Helmut Walther (Nuremberg)

"Death of Music out of the Spirit of Comedy?"
or: An Attempt at Determining the Evolutionary Situation of Music at the end of Metaphysic

Ensemble-Akademie Freiburg
Old and New Music
ensemble recherche
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra

Lecture of July 31, 2005, at the "Spielraum" of the Musikhochschule Freiburg

Links to the Web Sites of the two Ensembles
Ensemble Recherche
Freibur Baroque Orchestra
Report of the Neue Musikzeitung on the Freiburg Ensemble-Akademie 2004

Already Nietzsche's first work attempted to derive the "Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music", seen from a mythical viewpoint, as a confrontation between Dionysus and Apollo. Modern composers and cultural thinkers also like to return to such myths for the purpose of describing the essence of music, as, for example, Wolfgang Rihm in his discussion with George Steiner.(1) In contrast to this, I would like to attempt to present to you my understanding of music as part of cultural evolution of humanity in order to ultimately arrive at discussing the well-known problem of "serious" music in our times.

Please keep in mind that what I will present to you here are always hypotheses that will have served their purpose if they stimulate the listener to pursuing his own, independent thoughts along these lines. Of course, due to time constraints, I can only provide you with a rough outline of my own thought on this topic.

I have planned to present this to you in form of a reverse counting-out rhyme, as follows:

FOUR forms of immanence
THREE human interpretation capabilities/capacities
TWO musical forms: melody and rhythm
ONE end of metaphysic and music? – with a question mark

I. Four Forms of Immanence

The given topic of of the "Spielräume", which is the relationship of music to history and the immanence of music, I immediately latched on to the latter term; after all, as simple as the statement might sound: "immanence is the present", as little does such a definition do justice to the broad range of this term:

Immanence or the present is a form of time; from a physical viewpoint, the latter is actually not understood, yet. Our awareness of time comes from various sources: Outwardly, from the rhythms of nature (day/night and year), inwardly from vegetative rhythms (internal day/night rhythm, chemical-electrical brainwaves as steering mechanisms and combination of sensory, memory and awareness activities) as well as from varying emotional-rational time perception(s). Already here, with the term rhythm, we are encountering a phenomenon that plays a large role in music.

The four forms are: Moment-Now-Era-Omnipresence

1. The moment, the unreachable form: Only after 1/10 of a second, we become consciously aware of sounds, and we can not differentiate more than 12-15 sounds per second. This means: Our awareness, always and unavoidably, remains behind reality, and processes that form the undercurrent(s) of our act of awareness are always bundled together by us. Moreover, our brain regulates the signals that belong together but that, through the various sensory organs, travel at different speeds, through a "perception window" so that that which belongs together is brought together. All these combinations of "momentary perception windows" are the work of our brains that we, ourselves, are not aware of.

2. Out of this, the consciously perceived human immanence or present is created: the time stream of emotio and ratio, our actual human immanence or present, the "here and now." The combination of things by means of language results in the next-to-each-other of space and in the one-after-another of time, as only humans know them.(2) This "constructivism" of our awareness then leads, if it is reflected, as by Immanuel Kant, to the assumption of the famous "thing as such", which we can actually never see with our own eyes.(3)

3. The present as era already assumes the (existence of) the reflection of the existence of man as a being of history and of his cultural development. The actual question of the "Spielraum" topic as to the relationship of the historical achievements of music, such as those of the Baroque, and of its modern existence, I can safely leave out here, since other speakers will have addressed these issues--therefore, I, myself, have chosen another aspect of "historicism", namely that of cultural evolution: one phenomenon of this development, again, is music. I would also still like to refer to Nietzsche's Zweite Unzeitgemäße Betrachtung (Second Untimely Observation) "Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie für das Leben" ("Of the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life"), in which he deals with the problem of the "epoch/era" relationship. In addition to the monumental and antiquarian view of history, he particularly emphasizes the critical consideration of history, since "im Dienste des Lebens" (in the service of life), "von Zeit zu Zeit" (from time to time), it is necessary, " … eine Vergangenheit zu zerbrechen und aufzulösen, um leben zu können" (to break open and dissolve a past in order to be able to live).(4) Particularly for modern music since Webern and Schönberg, this concept appears to be of importance to me, since with it, an obvious break (in and with) musical tradition took place that I, in the last part of my lecture, want to attempt to classify in light of the above thoughts.

