MUSIC IN THE WESTERN WORLD
Music may be continuously changing from generation to generation, but it doesn't necessarily change for the better.† There would no more seem to be a straightforward progression in music than in any of the other arts.† What one may hear in the context of twentieth-century composition does not, as a rule, signify a progressive refinement upon the music of earlier centuries.† On the contrary, it signifies the inevitability of change, the overwhelming concern of modern composers to compose differently from their predecessors.† The essential qualification for a modern composer is that he should produce compositions of a different nature from those of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, et al.† The originality of his approach to music should, in large measure, justify his claim to compositional authenticity.
††††† Some people, including several contemporary composers, have maintained that the sense of beauty changes from age to age, so that what was regarded as beautiful by the people of one age may appear as anything but beautiful to those of another.† The conclusion one should draw from this is obviously one that will justify the often cacophonous sounds of contemporary composers in terms of a different sense of beauty among the moderns!† Yet beauty isn't something that is one thing now and a completely different thing later, in some other age.† Beauty is the same in any age which has anything approximating to a serious culture.† A beautiful face will remain distinctly beautiful for specific reasons, including form and texture, whether it belongs to a person living in the seventeenth century or to one living today.† The capacity to achieve and judge the Beautiful may of course vary from age to age, but beauty will remain a constant nonetheless.
††††† Like any other fine art, music is capable of attaining to great beauty, of arousing one's aesthetic admiration through the fact that sounds have been organized in the best possible way or, failing that, in an indisputably ingenious way.† There is a maximum aesthetic height to which music can aspire, a maximum potential of well-ordered sound, which lends it the distinction commonly known as great music.† But great music, like great beauty, isn't something that is one thing now and another and completely different thing later.† Great music is great for all time, because it signifies the best possible combination of sounds.† The only real alternative to such music is poor music, i.e. music that is petty, bogus, ugly, and insignificant - call it what you like.† The greatest music will be that which signifies the Beautiful most commandingly.† The worst music, by contrast, will fail even to approach the Beautiful.† Its composers will scorn the criteria of the Beautiful as being arbitrary, contingent, transient, subject to whim.† Instead, they will apply other criteria, which they'll consider to be more tenable than traditional criteria, and, ipso facto, people will be expected to believe that the age has acquired a different sense of beauty.† Music will have 'progressed' to new concerns, and aesthetic ingredients formerly considered sacrosanct will be systematically discarded in the interests of continuous experimentation.† A musical idea that is broken off before it can become a phrase will be deemed representative of the new beauty, and the polished phrases of Haydn, Mozart, and other such classical composers duly held up, by liberal academics and radical composers alike, as choice examples of historic beauty: an approach to beauty strictly appertaining to the aesthetic criteria of a former age.
††††† I have stated that there is a maximum aesthetic height to which music can aspire, a height commensurate with the most commanding representation of the Beautiful.† It is now necessary for me to define beauty in terms of specific aesthetic criteria, the most obvious of which being the best possible organization of melodic sound.† Fundamentally music is melody, an arrangement of sounds according to pitch and rhythm, the one presupposing the other.† You do not make music when you tap a finger on the table to a given rhythm, and you mostly make only a very uninspiring type of music from notes (variations in pitch) which are all the same duration.† Clearly, to get the most satisfactory results it is necessary to combine pitch and rhythm in the best possible way.† For although pitch usually takes priority over rhythm, it cannot achieve anything really notable without some form of rhythmic assistance.† Thus the finest music will inevitably contain the most enjoyable melodies, and it will flout these melodies with all the assurance of their intrinsic beauty, or proportion.† In the hierarchy of compositions, the more ingenious melodies will take precedence over the less ingenious ones, the more aesthetically-satisfying melodies over the less aesthetically-satisfying ones, and so on.
††††† But melody by itself, even when beautiful, does not make for great music.† It requires the support of harmony, the enrichment of its line by combinations of notes which both define and embellish its modality, adding flesh, so to speak, to the notational skeleton.† The very word 'harmony' presupposes something congruous, a combination of notes which complement one another.† Discords do not form a harmony, and the phrase 'discordant harmony' would be a contradiction in terms.† If the notes combined are not concordant, they can only be discordant, and the resulting effect on the eardrums will be suggestive of cacophony - the opposite of harmony.†
††††† Thus great music will require a primary ingredient and a secondary one: the most satisfying melody supported, though never dominated, by the most appropriate harmony.† And with this indispensable combination of musical ingredients there will, of necessity, arise considerations of logical or congruous form, to be followed, in the hierarchy of compositional ingredients, by considerations of tone and touch, modulation within a logical framework, tasteful instrumentation, carefully-balanced sound, subordinate virtuoso passages, etc., which form the icing on the cake, as it were, of great music.† However, there will never be more icing than cake in such music, and, consequently, virtuoso passages will always be subordinate to the leading melodic ideas.† A composition where this is not the case can never make for the finest music, just as Paganini and Liszt, for all their instrumental brilliance, don't make for the finest composers.
