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Romanticism naturally prevails

Romanticism naturally prevails
February 11, 2012, 12:54:35 PM
I came across an interesting couple of paragraphs in an old music history book I'm currently reading (link) which resonates with something I've felt for a while now, if not longer on a purely subconscious level. Any thoughts?
Quote
The wave of stark realism that swept over Europe's music in recent years was a natural phenomenon, with an undoubted origin in primitive sounds such as can be found in "The Ring of the Nibelungs"; and, to illustrate this statement, I would mention in particular the scene in "Gotterdammerung" where the Gibichung vassals assemble for the wedding of Siegfried with Gutrune. Here the din of the cowhorns, interspersed with the fierce shouts of the vassals, belongs to a type of music utterly inhuman and barbaric: savage, lustful, and repellent. From such music to Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" is not a far cry. In this unique work the composer abandons himself to the most amazing concatenation of instrumental forces, all intended to convey the impression of a pagan festival in springtime. Nothing is left to the imagination, for the virtuosity of the orchestral technique is masterly in the extreme. We stand aghast at Stravinsky's expressed abhorrence of everything for which music had stood these many centuries. He makes us feel that the very essence of civilization, all beauty and romance, all human endeavour and progress are being ruthlessly swept aside to make room for hideous sounds primitive in origin and atavistic expression. At such a pass do we find the world of orchestral music som twenty tears ago.

But virtuosity of this kind must come to an end once it has been driven to such extremes. And so it speaks volumes for the common sense of the composer that few have attempted to follow permanently in the footsteps of Stravinsky, despite a certain craze when this composer's poularity was at its height. Had there been any such general desire, music by now might have been in bedlam. From this fate it was saved by the composer's interest in the living world around him and by that spirit of romance from which there is no escape once he is immersed in the creation of orchestral music. Other Stravinskys may come and go, but the results will always be the same. Stark realism must surrender in the end to rational romanticism. Future composers will, I fancy, emulate those of the present day who are content to write for the medium-sized modern orchestra. Atavism in music has had its fling and been found wanting. Cerebral music, too, is on the wane, for it can only succeed in pleasing its own generation and displeasing the next. But if anything can survive in an age of non-classical music it will be music of the romantic kind, for that comes nearest the hearts of men. It may have its weaknesses, and become in its worst moments, lush and unbearable. Still, in the hands of men like Strauss, Elgar, Bax, Delius and Debussy, it says something that holds the interest and stirs the emotions by its oft-expressed beauty. And the further the noise of the great war of 1914-18 recedes into the distance, the nearer will the composer approach music in that spirit of patience without which the great masterpieces of the past could never have been written. Will he, with all his accumulated knowledge of the beauty of instrumental tones evoke in time a new golden age of classical music, in which design and colour will no longer contend for mastery ? I wonder. Limitation of instruments may come before limitation of armaments.

Re: Romanticism naturally prevails
February 11, 2012, 11:04:49 PM
I came across an interesting couple of paragraphs in an old music history book I'm currently reading (link) which resonates with something I've felt for a while now, if not longer on a purely subconscious level. Any thoughts?
Quote
The wave of stark realism that swept over Europe's music in recent years was a natural phenomenon, with an undoubted origin in primitive sounds such as can be found in "The Ring of the Nibelungs"; and, to illustrate this statement, I would mention in particular the scene in "Gotterdammerung" where the Gibichung vassals assemble for the wedding of Siegfried with Gutrune. Here the din of the cowhorns, interspersed with the fierce shouts of the vassals, belongs to a type of music utterly inhuman and barbaric: savage, lustful, and repellent. From such music to Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" is not a far cry. In this unique work the composer abandons himself to the most amazing concatenation of instrumental forces, all intended to convey the impression of a pagan festival in springtime. Nothing is left to the imagination, for the virtuosity of the orchestral technique is masterly in the extreme. We stand aghast at Stravinsky's expressed abhorrence of everything for which music had stood these many centuries. He makes us feel that the very essence of civilization, all beauty and romance, all human endeavour and progress are being ruthlessly swept aside to make room for hideous sounds primitive in origin and atavistic expression. At such a pass do we find the world of orchestral music som twenty tears ago.