4. Immanence/Present as Eternity

Concepts of omnipresence in religion and mysticism that today, also in the West, are celebrating a revival through Eastern religious practices, are strived for in an attempt to transcend the rational past, present and future in a "super-rational" omnipresence, as it is ascribed to the Godhead in mysticism. Schopenhauer must have had a similar concept in mind when he described music as the metaphysical art per excellence, in which the clicking-out of the will would be possible.(5)

While it is true that every real music lover likes to be transported into "higher spheres," we should not quasi-religiously mystify our love of the human ideal and essence that lies behind it and that can speak to us through music in favorable circumstances and thereby transport our experience "into another world." Rather, this kind of experience could be described as a "unification experience" between composition and listener, in which the listener himself has to come close to the ideality infused into the work by the composer, so that, as a result, he can experience a "lively communication" that can be accompanied by a high enthusiasm.

From these various possibilities of perception of immanence/the present, the levels or layers of human thought become apparent, as they also can be shown in the history of philosophy, of religion and also of music, as an effect or result of the respective human capabilities of emotion and feeling, understanding and reason.

II. Three Human Interpretive Capabilities

The phylogenetic development of the brain via brain stem, cerebellum and cerebrum on the one and as well as the thorough development of the neo-cortex in mammals on the other hand forms the prerequisite also for human awareness. Brain stem and cerebellum are, roughly put, responsible for the (human) vegetative system and instincts that still also form the basis of our "higher" development in the neo-cortex and necessarily break through with its awareness, since otherwise, we would neither feel pain nor hunger. In the neo-cortex, on the other hand, emotions, understanding and reason are produced, out of which that arises which we call awareness.

What particularly interests us now in connection with the "immanence" of music is, of course, human awareness, in which, as we have seen, this immanence is taking place and reflected. For this, we need a theory of human awareness and its components.

Here, the basic prerequisites of awareness that come out of the vegetativum and the instinct, are of less interest to us, even though both capabilities are of musical importance with respect to rhythm, since through them, activities can unconsciously be aligned. This can be observed at every "Techno" music event; in the context of this topic, the importance of rhythm as a determining basic component of composition is more relevant, since certain rhythms are related to certain activities or events that can be expressed in music, in this way.

Often, even by the highest musical or philosophical authorities, statements are made to the effect that music is an expressive world all of its own and that is solely based on emotion and that is, above all, of a non-linguistic nature. Then, it is often mythologized or even mystified as, for example, by Schopenhauer. In my view, both is wrong. Above, when discussing immanence, I have already shown that human awareness has, as a prerequisite, to rely on understanding, and with it, also on language--and therefore, let it be said here again that all human awareness thus also in its perception and reception of music, it is not possible without language. This is also true due to a further reason: we should differentiate between sensations and feelings that we find in ourselves as hearkening back to our animalistic pre-history, and our emotions. After all, music does not deal with sensations and feelings that affect the human body through their being processed by sensory signals, which we share with animals, but rather with a quite different kind of "feeling" that we, for the purpose of differentiation, should classify differently, namely as emotions. While emotions are processed through the same cerebral structures as are sensations and feelings, they are created by the transmission and conditioning of feelings into concepts of understanding, and only in this way, they become available to the rich human differentiation.

1. Emotio: thus, sensations and feelings or reflexive emotional awareness are what we share with "higher" animals--emotions, however, are only known to humans. "Emotion" is the reflexive "pickup" of the chemical release of limbic system in the event of external and internal signals: a kind of "emotio-potentiometer' is the basis of the awareness of emotio as internal perception of the pleasant respectively the unpleasant evaluations--pleasure and displeasure, at the level of animals, is already a precursor of all values, since with it, individual evaluations can be molded differently.