††††† Likewise, a composition which takes little or no account of the natural hierarchy of musical instruments but, for the sake of novelty or experimentation, gives its leading melodic ideas to lesser instruments ... will never make for the finest music, either.† Strictly speaking, the violins take precedence over the violas, the violas over the cellos, and the cellos over the double basses in all great music centred in or employing strings.† Now this same hierarchy, based on pitch and tone, applies equally well to the woodwind and brass sections of an orchestra, where flutes and trumpets, respectively, take the leading roles.†
††††† But there is, in addition to these separate hierarchies of individual instrument families, an overall hierarchy which is even more important in the logic of great orchestration, and which descends from the strings to the woodwind, and then from the woodwind to the brass, with other instruments, such as timpani, harp, celesta, etc., positioned at the base of the instrumental edifice.† Of course, I do not mean to imply by this that strings are technically superior, per se, to woodwind, or woodwind technically superior, per se, to brass, but, rather, that the higher strings (violin, viola) are technically superior to the higher woodwind (flute, oboe), the higher woodwind technically superior to the lower strings (cello, double bass), the higher brass (trumpet, horn) technically superior to the lower woodwind (clarinet, bassoon), etc., so that considerations of pitch and tone also cut across the three main instrument families, thus making the final choice of instrumentation a very difficult yet still definite art.†
††††† Now, in addition to the final choice of instrumentation, a decision must arise concerning the total number of instruments to be employed, the greatest music almost invariably making use of a specific number of the best instruments, and no more!† For just as 'too many cooks spoil the broth', so, in orchestral terms, do too many instruments spoil the music, and nothing genuinely first-rate can be expected from them.† But, as I hinted above, it isn't enough that orchestras should be of the right size; they must also contain the right instruments and the best possible combination of them, if first-rate results are to be achieved.
††††† We therefore have before us certain indispensable criteria for determining the general nature of great music, criteria which cannot be set aside without producing or resulting in degenerate compositions.† The most beautiful or ingenious melodies, to briefly recapitulate, should be supported by the most appropriate harmonies, the combination thereby established being accorded a logically satisfying form, and the form itself, which is essentially a product of the artful linking-up of diverse melodies, duly being articulated with the best possible combination and number of musical instruments.† If this is not achieved, then there is scant possibility of truly great music being produced!
††††† It stands to reason, however, that in addition to a hierarchy of instruments, there must also be a hierarchy of compositional forms, a hierarchy starting with compositions for single instruments and extending up the scale of chamber and concerto music to the noblest and grandest form of them all - the classical symphony.† Beyond the symphony at its greatest there is nothing higher, nothing which evokes a stronger challenge than the artful combination of numerous instruments, and so it is inevitably in the realm of symphonic composition that one will find the greatest music.† The concerto, particularly for piano, will come next in line, and behind this will follow large-scale instrumental compositions, opera, ballet, chamber music, piano sonatas, sonatas in general, miscellaneous piano compositions, songs, etc.† Naturally, this hierarchy of compositional forms does not imply that the finest piano sonata, for example, is of necessity musically inferior to the weakest piano concerto, but that, generally speaking, the great sonata will stand lower in the scale of musical forms than the great concerto, even if it towers above the weakest concerto on account, for instance, of its superior melodies and harmonic accompaniments.† But even if, to extend our argument, there are great piano concertos which are musically superior to various second-rate symphonies, it is my firm conviction that no piano concerto, no matter how great, can be considered musically superior to a really first-rate symphony - the crowning glory of all serious music.
††††† I do not know how many of my readers are familiar with Spengler's The Decline of the West, or indeed with any of his other major works.† But I will say, for the benefit of those who are, that I wholeheartedly subscribe to the veracity of his thesis concerning Western decadence, and am in complete accord with his contention that Western music has been steadily on the decline since approximately the end of the eighteenth century.† In the transition, defined by Spengler, from 'Culture' to 'Civilization' of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there set in a systematic attack within music, as within most other things, on the preordained cultural forms.† Instead of signifying a continuous expansion on the forms brought to perfection in the classicism of Mozart, musical composition has increasingly signified a disruption of them, a gradual reversal of that which grew to perfection in the prime of 'the Culture' and could not be improved upon.
††††† Thus a majority of serious compositions in the nineteenth and, more especially, twentieth centuries signify an aesthetic regression rather than a straightforward cultural progression, an aesthetic regression paralleling that from Christianity to liberalism, and thus from beauty and love to ugliness and hatred.† It is, above all, in the music of Vivaldi, Corelli, Scarlatti, Couperin, Rameau, Purcell, Telemann, Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and the early Beethoven that we hear the progressive growth of Western civilization.† But already in the late Beethoven, in Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, and Chopin, the seeds of revolution which were sown towards the end of the eighteenth century are beginning to sprout in the form of romanticism, to be cultivated to a much greater extent by Wagner, Liszt, Bruckner, Brahms, Saint-SaŽns, Massenet, Franck, Tchaikovsky, DvorŠk, et al., in the latter-half of the 19th century.† It is in romanticism, which (to use a Spenglerian phrase) is essentially 'musical socialism', that we find the voice of 'the Civilization' beginning to assert itself over the classically-inspired 'Culture' from which it sprang, and with increasing boldness from decade to decade.† For socialism, as outlined by Spengler in The Hour of Decision, is fundamentally nothing less than the systematic destruction of Western civilization by means of a gradual undermining of its slowly-evolved traditions, a destruction as apparent in the class struggle and the resultant growth of the Labour Movement, as in the anti-Christian polemics of any rationalist philosopher; as apparent in the rise of feminism and the resultant demand for equal opportunity (as a springboard to female dominance for a creature rooted, inflexibly, in a XX-chromosomal genetic integrity), as in the cacophonous music of the avant-garde.† It is a fact of contemporary life, not something to be condemned as though it shouldn't have happened but, on the contrary, understood in the context of the transition from 'Culture' to 'Civilization' through which Western society is passing and out of which it should emerge, if total chaos is to be avoided, in a new and anti-socialist guise.† At bottom we are all socialist in certain respects, even if only to the extent of despising Christianity or admiring the music of Liszt, when socialism is thus comprehended as the process of undermining everything that was systematically evolved and considered sacrosanct in and by 'the Culture'.† But this process, I shall argue, was inescapable, a phenomenon to be encountered in various guises in the corresponding epochs of former civilizations, and not a contingent anomaly peculiar to Western Europe alone.
