When I am talking to others I am more and more keenly aware of listening to something other than their words. I listen to the sounds they make and I watch their movements, because I am trying to see what is hidden there. Speech is also music and can be listened to as such. Sometimes something rather odd happens. I passed a woman as I left work last night and I thought “yes, that is a good aura”. About a half dozen individuals at my work have what I call “good auras”.
Today is the anniversary of my father’s birth.
The concept of a European soul that creates reflections of itself
About ten years ago, in Venice (with my teacher Ernesto Rubin de Cervin, to refer to him once more), I was in St. Mark’s for a concert given by a German orchestra and choir. They played Wolfgang Rihm, Alois Zimmerman and Schoenberg’s “Prelude to the Genesis Suite”. I said afterwards to Ernesto “Schoenberg is the Crown Jewels of Europe”. That was enough to create an understanding between us at that moment. If I have to dispense with the metaphor, I’d say that the work is at one with the spirit that created us as we are – small mirrors of a European soul. I could have said it of Machaut, or of the Grote Markt in Brussels but instead I said it of Schoenberg. It was more of an exclamation actually, as Schoenberg gets such a bad press you can start to forget what a precious jewel he is for you………
So with that conviction I have a right appreciation of Schoenberg and see what logically must follow from that. Perform him! Listen to him!
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.
Today’s work on the quartet was influenced by seeing images of children drawing. Flowers and plants poking out of grass, big letters, random looking scrawls. And the colours – those bright crayon ones. Up and down, quickly represented by a scrawl of blue for sky, a scrawl of green for grassy ground. They were still photos, but you could see the movement and speed and fluency of it all in the untroubled faces, the happy smiles.
I had yesterday evening mapped out the first movement of the quartet, or at least as much of it as I could be bothered to do, that late at night. What I had thought of as the slow movement (the section I derived from Poulenc’s harmonies), turned into an introduction to a fast movement. Just about three minutes long. This “slow movement” had ended with a long drawn out oscillation between two chords which could have been a dying fade away (O bad, bad, bad, cliche), but – suddenly – I saw that you could segue into something fast from there. And so, as in a gay bar, I quickly dropped one possibility, for another. Heh-heh.
We like segue………mmmm………oh yes we do. Anyway, as I started to work this morning, I had the childrens’ drawings in mind and that inspired me. As I sometimes do, I just took a pencil and “scrawled notes”. But quickly it became “organized” of course. I thought of ten different ways to develop material and also wrote a four-part fiddle dance (sort of) to provide subject material. Well, I needed something lighter after that dreary introduction. In my hands, the civilised Poulenc had become wintry and miserable.
We like tunes and dances………mmmm………oh yes we do.
Probably some people (people lacking my rigid self-discipline, I mean) start at such moments to think about sausages dipped in mustard. Or of licking around the base of chocolate liquors, prior to crunching on them and letting the alcohol trickle down their throats.
I agree with Pope Benedict that the public has become dreadfully hedonistic. It is distasteful, but there we are. On the other hand, I do enjoy a nice fat sausage now and again, and I feel that a German pope should show a bit of understanding here.
Anyway, I diverge……I don’t want a long unchanging slab of music, so…………em?…………er?…………
I remember that we went widdershins around San Giorgio (the Greek Orthodox church) in Venice, at Easter time in 1974, when I was a student. I walked home with a lighted candle all the way to San Samuele. Did it blow out? I don’t remember.
Today, there was a barbecue going on at one of the row of stone tables where you can play chess. Some men there were being tiresomely noisy, their women looking on, as if circumspect. Perhaps I was just viewing it through my irritation. Maybe they were looking on proudly………heh-heh.
Following on from yesterday’s dollop, here is the second part of my long letter on “new music”:- The dominant musical taste in the UK and other Germanic lands
“Those who ask themselves why the spirit of American-derived popular music is so colossally attractive to some European peoples account for it in various ways. It is fatuous in my view to point to the American music industry as merely another business success and something to do with celebrity. Music is spiritual and the triumph of American popular song and dance is a great spiritual movement I believe. Even Anglican church congregations feel the trend towards popular American styles, raising their arms (incongruously it has to be said), as if they were gospel singers.
I call the advent of modern music (in the sense that most people mean the term) ‘colonisation in reverse’ – a sign that the African diaspora has a lasting and unexpected impact……..all those hymn singing protestant colonists would be very surprised indeed at the turn of events.