2. the often undervalued importance of understanding: "Words are the torches in light of which only things appear to us." They are created out of the combination of capabilities into a "thing" that, as such, is combined with the language term and stored in a separate area of the brain. The arrangement of these things in grammar, as language, is a recreation of the world and brings forth rational awareness. Human emotions arise out of the transmission of emotional evaluation into the realm of understanding. Instead of the characteristics of thins, the things themselves are now evaluated by means of the irrevocable closeness between emotio and understanding. All human emotions have a rational component because they relate to a concept-related and consciously experienced situation. This also comes to bear in music, regardless of whether one hears Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony or whether one plays Harvey's String Trio. Without a rational concept of that which the musical notes are ultimately supposed to present as emotionally described situation, the content of music could neither be played nor heard. Particularly, music-making requires a pre-meditated concept of the meaning of the musical message.

Music, too, is thus a language, that of emotion, and it develops parallel to the "real" rational language. To every emotion belongs a certain language and listening gesture in language application and evaluation which is then translated into music and therefore it can also be recognized in it.

In this, the brain always presupposes the participation and co-operation of memory, whether you want to understand my lecture, read a book or listen to a piece of music: not by accident is Polyhymnia, the muse of music, a daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, memory personified. Here, mythos sees clearer than many later mystics! However, since everybody is pre-conditioned differently on account of his/her very own epigenetic brain structure, in every head/mind, in this process of the participation and co-operation of (personal) memory, a different world is created, and everyone is hearing a different music. Parallel to the participation of engraved memory, via the limbic system, one's personal pre-evaluation that has already been stored in the brain, is being updated. This is the reason why we like to hear the same pieces of music again and again: such "episodic associations" trigger a corresponding dopamine release through the body's own limbic reward system.

3. Lastly, Reason: The differentiation between and classification of human ratio as understanding and reason goes back to Aristotle and, throughout the history of philosophy, is used time and again up to and including by Kant, with his "Critiques of Reason", however, often not separated sharply enough while, on the other hand, these terms were and are also used synonymously. The necessity for a separation of the two terms and for an explanation on the basis of cultural evolution might be most easily understood by looking at the difference between children and adults: nobody will deny that a normal child has understanding, while everybody will consider it as lacking the capability of reason--and, on account of it, also not responsible for his/her own actions, yet. The latter is based on the fact that, during the course of the last 2,500 years, our tradition has been enriched by reasonable courses of action and by the values of reason that can not be accessed by the already "understanding", although not yet "reasonable" child, and this is the case both in ontogenesis and in phylogenesis.

What, then, is reason that, form the time on that Jaspers has referred to as the "axis" period (approximately 1000 - 500 BC) has unfolded both in the West and in the East, yet in a different manner? It is the capability of looking at the essence of the data of understanding, in modern terms referred to as abstraction and reflection. Abstraction generally refers to the isolation of the essence of a thing and its separation from the incidental, while reflection refers to the independent dealing with these abstractions, out of which is formed the capability of reason, for example, as logic.

Only through reason are humans able to speak of the essence of things and of its own "nature", only out of the realization of the essential equality of all humans, today's human rights could be developed, but also all forms of high religion that, from then on, claimed to be in effect for all humans, for it is the idealization of reason that, at first, necessarily, hypothesizes a highest and omniscient being and that elevates this "being" to its own "exalted level."

III. Two Musical Forms: Rhythm and Melody

This dissemination of the new essence then also becomes the task of that new music that the ancient Greeks developed parallel to philosophy. The precursory forms of Western music, thus firstly that of all native peoples, we can still see in Africa and South America, and secondly that of the cultures of understanding in Asia and Arabia, but also in Homer's description: the old music of understanding is always ritual, at first magic and ritual, then courtly and ritual. At the same time, it always has a social component by uniting tribe or nation in one awareness.

Contrary to this, the new ancient-Greek music represents the same kind of break as can be seen in the simultaneous break between mythical concepts and ancient-Greek literature and philosophy: The essence of man as it is seen in reason now forms the basis for art. While before, it was rhythm that, for example, in common dance, brought and tied individuals together, now, melody gains an entirely new importance, since with it, the essential state of man as such can be expressed.

