In the seven years which have elapsed since the last article in this series was written, signs have emerged that younger composers are less bound by the strictures of the (outmoded) avant-garde of the 60s, 70s and 80s. They feel freer to compose in a variety of styles. There are, however, still ghettos within concert music and rival schools. Thus it ever was and will be.
Within the last three years I have come to understand that much of what I objected to in the standover tactics of roost-ruling academics can be summed up as post-modernism. The term has been kicking around for several decades and is more usually applied to art and literature than to music. I concede to being slow on the uptake here, but it finally dawned on me that the modernism which post-modernists claim to follow is the 18th Century Enlightenment! In its own time this movement developed out of literature and philosophy into a political movement which gave rise to revolution. Its principal thesis was that superstition is bad and reason is good. Reason allows for harmony, proportion, and beauty which qualities have their moral equivalence in behaviour which results in society also manifesting these qualities. Hence, liberty, equality, fraternity.
In the nineteenth century one of the social expressions of the new freedom was capitalism, since a free enterprise system gives everyone the opportunity for self-advancement, and prevents wealth being the prerogative of the classes who are advantaged not by reason of merit but of inheritance and rank.
Capitalism, in its turn, came to be seen as a source of oppression and its values, in turn, subject to analysis. The dogma of the inevitability of progress came to be questioned, and all social structures and art aesthetics which seemed to support it, or which expressed its values had to be deconstructed.
Analysis is a valuable and necessary tool to avoid being enslaved by the beliefs and values of others. However, all human activity is subject to atavistic impulse and, as I have suggested elsewhere, nowhere is this tendency more manifest than in academia, where turf wars are intense, and where ideas and concepts become a form of territory which must be defended. When war is declared, the mind becomes locked into dogma, and for three decades the deconstructionists declared war on the very process of construction, very much like the "Blue Meanies" in the Beatles cartoon "Yellow Submarine". The "Blue Meanies" hated colour. The postmoderns hated form. Having been taught to deconstruct they devoted all their energies to find structures to deconstruct. They lost sight of the purpose of analysis which is to disempower tyrants. They became tyrannical themselves.
It is to Decca Records that I am indebted for the other revelation of the past three years. Decca's "Entartete Musik" series (a still unfolding project) presents on CD the works of European composers of the 20s and 30s whose careers were terminated by the Nazi Government, because of the racial origin or political beliefs of the individuals. Chiefly, the victims were Jewish or Communist, and often both, since Communism offered a universal form of Socialism whereas the National Socialists (Nazis) were of course, aggressive proponents of German nationalism.
"Entartete Musik" translates as "degenerate music" and this was the term used by the Nazis to denigrate the music (and art generally) of its ideological enemies.
The Nazis disapproved of atonal music, because serialism was a Jewish invention (of Schoenberg). The Nazis disapproved of jazz, because it derived from a people (Negros) whom they deemed racially inferior, and, as it happened, Jewish composers in Germany were at the forefront of "experiments" integrating jazz in concert music. The name Erwin Schuloff springs to mind, in this context, and there were others. Schuloff died in a concentration camp. The fact that it has taken fifty years to rediscover his music is significant. It means that Nazi repression succeeded. When we think of composers of the 30s who used jazz we remember Ravel, Walton, Stravinski, Milhaud, Copland and Gershwin. And we think of it as a quaint period manifestation. In other words, the use of popular music as an ingredient in concert music was blocked. It ceased to be part of the mainstream.
Only in film music did any kind of synthesis continue, and it is no accident that this was mainly the work of Jewish composers who managed to get out of Europe and found a niche working for film in the US.
As I mentioned more than once in this series of articles, jazz, for this century has been music's main source of vitality. It has been the universal "folk" music of the planet. It is a frankly sexual music, as all dance music is, since dancing is a form of courtship. To ban it, or to discourage its "movements", its "repetitions", its "vulgarity" is to be repressive, puritanical and anti-life.
It seems ironic to me that, although their ideological reasons were quite different, the Nazis and the Postmoderns had effects on music which, though successive, were very similar.
DEREK STRAHAN JANUARY 1998
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