††††† Thus it transpires that the growth of romanticism - which, despite changes in terminology, has continued virtually unabated since the early decades of the nineteenth century - is not something to be foolishly condemned in a spirit of philistine ignorance, but, on the contrary, accepted as an historical inevitability, and its chief exponents perceived as victims of time's dictatorship.† If classical music, brought to perfection by Mozart, signifies the musical Right, to adopt a political analogue, then the Romantic Movement inaugurated by Beethoven very definitely signifies the musical Left, or the gradual undermining of classical criteria in terms of a development which was aesthetically regressive, as from poetry to prose.† Of course, there are classical elements to be found in all romantic composers and, conversely, romantic elements in even the most classical ones, Mozart not excepted.† But such elements very rarely play the leading role, particularly in the music of late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century composers, where the distance between 'the Culture' and 'the Civilization' is greater than it was for either the late classicists or the early romantics.
††††† It should be evident from the foregoing remarks that serious music began to decline from an all-time high of classical perfection throughout the nineteenth century.† The criteria of musical greatness, stemming from the brilliance of melody writing and extending, via a variety of channels, to the manipulation of the best possible instrumental combinations, were being increasingly discarded in the interests of the romantic Weltanschauung.† Where, formerly, the parts of a given composition were strictly subordinated to the interests of the whole and perfection of form was considered of consummate importance, the whole gradually gave way, as in political socialism, to the interests of the parts, and form, if and when it appeared, duly acquired a much looser guise.† Where the sonata form, hitherto the basis of sonatas, concertos, and symphonies alike, was seen as a foundation and help by classical composers, the Romantics mostly regarded it as an imposition and hindrance, to be supplanted by leitmotivs, idťes fixes, and other such recurrent themes, which would enable them to explore the passions and simultaneously extend the range of virtuoso playing to an unprecedentedly high level of instrumental complexity.† Likewise the growth of melodic complexity throughout the nineteenth century signalled an inversion of the cultural standards, and harmony, hitherto largely confined to a secondary and subordinate role, increasingly began to dictate the direction music should take, in defiance of melodic sovereignty.† And with the corruption of harmony as a support for melody came the corruption of harmony as harmony, and the gradual incorporation of discordant and inharmonious elements into its formerly congruous structures - an exact musical parallel, it seems to me, with the phenomenon of feminism within the necessarily anti-Christian structure of liberal freedom.
††††† But if melody, formerly a relatively natural and straightforward ingredient of musical perfection, and harmony, its subordinate component, could be radically altered to suit the romantic Weltanschauung, then there was very little to prevent composers from radically altering everything else as well, and to do so, moreover, under the illusion of continual progress!† Thus arose the use of extremes in pitch, volume, and tone; the use of unprecedented combinations of instruments; the ever-increasing size of orchestras; the important roles played by instruments which stood relatively low in the instrumental hierarchy; the greater attention to virtuoso playing; a preference for large-scale works, and other such radical alterations in composition which contributed, step by step, to the progressive degeneration of music from the classical zenith attained to by Mozart.† For musical beauty, to repeat, is ever a mean, a product of instruments which have been combined in the best possible way to produce the most satisfying aesthetic results, and whenever that mean is tampered with, be it to extend the range of pitch to its extreme depths or heights, or to utilize greater extremities of tone and volume than ever before, or to score parts for combinations of instruments which appeal to the sense of novelty rather than to a profound aesthetic charm, the only possible consequence is a disruption of the delicate balance of harmonious relations which make for beauty and their replacement, to varying extents, by less-harmonious and less-balanced relations of sound that make for ugliness.
††††† Thus we find that, throughout the nineteenth century, musical ugliness is slowly and painfully gaining the ascendancy over musical beauty, an inevitability of the times largely brought about by the impossibility of improving upon earlier composers, who had set definitive standards of musical greatness.† Here, if anywhere, is evidence of the fact, acknowledged by Arthur Koestler in his retrospective book Janus - A Summing Up, that the various fine arts don't necessarily progress in a straight line of increased perfection or greatness from generation to generation, but are largely conditioned by the standards set by precedence, which may or may not allow for artistic improvement.† In the case of Western music from Beethoven onwards there has, I repeat, been a steady decline, an aesthetic regression from the standards set in the eighteenth century, which could not be improved upon.† Hence every romantic composer was, to a greater or lesser extent, consciously or unconsciously, coerced into producing worse music than his immediate predecessors.† He was compelled not to respect his predecessors' innovations, but either to extend them or dedicate himself to the formulation of other innovations and thereby produce his own music.† But his own music, unlike that of the great composers who had been engulfed by 'the Culture', and therefore composed at its theocratic behest, was predominantly a matter of his own doing, an indication of the musical anarchy, born of democratic freedom, which gradually turned composers from service of 'the Culture' to service of themselves, in an effort to transcend the standards set by their predecessors and thus attain to musical originality.
††††† One might say that where, formerly, the macrocosm of 'the Culture' had governed the microcosm of individual composers, this process was gradually reversed throughout the nineteenth century, and the microcosm of individual composers began to act increasingly like an autonomous whole in the vast stream of Western music, paying less and less heed to the macrocosm of 'the Culture' against which it had been forced to rebel in the interests of constant change, particles superseding wavicles.† Naturally, it is fair to say that some composers were more conservative than others vis-ŗ-vis the radical changes which stood for the onslaught of 'the Civilization' and its collective values.† Nevertheless, even they were irreversibly caught-up in the swift current of musical socialism that bore everything along in the direction of greater dissolution and anarchy.† Even Brahms and Bruckner indicate a more anarchic turn-of-mind than Mendelssohn and Schumann, their two outstanding predecessors, and these latter composers are certainly less conservative, in their turn, than either Beethoven or Schubert, and are veritable radicals when compared with Haydn and Mozart!† But if such classic-romantic composers appear conservative or reactionary when compared with the more fervent musical socialists such as Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Chopin, Franck, and DvorŠk, they are still significant contributors to the continuous march of musical regress, a march which was to find an even firmer footing in the twentieth century, as free enterprise gained in momentum to the detriment of centralized patronage.