At first, the (so-called) turn of the times, from BC to the post-Christian time count, with its anti-sensualism, buried this antique liberation and only retained the emotional content of music insofar as sacred music, as the only remaining form of music, went back to these ancient-Greek roots. When times had calmed down again after the turmoil of migration and when, due to this, worldly and courtly music began to develop, again, basically, the separation of "entertaining" and "serious" music was already an accomplished fact. In training, preservation and development, sacred music went its separate way, while the worldly dance and "entertaining' music of the courts sought out as its sources folk dance and military music. However, these two different paths of tradition brought with them the advantage that both branches, over time, could positively influence each other (as, for example, in the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical eras); at the same time, the rational development of music such as in the notation system, theory of harmony and parts, benefited from the "scholarly" nurturing of music through the church.

It might be safe to assume that the further development of music, in a parallel unfolding of the self-assertion of reason through Renaissance (thus in the return to the buried ancient-Greek achievements), Baroque and the Classical era and its highest statements of the essence of man--it is certainly not an accident that Hegel and Beethoven were contemporaries--is common knowledge among you. Compared to this zenith, the music of Romanticism represents a turning back, a regress, when it turned away from the high plateau that was reached with the psychological description of the essence of man in his existential condition and turned to the possibilities of subjective-emotional statements and their exaltation. In music, Wagner led this "psychologising momentum" to its zenith, by emotionally bulldozing his way into the listener's mind through his "Gesamtkunstwerk" (total art work), under the guise of a mythical imaginary reality, through action, text and music, when he mesmerized him and enthralled him with artificial forms of pleasure--not by accident, to Baudelaire, his music had an opium-like effect. This misguidance into a nerve-wracking state of enthrallment is what Nietzsche fought against. The latter, too, in his "Der Fall Wagner" and "Nietzsche contra Wagner" was mainly concerned with the relationship of traditional music to the music of the present, in his time, respectively as to what a "new music" in and after the "Zeitalter des Nihilismus" (Age of Nihilism) might be like. What music would the "superhuman" dance to? Perhaps, to that of Nietzsche's friend Peter Gast (Heinrich Köselitz)?

The three alternatives that were open at that juncture were actually pursued: first, by Brahms who wanted to preserve the connection to the classical era, and with it, to the ethical statement in music, second, by Bruckner who wanted to save the essentially religious introspection of man in a romantic way; these two rather conservative attempts were confronted by the progressive dissolution of tonality in Mahler which led to Webern, Schönberg and the experiments of the new "serious" music. This, however, was the only timely direction that adequately addressed the necessary development, as it can be seen in simultaneous expressive developments in other art forms. Also in music, "good conscience" and the belief in beautiful appearances and in the capability of man's salvation through and by himself had been lost. Reflection of reason that has to rely on itself put these in nuce in place of the emotional respectively ideal forms of the former music; rational miniaturization of motifs (Webern), alienation (Stravinsky) and serial techniques (Schönberg) drive the emotional out of music.

We can already find a parallel to this in antiquity itself when tragedy turned into comedy. To the ancient Greeks, as to the modern composers, the ideal content as that which is existentially supportable, has become lost, reflecting reason recognized that the conflict btween reality and ideality and the ideal was self-created--and, as a result, it jokes about it. As this might apply to music can be heard in two listening samples that I have brought for you, and they can illustrate this satirical game with classical forms. These samples are recordings from the year 1956, when Gerard Hoffnung had extended an invitation to a musical festival in London that had chosen as its task this "diabolical" way of dealing with classical examples. Thus, there was staged a "piano concerto of all piano concertos" (a compositionally excellent medley of diverse classical "hits"), also an "opera of all operas", in which famous opera characters and plots were combined. The basic premise behind all performances was a satirical alienation of that which is known, that you, too, might find "comical".

1. Haydn's "Drum Roll" Symphony (1956), Andante (2 minutes)
2. Great Overture by Malcolm Arnold (1956): Finale of all Finales (2 minutes) (total: 4 MB)

Another example in this vein that you might know is one of the best performances by HP Kerkeling who, in appropriate costume, in front of an illustrious audience, expecting the new, next to the pianist, performed his "Hurz-Gesang" as "ars nova" and was actually taken seriously by most listeners. This is an observation one can also make of actually serious composers: Some of their formal music is lacking the criteria by which the human ear could actually judge the essence of its meaning.

By this we can see how, as in ancient-Greek comedy, in modern music and literature, the famous "Verlust der Mitte" (Loss of the Center) is the cause for the dissolving alienation.

