An incorrect response, authenticity, and sticking to your guns. Letter (part 3)

Lady Writing a Letter (Vermeer)

Lady Writing a Letter (Vermeer)

I went for a long walk. For days now, a four note motive has been going through my head. It seems to come from working on the string quartet, though why, I don’t know, as it’s not a theme.

Going up it’s B F# A and then down to a C# and back to the B again, then on and on in a circle. It’s in my head as those specific pitches, and when I get home and test them on the piano, the level hasn’t dropped and it hasn’t risen. I am not so constant with tempo. When I start working on something, I measure the tempo. Later on, when I consult the metronome again, I find that the tempo in my head has changed.

The only thing that I would remark about the four note group is that it is, typically for me, an idea that can likely occur in folk music, but less likely in old classical music.

I walked through Erasmus Park, then on to Rembrandt Park. Then back again. Not there and back in a line, but in a wide circle (clockwise).

Rembrandt Park is leafy, and today, it was all dripping wet. There are some comical looking water birds on the canals. And the seagulls make a loud noise. The mallards are randy.

Here is the third part of my letter about new music. I’m talking about the relation between avant-garde, and popular taste:-
An incorrect response by musicians in the minority

It follows logically from the points I have made that it is utterly foolish of contemporary composers when they start to complain bitterly that the general public takes no notice of their vast dissonant violin concertos. What presumptuousness! It is not for us to demand what should or should not be popular. Music is something of the spirit, as I said, and there is a great spiritual movement involving popular dance music and song. That movement does not involve the music we think of as great, so not Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto, but also not those comparatively popular ones by Mozart and Bach. Violin Concertos are tangential in this context……

Authenticity as the correct goal for musicians alienated from the world of mass taste

I used the phrase “colossally attractive” when I spoke about the reaction to American-derived modern music. The word “attractive” is my personal key to issues about orientation in our society. To know what attracts us is to be authentic. And authenticity does not lead to popularity because what is popular is that which speaks to a deep need in the mass of people. We noted the case of Vaughan Williams. He described The Lark Ascending as “an English landscape transcribed into musical terms”. If composers want to be truly popular with classical music lovers in the UK, perhaps they can head in that direction. If however they want to be authentic, they should pay attention to their own tastes/feelings, though that may lead down uncomfortable paths (like sticking unperformed symphonies in the drawer, or whatever).
Sticking to your guns

Louis Andriessen once said to me “the public can bring us nowhere”. He meant it cannot help us to develop in new directions, so its tastes should therefore be discounted. I’m not wholly in agreement with that view, but the history of our times can be argued to confirm it. There are endless anecdotes one can tell. Just today, because it was hot, I wandered around a little in the factory district west of Amsterdam (where I work three mornings a week) before cycling home. I noticed walls and windows and outlines that directly resembled a non-figurative period of Mondriaan’s work. They don’t resemble at all the nice landscapes that the public would have preferred him to produce. What was unpopular has become the very stuff of the environment. So how stupid that it was condemned as worthless. And this same pattern crops up with us – because “useless” avant-garde music is all over Hollywood soundtracks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *