Music of the Gods

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2008-04-21 06:11

"The emotion involved in art is not an emotion in the ordinary meaning of the term. It is experienced more as a 'sense' or a 'feel,' but it has two characteristics pertaining to emotions: it is automatically immediate and it has an intense, profoundly personal (yet undefined) value-meaning to the individual experiencing it.

"The value involved is life, and the words naming the emotion are: 'This is what life means to me.' Regardless of the nature or content of an artist’s metaphysical views, what an art work expresses, fundamentally, under all of its lesser aspects is: 'This is life as I see it.' The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements is, 'This is (or is not) life as I see it.'"

—Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto

Introduction

As often happens, I am in hot water—this time on the "RACH” thread—for fulminating against “headbanging caterwauling” and touting the superiority of Romantic music. I am in hot water with the fans of caterwauling for daring to diss their favoured offal, and with a serious music aficionado who insists “Romanticism” should include sundry post-Romantic meanderers and blowhards. He has ranked some thirty Romantic and post-Romantic works according to merit (according to him) in what looks suspiciously like a J. Evans Pritchard modus operandi.

Here I propose to deal only with the “arguments” of the caterwaulers; the case for or against including the likes of Mahler among the Great Romantics will have to wait ... except to say, paraphrasing Shakespeare: “Brevity is the soul of beauty.”

First, a preliminary question: why does this matter matter? Why do I get so exercised about it? Why can’t I just “live and let live” and leave empty heads and deformed souls alone to wallow in their frightful cacophonies?

My answer: I am perfectly prepared to do that—but they’re not prepared to leave me or any other decent, innocent human being alone. They shove their filth at us at every turn, and I am beyond fed up with it. As Rand might say, "These are the commandos of the haters' army, who crawl out of the sewer of centuries and shake themselves in public, splattering muck over the passers-by. ... The passers-by are the rest of us, who have to live, breathe and work in this atmosphere."

As I said in my RACH editorial:

“They do not rule the world officially but they have taken it over. They have taken over the shopping malls, the shops, the bars and restaurants, the gyms and rugby fields, the interludes between television programmes and even the programmes themselves. Nothing is uncorrupted by these aliens—even opera singers perform with them.

“It’s time to shame these aesthetic thugs into oblivion. Musical masochism is for consenting adults in private; it shouldn’t be sadistically imposed on unconsenting adults in public. Ideally its perpetrators should follow the logic of one of their number, the Slipknot drummer who, when told his was music to commit suicide by, said, ‘We must be doing something right.’ I would certainly encourage that alien and all its fellows to top themselves and leave the earth to human beings.”

Since it’s unlikely that they’ll opt for suicide, unfortunately, it is they who need to be admonished to “live and let live” (if you can call what they do living). They should not be averse to a campaign for the voluntary clearing away of their pollution from places where it’s unsolicited.

Rand said:

"I am not willing to surrender the world to the jerky contortions of self-inducedly brainless bodies with empty eye sockets who perform in stinking basements the immemorial rituals of staving off terror, which are a dime a dozen in any jungle—and to the quavering witch doctors who call it 'art.'"

Well dears, neither am I. When some skunk squirts its filth in my face without my consent, I will punch its snout. And I shall campaign against skunkery in general.

I should say that the reason this essay has taken a while is that it was becoming an academic-style treatise on Romanticism in music. Well, the Internet is replete with such treatises, by people better qualified than I. All I ever intended was an informed layman’s polemic against The Age of Crap as manifest in music, and against the idea that music is somehow exempt from the standard, healthy Objectivist strictures against cultural relativism. Realising I had departed from my brief, I had to start over to get back on course.

I have used Dr. Richard Goode as my foil in this essay because, like Everest, he’s there, and because, in this debate, he is perfect in his immorality (I say this in a caring kind of way). He is delectably quintessential!

Cutting to the chase

So why do I feel entitled to pile on value-judgments such as “sub-human,” “skunks,” “filth” and so on in the realm of music? Didn’t Rand herself say:

“Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music … No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself—and only for himself”?

Yes, she did. And, I submit, she was wrong.

Note the practical implication of her dictum: that no one can claim the objective superiority of the Tchaikovsky and Beethoven posted on the Van Cliburn thread over the Slayer posted on the RACH thread. This is absurd on its face—but of course, “on its face” won’t do for those who seize on Rand’s statement as an excuse to remain in the sewer. So let’s keep going.