IV. One (parallel) End of Metaphysic and Music?

Some part of this trend of dissolution, I see at work in those composers who, in the face of a humanity that can not be saved, throw harmony overboard; and yet, for their composing in "disharmonies" and the expression that becomes possible and that is transported via emotion, they, so-to-say, presuppose the former harmony as a negative foil: hte adibility of disharmony and its emotional evaluation is, after all, only possible with the background of lost harmony. Richard Strauß, Prokofiev and, above all, Dimitri Shostakovich, went this path in holding on to the ethical expression in music. The modern composers of the late 20th and early 21st centuries go a vast step further by consciously insisting on the break with tradition, while in Wolfgang Rihm, traces of the late Beethoven can be heard, and while Gérard Pesson quotes an Adagio by Bruckner.

To illustrate this, we can listen to these examples (WMA):

1. Wolfgang Rihm, Musik für drei Streicher (from III Double, Molto allegro), trio recherche (Melise Mellinger, violine; Barbara Maurer, viola; Lucas Fels, violoncello) (WMA: 2,303 MB)

2. Gérard Pesson, Mes béatitudes (1995), Ensemble Recherche (WMA: 933 KB)

To me, this description of disharmony in music appears to be well comparable to the dissolution of form(s) in literature (Dadaism) and in painting with the cubists, surrealists and Picasso. On the foil of representationalism, the deformation of man is shown who can no longer see himself in his entirety but only in his state of inner conflict.

In this alienation of music, the self-alienation of man is reflected: a thought that Karl Marx borrowed from Ludwig Feuerbach. In religion--and also in art--man assigns his essential characteristics to God respectively to the art work. By ultimately having realized, through the reflection of reason, that this self-alienating idealization was his own doing, he is forced to reclaim the assigned ideals and what remains is the empty form.

Therefore, modern music consciously dissolves this connection between emotion and understanding as well as between rhythm and melos and alienates it.(6) Atonality is the consequent avoidance of tonality, thus a refusal of traditional connections between harmony and melody, and primarily negative. The basic idea of dodecaphony is to bind atonality into a "logical" order. This, however, seems to be a misunderstanding: logic is merely an instrument without any content of its own--thus also only a "logical" music (as a result). One sacrifices the traditional forms of rhythm and melody that, in their interrelationship, provided the context of musical expression that listeners could follow, and only retains "technique." Is this not, also in the area of music, an instrumentalization of reason, as it was bemoaned in the "Dialektik der Aufklärung" (Dialectics of Enlightenment) by Adorno und Horkheimer?

Love, inwardness, vitality--what would art be without them (and, of course, life as such...)? This love that, in Baroque, was certainly expressed in a worldly manner, that turned into inwardness in the Classical era up to God-searching Beethoven ("Über Sternen muss er wohnen" - "Above the stars he must dwell") – in serial music respectively in the rhythm and sound experiments of later modernity, in some works, is not present at all, but in many compositions it is present in an indirect manner. Many modern compositions, in all their alienation, also retain ties to tradition, also in a partial return of tonality and, by their very depiction of these breaks, give expression to the longing for the ideally-human, with which Western music once had set out.

In closing a few words about the background of these musical performances that I was able to experience here, simultaneously also as an answer to the question that was raised in this topic: the compositions, the performing artists and the audience have convinced me that we do not have to fear for the life and "passing-on" (Rihm) of music. The vitality of the Baroque music by Telemann and Pisendel that was performed so lively by the FBO (Freiburg Baroque Orchestra) and its students provided, of course, a strong contrast to the engaging and brilliant expression Ensemble Recherche and its students with works by Rihm, Kurtág and Sciarrino – however, both styles captivated the audience as well as me, since in both, in their respective own way, the timeless essence of humanity was expressed convincingly.

Members of the Ensemble Recherche and of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra on July 29, 2005
after the Ricercar a 6 from the Musical Offering BWV1079 by J.S. Bach that they performed together

(If you understand German), you can listen to what Joachim Kaiser said in his 100-part Radio Show "Beethoven, Werk und Wirkung" on November 18, 2000, in the Bayer. Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio Broadcasting Association) about the visualization of the art work and the relationship of the pre-conditioning of the recipient--his comments on theatre can be applied to listening to music at a ratio of 1:1.

