'In the beginning was sound' -- Barenboim's Reith lectures. 'Brilliant!'

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Tue, 2006-05-30 03:03

The internet is a wonderful thing. Not only does it throw up the absurd, the titillating and the combative, lurking within it also are real nuggets of pure genius. This year's BBC Reith Lectures by brilliant conductor Daniel Barenboim is such a nugget.

If you're at all interested in music, then you should be overwhelmed by this series of five fascinating lectures from an inspirational man who knows music inside out -- lectures that you can see on the net in pristine video, or hear in pure MP3, or just read, if you wish, without the benefit of the glorious music he uses to illustrate his points.

Rather than summarise myself what he says, I'll let him tell you himself:

I will ... attempt the impossible and maybe try and draw some connection between the inexpressible content of music and, maybe, the inexpressible content of life.

In Chicago [Lecture 2] I will be trying to rescue "the neglected sense" - the ear - and launch a campaign against muzak. [Boy, did that excite some controversy.]

In Berlin [Lecture 3] I will argue that we have lost the ability to make value judgements about public standards - all because of political correctness and bad education.

In Ramallah [Lecture 4] I will speak about the ability of music to integrate, and how it is that a musician is by the sheer nature of his profession in many ways, an integrating figure. If a musician is unable to integrate rhythm, melody, harmony, volume, speed, he cannot make music.

And to end in Jerusalem [Lecture 5], I will try to explain what to me is a very major difference between power and strength - something which I learned very precisely from music, that if you attack a chord with more power than you are going to sustain it, it has no strength. So there we are at the first, if you want, connection between the inexpressible content of music and in many ways the inexpressible content of life...

Of course, appropriate moment to quote Neitszche, who said that life without music would be a mistake. And now we come to the first question - why? Why is music so important? Why is music something more than something very agreeable or exciting to listen to? Something that, through its sheer power, and eloquence, gives us formidable weapons to forget our existence and the chores of daily life...

Why indeed? Listen up and learn. I certainly have.

UPDATE: Whoops. Links fixed.

LINKS: In the beginning was sound, Reith Lectures 2006 - BBC Radio 4
Barenboim hits out at 'sound of muzak' - BBC News

TAGS: Music, Heroes, Science


( categories: )

Craig

Victor Pross's picture

What an image. I would pay money to see that.

From conductor to caterwauler

Craig Ceely's picture

And when no one is around you're all about firing up some Twisted Sister, plugging in the ol' air guitar and laying down some serious headbangin'!

Okay, Linz, we'll give you that one...

Craig Ceely's picture

And that's precisely the orchestra we've entrusted to your care. Smiling

Greatest Living Conductor

Lindsay Perigo's picture

With the death of Carlos Kleiber, Barenboim is now the greatest living conductor in the world.

Nonsense, Boaz. *I* am the greatest living conductor in the world, as you would know if you saw me in my living room.

Barenboim

Boaz the Boor's picture

I loved Cline's article, and of course he has a much better (and at least partially correct) grasp of why classical music can't thrive in our current setting. And I've yet to hear the rest of Barenboim's lectures - I'll finally have some breathing room for such pleasures next week.

However - you, Linz, have gone too far!

"Decaying, rudderless culture"? Yes, & Barenboim is part of it.

RAAAA%$#$%%###$$%&&&#$$@@!!!!!!!!!!!!!

With the death of Carlos Kleiber, Barenboim is now the greatest living conductor in the world. He brings the highest seriousness and love to one of the noblest professions of mankind, whatever his other flaws. His somewhat demented and limited fascination with batshit crazy serialist tripe (and his pseudo-philosophical pronouncements) is unfortunate. But let's keep it simple; he's a musician -- a heroic one -- not a philosopher.

Robert

Victor Pross's picture

Then we'll be seeing you on American Idol next year?

No, but you may hear him singing arias...

Robert's picture

& if you do, pray that you have some ear-plugs handy! He may not bang his head, but by God he knows how to caterwaul Sticking out tongue

Mind you I can't talk, my singing voice sounds like a truck grinding its gears...

Jesus, Linz...

Craig Ceely's picture

Don't hold back, man. Tell us what you really think!

