Bert Bailey writes:
>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.
Indeed I've just reread "Testaments Betrayed" myself over Christmas,
and it's a marvellously stimulating book. Kundera trained as a composer
until he was 25 and his expositions on Janacek and Stravinsky are simply
My feeling is that he's at his best when describing the way in which
20th century novels (such as Rushdie's "Satanic Verses") have become
increasingly structured as pieces of music; and at his least convincing
in that section on Bach as the "pivotal point" of Western Music, whose
rediscovery marked the beginning of the end for the modern composer.
In particular his focus on Bach as a lone summit distorts the focus of
his argument. Kundera ignores the parallel peak of Handel, an equally
great and more influential composer whose example loomed much larger for
Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven than did Bach's, and whose music never went
out of fashion either in England or Germany. It was only with Mendelssohn's
rediscovery of Bach that the power balance shifted towards Bach's
architectural cathedrals, and away from Handel's dramatic humanism.
>Anyone care to speculate about what may have prompted this loss of faith
>or confidence in the work of our contemporary composers?
Because the argument is so flawed, I couldn't wholeheartedly share
Kundera's conclusion. It seems to me to be based on a twelve-tone
standard which no longer applies to contemporary composers such as Nyman,
Glass, and Andriessen, who show absolutely no loss of faith or confidence,
and who enjoy large and enthusiastic younger audiences. Their comparative
popularity should not blind us (or the great Kundera) to their merits.
To this extent, the ignorance which afflicts many people as to the Great
Tradition - most people don't have the "problem" of having to choose
from four centuries' worth of music, because for them it doesn't exist
at all - may be a paradoxically strength in helping the contemporary
audience respond easier to the more approachable new music.
I think the resurgence of Handel's reputation over the last two decades
is another sign of this change in the wind, away from abstraction and
towards the human and dramatic possibilities of musical communication.
I believe the "loss of faith" may be justified in so far as it relates
to the classic, contrapuntal forms, and to huge symphony orchestras, but
Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK
"ZARZUELA!" The Spanish Music Site