Joachim Kaiser in Kaisers Corner No. 70 about the Visualization of the Art Work (WMA: 1,3 MB)

The above represents my lecture at the "Spielraum" of the Ensemble-Akademie Freiburg of July 31, 2005, with some additions. Due to my own experience of the mentioned live performances, I have changed the end of my lecture to address them. Initially, I had wanted to close with a reference to a famous Freiburger, Martin Heidegger who had imagined the overcoming of the end of metaphysic in the following manner, out of which there could also arise a "new" music:

"Zur Entscheidung steht, ob das Sein selber aus seiner ihm eigenen Wahrheit seinen Bezug zum Wesen des Menschen ereignen kann oder ob die Metaphysik in ihrer Abkehr von ihrem Grunde fernerhin verwehrt, daß der Bezug des Seins zum Menschen aus dem Wesen dieses Bezuges selber zu einem Leuchten kommt, das den Menschen zum Gehören in das Sein bringt" (Heidegger writes here that it will have to be decided whether existence itself, out of its own inherent truth, can let its relationship to the essence of man happen or whether metaphysic, in its moving away from its basis, prevents that the relationship of existence to man, out of the essence of this relationship, comes to light itself, which will then bring man into his belonging to existence).

This quote would have heated up the lively discussion at the end of my lecture, even more, a lecture which had two issues at its core:

– The "value" of new music
– The question as to the reception of new music

The "Value" of New Music

In the subsequent discussion of my lecture, my attempt at understanding music as a product of "reason", with which, parallel to religion and philosophy, the essence of man is expressed, stubbornly, an "evaluation" was read into it and then again out of it in the sense that modern music represents a "decline" from, for example, Beethoven's music, which I, indeed, had described as a zenith with respect to its statement as to the essence of man. However, nowhere did I refer to a "decline" but rather, to the contrary, to a necessary dissolution of self-made ideals as a consequence of the reflection of reason. Therein lies, in no way, a devaluation of music that was composed before or after, but rather, merely a phenomenological description: from the course of musical development, as well as in religion and philosophy, we should be able to show the "arc of metaphysic" that, in its receptive and reflective phase, first unfolded the capability of reason in an ascending manner; at the cross-roads from reception to reflection, the takeover of leadership by the capability of reason occurred; this means, above all, that religion, too, had to become "reasonable," meaning that the consequence of the contemplation of the essence (of man) had to be incorporated into religion and caused the so-called "turn of the times" ; man, himself, and, as a consequence, also the world, appear to man in an entirely new "light.".

The reflective phase began as a return to antiquity, but also as a way of liberation from religion that had turned into dogma, ushering in our so-called "modern" times in the process. In this new era, man became aware of himself as an individual in the sense that henceforth, he understood himself to be a rationally acting and thinking person ("cogito, ergo sum"). Thus, in a reflective consideration of that which had accumulated on account of the reception of reason, naturally, those highest statement(s) as to the essence of existence, on the pars of reason, that had become aware of itself, became possible, as they have been described by Hegel and Beethoven. However, the term "highest statement(s) on the essence of existence" does not constitute a comparative evaluation of competing works; rather, it only relates to the "arc of the capability of reason" itself, that, unavoidably, in the course of its unfolding, had reached and surpassed a zenith and that, at this point, announced the maximum of its expressive capabilities. This, however, does not say anything yet about the "truth" and "value" of these statements within a historic tradition, but is merely a functional statement with respect to the course of the development of reason, itself. Therefore one can, if one looks at the functional images in the right way, actually describe modern music as the latest, the "highest" unfolding:

The "arc of metaphysic" is only an arc when one looks at it from above; let us move next to it, so that we can see that, in actuality, if represents a time-space spiral, the first semicircle of which is made up by the reception, and the second of which is made up by the reflection, of reason. As the highest point of the here and now, we will find new music that makes its current statement on the essence of man, whose fragmentation it describes. Compared to it, the classical era if part of a past that lies below--or, to express it in a different way: all "essential" statements of reason in music are, in their own particular way, equally valid as far as they are "transferable essential statements" that describe the very core of its own era and that even surpass it. As such, they undetachably become part of tradition, as long as man does not forsake reason, itself. It would, indeed, be quite peculiar (and mystic-metaphysical as Heidegger) if the life task and art of one era should be "more valuable" than that of another era: on an arc, each individual point is aligned completely equally to the others, and yet, on the spiral, each individual part holds its very own particular place.