But virtuosity of this kind must come to an end once it has been driven to such extremes. And so it speaks volumes for the common sense of the composer that few have attempted to follow permanently in the footsteps of Stravinsky, despite a certain craze when this composer's poularity was at its height. Had there been any such general desire, music by now might have been in bedlam. From this fate it was saved by the composer's interest in the living world around him and by that spirit of romance from which there is no escape once he is immersed in the creation of orchestral music. Other Stravinskys may come and go, but the results will always be the same. Stark realism must surrender in the end to rational romanticism. Future composers will, I fancy, emulate those of the present day who are content to write for the medium-sized modern orchestra. Atavism in music has had its fling and been found wanting. Cerebral music, too, is on the wane, for it can only succeed in pleasing its own generation and displeasing the next. But if anything can survive in an age of non-classical music it will be music of the romantic kind, for that comes nearest the hearts of men. It may have its weaknesses, and become in its worst moments, lush and unbearable. Still, in the hands of men like Strauss, Elgar, Bax, Delius and Debussy, it says something that holds the interest and stirs the emotions by its oft-expressed beauty. And the further the noise of the great war of 1914-18 recedes into the distance, the nearer will the composer approach music in that spirit of patience without which the great masterpieces of the past could never have been written. Will he, with all his accumulated knowledge of the beauty of instrumental tones evoke in time a new golden age of classical music, in which design and colour will no longer contend for mastery ? I wonder. Limitation of instruments may come before limitation of armaments.

I have not read the book, nor am I any sort of expert on romanticism and classical music, but I think it is fair to say that the author was incorrect in thinking (hoping?) that a new generation of masters would arise, in the romantic/classical tradition, in the late 1900s or beyond, who could compete with or even surpass their musical ancestors.

Since I'm not familiar with the author, I do not know whether he would have seen metal music in the way we do, as an instance of this 'eternal recurrence' we call Romanticism. Even though metal has it's downsides (there are plenty - it happens, when you allow hipsters to invade your cultural traditions), it still represents the greatest re-occurrence of this tradition in the artistic sphere, to date.
"What does not kill me makes me stronger"
-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Re: Romanticism naturally prevails
February 11, 2012, 11:07:42 PM
From contextual clues, I would guess this was written pre-WWII.

Re: Romanticism naturally prevails
February 11, 2012, 11:20:08 PM
From contextual clues, I would guess this was written pre-WWII.

I think you may be right. If this is related to my comment above about whether the author would have seen metal as 'Romanticist', I meant it in the following sense: given his musical acuity, would he have been able to see what we see in it, i.e. recognize that the harsh vocals, distortion, dissonance, melody and rhythm are part of what makes metal music both 'Romanticist' and anti-pop, but that at its core, it is a representation of a certain ideological and cultural ideal - one which is in part inspired by the Classical/Romanticist masters.

Also, when I said 'late 1900s', I wasn't necessarily excluding 1950s-onwards from that. However it would have been clearer to just to say post-WWI.

If you're just mentioning it as a statement of fact, then kindly ignore what I have typed above:-)
"What does not kill me makes me stronger"
-Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Re: Romanticism naturally prevails
February 13, 2012, 10:42:12 AM
From contextual clues, I would guess this was written pre-WWII.

You're right, it was first published in 1934, I've got the 1940 edition. It's an interesting read given the pre-WWII British viewpoint alone.

I have not read the book, nor am I any sort of expert on romanticism and classical music, but I think it is fair to say that the author was incorrect in thinking (hoping?) that a new generation of masters would arise, in the romantic/classical tradition, in the late 1900s or beyond, who could compete with or even surpass their musical ancestors.

Since I'm not familiar with the author, I do not know whether he would have seen metal music in the way we do, as an instance of this 'eternal recurrence' we call Romanticism. Even though metal has it's downsides (there are plenty - it happens, when you allow hipsters to invade your cultural traditions), it still represents the greatest re-occurrence of this tradition in the artistic sphere, to date.

I don't think the writer could have anticipated just how insane the world was to become following that point in time. And if we are to apply the cyclical view of history, then it might be that there has not yet been a change to the decay phase of the cycle which the music world has had to endure from the time of Stravinsky onwards. I like the idea that romanticism (including classicism) is the end result of almost any pursuit at expanding artistic receptivity, asthough the very nature of the ideas being communicated requires this treatment.

It could also be argued that the highpoint of all underground metal is romanticist based, if not a balance of the physical reality and the mythic/metaphorical.