Walter Brian had theories about everything, including music, of which subject he was very fond. He was, as they say, a music lover, and his loving ranged from the classics, preferably modern, to jazz, also preferably modern, and with a little opera, ballet, soul, and rock thrown-in for good measure. The classics pertained to the serious part of his spectrum of musical tastes, jazz, soul, and rock to its comparatively frivolous part, while ballet, opera, and some kinds of modern jazz had a place somewhere in-between, in a kind of compromise zone of frivolous seriousness or serious frivolity. Besides listening to music, Walter Brian would often expatiate on it to his friends, and sometimes the conversation that resulted would spill over, as it were, into one or more of the other arts, as analogies were drawn in relation to the interdependence of the Arts as a whole.
On this occasion, Walter Brian was holding forth on the subject of what he called 'bourgeois music' to two of his closest friends, whose eagerness to comprehend suggested that they were closer to becoming disciples. These were Malcolm Murphy and Arthur Kearns, who sat on separate cushions facing their host, himself comfortably seated to one side of a large open window through which the July sun poured its relentless heat.
"Fundamentally there are two kinds of bourgeois music, which are the romantic and the classic respectively," he was saying. "But each kind is itself divisible into two stages, which we may define as a stage more grand than petty bourgeois on the one hand, and a stage more petty than grand bourgeois on the other. This in itself reflects the relative nature of the bourgeoisie, who are compounded, as it were, of an amalgam of grand- and petty-bourgeois elements."
There was a murmur of approval from Malcolm Murphy, while Arthur Kearns simply nodded his bulbous head in apparent agreement.
"Chronologically considered, the romantic kind precedes the classic kind," Walter Brian continued, "and we may ascribe to the nineteenth century a predominantly romantic bias which was to lead, in the early-twentieth century, to the neo-classicism of the finest bourgeois music. Romanticism may be defined as a reaction against; classicism, by contrast, as an attraction towards. The former is predominantly materialistic in character, the latter ... predominantly spiritual. The one signifies a Becoming, the other a Become."
Malcolm Murphy scratched his right cheek, pouted slightly ominously, and then languidly said: "Presumably bourgeois romanticism was largely a reaction against aristocratic classicism, which had attained to its high-point in the eighteenth century?"
"Indeed it was!" Walter Brian confirmed with spontaneous exuberance, "and this stage of romantic reaction was more grand bourgeois than petty bourgeois in character. We're dealing here with composers such as Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Saint-Saëns, who composed in a relatively tonal manner. With the twentieth century, however, we enter an age of bourgeois classicism, though such neo-classicism had also prevailed, to a limited extent and at various times, in the preceding century, as in certain of the works of Grieg, Bruckner, and Bizet."
"A complicator could argue that some of it was really an extension of aristocratic classicism rather than the earliest manifestation of neo-classicism," Arthur Kearns opined, to the low-key amusement of his companions.
"Certainly he could," Walter Brian generously conceded. "And doubtless some of it was, particularly in works of the early Beethoven, in Weber, Mendelssohn, Gounod, and Reinecke. However, it's only with the twentieth century that we arrive at the principal age of neo-classicism, which divides, as you may already have guessed, into two types, viz. a type more grand than petty bourgeois in character, and, opposed to it, a type more petty than grand bourgeois. The first type we may define as tonal, the second as atonal, though still confined to acoustic means. In each case, we're in the realm of a spiritual Become, but of a Become that varies according to the class bias of the composer concerned. Thus the first, or lower, type of neo-classicism had for its chief practitioners composers like Martinu, Hindemith, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Satie, Ravel, Poulenc, Stravinsky, and Honegger, who mostly worked within a tonal context, though not one suggesting an affinity with the more radical late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century romantic composers, like Tchaikovsky, Rubenstein, Strauss, Wagner, and Mahler - complications and complicators aside."
Walter Brian raised his brows in sceptical concession to the possible veracity of this bold contention, and simply said: "You may well be right. For I often tend to think of Martinu as a kind of twentieth-century Mozart, meaning that he was the possessor of a creative facility reminiscent, in its broad range, of what Mozart possessed in his own sphere of musical invention."
"In similar vein, I regard Honegger as a kind of twentieth-century Beethoven," Malcolm Murphy confessed. "Though with regard to the classical rather than to the romantic phase of Beethoven's work. There is certainly a distinct facial likeness between the two men, at any rate, which suggests to me the likelihood of a musical link ..."
"I wish I could verify the correctness of your hypothesis," Arthur Kearns interposed. "But, unfortunately, I've yet to see a photo of Honegger or hear a major example of his work."
Walter Brian reflected briefly before conceding, for Malcolm Murphy's benefit, that there was probably some truth in what he had said, though he couldn't stipulate exactly how much. Nevertheless, with regard to the second type of neo-classicism, he had this to say: "Being more petty than grand bourgeois in character, it pursued a predominantly atonal path, though not in an anarchic, and hence romantic, manner, but with reference to certain technical conventions, such as pertained to the adoption of the twelve-note scale and its serial realization. This scale, first introduced by Schoenberg and subsequently adopted by both Berg and Webern, laid the foundations for the erection of a neo-classicism more petty than grand bourgeois in character, which found its painterly equivalent in the purist abstraction of neo-plasticism, as practised by, amongst others, Mondrian, just as the first type of neo-classicism found its painterly equivalent in symbolism, that predominantly representational art.... Now although these two types of neo-classicism at first co-existed in the early-twentieth century, the atonal type was destined to supersede the tonal as the principal mode of bourgeois creativity - a mode which, even now, continues to be upheld by certain late neo-classical composers, including Tippett and Williamson."