What did Rand mean by “conceptual vocabulary”?

She tells us. Such a vocabulary would explain how a work evokes the emotions it does. “Why does a succession of sounds produce an emotional reaction? Why does it involve man’s deepest emotions and his crucial, metaphysical values? How can sounds reach man’s emotions directly, in a manner that seems to bypass his intellect? What does a certain combination of sounds do to man’s consciousness to make him identify it as gay or sad?”

Why need we know these things in order to pass objective judgment? What difference would it make? That she doesn’t tell us. But she does reiterate:

“The formulation of a common vocabulary of music would require these answers. It would require: a translation of the musical experience, the inner experience, into conceptual terms; an explanation of why certain sounds strike us a certain way; a definition of the axioms of musical perception, from which the appropriate esthetic principles could be derived, which would serve as a base for the objective validation of esthetic judgments.”

Phew!

This, Rand goes on, means we need to do what we currently cannot do in musical perception--separate subject and object:

“In listening to music, a man cannot tell clearly, neither to himself nor to others—and therefore, cannot prove—which aspects of his experience are inherent in the music and which are contributed by his own consciousness. He experiences it as an indivisible whole, he feels as if the magnificent exaltation were there in the music—and he is helplessly bewildered when he discovers that some men do experience it and some do not. In regard to the nature of music, mankind is still on the perceptual level of awareness.”

Now, it is my contention that Rand has set the bar way too high here—we don’t need to know all that in order to judge—and that furthermore, my contention has her imprimatur:

“The deadly monotony of primitive music—the endless repetition of a few notes and of a rhythmic pattern that beats against the brain with the regularity of the ancient torture of water drops falling on a man’s skull—paralyses cognitive processes, obliterates awareness and disintegrates the mind. ... Primitive music becomes his narcotic [that of a modern man brought up as a 'mentally helpless savage']: it wipes out the groping, it reassures him and reinforces his lethargy, it offers him temporarily the sense of a reality to which his stagnant torpor is appropriate.” (Note, incidentally, what she is describing as primitive music is still a slight advance on rap, which was embryonic in her time: rap has no notes!)

If that’s not passing judgment I don’t know what is! So, is Rand seriously arguing that she would then baulk at the final hurdle and decline to pronounce primitive music inferior to Romantic? She already has so pronounced it!

And with good reason.

Romanticism vs. Headbanging

See, “the endless repetition of a few notes and of a rhythmic pattern that beats against the brain with the regularity of the ancient torture of water drops falling on a man’s skull” is a near-perfect description of, to cite a convenient example, the track, “Rain of Blood” by “thrash metal” band Slayer, linked to on RACH. (Apparently “thrash metal” is a sibling of “death metal.”) The piece is certainly melodically challenged. The rhythm is faster than water drops, to be sure, but the way it beats against the brain is definitely torture (which some clearly enjoy, but I’ll come to that). The description omits, since it wasn’t specifically what Rand had in mind, lyrics that are inaudible (and, on further investigation, unintelligible) rendered by a voice that is unlistenable, the voice of someone being tortured. It omits the seemingly deliberate over-amping of the guitars to effect distortion. It says nothing about harmony—but then, there’s not much to say anyway. Overall, the description could easily be of “Rain of Blood.”

By way of cleansing contrast, let us remind ourselves what makes Romantic music Romantic music, and what we know about music itself that permits us to judge.

We know that the primary components of music are melody, harmony and rhythm—and the greatest of these is melody, the ordering of tones. Melody is fundamental. As plot is to literature, so melody is to music. Whistle a tune, unaccompanied (no harmonies), each note equal in length (no rhythm)—it’s still music. No melody—no music. “It’s the toon, stoopid!”

We know that certain simultaneous combinations of tones (harmony), because of the mathematical relationship of their frequencies, are, as a matter of metaphysical fact, integratable by the human brain (consonant) and others are not (dissonant); that this is true for all human beings apart from the tone-deaf; that the resolution of dissonance into consonance helps give a piece suspense, sophistication and satisfaction, a sense of home-coming; and so we may rightly judge the deliberate refusal to resolve for the sake of refusal to resolve to be an act of sabotage and assassination.

