By Reiner Moritz
George Steiner said in last year’s Nexus lecture: “We are a biped capable of unspeakable sadism, territorial ferocity, greed vulgarity and abjection of every kind. Our inclination to massacre, to superstition, to materialism and carnivorous egotism has hardly changed over the brief history of our stay on earth. Yet, this wretched and dangerous mammal has generated three pursuits or addictions or games of a wholly transcendent dignity. These are Music, Mathematics and Speculative Thought.”
All of these pursuits, as Steiner calls them, form part of the Artes Liberales of Antiquity and were later known as Grammar, Rhetoric, Dialectic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music.
Interestingly enough these Artes Liberales form in the Middle Ages the basis for higher studies such as Theology, Law and Medicine. In any case these were the addictions which differentiate us from other animals.
As we are gathered here in the name of Music, I will only selectively look at these pursuits, addictions or games, in other words, concentrate on those parts of the Artes Liberales and further studies which are most closely linked to Music today. They are Language, Religion, History and the Arts, the latter for lack of a better description. We might also use the much abused word ‘culture’.
Let us look at Language first:
Undoubtedly the spoken and the written word form the basis of communication and have been a vital factor in creating prosperity. Language has also played an important part in developing Music out of speech. Language allows you to learn about your past, it makes you think methodically and articulate yourself clearly. Language at its most refined transports emotions, allows you to discuss matters, form opinions, lead conversations. But what do we experience nowadays?
For convenience sake Language is deconstructed, permanently reduced to buzz words, moans and groans, cartoonified, corrupted by computer speak and SMS messages.
Our vocabulary is rapidly diminishing. The matter of properly speaking and using correct syntax is considered old fashioned and boring. Latin is useless. We don’t need a structured Language as we have the binary code. So there is not much to be expected from Language.
Let us therefore move on to Religion. Religion nowadays is much less predominant in the Western world then it used to be. But you will not understand your heritage if you do not know enough about it. How could you for example read a Renaissance work of Art or appreciate Church Music without such knowledge?
On the other hand there are countries where Religion plays a very important part and in the guise of Fundamentalism even threatens secular power and citizens of other beliefs. We have even seen Fundamentalism turning against Culture and destroying valuable artefacts, thereby making the heritage of mankind ever so much poorer.
As Globalisation progresses you also notice that foreign Religions invade our countries and are adopted by people in increasing numbers. This seems to be due to the fact that the human being is craving for something beyond materialism, that eating, drinking, having sex and being entertained is not enough. Surprisingly or not spiritual needs grow more urgent in times of personal or national misery or disaster.
Religion can therefore not be seen as a solid base for the evolution of mankind, and we will certainly experience more violence in years to come when the problem of Religious Government versus Secular Power will become more acute.
We look at History next. History seems to prove one thing abundantly: we do not learn from it. Why bother then? History is of course extremely important in defining a nation. It is the sum of what has happened to your people, neighbours and so on before your own generation. So one would think there was a keen interest in History.
In reality it is taught less and less because unlike law, economics or computer science it does not help you to a higher income bracket. I shall not even mention the very many attempts to re-write History for ideological reasons. That is another story. We are at our own free will giving up important knowledge about ourselves, the ability to assess today’s politics and to be conscious of belonging to a Nation that has grown together over time. Utilitarianism prevails, History is out.
Let us now look at Culture. It is the sum of our artistic achievements and of necessity for every civilization. The two are confounded very often, and therefore I would like to make it quite clear that I am talking about Music, Philosophy, Visual Arts, Literature, Theatre and related subjects.
Culturally minded people – possibly not very civilized if you think of the number of Slaves they employed – dreamt up Democracy in Athens, and cultured people, not the uneducated man in the street, coined such far reaching words as ‘Liberté, Egalité and Fraternité’ during the French Revolution. We need Culture – not only good table manners which come under being civilized – to re-invent ourselves permanently, question ourselves permanently and to become more sociable beings, develop our senses and other human faculties.
Rambo and Terminator contribute nothing to the Rites of Passage, this painful process of growing up, eventually coming off age, an experience shared by fewer and fewer people because it is too much stress! It does not make you instantly richer materially. Much better to dwell on an immature level, to be childish and enjoy Duke Nukem, Mortal Combat, Unreal, Half Live and so forth.
The most basic instincts and the lowest common denominator are exploited in the name of business. But they are also exploited by democracy with a view of keeping a majority happy and the ruling classes in power. Here Democracy in a perverse way destroys itself. A lot of very well meaning democrats feel Culture is rather embarrassing, expensive and pretty useless. Therefore it should be quietly passed over where ever possible. And this is precisely what Television, the mass medium par excellence, does. Dumbing down is the buzz word of the day. No majority should be bothered or indeed – as some very utilitarian spirits would have it – pay for the pleasures of allegedly a happy few.
Yet Culture is more accessible today then ever before in the History of mankind, but less and less in demand. You can blame this on whoever you like. The dream of the educated and culturally minded Bourgeoisie of the 19th Century of bringing Culture to all and sundry is passé. The majority does not want to have it. Soon very, very few will know that there is something that might bother, provoke, revisit the past, re-assess the present and speculate about the future, in one word, something called living Culture. I am sorry to conclude that Democracy apparently is Culture’s worst enemy. Just look at what such a terrific tool as the computer has been abused for in the name of Freedom: Piracy and Pornography. Such are the base instincts of Steiner’s biped.