One more observation ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

They who are without authentic sentimentality should have the self-awareness and good grace to stay out of discussions about music. They suffer from the emotional equivalent of tone-deafness (usually, of course, they suffer from both). They are more useless than ballast in the battle to recapture Romantic Realism. They should just listen to their headbanging, preferably through headphones, & shut the fuck up. Smiling

Cline/Barenboim

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Derek—you're certainly correct that Cline runs rings around Barenboim. In fact, I'm not even going to bother listening to any more of Barenboim's lectures. I think I have him tagged already. "Decaying, rudderless culture"? Yes, & Barenboim is part of it. But don't be pessimistic. Mozarts (& much more interesting composers than he) produce themselves, regardless of cultural impediments. But it's interesting that no one here has taken Cline's article to heart. If it doesn't happen here, where the hell will it happen?

The magnificent Mr Cline

Derek McGovern's picture

Many thanks, Linz, for posting the link to Edward Cline's superb article. In terms of passion for his noble subject, Cline runs rings around Barenboim. While Barenboim laments the use of Mozart's music in a toilet commercial, Cline identifies the real enemy here: "a decaying, rudderless culture" that will never again produce another Mozart, much less care that such composers once existed.

Moolah effect

JoeM's picture

"Certain areas in the brain became active when someone played Bach on an electric piano. So fucking what?"

So what? Lance, don't you know what this means? It means that when science finds that a portion of the brain lights up listening to Bach, that you can write a book about this and make any claim you want. Like, Bach is going to make your baby smarter. Bach will heal your soul. Bach was the vessell of the music of the spheres. Listening to Bach will cure your chanker sores, and you're asthma, too. You call it the Bach effect, sell tons of cds of music you didn't write, and sells like snake oil. And if anyone disputes the Bach effect, you allude to Native American sound healers, and say it's for the children. "You do want your children to be smarter, right?" Then people will believe anything you say. Oh, yeah, and it's all effortless, you don't have to actively listen, you just play it in the background while you mow the lawn.

Eye

The Hostess

Lanza Morio's picture

The woman running the show was like something out of a Monty Python skit I thought. She did a fine job generally but in the Q and A she kept almost interrupting Barenboim before finally really interrupting him to ask a question to an audience member. And Barenboim was pressed to get his answer out before she had spoken up.

The brain scientist guy makes much ado about his experiments but I don't think there was anything of real value from what he described. Certain areas in the brain became active when someone played Bach on an electric piano. So fucking what?

Musak

Lanza Morio's picture

Noted Linz. Wasn't able to watch Lecture Two tonight but will do so in the next day or two.

Lindsay

Victor Pross's picture

I stand corrected.

[But I don't see you playing an air guitar anytime soon] :-}

Lance

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Linz, my guess is that Barenboim's disgust with Muzak is about the inauthenticity of it. It's superficial, passionless, KASS-less. Muzak takes the life out of music. There's no doubt about that. But in the context of an elevator muzak makes perfect sense. We aren't looking for an intense artistic experience there. Just a little whistle while you go.

Understand that by "muzak" Barenboim doesn't mean pap of the kind one usually in fact encounters in the lift—he means, and explicitly identified, works of the stature of the Brahms Violin Concerto. This in fact is one of my favourite pieces (not that I like much of Brahms generally), and I can assure you that hearing snippets of it in the lift—assuming it wasn't unconscionably "souped up"—would be a delight, not something I found superficial & KASSless. But I don't mind Moon River in the lift, either. Anything but headbanging. I'm so glad today to have found an ally in Mr Cline, whoever he is—& I hope soon to find out. My first true ally in this battle, unless I'm to be disillusioned yet again. But I can't imagine that. His writing, let alone the substance of it, is superb. KASS writ large.

Linz

Musak

Lanza Morio's picture

Linz, my guess is that Barenboim's disgust with Muzak is about the inauthenticity of it. It's superficial, passionless, KASS-less. Muzak takes the life out of music. There's no doubt about that. But in the context of an elevator muzak makes perfect sense. We aren't looking for an intense artistic experience there. Just a little whistle while you go.