††††† Thus far, twentieth-century music is chiefly characterized by two disparate tendencies: the tendency, on the one hand, to further the rot of romanticism initiated by Beethoven, and the tendency, on the other hand, to stem the rot either by indulging in a form of neo-classicism or, alternatively, by subscribing to the incorporation of jazz elements.† Let us examine the first tendency first.
††††† The attack on 'the Culture's' leading representatives is much fiercer in the twentieth century than at the time of Brahms, Saint-SaŽns, Massenet, and Bruckner.† By comparison with Mahler (the first really powerful voice of the twentieth century), Stravinsky, Bartůk, Prokofiev, Ives, Schoenberg, Webern, Berg, VarŤse, Sibelius, et al., the music of even the most radical late-nineteenth-century composers seems beautiful or conservative or classical, depending on your viewpoint.† The discords used by composers of the previous century seem tame and sparing when compared with their more radical use by the representatives of 'the Civilization' in the first-half of the twentieth century.† And the melodies, whether complex, elongated, or fragmented, of those same late-romantic composers likewise appear beautiful when compared with the greater complexity, elongation, and fragmentation of melodies composed during the early decades of the twentieth century.† In virtually all aspects of musical composition, late-romantic works have been made to seem conservative, and the ongoing aesthetic degeneration of serious music has more than kept abreast of the stupendous technological advancements being witnessed by modern man.† (It hardly needs emphasizing that while the capacity to progress has been inhibited in certain contexts, it has by no means been inhibited everywhere, so that the continuous improvements on the design, for example, of the automobile is achieved at the cost of the continuing regression of music from a maximum beauty towards a maximum ugliness.† The technological advances of this century are generally paralleled by its cultural retreats.)† Not only have orchestras become even bigger, viz. Mahler, Strauss, Holst, et al., but the traditional combination and balance of instruments has been still more radically altered, and, with this, the parts played by the various instruments.† Even the, by classical standards, excessive importance attached to the double-bass parts by Brahms, whose father was a bassist, is moderate when compared with certain more recent scores, where the bass parts, besides having extra work to do, are further strengthened by the incorporation of additional bases!† And, similarly, the brass sections, which many musicologists would claim to have been used excessively by Franck, Bruckner and Saint-SaŽns, have undergone a transformation of importance and acquired a stridency of effect that could only have horrified any late nineteenth-century composer.
††††† However, just as there were relatively conservative composers
and even relatively conservative compositions occasionally being written, in
the nineteenth century, by composers who were anything but conservative, so
there were like-composers and tendencies at work in the first-half of the
twentieth century, and for similar reasons.†
Considering that England had been musically rather quiet for at least
two centuries, it isn't altogether surprising that some of the most
conservative neo-classical tendencies should have come from there, and nowhere
more notably so than in the guise of Elgar, many of whose works, including the
immensely popular Enigma
Variations and the Cello Concerto, belong spiritually
to the late-nineteenth century and not to the steady upsurge of atonal
cacophony which was destined to dominate serious composition throughout the
subsequent decades.† But if the Catholic
Elgar may be considered less musically socialist than a majority of his
contemporaries, he was still compelled to pay court to the twentieth century
and be carried along, willy-nilly, in the direction of greater aesthetic
††††† In the case, for example, of Ravel, who, for all his innovations, was fundamentally more conservative than his two great compatriots, the dissolution into the cacophony of large orchestras that was fast befalling many contemporary composers was partly avoided by a concentration on lighter music and the concomitant use of smaller ensembles, the music occasionally veering in the direction of Jazz, a direction which Satie was also to take in a number of compositions, most notably his Ragtime Parade.† However, in Debussy's case the introduction of the whole-note pentatonic scale lent his music a more radical bias than that of his musical contemporaries, and the impressionistic haze of sound that resulted from this should be seen as a greater concession to the romantic debunking attitude underlining modern developments than can be found in either Ravel or Satie, romantic though much of their music undoubtedly was!† But even in Satie, who regularly endeavoured to simplify his music to the utmost possible extent, the romantic attitude of debunking the classical norm was not without its radical overtones, as we discover in his predilection for jazz rhythms, strange harmonic and enharmonic juxtapositions, odd combinations of instruments, and unprecedented tonal effects.† The overwhelming distinction between Bach's legendary Prelude and Fugue in D Minor and Satie's Ragtime Parade looms gigantic over Western music, though the only real alternative to this is not to be found in Elgar's Enigma Variations, nor even Prokofiev's 3rd Piano Concerto, but in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.† For the continuing expansion of romanticism into still greater melodic and rhythmic complexities has inexorably led to the cacophonous triumphing over both neo-classical and romantic-jazz composers alike, with an inevitable consequence that modern composition has brought music the furthest remove from the classical height attained to by Mozart and plunged it deeper and deeper into the overriding decadence of 'the Civilization'.
††††† Whether or not music can become even more degenerate, even more anarchic, with the passing of time is something that remains to be seen or, rather, heard; although it does seem unlikely, at present, that it will either come to a complete standstill or retrace its steps.† If the world is not destroyed in a nuclear apocalypse, then there is a fair chance that the leading composers of contemporary Western civilization will appear relatively conservative to the ears of a future generation, whose foremost composers may have regressed beyond mathematical and electronic investigations of sound to some completely unforeseen investigation that will take music a still further remove from the aesthetic 'gold standard', from which it was initially plucked in the early decades of the nineteenth century, and drive it deeper and deeper into musical anarchy.