We know that in the Romantic period (nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) composers and performers pushed the boundaries of every musical element, primary and secondary, achieving an unprecedented emotional expressiveness while avoiding the descent into the atonal anarchy that followed. New instruments, bigger orchestras; new forms, and the expansion of old forms; the coming of age of opera and ballet; virtuoso stars, like our modern-day “celebs” only with talent; the cult of the conductor; more inventive melodies using bigger intervals between notes; greater dynamic range—fff (fortississimo: very, very loud) to ppp (pianississimo: very, very soft); more daring harmonies (chromatic and dissonant, without recourse to the sabotage or assassination that became de rigueur later) modulating more frequently into other keys; more rhythmic variety, including greater use of syncopation, rubato (bending of the rhythm), accelerando (speeding up) and ritardando (slowing down), changing of the time signature within movements, etc. They honored but were not straitjacketed by the formalism of classicism, stretching but not eschewing the rules that make music cohere. They knew with their predecessors that coherence was integral to integration, and integration to harmoniousness, and harmoniousness to beauty. They exercised freedom within the rule of law—the perfect mirror of what was going on politically.

Thus did they bring individualism to music—they were each distinguishable from the other; each imposed his distinctive stamp upon the form without going out of it (at least not to the point of disintegration). They united the idiomatic with the idiosyncratic, reason with emotion, Apollo with Dionysus (albeit with a leaning towards the latter, via, it must be admitted, that villain Rousseau). They transformed the “universal language” into an individual language. As one commentary puts it:

“Romantic-era composers kept the forms of Classical music. But the Romantic composer did not feel constrained by form. Breaking through boundaries was now an honorable goal shared by the scientist, the inventor, and the political liberator. Music was no longer universal; it was deeply personal and sometimes nationalistic. The personal sufferings and triumphs of the composer could be reflected in stormy music that might even place a higher value on emotion than on beauty. Music was not just happy or sad; it could be wildly joyous, terrified, despairing, or filled with deep longings.”

We know that, in Objectivist terms, they projected as never before, if not for the first time, man the passionate valuer—their symphonies and concerti were “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” set to music and writ large. We know that Rand's description of Richard Halley's Concerto of Deliverance could only have been of a Romantic composition:

"It was a symphony of triumph. The notes flowed up. They spoke of rising and they were the rising itself, they were the essence and form of upward motion, they seemed to embody every human act and thought that had ascent as its motive. It was a sunburst of sound, breaking out of hiding and spreading open. It had the freedom of release and the tension of purpose. It swept space clean and left nothing but the joy of an unobstructed effort. Only a faint echo within the sounds spoke of that from which the music had escaped, but spoke in laughing astonishment at the discovery that there was no ugliness or pain, and there never had had to be. It was the song of an immense deliverance." (Rach 3, anyone—how about the middle section of the second movement?)

In short, we know that in every important aspect of it one can name, music—demonstrably, empirically, as a matter of fact—reached its apogee in the Romantic era. Romanticism was the culmination of what preceded it, and the transcending of it; it was the high point of musical evolution to date; it was the “total height”—and it remains so. (What came after was disintegration into vagueness, gratuitous dissonance, ostentation, random plinkety-plonk, silly silences and traffic noise.) Not knowing the physiology of how music evokes the responses that it does in us, not knowing how many parts object and how many part subject are involved, cannot gainsay this fact, the supreme stature of Romantic music, and its superiority over any modern throwback to “primitive music” such as that of Slayer, which it seems ludicrous to mention in the same breath.

This superiority can also be ascribed, I should add, to the myriad forms of what one might call “mini-Romanticism” such as operetta, musical comedy, jazz (the intelligible kind), pre-80s pop, movie scores, Ayn Rand’s “tiddly-wink music” and so on. The standard pop tune of my youth was a veritable miniature sonata with a clear theme, stated, developed then reiterated (A-B-A), value-orientated (usually about love!) with meaningful if unchallenging lyrics, audibly articulated. Any of the foregoing is superior to Slayer and all other headbanging caterwauling.

Romanticism and sense of life

Now at this point someone might object: “All this is very well, but you’re over-emphasizing the technical and structural aspects of the compositions and glossing over the business of one’s emotional response to them. After all, headbangers can be complex and clever too. And the fact is, whether you approve or not, Slayer hits my emotional spot and Rach doesn’t. End of story.”

And of course, it is the end of the story if you want it to be, if you’re content with that. Let’s just not continue to tout the relativist fiction that all music is created equal.