Enjoyed Lecture 1. Thanks

Lanza Morio's picture

Enjoyed Lecture 1. Thanks Peter.

I liked his point that western composers have used the same 12 notes since before Bach. Therefore, the category "modern music" doesn't mean much. What's important is what you do with the notes.

The guy is not a great philosopher but he's an impressive character nonetheless. I'll go through the remaining lectures this week.

Victor

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I just don't recall any positive accounts from you about popular music--only to contrary. Where the hell are those remarks?

Victor, it would help if you paid attention. Only a few days ago, on Chris McKenzie's thread where you all started crying & popped a "vain" because I said metal wasn't music, I said this (& I said many similar things in the past). I'm wondering what part of it is not clear:

It would be fair to say I like *most* pop music from the eras when it consisted of good tunes sung by good voices whose words you could hear; I just don't have much of it in my collection since for me it's not "the total passion for the total height" & I don't have limitless money. Ditto the early rock that I don't find objectionable. What I can't abide is the kind of thing I cited in the Barenboim thread, the atrocity perpetrated by The Hives that I had the misfortune to be blasted by at the gym the other day. That kind of stuff is vile, vicious, brainless, ugly beyond words and utterly without redemption. Sick, sick, sick. Beyond repulsive.

Now, I'm not popping a "vain." Just mildly irritated that you expect me to track down my own remarks for your edification when they are quite recent.

Do you realise that in setting up this straw man—Linz dismisses *all* pop/rock—you evade the point I'm making about The Hives & their ilk & the culture-at-large, the point made so eloquently by Mr. Cline? Doing a Phil, in other words? Can I utter a worse indictment than that?! Smiling

Okay, Lindsay.

Victor Pross's picture

Don't you 'pop a vain.'(That was me, yes). I'll read Cline's essay. Sounds interesting.

And no, I don't think that there is a cerebral/pleasure dichotomy. I just don't recall any positive accounts from you about popular music--only to contrary. Where the hell are those remarks? I'm a fan of a lot of your writings, and I don't see this.

Victor: Objectivist--writer--artist--nice guy

Victor—WTF?!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I’m with you on your blasting of rap “music” and of much else for what is being presented as ‘music’ today. I just don’t understand—and cannot—take the categorical imperative on all pop/rock music. (I’m including blues, jazz, and Motown here as well).

For the zillionth time, where have I pronounced such a blanket condemnation?

And why does every occasion to listen to be music be one of a cerebral order, and not purely for the sake of enjoyment?-—and no, not irrational hedonistic “enjoyment”. This enjoyment can be one of simple pleasure--a simple toe-tapping beat with lyrics as simple as falling in love for the first time. What is wrong with this?

Leaving aside questions of a cerebral/pleasurable dichotomy, where on earth have I ever said there is anything wrong with this? Everything I've said is to the contrary, in fact.

Fact remains, most contemporary "music," both "serious" and popular, is fucked, for reasons brilliantly outlined in Edward Cline's essay.

Linz

Lindsay,

Victor Pross's picture

I’m with you on your blasting of rap “music” and of much else for what is being presented as ‘music’ today. I just don’t understand—and cannot—take the categorical imperative on all pop/rock music. (I’m including blues, jazz, and Motown here as well).

And why does every occasion to listen to be music be one of a cerebral order, and not purely for the sake of enjoyment?-—and no, not irrational hedonistic “enjoyment”. This enjoyment can be one of simple pleasure--a simple toe-tapping beat with lyrics as simple as falling in love for the first time. What is wrong with this?

Victor: Objectivist--writer--artist--nice guy

Bass, how low can you go

JoeM's picture

Bass IS used as a weapon, it's a signal to keep away. And to repel. AND it invades. 2 am someone comes down the street in front of my apartment and the windows rattle. There's a guy who walks downtown with an amplifier on wheels, turned up WAAAY too loud. You ask him to turn it down and he gets hostile. Where are the police? Nowehere.

And he's right about the musical vapidity of the reliance on bass. Bass players in rock are expected to stay to the root, musicians like Chris Squire, who favor a contrapuntal style, are shunned in pop because of the complexity required. Most Rand B used to have good bass, now it's all single tones that are barely audible beyond an intense vibration.

