Wednesday, December 14, 2005
The Poietic Fallacy Fallacy
Any devoted reader of Richard Tarusking will recognize the phrase 'the poietic fallacy.' He explained the meaning of the word poeitic in an fairly recent article in The Musical Times in which he bashed Schoenberg and Allan Shawn's book about him (and Allan Shawn, for that matter, and anybody who claimed to like either of them): "The word 'poietic' comes from the field of semiotics, from which a now somewhat old fashioned tripartite model of analysis, first proposed by the French linguist Jean Molino, was long fashionable in musicology. Communications have senders and receivers. An analysis that is concerned with the sending of the message, hence with its devising, is a poietic analysis (from the Greek poiein, 'to make', but distinguished by the unusual spelling from 'poetic' to avoid confusion with the more ordinary usages.) An analysis that is concerned with the receiving is an esthesic analysis (from the Greek aisthesis, 'perception' similarly distinguished from 'aesthectic.')" (Richard Taruskin. from "Poetic Fallacy',The Musical Times, Spring 145, Vol. 145, No. 1886. pp. 10-11.)
Among the things (Fowler calls them sturdy indefensibles)usually said about modernist (twelve-tone, antonal, gnarly, ugly modern--use your favorite pejorative adjective) music and the people who write it are: composers of that kind of music don't care about what it sounds like--as opposed to how it's made--, don't care about pleasing/moving/whatever a listener, are only writing for each other, are practicing mannered serialism, are not trying to write music that people might actually enjoy, etc., etc., etc....
I was struck to read in the obituary of the late and very lamented Donald Martino in the Boston Globe an excerpt from an interview with him from 1980: "My music is not austere and academic. It is a fantasy that anyone writes academic music. People write music for other people; the intention is to warm the spirit. I write music for people to listen to, to react to; I want them to say, 'Hey, this is nice!'" This from an unreconstructed, dyed-in-the-wool Princetonian serialist. (And the target of one of Taruskin's nastiest and most notorious attacks.)
While I'm at let me also offer a little quote from another oft-reviled (around S21, anyway) modernist:
"...I wrote it with the idea of a practical performance in mind...I was a composer with training that had given me the idea of what a public could be, and had taught me to listen to the music I heard in my head the way a possible public might listen to it if it were played in a live situation...if a composer’s training is any good, he had the ability to hear his music as another person would hear it...” (Flawed Words and Stubborn Sounds: A Conversation With Elliott Carter by Allen Edwards, pp. 35-36).
I don't think I've ever met a composer who didn't think and wouldn't say something more or less along those lines. Anyway, Writing music, despite the fun of actually doing it and the charge of a good performance, is often times a difficult and discouraging proposition, and often times unrewarding except for the fun and that charge. Why would anybody do it, if not to try to do something that was meaningful to other people, and how else can s/he determine what that is except by going by what seems meaningful to her/him?