Interesting piece by Martin Kettle in Friday’s Guardian, but one very strange line: “The musical establishment may continue to agonise over the important question of whether a bad man can produce a great piece of work. . .”  Are there really people who ask that question, or is it simply a rhetorical flourish?  My sense has always been that Carmina Burana is loved by audiences but doesn’t get a lot of respect from the establishment, but that the reasons are musical rather than based on Orff’s politics.  Would we think any more of Wagner’s music if he hadn’t been a raging antisemite?  If we found out tomorrow that Beethoven was secretly an axe-murdering serial killer and that the “Immortal Beloved” was, say, Voldemort, would we think any less highly of the Grosse Fugue?  I doubt it.

7 Responses to “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Orff”
  1. Amanda says:

    I don’t think it is a case of liking the persons music and liking the person.
    By listening to a persons work, you basically give them immortality (Re Beethoven) and in some extreme cases – maybe the person is really undeserving of immortality (say – if Hitler was also a gifted musician – would you listen to his music – could you enjoy it, knowing what you know about the man? – and do you think a man like that should be immortal?

  2. Christian says:

    One of the challenges of being a writer and teacher is the omnipresent balancing act: how much do we choose to present the personality of the creator alongside his/her music? Will our depiction of a composer ‘warts and all’ unduly prejudice a potential audience against their music?

  3. Antonio Celaya says:

    I don’t think the music is so separate from the personality. Music is always about something. It may not have the specific one on one relationship of words to subject, but it does mean something. I dislike Wagner’s music because of what it so often says. Nietzche certainly thought Wagner’s music said something, and said something nasty, bellicose and imperial. Ruggles music I enjoy despite his hateful antisemitism. Perhaps I am deaf to what Ruggles is really saying and am merely reading into it what I want to hear. However, I think in that instance perhaps Ruggles is putting forward some other part of his personality.

  4. david toub says:

    I think it’s a ridiculous thing to like or not like someone’s art or music based on the personal characteristics of the creator. If someone likes Wagner’s music, that doesn’t mean he/she likes Nazism. Just because someone might like The Cantos by Ezra Pound doesn’t mean he/she is an antisemite. And just because Carl Ruggles was a miserable WASP supremacist doesn’t mean I cant love his music. Like I said, this is ridiculous. Look at the converse—if Elliott Carter was a major supporter of minimalist music, would I like Carter’s music? Uh, no.

  5. Certainly it can be difficult to separate feelings for the person from feelings about the music–I know part of my problem with Elliott Carter’s music is his appalling statements about Minimalism, but I also know it’s not fair. But Kettle phrases it like its a legitimate and actively debated philosophical question, not a the mere psychological hangup it really is.

  6. I do think it can be difficult to like a piece of music if you personally don’t like the person who wrote it. Isn’t one of the jobs of the “pre-concert talk” to get the audience to like you somewhat and therefore be more open-minded to your music?

  7. Rusty Banks says:

    So Orff was a wuss. Whatever. Strauss was a wuss too, if also a much better composer.

    It’s also important to remember that the Nazis would generally say any piece they liked was representative of their beliefs. Beethoven, Shakespear, and the Benediktbeuern Monks were pretty far from Nazis, but all had their works held up as beacons of National Socialism and the Aryan race. To quote “A Fish Called Wanda”…

    Otto: Apes don’t read philosophy!

    Wanda: Yes they do. They just don’t understand it!

    The Burana Codex? C’mon! Everyone knows that rightwing extremists are first and foremost hypocrites!

    2008 was a good year for me. I hope no one thinks I was supportive of Bush and the War in Iraq because of it.