Outstanding!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I've just read a magnificent essay by Edward Cline called Why the Music Died—way better than Barenboim!

http://ruleofreason.blogspot.c...

Here are its concluding paragraphs:

_____________________________________

A word about bass in contemporary popular music. Were this a separate article, its title could well be "Technology in the Hands of Barbarians." The stress on "mega" bass (of 120 decibels or more, crowding the 180 decibel range of a NASA rocket launch) is especially revealing, for it confesses an attempt to compensate for vapidity of content in what passes for contemporary popular music. Bass, once considered a single musical element, has come to dominate "pop" music because this type of music requires the least amount of thought or imagination by either its composers or listeners. Its continual "thumping" -- in popular music and even in television commercials -- is used to arrest one's attention, deaden thought, and metaphorically beat listeners to a stupefied pulp. On dance floors and in bars, it imposes a nihilistic gestalt on everyone and everything it touches. It is not joy or happiness or even sorrow that this kind of bass seeks to evoke, but a temporary state of annihilation.

Bass is also employed now as a weapon against civilized existence by those who install expensive "mega bass" amplifiers, "woofers," and speakers in their vehicles. It is easy to name the motive of the owners of these throbbing machines: pure, unadulterated malice. The blasts that emanate from these vehicles are distracting not merely because of their volume; their peculiar, offensive, intrusive nature penetrates one's consciousness as a disruptive, often painful force. It is not joy that the perpetrators of the "mega bass" phenomenon wish to share with random passersby or residents, but hatred and the chance to torture without physically touching anyone. What such creatures are saying is: We're a revolting nuisance, but we're here, we're pumping up the volume, and there's nothing you can do about it.

"Rap," of course, cannot even be considered as music. Taking together its belligerent tone, its monotonous, metronomic beat, obscene and homicidal "lyrics," and confrontational delivery, it is simply a species of malevolence.

Students attending the best music schools are no longer taught how to compose "classical" music. These schools, such as the Peabody in Baltimore, the Curtis in Philadelphia, and the Julliard in New York, are turning out talented soloist musicians, but their philosophy of composition is governed -- if modern "formal" music is any kind of gauge -- by the likes of Arnold Schoenberg, or worse. Consider the spirit of the nineteenth century, and one will understand the reasons why so much great music was written in that era. Consider the spirit of our time, and one will grasp the significance of music as a litmus test of general cultural well-being or decay.

A culture takes its cues from the top -- from the universities, from the intelligentsia, from the trendsetters of ideas. And if the message from the top is that anything goes, then all that is good will go. The rubbish, bile, and nihilism that pass for music today cannot be legislated out of existence. Conservatives such was William Bennett, the former Secretary of Education, have proposed silencing the barbarians and frauds and nuisances, but even if they could be repressed or muffled, the appearance of a new Verdi, Brahms or Chopin will not be the consequence.

What is true of politics is true of aesthetics. Just as a free nation will collapse into statism when the most rational elements of the political philosophy on which it was founded and sustained are subverted or negated by elements of their antipodes, the best in aesthetics will vanish when the irrational, the atonal, and the unintelligible are given equal time and equal approbation.

The sad truth is that we should not expect greatness in music to emerge from a decaying, rudderless culture.

Giuseppe ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

"He can take the exact precaution *I* take when going to the gym if he hates hearing Brahms inadvertently that much." What are those precautions?

Earplugs!

I just realized about my devil's advocate position is very similar to the religious banning of certain music as too sacred or powerful to play in public or for outsiders...it's definately an attitude from another time, before recorded technology, that music is something so special that only the elite can determine when and where it should be played.

Which is exactly the position DB seems to be taking, to the extent that it's coherent at all. Observe these portions of the transcript:

SUE LAWLEY:

Can I just, while we're on the subject of architecture and music, just be the devil's advocate for one second, um because um I think you mentioned that it was clutter - architectural clutter, musical clutter. Isn't that the nature of the twenty-first century? What are you really suggesting, Daniel, that we should do? That we should walk around in silent buildings all day and preserve our ears for the concert hall that evening and never take a telephone call and never listen to an iPod?

