Music and Vision homepage


<<  -- 2 --  Alistair Hinton    SCIENTIFIC MUSIC?


Mr Standford urges us to accept that 'the listener should have an immediate sensation of being spoken to by one who is articulate and lucid'; this is all very well -- indeed it is, of course, the ultimate goal -- but it cannot always be so in reality, for the quality and substance of the music and its performance and the intellectual and emotional capacity of its listeners will not always admit of this ideal. Experience and familiarity is another issue. We have all had occasion -- especially when encountering a piece for the first time -- to respond inadequately, merely because it offers us sensations to which we have yet to become accustomed. We have also found that repeated listenings to certain works can sometimes serve to enhance and develop our responses because there was simply too much to take in at a single hearing.

Stravinsky's infamous observation on the expressive power of music is indeed at least as 'careless' as Mr Standford describes it; it should better have read -- as someone else put it -- that 'music is capable of expressing everything but naming nothing'. Were Stravinsky's remark to be taken as gospel, a cynical observer might even be tempted to paraphrase Mr Standford's conclusion on it that there is little purpose in listening to Stravinsky.

Mr Standford goes on to state that 'music does not enter our consciousness through the mind, but through sensation'; this is an unquestionable truth as far as it goes, yet one which, for the foreseeable future, ought to be accepted in the light of the fact that we know so little about how it does so -- in terms, that is, of the precise neurophysiological processes involved.

It might be argued that certain music may seem to have been written -- especially during the past seventy five years or so -- in ways that might suggest to some, rightly or wrongly, that the composer's sole, or principal, intent was to create what Mr Standford describes as 'simply an intellectual transmission'. Music of this kind is surely of little value beyond an ability to demonstrate intellectual processes per se and, as such, the validity of the results may be open to question to the extent that they may come across as music with the expression taken out. As Delius implied, for a piece of music to be worth anything at all, this marriage of intellect and emotion is an essential prerequisite.

Mr Standford's summing-up begins with the statement that 'we are all aware that music can be degraded to sentimental pulp by little people who have far more opportunity to market their nonsense than talent to make it'; I take this to mean that we all should be aware of this -- as indeed we should -- but whilst this is no secret to the M&V readership, there is, sadly, ample evidence that many people are, quite simply, not aware of it and some people seem not even to want to be aware of it! There is, after all, a veritable tsunami (if during the present international tragedy I may be forgiven for using that term) of persuasive tactics designed to discourage and diminish people's intellectual and emotional capacities. In such a climate, it is perhaps inevitable that 'emotion' has become a debauched word in its common usage; rather as Hugh MacDiarmid claimed that talent is the worst enemy of genius, it may be argued that sentimentality (of the very kind Mr Standford has in mind here) is the worst enemy of emotion.

Copyright © 8 January 2005 Alistair Hinton, Bath UK






 << Music & Vision home                  British Composer Awards >>