And I personally see a connection between the metamorphosis of the Christian religion and the ascendancy of modern popular music. The two things are connected in my view, though they are unconnected in the view of most commentators. Europeans didn’t want to go on forever with their stiffly marching chorales and their pious Gregorian chants, they wanted to sing and dance as Africans feel free to do, without shame. When you see the painful shyness in the case of these ‘Germanic tribes’ here in the north, it is no wonder that they turn in this direction. Yet that they still do not sit in their bodies as happily as Africans do is clear. Africans appear to remain spiritually whole in spite of everything we throw at them. And we are seeking their wholeness, without any concept of what is happening, because our concept of Africa is all to do with poverty and disease. In our feelings however, we recognise its richness and its health. What generations ago would have been described as at best shameful and at worst satanic is now perceived to be authentically human, and that is the treasure that we grasp, perhaps more precious even than all the gold and diamonds we stole from our ‘inferiors’.
It is only time before we have an Archbishop of Canterbury who is ready to start jigging away…..we already have a Prime Minister who thinks that new British music means Oasis……so why not?
The process of what I called ‘colonisation in reverse’ began already at least a hundred years ago. (I can’t go into that in any detail here, but it is obviously clear in the early blues/jazz movement. It spills over also into European art. There is the case of Picasso/Braque cubism for example.) But of course it was never the case that classical music reached the grass roots of British society. A Mozart symphony was always remote from the general public. The so-called Celtic culture is very strong, the English folk one, comparatively weaker. Now however the old English folk music has become as remote as Mozart, whereas some new bit of African music will seem quite familiar in language. The situation in Africa itself, where some former colonies have a very visible Christian presence, is relevant here. A colleague told me recently that more than half the modern music being produced in Ghana is gospel.
Of course this all impacts on us. It is very important. Our activities, as classical musicians, are absolutely dwarfed by this spiritual movement. Europe shows mass disinterest in its traditional musical culture – those individuals at the top of the pyramid just as much as those at the lowest level. It reminds me of an anecdote from my teacher Rubin de Cervin. He told me that when Napoleon entered Venice, the Doge fled from his council chamber tearing off his robes as he ran. So it is now, with Europe in general, it can’t throw off its old music fast enough. I am not arguing for some quasi fascist response to this. Of course not. On the contrary, I think the change has to happen. It is a necessary transformation. It is also democratic.
But it does impinge greatly on us as upholders and extenders of a classical tradition. Indeed, in the face of all this, even some colleagues argue that we ourselves abandon our tradition. No way do we do that!
So I have ascribed a deep meaning beyond dollars and fame to this ‘colossus’ – popular song and dance”.
“New music” – the new classical music that came out of the late 1940s (which few people are even aware of) – is facing a complex of problems. To do with identity, audience and funding. My letter has do with orientation, only that. Seeking a point to think from, as if one were consulting a map, prior to going on a journey.
“We badly need a reasoned argument as to why classical music should be government funded. And a further argument as to why contemporary music should similarly be funded”. But I offered to send a further letter after a few months, to cover that area – that is, what classical music is, and why it should matter to government departments.
I went on:-
“I can already give my view as to why the debate goes so badly for us. It is easy to argue that people need good health care and good transport. But when it comes to music, we are dealing with a spiritual phenomenon. The twentieth century, from which we emerge, has largely rejected the concept of ‘spirit’. Our feelings alone tell us that you don’t put a bulldozer through Westminster Abbey. And those feelings are so strong that it won’t happen. Yet the poverty of the argument is such that you might find it went along the lines – ‘it’s historic, it’s beautiful, leave it be’.”
“So yes, the Marriage of Figaro is also historic and beautiful. And then what?” This issue of why classical music (or its equivalent in other art forms) should be preserved and extended was one for a further letter, as I said to them. But I have not yet written that letter.
Musical taste in Britain in respect of classical music
“I want to address myself first to democratic concerns. I see that this week [May 2006] the BBC publishes the results of a poll of 20,000 listeners to Classic FM about the comparative popularity of British classical works. The top ten favourites are:-
1. Vaughan Williams, Lark Ascending
2. Edward Elgar, Cello Concerto in E minor
3. Edward Elgar, Variations on an Original Theme
4. Karl Jenkins, The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace
5. Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
6. Gustav Holst, The Planets
7. George Frideric Handel, Messiah
8. Edward Elgar, Pomp and Circumstance March No 4
9. George Frideric Handel, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
10. George Frideric Handel, Zadok the Priest
Of those, only Karl Jenkins is alive. He is Welsh apparently. I don’t know his work.