(LAUGHTER)

DANIEL BARENBOIM:

Well there's no need to be that radical you know!

(LAUGHTER)

You don't have to be, you don't have to become a fundamentalist of silence!

(LAUGHTER & APPLAUSE)

SUE LAWLEY:

I, I thought that's what you were advocating.

DANIEL BARENBOIM:

No, no, we …………… for the silence of fundamentalism but not of…

(LAUGHTER)

But I think that when you go to a concert and you are absolutely unavoidably put in a situation where you hear music and sometimes the same piece you hear, it is counter-productive. ...

BOB GJERDINGEN:

Robert Gjerdingen Er Bob Gjerdingen, er North Western University. Er Maestro the, the noble houses of Europe often had a platform above a great room, where musicians would play behind a screen, and was this not er muzak for monarchs? And er was…

(SUE LAWLEY LAUGHS)

…was Elizabeth I's private er lute player in her er, in her bedchambers, not a human iPod? Er and so has technology just transferred the delights and entertainments of er, of the rich to the masses?

DANIEL BARENBOIM:

Yes, but I think that the rich at that time controlled when and how they wanted to do that. I'd, I would, I have, have absolutely nothing against that, I'm perfectly happy to come home one day at the end of a long day and put my feet up and have a good drink and maybe listen to whatever music it may be. But I resent the fact that I have to go on the plane, where I have to go to a concert, and on the way into the concert, in the foyer, I'm forced to hear music. I object to that.

SUE LAWLEY:

That's not to deny that Mozart wrote muzak for the rich and privileged?

DANIEL BARENBOIM:

No but the ones who were not rich and privileged had no access to music. Now we are fortunate that we have access to it, but we don't know how to really educate people in that.

So you go to a concert to hear the Brahms Violin Concerto. As you leave for the concert you hear the Brahms in the lift. On the way to the concert hall you hear the Brahms in the cab. Waiting to go in to the auditorium you hear the Brahms in the foyer. This is somehow "counterproductive" at best, an obscenity at worst. How, exactly? And no, the "fundamentalism of silence" is not the alternative. It's good that it's not now only the rich & privileged who have access to Brahms. Only the Great Unwashed shouldn't be exposed to snippets of it in the lift because they're not educated enough? They must hear it in the concert hall in its entirety or not at all? Is that what he's saying? If not, what?

I smell a snob, as opposed to an elitist. The favourable references to Boulez are a giveaway. But then, he says many excellent things too. Perhaps he's a confused snob, who needs Objectivism!

Linz

"He can take the exact

JoeM's picture

"He can take the exact precaution *I* take when going to the gym if he hates hearing Brahms inadvertently that much."

What are those precautions?

I just realized about my devil's advocate position is very similar to the religious banning of certain music as too sacred or powerful to play in public or for outsiders...it's definately an attitude from another time, before recorded technology, that music is something so special that only the elite can determine when and where it should be played.

It's an elevator, not a lift

Chris Cathcart's picture

Get it right, dammit! Sticking out tongue

Lecture 2

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Just listened. Like hearing or reading The Romantic Manifesto at times. "Music is a direct line to the emotions" cf "Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man's emotions directly." And lots of feeling/knowledge-emotion/intelligence dichotomy-busting. And how about this:

... the well known neuro-biologist and neuro-scientist who is sitting right here, Antonio De Marcio, has taught us many things about human emotion, about the human brain, and also about the human ear, and he says that the auditory system is physically much closer inside the brain to the parts of the brain which regulate life, which means that they are the basis for the sense of pain, pleasure, motivation - in other words basic emotions.

Of course DB repeatedly attributes to the ear things that are attributes of the brain, but I assume from the above that he's speaking metaphorically.

I still can't see why he gets his panties in such a twist over hearing Brahms in the lift. He hasn't thought the matter through. It's a snob thing with him. Yes, when asked if we should throw away ipods he disavows the "fundamentalism of silence." So what then exactly is he arguing? That those who programme the lift-music should indeed play the very kind of pap he would hate? And it's not "forced" on him. He can take the exact precaution *I* take when going to the gym if he hates hearing Brahms inadvertently that much.