††††† I stated at the beginning of this essay that beauty is a constant quality, not something that changes from age to age.† It requires a certain number of components to be arranged in a certain order, too many or too few inevitably disturbing the overall balance and, depending how they are arranged, making for a less beautiful or even an ugly effect.† Thus beauty is ever the product of a golden mean between components and the way they are arranged, a golden mean ultimately dependent upon the taste and discretion of its creator, the composer.† For if its creator lacks a capacity to appreciate and formulate a high standard of the Beautiful, then nothing but a second- or third-rate composition can be expected from him.† Great works require great men, not mediocre men who are willing to work hard.† And great works can only be created during a limited period of time, while the possibility of progressive development prevails, not after both the best materials and the best means of exploiting them have been exhausted.† Once a given soil has been properly cultivated, it is necessary to move on to the cultivation of another soil, even if it be less good and can only supply a limited number of rather seedy-looking crops in consequence.† As in agriculture, so in music!
††††† This, I think, is sufficient to explain the revolutionary changes which Western music has recently undergone, and to point out the reluctance in some people's minds to admit to the constancy of beauty.† For they were born too late to witness the creation of real beauty, and can only look back with mixed feelings of envy and wonder at the quality of music created while 'the Culture' was in its prime.† If they are not to feel unduly sorry for themselves or to despise themselves on that account, they will make some effort, no matter how reluctantly, towards overrating the efforts of contemporary composers, even if this entails the deception of a shift in their sense of beauty!† But, deep down, there are few cultured people who would consider the breaking off of an uninspiring musical phrase in mid-flight superior to the completed, not to say inspiring, phrase of earlier composers.† Or the use of random atonal 'harmonies' superior to the use of carefully-calculated tonal harmonies.† Or the reiteration of banal rhythms without apparent melodic development superior to the beautiful melody whose rhythmic content follows naturally and inevitably.† For it is, above all, to the sense of novelty that so many of these modern developments appeal, supported, as they usually are, by the democratically fashionable, though fundamentally superficial, notion that art primarily exists to wake one up to new creative possibilities, instead of, as traditionally, to arouse one's admiration through the strength of its aesthetic charm.† But when the aesthetic charm is lacking because it can no longer be attained, it is easy to see why such a notion becomes so important in the realm of art dogma, and why so many people are gradually brainwashed into believing it!† After all, it was only with the twentieth century that notions of that order became necessary, and it was possible for various artists to formulate eccentric theories relating to the nature of beauty and ugliness.
††††† In one such theory, it was alleged that art made from ugly materials and focusing on ugly subjects could be just as good, i.e. artistically meritorious, as art made from beautiful materials and focusing on beautiful subjects - quite as though beauty and ugliness were equal qualities and not subject to the value differentials which accrue to all antitheses, where the positive component of the duality, viz. beauty, is qualitatively superior to its negative component, viz. ugliness!† In this instance, the value-differential focuses on the pleasant effects created by the Beautiful and, by contrast, on the unpleasant effects created by the Ugly.† The face of a beautiful woman will arouse a very superior emotional response in most men to the face of an ugly one, to a woman who, instead of being admired for the pleasure she brings, will be despised for creating a disagreeable and even painful effect.† Now, by a similar token, the spectacle of a painting which depicts a dirty backyard, where dustbins are crammed to overflowing with rubbish, will engender, if not an outright disagreeable emotional response in the viewer's mind, then certainly a less agreeable response than that engendered by the spectacle of a painting which depicts a beautiful sunset over an aesthetically-satisfying landscape.† Clearly, the latter painting would be qualitatively superior to the former both on account of the subject it employs and the response it evokes.† The only instance in which an ugly painting might be considered artistically or, at any rate, creatively superior to a beautiful one ... would be if the latter was much smaller and thereby testified to less effort, on the part of its creator, than the former.† Then it might be possible for one to judge the respective creative values of the two paintings chiefly on the strength of the amount of work and skill apparent there, even if the ugly one - a canvas, say, depicting overturned dustbins infested by rats - evoked an inferior emotional response to the beautiful miniature.† And the same, I venture to guess, could be held true of musical compositions with a similar compositional differential.† But in two works of identical size and length, wherein an approximately equal amount of work had been put into each, and where one testified to a preoccupation with ugly materials or subjects while the other, by contrast, bore testimony to a preoccupation with beautiful materials or subjects, it is only logically possible to conclude the latter artistically superior to the former, since beauty is ever qualitatively superior to ugliness.
††††† Yet in an age which, to a significant extent, has been deprived of the creation of beautiful work because virtually all of the possibilities relating to it have already been exploited, it is virtually inevitable that a kind of Nietzschean "revaluation of all values" should also manifest itself in art theories, and that the leading artists of the day should do their best to elevate the few scraps of creative possibility left them to an absurdly pretentious level!† If the art propaganda initiated by progressive artists has had the desired effect in the service of their free enterprise, i.e. has been generally accepted by the so-called culture-loving public, then it should be possible for people to conclude the works of Bacon equal in value to those of Rembrandt, or the works of Stockhausen equal in value to those of Mozart, and perhaps even superior to them, depending on the culture-loving public's readiness to accept new criteria without criticism (its being generally understood that professional artists and critics know best, and that lay criticism of the new topsy-turvy doctrines is therefore apt to be superficial!)
††††† Thus when modern arts propaganda is successful, the progressive degeneration of the Arts is seen as progress, and the concept of art as novelty, or something that wakes one up to new creative possibilities, becomes the overriding concern of a majority of artists, who, by classical standards, are really anti-artists with the sole intention, consciously or unconsciously, of furthering the rot that set-in with 'the Civilization' at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and who will doubtless continue to wage war on everything 'the Culture' evolved until such time as they are unable to regress any further and a new age begins to dawn on the Western world.† It was not Henry Miller who initially took literature off the 'gold standard', and it is not Miller who has taken it the furthest remove from there.† A comprehensive history of Western literature and anti-literature, art and anti-art, sculpture and anti-sculpture, music and anti-music, has still to be written.† It will doubtless be done by men of a future epoch or civilization!
