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CLASSICAL  February 2005

CLASSICAL February 2005

Subject:

Re: Musical Quotations 9

From:

Christopher Webber <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 28 Jan 2005 22:35:01 +0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (59 lines)

Richard Tsuyuki:

>I detect in this Strauss/Liszt controversy an element that we have
>encountered in previous discussions, for example the "atonal music is
>evil" thread.

Yes indeed.  They come up all too regularly - another list member once
memorably described them to me privately as "Nazi Threads".  They are
tedious games of chop-logic best avoided, like endless baseline rallies
in tennis, and for the reasons you so graphically outline.

>Just as there is a great difference between saying "I hate atonal
>music" (a personal opinion) and "atonal music is bad" (a categorical
>assertion), there is a great difference between saying "I dislike
>Liszt's music because it sounds full of vanity to me" and "Lizst's
>music is bad because it is full of vanity."

This problem of trompe l'oeil objectivity is caused by our desire to
dignify our little *opinions*, which can spring from a variety of causes
which have little interest to anyone outside ourselves, into ringing
*judgements* of an even-handed sagacity to which all rational folk will
naturally bow.  If we manage to throw in a bit of moral opprobrium or
superiority for good measure, so much the better.

Isn't it really the case that most of our musical opinions are shifting
sands, blowing first one way and then another?  Today I might really
fancy a bracing bit of Liszt, tomorrow I won't have that inflated old
bombardon polluting my ears.  Certainly, few of us are secure enough in
our tastes not to get tetchy when they're assaulted.

With most composers who've established any sort of track record, it's
really about our own mental furniture and physical circumstances.  For
a handful of us Bax, for example, will always be one of the most fascinating
composers, and just because relatively few share this rather strange
taste doesn't mean we need to be defensive, or that his detractors are
right to say he's second-rate.  It's their bad luck they don't "get" him
- just, as Mimi said so perfectly, it's Robert's that he doesn't "get"
Liszt.

The problem with Nazi Threads is that they seldom if ever encourage
people to think about why we don't "get" a particular composer.  As we
change, so do our tastes and preferences.  As for me, I have tried very
hard ever since I've been grown up (which happened at the age of 43 or
thereabouts) not to slam into individual composers I don't happen to
"get", because I know my failure to see and enjoy what others find in
them is due to my own blinkers.  It's my failure to climb over to their
side of the fence, rather than any terminal failure in them, and going
for their jugulars makes me less rather than more likely to see the
light.

And that will be to my impoverishment, not theirs (unless they happen
to be eligible for CD royalties in which case we're both losers.) I'm
arguing this to try and convince myself, of course.  My New Year resolution
was to count to 10 before slamming into Sondheim.  Well I did get to 11,
and now I'm trying manfully to make it to 12.

Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK
http://www.zarzuela.net
"ZARZUELA!" The Spanish Music Site

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