If he displayed half the antagonism toward headbanging & pomo-wanking that he does toward Brahms in the lift I'd like him a lot more. Why didn't he leap on that hip-hop halfwit who lamely said *some* hip-hop was defensible? And if I were Mozart I'd be delighted that my music was being used in TV commercials & furious that they dumped me for Wagner. How would I feel, Giuseppe asks, about the deepest Mario Lanza song played at a party where the music was meant as a backdrop? I'd think either I was at one of my own parties, or I was dreaming, or I had died & gone to Heaven, or that the world had suddenly improved dramatically & was no longer so full of fuckwits—whoever had it on as background would sure as hell know how to appreciate it in the foreground! (At my own parties, actually, it's not uncommon for a significant slice of the evening to be given over to the very loud playing of many magnificent masterpieces, vocal & instrumental.)

So this anti-Brahms-in-the-lift thing is striking me now as a misguided obsession if it's for real & not just a snobby affectation.

I like the sound of his attacks on the "political correctness" of never forming or stating an opinion. (Did he know about The Gutless Society already?) I gather there's more of this to come. Good.

Linz

Well, long lines and crowds

JoeM's picture

Well, long lines and crowds in a store are good for business, but they can be frustrating as a consumer (be honest, how many people like being in a crowded supermarket on a Saturday afternoon competing with the crowds?)...I'm just thinking that you don't want to hear "I'll walk with God" in that setting; not that the setting is bad, maybe sub-optimal and unfortunate? Eye because your attention is not on the music but on price comparisons and monitoring the monoglucliotic content of packaged food...and getting pissed about the person with 20 items in the express line...the music demands your attention...

Another arguement is from the business side of the equation, and this may not play out so much in a grocery store as in other businesses that depend on high customer turnover. Or settings where the music is not the main attraction, but a backdrop, you don't want the music competing with the main attraction.

(Your argument that you'd rather here Vaughn Williams than the Hives is another issue. so let me phrase it this way: how would you feel about the deepest Mario Lanza song played at a noisy party where the music was meant as a backdrop? Would you try to silence the crowd in honor of the music? Would you be offended when the crowd got noiser in response?)

"If you played innocuous pap, he'd condemn you for that; if you play Brahms, he condemns you for demeaning Brahms..."
Fair enough criticism, though I think someone asks him if we should throw out our iPods and turn off all radio's in response! I think his response was that his objection was that the music was not his choice, but forced upon him by others. (This is where my argument above differs from his objection about elevator music.)

Unfortunately, that's the price we pay for walking out the door in the morning into public places, which is why I pay for headphones to block out other's noise. Now, when that intrusive music is played LOUDER than my headphones, which are bothering no one, that's when I get aggravated...but then, I get angry at loud conversations on the train as well, and cell phone conversations...I wonder if Barenboim's real objection is not the choice in music but the intrusion of unwanted sound in general...

Muzak

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Giuseppe:

Do you want to be standing in the store and have that music associated with the long lines and crowds?

Well, that's the thing. There's nothing inherent in long lines & crowds that demeans the music, even if they're not listening to it. Brahms' Violin Concerto is what it is, a very beautiful composition. Crowds often do line up to hear it live. Yes, they sit in rapt, respectful silence. But where is it written that recordings of it may not be played in noisy, non-concert contexts? I suspect that with people like Barenboim, you can't win. If you played innocuous pap, he'd condemn you for that; if you play Brahms, he condemns you for demeaning Brahms; if you played headbanging I *hope* he'd condemn you for that (while acknowledging your right to do so, of course). Personally, I'd be reassured by a world in which Brahms in the supermarket was the norm, rather than The Hives. (I should mention that at the dentist the other day they were playing some glorious Vaughan Williams and the like, for which I complimented them. Imagine having to endure headbanging that sounded & pounded just like the drill!)

See, this, plus the Schonberg bizzo suggests to me that Barenboim is not so much an elitist—a good thing—as a snob—a *bad* thing. And snobs are always egalitarian. But I've listened to one lecture only. Too early to tell.