Now, complaints about the worsening state of affairs are as old as mankind. Only the quality of those who aspire to govern the rest of us has drastically changed. There is a difference between generations who revolted against a system, an order, a way of life, to replace them with another system, another order, another way of life, and those who do not even know that such things exist.
Let me now turn to Music and examine whether it is in good health. On the surface it seems so. More music is written and produced then ever before. But for whom? Concert-goers grow older, the impact of contemporary music is diminishing, the music making public shrinking, and musical education marginalized. We seem to relapse into the stone age with the survival of the fittest, crass materialism, sex and violence as preferred forms of entertainment. When this happens after a post-war period of flourishing Arts, we must speak of decadence. Lack of money is no excuse. One should rather admit a shifting of priorities.
It is also true that the human being has one other predominant preoccupation, and that is to make life as easy as possible.
Don’t cook, eat Fast Food.
don’t repair, buy new.
don’t learn anything, you do not really need.
This is where the notion of culturally correct is coming into play. Our society does simply not accept that there are things which matter but are not easily accessible or, even by choice, not available to everybody. It is not appreciation through learning but instant culture, instant success, instant fulfilment, instant everything, Music with an instant appeal. This is of course in complete contrast to an artist’s struggle with expressing something in a given or newly invented form. Clever promoters have put forward this wonderful differentiation between High Culture and Low Culture, meaning that ‘High’ stands for difficult and elitist and ‘Low’ for the rest of us, the targeted consumer. We seem to have simply forgotten what every mountaineer knows: If you want to enjoy a spectacular sight you have to climb the mountain first. There is no shortcut to real enjoyment as most drug-takers will find out at their own expense. But how much richer would you be if you understood, and therefore appreciated highlights in Music such as
- Monteverdi’s ‘Non morir Seneca, no’ from his ‘Poppea’ (1),
- Rameau’s Chaconne from ‘Les Indes Galantes’,
- Mozart’s ‘Suave sia il vento’ from his ‘Cosi fan tutte’ (2),
- Beethoven’s ‘Mir ist so wunderbar’ from his ‘Fidelio’ (3)
- Brahms’ ‘Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras und alle Herrlichkeit des
Menschen, wie des Grases Blumen’ (4),
to name but a few.
These are examples of experiences I personally treasure. They could be extended to moments in Stravinsky’s ‘Sacre’, Sallinen’s Chamber Music and Rautavaara’s Choir Music or Saariaho’s ‘L’amour de loin’. Most Music lovers have their own favourite pieces, which speak to them in a very personal way. That is what the mystery of Music is all about.
We are gathered here to discuss the promotion of Music and in particular of Contemporary Music. In order to succeed we must first of all make sure that people are interested and willing, and that we can lure them out of the tonal web.
Gilberto Gil, the newly appointed Minister of Culture in Brazil, said the other day: “People know what they want, but people also want what they do not know.” This is true in a dynamic society like Brazil but sadly proven wrong by millions of Couch Potatoes in the Western World. One would have thought that curiosity is one of the more charming vices of Steiner’s biped. If you have ever watched a group of kids, busy with Carl Orff’s Schulwerk or any other method of making Music, you know what is possible. Our politicians however in their wisdom decree that Music like the rest of the Arts should not be a priority in today’s curricula. That is until a Swiss teacher, Ernst Waldemar Weber (5), persuaded very reluctant authorities to cut three hours of main subjects for his class and replace them with three additional hours of Music. The result was: a more focused, better behaved, relaxed class which produced better results, even in the subjects which had been reduced to make room for more Music.
A more sophisticated test over a longer period of time took place between 1992 and 1998 in Berlin under the guidance of Günther Bastian. Five classes took part. Again, the results speak for themselves: Social competence, improved intelligence, better concentration, more knowledge.
In a time of disintegrating families and changing education this would clearly be a way out of our dilemma. We need an interested and knowledgeable audience for the Music we love, and this would be a very effective way of getting it. But of course this is, like all good solutions, not to be had instantly. On the other hand, if we don’t do something about it now we might become dinosaurs who will eventually perish.
Music is too valuable and important to be left out. It quite clearly enhances social competence and provides lots of other advantages for a modern society. In that sense it is in the long term even quite economic and probably provides a better shareholder value then most of the other public works. Is it a question of time for our politicians to understand this, or do we need another revolution? We must do away with the hypocracy, the intellectual corruption, the fascination with violence, the addiction to power and endless conformism as well as the craving for so called correctness which is typical for too many of our intellectuals.
We need action now, and unfortunately only a government is capable of implementing such dramatic reforms as are necessary, before some other wise politician thinks of outsourcing education like so many other duties which we believe a government must continue to assume.
Let a practitioner have the last word. Conductor Osmo Vänsk recently said: “I do believe Music can improve your quality of life”. Should this not be a prime target of tomorrow’s policy makers?
Thank you very much.
(1) Chorus of I Famigliari
(2) Trio Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Alfonso
(3) Quartet Marzelline, Leonore, Rocco, Jacquino: A wondrous feeling fills me and grips my very
(4) 2. Chorus: For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.
(5) Ernst Waldemar Weber, Pisa und was nun?
Publisher Ceterum censeo, Muri, Switzerland
© Reiner Moritz, 2OO4