And let’s see what can be observed about the emotional response, since the objector is quite right: that is the whole point of the exercise, and music, like no other art form, gets to the point straight away.

I assume that what the objector and I seek from music is the same thing: what I call value-swoon: “This is life as I see it”—in my case, in the form of a spiritual orgasm born of orgiastic love-making between me, the artist, the composer and life itself. Value-swoon consummated by tears. If there are no tears, I haven’t fully value-swooned. Tears of joy, poignance, worship, “unclouded exaltation” in the presence of gods and the godly, of beauty inexpressible in words. The solemn gaze on Van Cliburn’s face as he looks up at his conductor at the conclusion of the aforementioned Tchaikovsky (Piano Concert #1, Movement Three), having thundered spectacularly up and down the length and breadth of the piano and pressed down the final home-coming tonic chord, says it all. Breathes there the man with soul so dead he cannot behold this and exult: “What a piece of work is man!”? This response, of course, is life-affirming, and so, by Objectivist standards, good. Moreover, it is the response the work and the performance are intended to evoke, so the subject’s reaction is consistent with the content of the object.

Now, it's true that one needn't seek the full monty every time, which would be rather exhausting, and there are less weighty but perfectly legitimate reasons one might listen to some types of music. "Objectively superior," after all, implies an answer to the questions, "Superior to what, in what respect and for what purpose?" Country is best for a good laugh (who can resist the hilarity of some retard yodelling about his wife leaving him for the horse?), for instance, and The Carpenters are great for getting to sleep. But it turns out metal fans do actually seek the full monty. Or at least, at first glance, they claim to. Dr. (PhD in philosophy) Richard Goode, Slayer’s cheerleader on the RACH thread, said there:

“Honestly, if you don't feel glad to be alive after a good pounding by Slayer, the Queens of the Stone Age or even Hayseed Dixie, then there’s something wrong with you.” (Note, there’s something wrong with you. Evidently it’s OK to say there’s something wrong with you if you don’t like Slayer but not OK to say there’s something wrong with you if you do!)

But hang on a minute! Pressed by me to explain just how a “good pounding by Slayer” made him “glad to be alive,” Dr. Goode responded as follows:

“Anger. Energy. Passion. Defiance. Catharsis. Slayer are musical genius.”

So, is it anger, etc., that makes Dr. Goode feel glad to be alive, that gives him his value-swoons? I tried to find out:

“Anger about what? Passion for what? Defiance of what? Given that ‘catharthis’ is the release of pent-up emotions, why are your emotions pent up (I did warn you that pomowanking makes one passionless)? Wherein lies Slayer's ‘musical genius’?”

Alas, my inquiries elicited no further response.

Which entitles us to assume, I think, that the anger is not a justified, discrete anger about some particular injustice or other, else Dr. Goode would have mentioned it; it is a generalised, metaphysical anger at life itself that makes Goode feel good!

Now, remember what Rand said about the way music affects us:

“Psycho-epistemologically, the pattern of the response to music seems to be as follows: one perceives the music, one grasps the suggestion of a certain emotional state and, with one's sense of life serving as the criterion, one appraises this state as enjoyable or painful, desirable or undesirable, significant or negligible, according to whether it corresponds to or contradicts one's fundamental feeling about life.”

In the case of Dr. Goode and Slayer, he perceives their music, grasps the suggestion of anger and defiance and appraises it as enjoyable, desirable and significant, since it corresponds to his fundamental feeling about life. He says, “This is life as I see it.” Which, I respectfully submit, taking it at its own word, is anti-life—and the anti-life, need I point out, is, according to Objectivism, bad! Calling it and what evoked it “inferior” is letting it off lightly!

Inferior Music and Philosophy

None of this occurs in a vacuum. It’s no coincidence, but rather entirely congruent, that among Dr. Goode’s other pin-up boys is the philosopher David Hume, who taught that concepts, the means by which human beings make sense of reality, have no basis in reality; there are just brute facts, and the act of integrating them into concepts is entirely arbitrary.

