with this music, something that you can now put into a museum or on a pedestal. Mozart and Schubert are anything but eternal – and this is one of the biggest lies of upper class Classical Music lovers – but very much perishable if we don’t confront them continuously with a contemporary gaze.
In the theatre there is a lot of interesting friction at work when performing classical pieces. There are new translations of Greek dramas, there is a constant discourse, and a constant effort to bring something like Shakespearian language alive in our times. This can mean that it is interpreted anew, filmed, rapped, perhaps redone as a musical if you wish. To understand Shakespeare we have to continuously translate him. That’s no shame at all, and I think Shakespeare would have been the first to appreciate this constant reinterpretation.
Of course in theatre there are also new, contemporary pieces. Not each and every one will survive or become part of a canon, of course. Perhaps it will be played only a couple of times, and only a few people will see it. But that’s not important – because without these new pieces Shakespeare can also not survive. It is no surprise that the ratio of new and old piece in theatre programming practice is a healthy 50% to 50%, which is very good. In Classical Music it is completely different. Take operas: the same actually rather small canon of pieces is played up and down, and it is already considered a big risk to put something on that is – of course – old and sounds nice, but which is not as well known as “Aida” or “La Boheme”. Premieres of new pieces are not intended to earnestly create new repertoire but to give prestige to the opera directors and opera houses and – of course – also composers. One celebrates the premiere, briefly, perhaps there will be a small review, but in the end this newborn piece is nothing but am unwelcome guest in the gallery of mummies called “Carmen” or “The Magic Flute”. As an opera composer I often feel like Tom Cruise in Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” – I visit the full-on sex orgy, but I don’t belong there at all.
If there could be an end to the idiotic practice that each and every opera house, be it in Wisconsin or New York, has to put on the fucking “Ring of the Nibelungs” at some point, there would be so much room for new things. But no, at some point in the not too far future the only operas played at all will be the „Ring of the Nibelungs“, everywhere in the world, but noone will understand the darned piece anymore, out of context. Even now I am sure that the current team heading the “Bayreuther Festspiele” in Germany, the mecca of Wagner lovers from all over the world, have absolutely no clue about the pieces they put on there, otherwise they wouldn’t try to hire one director buffoon after the other in the hope to create some glamour and hype. Which in the end is only supposed to hide the fact that Bayreuth is already long stone dead, like an upturned armadillo lying at the edge of the highway. And the reason for this is that they only play Wagner. Which is not good, even for him. Nobody profits from being embalmed. But this is happening to opera when “Nessun’ Dorma” has become a casting show standard sung by mobile phone sellers, when Mozart is published on an „Easy listening Classics“ CD that you find for a buck at the supermarket cashier, for 99 cent.
We can understand Classical Music as something that has attained a certain relevance in a couple of hundred years of music history, something that has attained a certain charisma that can only be created by the constant mirroring of the old and the new, because the things that are dealt with are truthful and deep. But we can only find truth if we can ask about this truth again and again. Only if it has an answer for us then, it is true.
And this truth is long unknown to the jury members of a typical Classical Music competition, because they rather like to look at tamed little horses who deliver the interpretation they already expect. If Artur Schnabel would compete in a competition today – and in contrast to current contenders he didn’t try to look like a porn star and actually had read more than one single novel in his life – he would be kicked out in the first round of the Tchaikovsky competition. But he belonged to a generation of pianists to whom the term „interpretation“ meant more than delivering a couple of notes correctly. It meant something to be achieved by hard intellectual work featuring the constant confrontation with the new. When this generation of pianists was active, Classical Music was healthy in contrast to today. This is not because of a lack of talent. In fact we have a loads of talented musicians, even today. But how can they develop a deeper understanding of music when they have to fire the parade of zombie concerts, rushing from airport to airport, under enormous pressure to never fail, never mess up, playing repertoire that has been played exactly the fucking same by thousands before them? And knowing that 2 million Chinese pianists are already practicing to replace them sooner or later?
The question is: can authentic, truthful art be created under these circumstances?
No, no, and no.
I think we are dealing with the shadow of truth that is projected on the wall of a cave deep down in the abyss. But the light has died, because the flame has died long ago.
This is why I yearn for the knight in shining armor who can not only wake sleeping beauty Classical Music from her sad sleep but can give her a good kick in the butt as well.
(TO BE CONTINUED)