If you analyse the list you can point to royal ceremonial, to the life of Christ, nostalgia and other forms of personal torment for the alienated romantic, deep love of landscape, the Tudor Golden Age……etc…
And we know that classical music puts in an appearance at funerals, weddings, in film scores, state ceremony……
I’ve probably missed something out, but I make the point that there is a small but crucial classical music ingredient to modern UK society that exists quite apart from the tastes of the, mostly elderly, music lovers who go to concerts. Only at one point does what we call contemporary music present itself to the general public – in film scores. But……still in democratic mode………we must see that the central musical issue of our time is that of popular song and popular dance – that deriving its spirit in great part from the African diaspora”.
I have been (and am) concerned by a certain snobbery that exists in my field. I have heard many composers talking about “outreach” – that is, abandoning avant-garde styles and adopting a more direct musical language that the public can engage with. Yet when it comes down to it, I find that these same composers are disinterested in what the public actually likes. I haven’t forgotten the “contra the avant-garde” English composer who, on a visit to Amsterdam, turned on me contemptuously when I said I liked Madonna. He spat out “WHAT do you like about her!” And I replied that I liked her music. So there is reaching out and then there is “reaching out”.
That’s why I began my letter by nailing some facts of life to the wall. If you’re going to talk about engaging the public, then take the subject seriously.
The ring for my mother was to be inscribed with a text. The same text that is engraved on the granite stone of the Homomonument that I talked about yesterday.
“Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen” (“Such an immense longing for friendship”).
The text is an extract from the poem “To a young fisherman” by Jacob Israel de Haan (1881-1924).
In my dream I was giving instructions to the jeweller for making two rings, as I said, but I forget the design of the other one, and for whom it was intended.
This week has been an “enchanted” one, but not in a nice sense of the word. I did a lot of reading about Scandinavian and also U.K. folklore. I came across what I thought was a beautiful chant (collected in the 19th century) to drive away witches and bad fairies and to call on good ones, to come and aid whoever has the job of churning the butter that day. I said it aloud……….
Come, butter, come,
Come, butter, come,
Peter stands at the gate,
Waiting for a buttered cake,
Come, butter, come!
Later, after this study, I was disconcerted to come home at 12.30 in the night and find dumped on the street by my door, a huge pile of clothing, neatly folded and resting on a large light blue rubbish bag, as if intended for me. It was damp from the rain. I piled the clothes into the bag and brought them upstairs, with a sick feeling. When I examined the contents again I found that the clothing was not mine, but a child’s. So I put the bag outside on the landing in order that it did not “cross over my boundary”. In the morning I took the bag downstairs and knocked on my neighbours’ doors to see whose it was. Hardly anyone was in, but I spoke to three people who knew nothing and who were not interested in any case. So I put the rubbish bag back where I had found it the previous night and by the next day it was gone. Whilst doing this, I noticed that all the street lighting was on, though it was late in the morning.
This story would not have any significance but for one detail. When I examined the clothing on the street at 12.30 on Tuesday night, in that dim light, I saw that it was mine.
I didn’t go to Memorial Day on May 4th. I was at work (in the Sorting Centre) but I heard over the radio the trumpet calls and the National Anthem. There was a two minute silence and everybody stopped working. Incidentally, I’m of the opinion that the Dutch National Anthem is the most beautiful in the world. When I hear it, I have to steel myself against tears.
During the National Remembrance of Dutch war victims (especially those in World War II), gay victims are also remembered. Today, passing by the Westermarkt on the way to my language class, I saw that the wreaths of flowers laid at the Homomonument eleven days ago are still there, by the water. I wanted to get off the tram and lay a flower but I was in a hurry. Silly, when you consider………how hurried we are, and we forget to take time for what is really important.
I quote from a Channel 4 document:-
In Germany, homosexual acts remained criminalised until the late 1960s, and gays convicted under the Nazis were not pardoned until 1998. Unlike other victims of the Nazis, none of them has received compensation for what they went through. How many died?…………… researchers estimate that some 50,000 men were convicted for committing homosexual acts, and that 15,000 gays died in Auschwitz alone, often as a result of being worked to death.