††††† But let us return to the present and, more specifically, to the subject of music, which is the branch of the Arts we are most concerned with here.† Simultaneously with the continuous decline of Western music this century, another music began to arise, not an African or an American phenomenon but a phenomenon of the black man in North America - in short, the music of the American Negro.† It arose out of the Civil War, when the newly-emancipated Negro was obliged, in a large number of cases, to consider an alternative means of earning a living and, if he had musical predilections, began to acquire and learn how to play whichever musical instrument most took his fancy or, more probably, came most readily to hand.† It developed quite steadily throughout the remaining years of the nineteenth century and, shortly after the turn-of-the-century, it split into two distinct forms - namely, the Blues of the solo performer and the Jazz of the group.† Throughout the early decades of the twentieth century Blues and Jazz continued to develop quite steadily, the one emerging as the music of the underprivileged Black, the other as the music of the intellectual Black.† Thus within a relatively short space of time, from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of the Second World War, i.e. within three generations, the American negro had evolved his own equivalents of white popular and serious music, and had succeeded, moreover, in making the impact of these forms felt throughout the greater part of the Western hemisphere.† Not only did blues and jazz elements find their way into white serious music - as, for example, Ravel, Satie, Gershwin, Copland, et al. - but Blues and Jazz began to acquire general acceptance among the white populations of the various Western countries as an alternative or supplement to their own musical forms and, no less importantly, one to be imitated by white musicians who were interested in spreading the gospel, so to speak, of black creativity.
††††† Now, since the Second World War, this revolution in music has conquered even the English and German nations, hitherto among the most conservative peoples in their attitude towards Negro music.† However, it is also true to say that, in the past fifty or so years, black music has itself undergone a profound revolution.† For not only have the blues and jazz structures been radically altered in accordance with evolutionary demands, but Blacks have increasingly felt the impact of the white world upon themselves and modified their music accordingly.† Thus one finds a situation arising whereby Blacks and Whites play in the same band and create a type of fusion music from the combination of Rock (sophisticated pop, adulterated classical, etc.) and Jazz, or, broadly, white and black musical forms, whereas formerly, in the early decades of the twentieth century, segregation obliged black musicians to keep to themselves in the creation of their own specifically jazz music.† But if the Blues, initially the music of the underprivileged Black, has itself undergone a radical transformation in recent decades and re-emerged in the guises of Soul, Funk, Funk-Soul, etc., the music of the average rather than necessarily underprivileged Black, then the transformation of Jazz into Modern Jazz and/or Fusion Music has been just as radical, and the intellectual and predominantly instrumental Black has continued, with the aid of Whites, to develop his own essentially serious music.† Hence, broadly speaking, Blues and Jazz have been transformed into Soul and Modern Jazz - the black equivalents of Pop and Classical.† We are primarily concerned, in this essay, with serious music, so let us leave the black pop equivalence out of our investigations and take a more detailed look at Modern Jazz.
††††† There are, in this sphere of creativity, two distinct tendencies at large.† On the one hand, there is what could be called the Dionysian tendency towards excess and, on the other hand, the Apollonian tendency towards refinement.† In varying degrees, this duality has always existed in serious music, whether we are dealing with a symphony by Beethoven or an extended improvisation by Charlie Parker.† There are the loud and the quiet passages, the quick and the slow, the heavy and the light, the rough and the smooth, the emotional and the intellectual, etc.† Every extended serious composition demands this alternation between Dionysian and Apollonian elements, and even in the classicism of Mozart it is unthinkable that an entire symphony or concerto could be all quick or all slow, all loud or all quiet.† However, it is also possible for us to generalize, where different types of music are concerned.† For although we are aware that classical music-proper, viz. Haydn, Mozart, the early Beethoven, is not entirely Apollonian, we should be entitled to consider it essentially such in contrast to romanticism, which, especially from the time of Liszt, we should regard as distinctly Dionysian.† In fact, we should have no hesitation in categorizing everything that stands in opposition to 'the Culture' in terms of the Dionysian, even though we are aware that Apollonian qualities may well be in evidence.† As regards Modern Jazz, however, the categorization or generalization towards which we are led is decidedly the Apollonian, inasmuch as, stemming from a non-European source, Modern Jazz doesn't signify an attack on 'the Culture' so much as a new voice which happens to find itself juxtaposed with the down-dragging musical currents of contemporary Western civilization.† Modern Jazz is not the music of 'Faustian' man, irrespective of the number of 'Faustians' (Westerners, in Spenglerian parlance) it may enrol in its service, but the music of Afro-Americans, and, as such, it signifies an upward growth analogous to that of a new culture.† It has, to be sure, certain Dionysian elements within the overall framework of its structures which maintain, as in other musical forms, a balance with its Apollonian elements.† But the equilibrium thereby established need not prevent us from generalizing it into an Apollonian, upwards-growing phenomenon which, willy-nilly, stands in stark opposition to the down-dragging Dionysian phenomenon of contemporary Western music!
††††† I think this factor is of crucial significance in explaining both the abrupt rise and the immense popularity of black music, whether popular or serious, within the traditionally white nations, a large number of whose inhabitants have been enabled to take refuge from the regressive musical trends of their civilization in the shelter provided by a relatively young, exuberant, and progressive subculture.† In this context, the finest examples of Modern Jazz could be thought superior, in musical terms, to the compositions of avant-garde composers, and would provide a spiritual crutch for the jaded sensibilities of Western man who, by compromising with the music of a subculture not strictly compatible with 'the Culture' from which he springs, is enabled to acquire a modicum of defence against the Dionysian plague which threatens to completely engulf him and to deprive him, inevitably, of even the faintest intimation of genuine music.