Linz

Good points, Boaz, but I

JoeM's picture

Good points, Boaz, but I would quibble and say that the egalitarian stance goes hand in hand with the revolt against coherence, passion, and beauty, since egalitarianism does not raise the masses to the higher levels, but brings the higher levels down.
You're right, those anti-composers were trained in traditional theories of music, they consciously rejected them. Varese wanted to liberate sound from form...why? They followed the same logic that said a hungry man is never free. They rejected reason in favor of unbridled subjectivity.

Fortunately, Varese couldn't fool science:

"In his conversations, he would talk about poetic implications, a kind of music that would emerge out of realizing the natural attributes of sound. Subsequently, he became more and more disillusioned with the environment in the studio. He had to deal with the scientists and engineers there at Eindhovin and they were very difficult. He said "we thought we were getting rid of prima-donna's in music but now we have prima-donna engineers!" (laughs) That really reflects his frustration."

Barenboim and Philosophy

Boaz the Boor's picture

Barenboim, for all his virtues, doesn't object to Schoenberg. Quite the opposite. And he was good friends with Boulez, the most phantasmagorically nauseating composer (but still brilliant conductor) of all time.

I think there's another, more fundamental philosophical influence on serialism than the "egalitarian" stance that individual notes shouldn't be emphasized. The latter has to do more with method than with the result: notice that within their sordid morass of sound the listener has no way of ever distinguishing between one note and another, therefore it's perfectly possible to have D# played three times as often as E (without your knowing it), and in fact that's exactly what happens. Serialism abounds with music where certain patterns, sometimes even individual notes, will predominate. What they're actually fighting - and it's an active revolt, not just a by-product, because writing that music actually takes great effort - are coherence (a clarity of vision), passion (conflict and resolution), and simple beauty. The same composers will be able to identify those values in other music; they're perfectly competent when it comes to explaining how those things operate in Beethoven or Chopin or whatever.

So what could explain that? Why did these artists reject that aesthetic?

Collective Nature of Music

JoeM's picture

Someone on another thread asked about the influence of philosophy in music. Linz's quibble with Barenboim is one such example.

"When we play five notes that are bound, each note fights against the power of silence that wants to make it die, and is therefore in relation to the preceding note and to the note that comes after that. So when you play five notes, if each note had a big ego it would want to be louder than the note before. And therefore I learned from this very simple fact, that no matter how great an individual you are, music teaches you that the creativity only work in groups, and the expression of the group is very often larger than the sum of the parts. And you can draw whatever conclusions you want from this, but I think that this is a not unimportant factor. "

Ugh, this is the theory behind serialism and pantonalism, that no one note is more important than the other, and no hierachy is needed. Well, Barenboim's got Schonberg as the realization, I wonder if he would shout "But I didn't mean THIS!".

Re: The muzak problem: Carl

JoeM's picture

Re: The muzak problem: Carl Jung said something to the same effect one time, that he's kill someone for playing a a certain favorite piece of music at a party, because it trivialized the music that he held sacred. I can understand his frustration at the inappropriateness of people talking and shouting over music that needs to be listened to actively and reverently. Not sure if that's exactly Barenboim's complaint, but it does point to the reason why Muzak is meant to be non-instrusive. Do you want to be standing in the store and have that music associated with the long lines and crowds?

Just listened ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... to the first lecture. What a delight! I don't like the direction in which he seems to be going with his remarks about how "democratic" music-making is, allowing the ego eight bars of showing off before it merges back into the collective, etc., but just to hear the subject discussed so intelligently for an hour is pure joy.

I also disagree with the magnitude of his contempt for muzak. He cites the awfulness of hearing the Brahms Violin Concerto in the lift. I wish!! I wish I could step into a lift, go to the gym, browse around CD stores & other kinds of shops and be assailed by such disgusting muzak instead of the ubiquitous headbanging that does assail me! Muzak is worse for you than smoking, he apparently argues in the second lecture. At the gym this afternoon, one of the atrocities emanating from the monitors was a group called The Hives perpetrating something called Hate to Say I Told You So. It was inexpressibly despicable, and I found myself yet again filled with loathing for a world that could savour such offal. Muzak worse than headbanging caterwauling? Never.