The Question as to the Reception of New Music

Further discussion arose out of the fact that I referred to the functional emptiness of some modern compositions, particularly of those of so-called serial, "purely logical" music, and also with respect to still later composers such as, for example, Brian Ferneyhough, of which I said that it laves me very puzzled, with which I meant to express that to me, very emotional, rhythmic or melodic context is lacking in it, out of which I could discern any kind of statement. To this, I received the reply that one should, at first, take care of one's own receptive behavior, since this music is "saying" something to others, so that here, a subjective flaw is responsible. From this aspect, let us listen to a random sample of Ferneyhough’s music:

Brian Ferneyhough, Flurries (1997; excerpt), ensemble recherche (WMA: 1,439 MB)

In II, I had explicitly referred to and described the subjectivity of the listening experience; thus, there can always be two causes for one's ability or inability to take something out of music: either, the individual is lacking the required listening habits ("receptivity") or the music is, as for example, purely logical serial music, "empty" per se as far as its emotional and rational content is concerned. Of course, this situation makes an evaluation difficult. Subjective pre-conditioning and prerequisites can never be "proven", but can only be considered matter-of-factly: I hear something or I hear nothing.

Insofar, it appears to make more sense to me, which I have also expressed, to go out from objective criteria that everyone can discern: Is there a rhythm? Is there one melody (or are there more melodies) present, and be it/they even as alienated as can possibly be, at least in the sense that the tones that follow each other in sequence, are somehow related to each other and provide some emotional context? Are the various parts, registers and instruments related to each other in a way that one can follow, so that the communication of these components comprises a statement? All that, as formal criteria, does not appear to me to be contained in Ferneyhough's music, and therefore, subjectively and objectively, the lack of these criteria could note be overcome.

This might be different for specialists, particularly for performing musicians (which, with this kind of music, is difficult enough): to them, the "newness", the time and space-wise unrelated occurrence of tone fragments, particularly with respect to its technical difficulty, might offer a satisfying intellectual experience, and also the flawless musical interaction of the entire ensemble will certainly be a positive experience. However, not everyone is in the position of such a specialist, and it can certainly not be the purpose of new music that the listener, in order to be allowed to hear it, first has to attain some form of advanced musical training.

In any event, from my experience that, for decades, has been keen on the reception of music from all time periods, and from my observation of my fellow music listeners, I am quite certain that more than 90% of all music lovers, when they encounter a kind of music that is entirely void of any kind of content, can not "do" anything with it, and that not because they are not "receptive" but rather because there is nothing to "receive."

However, particularly with respect to new music, that seems to be the exception and insofar, it is very rewarding to actively experience it--even in such extreme cases as that of the music of Brian Ferneyhough and to, above all, hear it performed "live"; it certainly conveys something of the passionate confrontation of today's artists with the human condition under the auspices of reflected reason.