I have seldom been socially engaged. Writing music seems to soak up all one’s energies. But I have written several letters to newspapers where I felt someting needed to be said and I should try to say it. In the summer of 2006 a Scottish cardinal was quoted in the press as complaining about discrimination against Roman Catholics. I wrote to the Scotsman and they published this letter:-
Amsterdam, 8th August 2006
On New Year’s Day, no less, Cardinal Keith O’Brien saw fit to deliver an implacable rebuke from the pulpit over the government’s introduction of civil partnerships for same-sex couples. His homily discriminated against these unions in no uncertain terms, even adding insult to injury by associating them with the problem of sexually transmitted diseases.This same cardinal now protests against “sectarian discrimination”. I believe his cause is just, but I cannot myself view this particular prelate as a champion of fair-mindedness.
Yours Faithfully,Geoffrey King
It was a short letter, but it said something that needed to be said.
What makes this CD so pitiful is that the composer is “highly skilled” and can do elaborate things.
It interests me to find out where the error arises. Part of the problem is that the composer is so “full of feeling”. Fuck off with your feelings and write me some music already! He’s a bit of a preacher too. Well, I’m that as well, so I shouldn’t complain. Surely the main error has to with text – not understanding that music already has a “text” before you set it to a text. So he chucks together folk influences, with Expressionist ones, with blazing triadic chords for any mention of God, with Gregorian chant. Well there’s lots more stuff, but I can’t be bothered to list it all. The point is that these sources are already “texts” – I mean they speak of a certain world, they ARE a certain world.
Why are they here? Because of the words he is setting, that is why. He’s using style asmadigalisms. You know, Gregorian chant for calm and peace, modernist dissonance for pain and misery. Practically anything goes into this composer’s melting pot. But it doesn’t result in Stravinsky’s Octet. Stravinsky was able to set a fire under his pot as well as chuck stuff in it.
The composer – let me give him a name: Comrade Buffoon – makes a really unwise move at one point – quoting, or imitating, some gorgeous Renaissance chordal progressions. So that makes everything else he has set next to it sound like irritating bits of rubbish. After a busy day in a museum, there must be similar fag ends and old tea bags lying around that need cleaning up.
Is it any wonder I prefer to listen to Madonna, when I want to hear new vocal music? There you have a solid musical structure and, even with her “five notes”, some vocal interest too.
Andy’s blog is great fun. A cheeky dismissal of “our elders and betters”. When I was at school, cheeky boys were pulled out of the class, bent over and smacked on their naughty bottoms. They would then return to their seats red-faced, trying to stifle tears that they wished no one to see. I predict this will shortly happen to Andy. Here is something very very naughty from only his second blog:-
Boulez is half dead, Stockhausen has become a mad old fat guy, both are not composing contemporary music anymore (well, perhaps contemporary, yes, but is it music ?) …what a useless life they have had eh ? Certainly they cannot claim that they have made the world a better place.
Boulez, a living genius in our midst, if ever there was one (may his perfumed name resound for ever) is opening the Holland Festival by conducting a Janacek opera. Eh? If I were in his shoes (aged 80, or whatever) I’d be at home sorting out my unfinished pieces, in preparation for departing this “vale of tears”. But no, not he. More puzzling still is the advertisement I saw for his performance of Pulcinella. Eh? Maybe Boulez has forgotten that he hates neoclassicism and is becoming as demented as his German counterpart. That mad, bad, fat-arse: Stockhausen.
Boulez is a performer of course, and these guys go on for ever. I remember Klemperer in London, his hands shaking as he conducted, and everybody wetting themselves over it. Eh? Peter Heyworth told me that K. used to have prostitutes service him in the green room. There is something admirable in that, probably. Though it will have weighed against him in the balance.
But I don’t expect the vale (or valley) of Psalm 23 – from which the only reprieve is God’s salvation – figures much in the imaginations of master conductors. Are they not already god-like themselves? Yes they are. Truth be told, even I, humble as I am, am not hoping for God’s salvation. But if by chance I wind up in the celestial sphere, I shall seek out some recently departed pope or cardinal and kick him hard in the nuts, don’t you worry.
And Stockhausen will get a state funeral on Sirius presumably, so that’s sorted.
Probably Ananda Sukarlan and the other performers I know will still be arriving on stage in their wheelchairs when they themselves get old. I think Klemperer conducted from a wheelclair in the end. Most of these people are smothered by their relatives – it’s the only way finally to be rid of them.
I deeply reverence old age, and I have enormous respect for an old fucker like Stockhausen. I wouldn’t dream of describing this master composer, and child of the stars, as “a mad old fat guy” as Ananda has. The very idea!
Ananda Sukarlan! Come here boy! Bend over! Take six of the best! WACK! WACK! WACK! WACK! WACK! WACK!