I was also disappointed that he didn't rise to the "last minute on earth" question, though naturally I enjoyed the sync between his saying he tries to play each concert as though it were his last with Lanza's "I sing each word as though it were my last on earth." Surely he could have favoured us with a little of the Beethoven or Bach he'd been discussing?!

Re guides to "active" listening—there's one thing I can't recommend highly enough. Learn to conduct, and conduct along with your recordings! I can't think of a better way of keeping your attention focussed & becoming familiar with every last little nuance (oops) of a piece & the performance thereof. I've sometimes thought of doing a presentation at a SOLOC or some such where I conduct selected pieces of music not as a big wank but so folk watching me can see how the discipline of conducting can give you mastery of the music (and with it, fantastic enjoyment). I conducted the high school choir, orchestra & brass band as a teenager, so know the techniques, and have carried a conductor's baton with me throughout my adult life. Some folk might think that's pretentious, but I can assure you that as a tool for learning/listening it's invaluable. It also helps you sort out your favourites. Conducting Howard Shelley's version of Rhapsody in Blue, for example, gives me a bigger bang than anyone else's in my collection. Smiling

All in all, great fun. Well spotted, PC!!

Linz

Guides

Craig Ceely's picture

Peter, such a guide would indeed be useful, and I'm confident of being only the first -- not the only -- reader to congratulate you for undertaking the task!

Seriously, I'm so grateful to you for posting on this -- I listen to Barenboim's Beethoven piano stuff all the time, but I'd never even heard of the Reith lectures -- that I'm considering offering you a trans-Pacific loan of my copy of Deems Taylor's long out of print Of Men and Music. Might help you in putting your Guide together, wouldn't you think? Smiling

A guide?

Peter Cresswell's picture

" Barenboim stresses the difference between active and passive listening..."

Yep. He stresses it very strongly. I wonder whether perhaps, as he suggests the failure to listen actively is one reason for the inability to fully appreciate real music -- and this is certainly not a skill many 'pop' listeners have acquired -- putting together a 'Guide to How to Listen Actively to Music' might be a useful topic for an active SOLOist to pursue.

To use a phrase a friend uses frequently, "It's there to do."

Add my thanks

Boaz the Boor's picture

Now I really have to listen to this.

Music and Cognition

JoeM's picture

I like these lectures because they do not shy away from discussion of cognitive factors in music, and Barenboim condemns the view that to have a better understanding of the workings of music is detrimental to its appreciation. I'm listening to the second lecture now, and notice in the transcript that DESCARTES ERROR author Antonio Damasio is there and makes a few comments, great!

Thanks for the links, Peter.

JoeM's picture

Thanks for the links, Peter. Enjoying the lectures.
Barenboim stresses the difference between active and passive listening, lamenting that classical music is pushed onto the public in a passive way (It was amusing to hear his disgust at hearing Mozart in a toilet commercial), and something he said in the second lecture seems to support the opposition to the existance of the Mozart effect:

"And now we have the whole association for descriptive marketing in the United States, which is how use descriptive marketing, how to use music as description and how to market it that way - in other words what they are saying to the public is you don't have to concentrate, you don't have to listen, you don't have to know anything about it, just come and you will find some association, and we will show you so many things that have nothing to do with the music and this way you will go into the music. And I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, is that the answer to the so-called crisis in classical music? Accessibility does not come through populism, accessibility comes through more interest and more knowledge, and not telling people don't worry you'll be all right, just sit there, buy your ticket, sit there, shut your ears, and you will think of something. That is in fact what we are telling them. And this is criminal. And this is something which has bothered me more and more and more over the years. Music in itself has nothing to do with a society that in a way rejects what I would call publicly accepted standards of life, and of intelligence, and of human existence, and takes the easy way out with a kind of political correctness which does only a few things, all of them in my view negative."

Please do, Peter.

Craig Ceely's picture

The tab is under the name "Lindsay Perigo." Please remember to include a generous tip for yourself! Smiling

Bill?

Peter Cresswell's picture

Thanks Craig. Brilliant lectures, aren't they.

May I send you my bill. Smiling

All right, Peter...

Craig Ceely's picture

I owe you.

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