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Thursday, March 10, 2005
deep, organic connection with the people

My first thought is that I'm really glad we won the cold war, so we could all take up the cause of socilist realism (or, these days, as Michael Finnissy says, Capitalist Realism--same thing, basically). I was looking for an appropriate quote. It's not quite right, but the best one I found was:

Indeed, even though it is outwardly concealed, a fierce struggle is taking place between two directions in Soviet music. One represent the healthy, progressive aspects in Soviet music, based on the recognition of the immense role of the classical heritage and, in particular, on the traditions of the Russian musical school, on the combination of high idealism and substance in music, its truthfulness and realism, and on the deep, organic connection with the people and their legacy of music and folk song, combined with high professional mastery. The other direction produces formalism alien to Soviet art. Under the banner of illusory innovation, it conveys a rejection of the classical heritage, of national character in music, and of service to the people in order to cater to the purely individualistic experiences of a small clique of aesthetes.--A. Zhdanov at the 1948 All-union Congress of Soviet Composers.

That's not all that far from the kind of statements one hears nowadays.

The thing I find irritating about a strand of this conversation is its willingness to ascribe motives to people, and its display of a certain self-congratulation: everything would be fine if you guys and girls who are just writing academic exercises for each other (which, since it doesn't mean anything to me must not mean anything to you either) and aren't trying to write music with substance or tunes that linger in the memory or rhythms that carry people away would get over it and just write the good music with the good, healthy, accessible concerns like I'm writing.

In fact we're all trying to do the best we can with the amount of talent and ability that we have, and we're all writing music which means something to us (if for no other reason than that we're doing it--and anybody to whom it doesn't mean something is sure pursuing a strangely perverse kind of self-torture), and we can only judge for ourselves what is meaningful or substantial or memorable or whatever, and beating up on each other, however good it may feel, doesn't do anybody any good. The reasons that millions and millions of people aren't flocking to hear new music are many and complicated and, I think, mostly don't really have all that much to do with what any of it sounds like. The very least we can do for each other is to assume that we're all operating under the best of motives, or at least trying to do. And, with all due respect to Alex Ross, whose writing I admire and respect, what the hell is a knotty, twelve-tonish figure?


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