Here’s Rand on Hume:

“When Hume declared that he saw objects moving about, but never saw such a thing as ‘causality’—it was the voice of Attila that men were hearing. It was Attila’s soul that spoke when Hume declared that he experienced a flow of fleeting states inside his skull, such as sensations, feelings or memories, but had never caught the experience of such a thing as consciousness or self. When Hume declared that the apparent existence of an object did not guarantee that it would not vanish spontaneously next moment, and the sunrise of today did not prove that the sun would rise tomorrow; when he declared that philosophical speculation was like a game, like chess or hunting, of no significance whatever to the practical course of human existence, since reason proved that existence was unintelligible, and only the ignorant maintained the illusion of knowledge—all of this accompanied by vehement opposition to the mysticism of the Witch Doctor and by protestations of loyalty to reason and science—what men were hearing was the manifesto of a philosophical movement that can be designated only as Attila-ism.”

Here’s Goode on the significance or otherwise of philosophy, in a SOLO exchange with James Valliant:

Valliant: As a philosopher, can you tell me what the practical upshot of your work is, i.e., its implications to human life?

Goode: Hahaha. You're kidding, right?

Stretching too long a bow?

Hume was a destroyer. Slayer, whose headbanging has included “songs” sympathetic to the 9/11 terrorists and Joseph Mengele, are destroyers. And all other headbangers. They are Hume’s chickens come home to roost. Richard, who claims there is no basis in reason for freedom, is an enabler of the destroyers (I grant he’d be horrified to think so). All three are archetypes. Hume, the clever/stupid philosopher, for whom logic and facts ne’er will meet; Goode, the modern “cool” sophisticat, monotoned and sardonic, getting his kicks from clever-dick nitpicking and word games; Slayer, the ugly reality behind the philosophers’ pseudo-civilized veneer, like so many “metal” bands of whichever variety—“thrash,” “death” or otherwise. It’s useful and instructive to see them all appropriately aligned—all nihilists together in this post-modern Age of Nihilism.

Conclusion

Nihilism is as objectively bad in esthetics as it is in any other realm—and in music as in any other part of esthetics, Rand notwithstanding. Appraising a positive response to musical nihilists as good, as Goode does, is bad. These animals intend to purvey ugliness and mindless rage and like nothing better in response than the perverted value-swoon of the nihilist, the pomowanker’s snicker of approval, perhaps more accurately called the "anti-value swoon." Again, the subject's response is congruent with the object's content.

We all hear the same thing. We all recognise deliberate ugliness and rage for ugliness’s and rage’s sake, just as surely as we all hear a minor chord as somber and a major chord as cheerful. It’s our responses to the ugliness and rage that differ, and the issue here is: evaluating the responses. It’s a question of values, not physiology. Life-affirming values = good; life-negating values (anti-values) = bad. So, if you respond with approval to deliberate ugliness and gratuitous rage, if you seek out and wallow in the anti-value swoon, then, in Dr. Goode’s immortal words, “There’s something wrong with you.” And that’s a fact.

I’m reminded of a painter friend from years ago who read The Fountainhead. He got it. He understood it as well as I. But he chose to blank it out, because, “If I take it seriously it’ll turn my life upside down” (his life being in thrall to axe-through-head tutors).

In his exceptional SOLO essay, “Something Better than Rage, Pain, Anger and Hurt,” Peter Cresswell exhorts:

“Music is our food of the spirit. So do try to be careful what you eat.”

(This admonition, by the way, doesn’t mean we all have to like the same music any more than we have to like the same food. It means we should eat food rather than feces.)

Musically speaking, we have whole generations eating poo and militantly relishing it. It ill-behoves Objectivists to tell them there’s no objective reason not to do so. Objectivism is nothing if not a command to rise. To those addicted to feces but wanting to rise from the sewer, I commend Mr. Cresswell’s essay. He knows whereof he speaks. He has himself risen!

Just these last few days on SOLO, artist Michael Newberry has recounted the story of someone who presented plastic-wrapped blood from her miscarriages as an artwork, and asked:

“Many of you here are freaked out about the possibility of radical Muslims taking over the world. But what is it that could weaken the West so much that it could fall victim to a primitive anti-modern society? When I see America, I see and experience many great things, lots of freedoms. It's much easier to do what you like here than in the other countries I have lived in. But, I also see the postmodern art world everywhere, with its cynical, disintegrated, anti-conceptual mind-set, and pathetic sense of life. That is America too. What if art plays a major role in the health, flourishing, and spirit of country or a culture? If that is so, aren't we more in trouble from the inside than the outside?”

