How modern is the modern listener?
with PETER DALE
<< Continued from yesterday
And then, of course, there's Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. Do you really
ever pay attention to anything later than Verklärte Nacht? Can
you really offer corporate clients tickets to Lulu, even if it is
at Glyndebourne? And have you ever really managed to follow a tone-row in
Webern from the beginning right to the end of the piece?
It's an embarrassment to us - me included - that we are up in the front
of so many modern things, but trailing decades behind in our music. Sometimes
we blame the composers (or William Glock). Sometimes we blame ourselves
(and William Glock). Sometimes we simply give in and confess to having failed
(but at least we still listen to some Jazz, as if that conferred some status
of honorary modernism upon us after all).
It's a curious position for many of us. Just because we know and love
Mozart doesn't give us a qualification as an antiques expert, which would
somehow excuse us from bothering with anything more recent. Music is so
various in complexion, yet essentially still one. And to 'love music' (but
not, say, Henze) involves us in some deep, deep contradiction. To justify
it we are sometimes driven to take up the craziest of all indefensible positions:
rather than admit that we are at a loss with some music, some composers,
we say: 'Ah, but is it really music after all?' That's rather like saying
that 'Yes, of course, I like furniture (who wouldn't?), but there's really
only ever been one maker of chairs and if it isn't by Sheraton it hardly
classes as a chair at all.'
But perhaps the situation is not that bad after all. Perhaps we don't
need to be forced into choosing a position offered by the two extremes:
ourselves as failures or the twentieth century as a mistake. Perhaps it's
possible to have reservations - serious reservations - about modern
music, and still be up there and running for the future. Over the next three
articles there follows an eccentric (perhaps), but fast-track graduation
course in making your peace with the music of our time and in sweeping the
house clean for the next millennium.
Copyright © Peter Dale, August
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