††††† But if the contention implicit in the Apollonian/Dionysian confrontation of Modern Jazz with the avant-garde ... leads us to the conclusion that the former is musically superior to the latter, we must nevertheless endeavour to provide tangible proofs which will lend credibility to such a conclusion.† For it must be acknowledged that even though Modern Jazz pertains to a growing subculture, it is unlikely that it has yet grown to full maturity and thereupon fully realized its dormant potential.† The concept of Jazz as an art form is of comparatively recent origin, stemming, in the main, from Charlie Parker, whose breathtaking performances on the saxophone in the nineteen thirties and 'forties fairly revolutionized the then-existing position of Jazz in the Western world.† Now, since him, many other great musicians, including Bud Powell, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, and McCoy Tyner have likewise contributed towards the growth of Jazz as a serious art-form.† Thus the past five decades have witnessed an increase in sophistication of both techniques and compositions - an aesthetically progressive rather than regressive development.
††††† Regardless of this progression, however, it has to be admitted that only a small percentage of the total jazz output of any one decade actually aspires to the status of fine art, and that, partly in accordance with the Afro-American predilection for rhythms and melodic reiterations, the bulk of it remains firmly attached to the fundamentally 'primitive' criteria from which it initially sprang.† For it must be remembered that, even in an exuberant and progressive context, genius is a product which cannot be manufactured in bulk - a majority of the musicians currently engaged in the production of Modern Jazz being anything but men of genius!† However that may be, the element of genius which can be found in this context is sufficient to lend weight to our contention regarding the musical superiority of the finest jazz compositions over the Dionysian compositions of contemporary so-called 'classical' composers.† The criteria upon which we can base our argument are manifold, but it will suffice if we list only the main ones.
††††† Thus the first and most important consideration in favour of Jazz is the prevalence of melody, sometimes of a very beautiful nature but almost invariably, in the better compositions, of an attractive or aesthetically-satisfying nature.† The second consideration must entail harmony, not cacophony or the dissolution of harmony into the inharmonious, but genuine diatonic harmony used in a subordinate and largely supportive role.† The third consideration must bring to our attention the prevalence of form, sometimes of a simple nature, sometimes of a fairly complex nature, but generally appertaining to a recognizable pattern of congruous import.† These three primary considerations, which constitute a sine qua non in the hierarchy of compositional value, we investigated earlier, and to them were added subordinate considerations, such as instrumentation, tone, volume, number of instruments, etc.† In like manner, similar subordinate criteria may be applied to Modern Jazz, so that a composition, for example, with the best possible instrumentation will usually make for a more successful result than one where the logic of instrumental values or positions in the overall hierarchy has been overruled, not to say inverted, in the interests of novelty, change, socialistic radicalism, etc.† Similarly, the instruments combined together in a jazz ensemble will make for a better or worse effect depending on the total numbers employed.
††††† Of course, these criteria cannot be taken in a literal classical sense.† For although the number of instruments employed and the way they are combined appertain to the basic criteria of classical music in general, great divergences exist in terms of the particular.† Thus, for example, the number of instruments appropriate to the finest classical music is vastly different from the number most suited to the best jazz compositions, in which the use of only a few electric instruments can make for a greater volume of sound than could be obtained from a large body of acoustic instruments being played as loudly as possible, and for which it is therefore imperative to use fewer instruments in order to obtain the most effective or satisfying results.† And even the best combination of instruments differs in particulars from the classical ideal, to the extent that we are dealing with a subculture originated by negroes, who were fundamentally spiritual outsiders in relation to the dualistic integrity of Spengler's 'Faustian' man.† If Jazz attaches more importance to the use of percussion than does the serious music of the white man, it should be seen as partly deriving from the fact that drums of various shapes and sizes constituted such an important role in the music of the American negro's African ancestors, in consequence of which the urge and perhaps even the ability to play them was culturally inherited.† To be sure, there is nothing in the entire history of Western music which corresponds to the Negro predilection for complex rhythms: the percussion parts relating to virtually all orchestral compositions being frankly elementary when compared with the rhythmic complexities continuously being utilized by the finest jazz drummers, a majority of whom are black.
††††† Indeed, one might expect an orchestral percussionist to criticize Jazz for the - to his way of thinking - overwhelming amount of percussion relating to it.† Though such criticism would testify to a misunderstanding of the vastly different importance attached to percussion by the leading black exponents of the American subculture, whose African ancestry would seem to have endowed them with their own rather more rhythmically-oriented scale of musical priorities.† For Jazz does not imply an excessive use of percussion.† On the contrary, it entails an African-derived use of percussion which appertains to a different and arguably older cultural ideal.† But Jazz is not, of course, an African phenomenon.† It is a hybrid resulting from the amalgamation of black and white cultural trends into a new synthesis.† The American Negro was induced to add a greater consideration for melody to his ingrained store of rhythmic vitality.† Thus he produced Jazz.† And so arose a subculture under the nose of the Western ideal.
††††† To this has been added, in recent years, a still greater integration of black and white cultural elements, the Afro-American no longer producing Jazz simply because his forebears had been brought under the white man's influence, but also influencing and being further influenced by him, so that, in the course of time, a new music arose which blended the predominantly black Jazz with the predominantly white Rock.† The fact that there are many white drummers in today's world is ample testimony to the influence of Jazz on the white man, just as the number of black keyboardists and guitarists in it testifies to the ubiquitous influence of Western civilization on Blacks.† But if Jazz and Rock were to some extent already hybrid forms on that and similar accounts, then the coming together of the two into yet another synthesis has resulted in an even greater hybrid - namely, that of Fusion Music.