We’re certainly in trouble from the inside. I quote finally from my inaugural speech at SOLOC 1 in 2001. The "jungle cacophony" alluded to is Eminem—I had just compared Johann Strauss and Eminem as exemplars of two contrasting cultures, antipodal pop icons, one danced to by human beings, the other jerked to by the eyeless-socketed ones:

“ ... get out there in the marketplace and promote good art as zealously as you promote good philosophy, both being necessary for the preservation of freedom. The tide is against us at the moment—wherever we turn our ears are assaulted by jungle cacophony of the kind we've just heard. In the visual realm … well, we've just been reading on the SOLO Forum about the Canadian artist I alluded to earlier who won a prestigious award for ejaculating into vials; there was the Turner Award in Britain, recently bestowed on someone whose ‘artwork’ was a room with an electric light in it. These abominations are a dime a dozen right now; it is, as I often say, the Age of Crap. I want SOLO to wage an intellectual war on it every bit as relentless as the physical War on Terrorism.”

That war should include the unabashed proclamation of Romantic music’s objective superiority.

Romantic music is composed and performed by the heroes in our midst. It speaks and appeals to the best within us. It awakens our capacity for rapture. It is appreciated and adored by the passionately enlightened. It is inspired by and inspires the most intensely life-affirming value-swoons possible to man. If the expression, "total passion for the total height" means anything, it finds that meaning in Romantic music. In terms of what went into it and what can be taken out of it, Romantic music is simply the best.

And that’s a fact.


( categories: )

I agree, Landon

Ptgymatic's picture

...that there are gaps in Linz's presentation. What amazes me is that music theory has long possessed the base for just this sort of conceptual bridging, but nobody is aware or, perhaps, appreciative of it.

The standard exposition goes like this: our perceptual apparatus allows us to distinguish tones with a certain refinement. A tone of twice or half the frequency of another bears a special perceptual relation to it, what we call its octave. Tones an octave apart are perceived as being the same tone, though higher or lower. Tones an octave apart are, perceptually, variants on one another. Hearing octaves is, in this sense, a special way of hearing a single tone. 

If that isn't too imprecise to accept, the next part is just that the series of whole and half steps that make up the scale are a perceptually comfortable path from a tone to its octave. Begin a series of ascending or decending tones, and it will seem finished when you reach the octave. You can play an arpeggio, 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 8th tones, and that is a different way to play the octave, or you can play a chromatic scale, and that is still another way to play the same octave. The scale is just a "way" to play an octave, as an octave is a "way" to play a single tone.

Then, a melody is traditionally analyzed in terms of how it traverses the scale. It goes up a few steps, stops a while, goes back down, etc., but eventually returns to the original tone, or its "cognate," the octave, and ends there. A melody is a way to play a scale, which is a way to play an octave, which is a way to play a tone, which is a single musical datum. 

This gives a conceptual structure for analyzing music. Music needs to be tonal because our perceptual capacities are. It is well-formed if it has a melody. The melody is "good" if it plays the scale in a perceptually definite (and yet interesting) way. The chief point is that music explores perceptual identities--a tone that is an octave, an octave that is a scale, a scale that is a melody (or should that be written the other way around?)

Harmony and counterpoint are elaborations on the same structural principles as above. Counterpoint is a different way to play the same melody. Harmony is. similarly, an elaboration on a single tone based on its position in the scale...

The degree of our automatic integration of the structure of music can be very great. Myself, I love counterpoint, undoubtedly because that's the line the bassoon, my instrument, usually plays. Once you play counterpoint, you come to feel that melody is only a hanger for the sumptuous garment that is counterpoint, is only an excuse for counterpoint! But violinists, flutists and oboists (who largely play the melody line) would die before agreeing. To them, counterpoint is just a backdrop, mostly and bestly ignored, against which the bird's flight of melody can be enjoyed, etc. When I play counterpoint to a melody, I play tone, scale, melody, and counterpoint all at once. Perceptually, they are one and the same. It's something like observing that you sing a song, rather than saying you sing a series of notes that could, taken together, constitue a song. You don't pronounce each letter in a word, you pronounce the word, you perform, or hear the perceptual whole of a piece of music. 

If you stop a melody just before its end, it feels unfinished, and leaves you hurting for its completion, because in hearing part of the melody, you have heard a whole thing, you just haven't finished hearing it, so to speak. The structural levels of tone, octave, scale, and melody are integrated at the perceptual level (perhaps this only happens after a minimum of experience.)  

