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CLASSICAL  January 2005

CLASSICAL January 2005

Subject:

Damage Harking Bach

From:

Bert Bailey <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 3 Jan 2005 17:07:46 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (56 lines)

Christmas is my time for unapologetic reading.  In addition to two books
about the fiasco that Iraq has become and one of Italo Calvino essays,
I just finished a 1993 non-fiction work by Milan Kundera called 'Testaments
Betrayed.' It includes observations about Fuentes' and Rushdie's fiction,
a case for eroticism in Kafka's writings, a clear-eyed analysis of
Hemingway's 'Hills like White Elephants,' some points on translation and
even font size in publications, and, not least, some of Kundera's views
about classical music.

Music is treated on a par with literature and writing, presumably the
forte of this author of 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being,' and with
similar familiarity.  Most of the attention focuses on Janacek, Beethoven
and Stravinsky, with a whole chapter devoted to the "vagabondage" of
Stravinsky's music through the ages, Adorno's critique of his music, and
Ansermet's harsh repudiation of that music where they had once been good
friends.

Kundera obviously knows his music, despite an observation that I thought
verged on the embarrassing -- viz., that "...at rock concerts people do
not applaud," but instead surrender to the euphoria of those events (p
90).  When it comes to classical, though, Kundera is insightful and a
compelling read.  The whole book was of considerable interest, and if I
would put it alongside Stephen Vizinczey's 'Truth and Lies in Literature'
in the passion that seems to illuminate the author's mulling over his
subjects.

Anyway, one of Kundera's observations has to do with 19th century Europe's
rediscovery of Bach.  This apparently gave rise to an awarness of music
history: contemporary composers previously got all the 'airplay,' while
the dead ones were seldom performed, if at all.  But the strength of
Bach's music singlehandedly led 19th century music-lovers to heed and
perform the music of previous times.  As never before, then, concert
programmers began mixing works by long-dead composers with those freshly
created by the living:

   Europe saw that Bach was not just any past but rather a past
   that was radically different from the present; thus musical
   time was revealed abruptly (and for the first time) not just
   as a series of works but as a series of changes, of eras, of
   varying aesthetics.  [But this happened] ...to the point that
   in the twentieth century the balance between the present and
   the past was reversed: audiences heard the music of earlier
   times much more than they did contemporary music, and now the
   latter has virtually disappeared from concert halls. (p 62)

In short, Kundera sees the widespread ignorance of contemporary classical
music, our era's near complete indifference to it, as rooted in this
trend and the shape that it took -- all curiously arising from the
strength of Bach's music.

Any views on this by those more learned about such historical circumstances?

Anyone care to speculate about what may have prompted this loss of faith
or confidence in the work of our contemporary composers?

Bert Bailey

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