††††† Now this term need not imply that Blacks and Whites invariably play together in the same band, even if this is the usual implication of it.† The essential thing is that Jazz, with its emphasis on rhythm, should be further combined with melody and harmony than would otherwise be the case, if it remained purely jazzy.† The improvisatory qualities of the form are still there in some degree, if generally confined to a more subordinate role, and, by a like-token, the qualities extracted from Rock, such as vocals, harmony, persistent melodic motifs, clear-cut form, etc., are likewise 'watered down' to blend-in with the new compromise commonly known as Fusion Music.† Admittedly, the term Modern Jazz has also been used in this context, though one might argue that it chiefly appertains to music which has remained predominantly Negro, with a stronger emphasis on rhythm and improvisation.† However, irrespective of whether or not one chooses to differentiate between these two tendencies, there nevertheless remains a constant interplay between black and white elements in this subculture, and I venture to guess that even the most jazzy of the moderns is, deep down, probably less self-consciously black, in his intentions, than were his predecessors in the early decades of the twentieth century.
††††† But it should be evident that if we are to compare recent jazz trends with the regressive trends of contemporary Western music, and to contend from such a comparison that the former is musically superior to the latter, we must base our contention on factors which relate more closely to the essence of the 'Faustian' soul than to that of the negro soul.† In other words, it is necessary to pit a music with fine melodies and appropriate harmonies against a music which lacks these essential ingredients of musical value - as most contemporary Western compositions do - if we're not to get ourselves caught in futile cross-references between one culture and another.†
††††† Now if we are to differentiate between Modern Jazz, as being predominantly rhythmic, and Fusion Music, as signifying a greater compromise between rhythm and melody, then it must be the best examples of the fusion form that we are most entitled to compare with and consider superior to contemporary Western compositions, rather than those examples of Modern Jazz which adhere to very different criteria and more or less go their own way in the interests, primarily, of the American negro soul.† If, as the term suggests, Fusion Music is closer to the Western soul than the predominantly black Modern Jazz, then it is, above all, from this closeness that we are enabled to draw comparisons with traditional musical developments and, in accordance with the musical superiority of that tradition vis-ŗ-vis the decadence, pit these comparisons against the degenerate sounds of the avant-garde.† Thus it is from the finest compositions of fusion composers such as Jean-Luc Ponty, Jan Hammer, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Barry Miles, Stanley Clarke, and George Duke that we should look for the diatonic alternative to the mostly cacophonous sounds of the Western world's contemporary composers, who have been compelled, willy-nilly, to drive serious music a still further remove from the cultural 'gold standard' set by Mozart and Beethoven than did their immediate predecessors.† For it is largely on account of the fact that the best elements in both the black and white cultures have joined forces to produce Fusion Music, that the Whites most affected by this synthesis have not followed the downhill path to atonal cacophony of their more academic cousins but, on the contrary, have retained a melodic, harmonic, and diatonic approach to composition commensurate with the rhythmic essence of Jazz.
††††† But if many of the essential criteria of high-quality composition are to be found in Fusion Music, how, then, does it compare with the best traditional manifestations of Western music - with the compositions, for example, of Mozart and Beethoven?† The answer to this question is, I believe, that it doesn't compare too well.† Or, put more comprehensively, the best of today's Fusion Music is probably musically superior, note for note, to the worst of the compositions of the great composers, but by no means superior to their finest compositions.† For, although I have listened to an abundant supply of the most outstanding Fusion Music, from Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra to Weather Report and The Mothers of Invention, I haven't heard anything to match or surpass, for sheer beauty and creative profundity, the finest music of Handel, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Weber, et al., which sprang from the depths of the 'Faustian' soul when 'the Culture' had not yet degenerated into 'the Civilization' that we are now witnessing.† To be sure, most fusion composers may utilize more genuinely musical means than their partisan contemporaries of the avant-garde.† But they are still essentially products of 'the Civilization' and, in many respects, its materialistic victims, lacking the great spiritual and intellectual depths to be found in the works of the greatest classical, classical-romantic, and even romantic composers.
††††† It is only with the twentieth century and, most especially the latter-half of it, that one can seriously turn one's back on contemporary Western composition in favour of the, by classical standards, second-rate achievements of the most outstanding fusion composers, whose music is, I contend, genuinely superior.† (It is interesting to note that, in Hermann Hesse's classic novel Steppenwolf, Harry Haller found Jazz in the nineteen twenties "repugnant ... and yet ten times preferable to all the academic music of the day." - It was not by pure chance or creative whim on the part of Hesse that Haller's cultural heroes were Mozart and Goethe, the men who represented 'the Culture' at its prime, or that he found both Wagner and Brahms striving for redemption in the 'purgatory' of the 'Magic Theatre' for the crime of "thick orchestration" which, so we are told, was "a fault of their time.")† Naturally, one's taste and temperament may lead one to prefer Chick Corea or Al DiMeola to Mozart or Beethoven.† But, in the light of objective criteria, that would be no reason for one to seriously consider the music of the former composers inherently superior to the music of the latter!† In musical criticism, there are certainly more considerations to bear in mind than those relating to one's personal taste, significant as that may be up to a point.
††††† But even if the finest Fusion Music does not and cannot, through historical necessity, attain to the standards set by those composers born when Western civilization was in its spiritual prime and not yet far gone in materialistic degeneration, we should at least be grateful to its leading exponents for the work they are doing to keep melody and harmony alive in a world increasingly beset by atonal cacophony.† Who knows, but humanity may not have heard the last note yet from a music which, if history is to record, could well transpire to have been the noblest cultural achievement of the twentieth century?