Arthur Kearns remained true to form by remarking: "The earlier mode also continued to be upheld by certain late neo-classical composers, including Walton and Berkeley." This remark was respected, though not commented upon, by Walter Brian, because Malcolm Murphy had something of his own to contribute to the debate.
"Since the later neo-classicism developed out of the earlier, are we therefore to suppose that a similar arrangement duly applies to a new development of romanticism?" he asked.
Walter Brian shook his head. "There's no evidence suggesting that to be the case," he replied, "because romanticism tends to react against a previous classical attainment, and this was generally so with the emergence, earlier this century, of a second type of bourgeois romanticism, which reacted against the first type of neo-classicism. As to whether the later type of neo-classicism developed out of the earlier ... it seems to me that whilst it may have owed something to its predecessor, the main impetus of development came from a combination of factors, both in terms of an extension of - though implicit reaction against - tonal bourgeois romanticism into atonal channels and, by contrast, an aspiration towards, through experimental precocity, a higher and, as yet, unrealized ideal. That, I believe, is the case as regards the second type of neo-classicism.
"As regards the second type of romanticism, however, the neo-romanticism, as it were, of composers more petty than grand bourgeois in creative scope," he went on, riding the wave of his own ebullience, "that was largely a reaction, as I said, against tonal neo-classicism, and, as such, it scorned any affiliation with tonal procedures. Neither did it adopt such serial procedures as applied to atonal neo-classicism, but forged an atonal style, through acoustic means, independently of them. Thus was it romantic and, by definition, materialistic, focusing attention upon the surface rather than alluding to some profounder meaning lying underneath ... in the technical depths, as it were. Its painterly equivalent was abstract expressionism, and its chief practitioners included composers like Russolo, Varèse, Cage, Boulez, Stockhausen, Tavener, and Rawsthorne - some of whom are still working in a similar vein at present, albeit not always in acoustic terms."
There ensued a thoughtful pause in the discussion before Arthur Kearns asked: "Would the use of electronic instruments alter the class integrity of the music, then?"
Walter Brian nodded briskly. "If used consistently in an atonal context, electronic instruments would apply to a proletarian romanticism reacting against the second neo-classicism of acoustic serialists such as Schoenberg and Webern. Should this music follow a similar or more advanced serial pattern in electronic terms, however, then it would constitute a proletarian classicism - the highest possible development of the classical. But we're unlikely to hear much of that kind of music before the next civilization gets properly under way on exclusively transcendental terms. In the meantime, the voice of serious proletarian music will be predominantly romantic, as befitting the materialistic nature of the age and in accordance with the legitimate epochal reaction of such music against neo-classical precedent. This ultimate romanticism finds its visual equivalent in the neon everywhichway light-art of contemporary proletarian artists. Such is the transitional nature of the age, however, that a practising artist or musician can be petty bourgeois in one context and proletarian in another, depending on whether he's utilizing natural or synthetic means, and how these means are being utilized. Stockhausen affords us a typical example of this indeterminate phenomenon, because some of his atonal music is acoustic and some of it electronic. The bulk of it, however, is romantic."
"No man is born an absolute," Malcolm Murphy declared, a wry smile on his haggard face.
"Apparently not these days," Arthur Kearns countered, chuckling aloud. "Though there were times when a composer's music adhered to a definite context, as with Mozart, and doubtless such times will arise again ... come the advent of a more absolutist age."
Walter Brian saw no reason to doubt that conjecture, and duly offered its instigator a confident nod. "Yes, the future will belong to the proletarian classicist," he solemnly averred. "As thinkers, however, it's our business to extricate what sense we can from the seemingly chaotic present, thereby arriving at certain conclusions about it which may be of service to posterity and to the future development of music. We will, of course, be generalizing both composers and movements into near-absolutist categories. But an age like this leaves us very little alternative! If we have brought some order from out the indeterminate muddle, we'll have served our purpose. Or almost so!"
Malcolm Murphy scratched his right cheek a moment, and then said: "One thing you haven't told us, and that pertains to the painterly equivalent of tonal bourgeois romanticism. That's the missing link in the puzzle."
"Ah, perhaps I had thought that too obvious to be worth mentioning," Walter Brian responded, his face betraying a degree of surprise. "Its equivalent is, of course, romanticism - as practised by artists such as Delacroix, Gericault, Friedrich, and Turner."
Malcolm Murphy smiled in apparent satisfaction with this answer and admitted that the puzzle was now solved.
"All except for impressionism," Arthur Kearns declared with complicator's zest.
"Which is nothing more than an extreme manifestation of the first type of bourgeois romanticism," Walter Brian assured him. "Whether in art or music, the intention is approximately the same: to give a surface impression in quasi-abstract terms rather than to hint, like symbolism, at underlying spiritual depths. Thus it is materialist, and thereby akin to the romantic."
"I admit defeat," said Arthur Kearns.
"And I proclaim victory," Malcolm Murphy added. "For now we can talk about something else."
"Whatever you like," sighed Walter Brian, who felt he had theorized long and boldly enough about 'bourgeois music' for the time being.