(1) See Sinn und Form, First Volume, January/February 2005, Wolfgang Rihm, Gespräch mit George Steiner:
STEINER: ... Die Musik besiegt den Tod, aber dann besiegt das Mysterium tremendum die Musik. Orpheus stirbt, von den Mänaden zerrissen. Dann kommt etwas, das für uns heute abend wichtig ist: Der Körper blutet aus, aber, das ist eine archaische Überlieferung, der Kopf singt weiter. Aus dem Mund des toten Orpheus strömt Musik. Das zweite Thema ist Marsyas, dieser grausame, furchtbare Mythos vom Kampf zwischen ihm und Apollon, in dem Marsgas geschändet wird. Auf Tizians berühmtem Gemälde finden wir alle Motive unseres heutigen Gesprächs. Es ist das größte seiner Bilder, und auch das grausamste. Worum ging es in dem Kampf? In dem Logos Apollons heißt es: Musik ist das Ornament der Sprache. Und Marsyas sagt: Der Wind ist Musik, der Vogel singt Musik, das Meeresrauschen ist Musik. Die Sprache ist ein später Gast und ein falscher. Dann das Sirenen-Motiv. Der Gesang tötet, er hält ganz mysteriös das Versprechen. Was sagen die Sirenen? Wir können dir sagen, was in der Welt war, was in der Welt ist und was in ihr sein wird. Die Verheißung des Alten Testaments. Die Verheißung des Baums im Paradies, des Baums der Wissenschaft, des Wissens. Hör unserem Gesang zu. Odysseus überlebt, er segelt weiter. Das war der letzte Moment, wo der Mensch in der Musik die Urkraft der Schöpfung hören konnte. Aber die Warnung war da: Musik ist übermenschlich, aber auch unmenschlich. Schopenhauer sagt: Auch wenn die Welt nicht wäre, könnte die Musik bestehen. Ich bin sicher, der Satz stimmt. Zuerst sind wir Gäste der Musik. Vielleicht kommt die Sprache erst viel später. Es ist möglich, sich eine Kultur ohne Sprache vorzustellen, aber nicht ohne Musik. (Bolding by the author of this lecture.) …
RIHM: Die drei Gestalten: Marsyas, ich nenne ihn bewusst zuerst, Orpheus und Odysseus bei den Sirenen interpretiere ich so: Marsyas ist der Komponisten-Mythos, Orpheus der Interpreten-Mythos und Odysseus bei den Sirenen der Rezipienten-Mythos. Odysseus wollte die Sirenen ja wirklich hören. Deswegen läßt er sich an den Mast binden und von seinen Gefährten, deren Ohren er mit Wachs verstopft hat, an den Sirenen vorbeirudern. Er will sich dem aussetzen, er will die Erfahrung machen, er will davon berichten können, er will wissen, was da geschieht. Doch was hört er? Vielleicht, und deshalb ist es für mich der Rezipienten-Mythos, vielleicht hört er sein Hören. Vielleicht hört er alles, was zu hören ihm möglich ist. Vielleicht wird er mit einer Schicht in sich konfrontiert, die durch dieses Hörenwollen erst entstanden, in Vibration gekommen ist. Orpheus dagegen ist jener, der durch die Präsentation des Klanges über alles gebietet. Orpheus komponiert nicht, er interpretiert, er singt. Er ist das Gefäß, aus dem es strömt. Aber Marsyas, das bin ich selber.

(2) The perception of time by the capability of understanding is different from that of reason, both phylogenetically and ontogenetically: in the first case, time as "duration" is more static; that is why, in our childhood years, it does not appear to pass at all ... it is rather to be understood as "duration", such as one regency that is being replaced by the next regency, as the concept of time of nations of antiquity clearly shows. Contrary to this, reason interprets the course of time as a "time arrow", as a constant motion of the present from the past towards the future, the speed of which, with increasing age, but also on account of the acceleration of the course of civilization, appears to be ever-increasing.

(3) Here, Kant could not get rid of the remaining idealism of a platonic "existence as such".

(4) KSA I, 269

(5) "Denn die Musik ist, wie gesagt, darin von allen andern Künsten verschieden, daß sie nicht Abbild der Erscheinung, oder richtiger, der adäquaten Objektität des Willens, sondern unmittelbar Abbild des Willens selbst ist und also zu allem Physischen der Welt das Metaphysische, zu aller Erscheinung das Ding an sich darstellt." [Schopenhauer: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, p. 546. Digitale Bibliothek Vol. 2: Philosophie, p. 63594 (sse also Schopenhauer-ZA Vol. 1, p. 330)]

(6) From a review of Wolfgang Rihm's Trios: "…Wolfgang Rihm [steht] für eine Aufhebung einer "Zusammenhangsästhetik" in der Musik. … Ein Loslösen vom Zwang des musikalischen Zusammenhangs, einer melodischen, rhythmischen und gestischen Einheit bedeutet für Rihm immer wieder die Suche nach neuen Fragestellungen, nach Fremdheiten in der Musik und die Arbeit mit Brüchen." (Nina Polaschegg bei Amazon) Rihm selbst spricht davon, dass man es beim Umgang mit der musikalischen Tradition mit "Leichen" zu tun habe, denen gegenüber es gelte, selbst eigene lebendige und "vererbbare Musik" hervorzubringen.

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