So music has a complex structure based on our perceptual capabilities. We can put together sounds that defeat or confuse or "bore" perception, or ones that suit and fulfill it.  The structures we create are "meaningful" in their relation to a larger or smaller scale of structure. A given tone has a perceptual significance based on where it falls in the the perceived melody or scale being played, etc. Such structural characteristics as interruption or alienation or misplacement, unfulfilled expectations, surprise, etc., are possible because of the structure of music, its tonality sets expectations that can be violated, the general gestalt principles of completion, etc., can be manipulated, etc. Where does the meaningfulness of music come in?  It is, I believe, derived just from these structural features.

It seems to me that these commonplace music-theory concepts provide us with a way to understand music in the same way as we understand visual art, and for setting up criteria for defending claims of objective well-formedness and value in musical compositions.

= Mindy 

(This was written in some rush, and not edited carefully.) 

Aesthetic Libertarianism and Showing your work

Landon Erp's picture

There's a principle in the grading of higher mathmatics of showing your work. It doesn't matter if you get the correct answer on your test or assignment unless you used proper methodology to get there, in fact an incorrect answer with proper methodology would be even be preferable.

My problem with this piece is that it reminds me of Libertarianism or more specifically the Objectivist objections to it. The biggest problem with it is that it acts as if the Objectivist political ideas are so strong that they don't need the foundation of Objectivist metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. The idea of freedom is important only in that greater context and it took a lot of work to develop such a strong justification for human freedom.

Libertarianism often dismisses this as unnecessary. It doesn't have the foundation it needs and it virtually always falls flat.

Rand put an exceptional amount of thought and work into everything she wrote for the Romantic Manifesto. I don't take her statement on music lightly.

She spoke with a stong authority on subjects such as literature (even when applied to stage productions, television and film), sculpture, painting, and even dance. She not only stated what had made the works of the past so great, but she pointed out the flaws in those works. She didn't do this as a way of "taking great works down a peg." Her reasons for doing this were to give anyone who read those essay's an insight into what made art work.

You can read the Romantic manifesto and as an artist you can have a much better insight into the principles which you need to apply to create great work. There have been a number of great painters, sculptors and literary artists who've already taken up the challenge of the RM.

In the RM Rand basically undertook the task of redefining Romanticism itself to the point where there were a number of artists who would consider themselves romantic whom she would staunchly object to classifying as such.

As a result I don't think that "Romantic Music" can be spoken of in the same manner as "Romantic literature" or "Romantic painting" until the requisite work has been done to actually define it. You Linz did not do that work.

---Landon

Never mistake contempt for compassion, or power lust for ambition.

http://www.myspace.com/wickedlakes

Super Hero Babylon

Jason

Chris Cathcart's picture

Then there's the better Pie Jesu, from Durufle's Requiem:

http://www.last.fm/music/Mauri...

Eye

Some favorites finally available for free sampling

Chris Cathcart's picture

Looks like free and legal full-track samples are on their way in. Check out some samples of great stuff that just hasn't made it to YouTube yet:

http://www.last.fm/music/Osmo+...

(The second half of this piece is the obvious hook. A slower tempo in this performance than I prefer for this piece -- performances range from 14 to over 17 minutes -- but you can get the idea and hey, it's free. For $2.90, I'd say go for this version of "Nightride" at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/produ... )

[Edit: Oh wait, here we go, one with a quicker tempo:
http://www.last.fm/music/Gothe...
and others linked from this search: http://www.last.fm/music?q=nig... ]

http://www.last.fm/music/Ralph...

http://www.last.fm/music/Ralph...

http://www.last.fm/music/Samue...

For examples of what I regard these days as great pop music songwriting:
http://www.last.fm/music/Elton...

Check out tracks 1-3 and 6-7 on -Madman Across the Water- and tracks 2, 7, 8 and 10 on -Tumbleweed Connection-.

Whole bunch of stuff by Radiohead available to check out there now, too, though a lot of their stuff was already up on YouTube. I especially like the first 10 tracks from -The Bends-:
http://www.last.fm/music/Radio...
plus a few tracks off each of their other big albums (e.g. tracks 2-3 on -OK Computer- and 3-9 on -Kid A-)

I've probably linked all my other favorites from YouTube by now. Eye

On the Morricone recording...

Ptgymatic's picture

As soon as the brass comes in, I'm sure hoping it's for a film!

Faure's Requiem

Jason Quintana's picture

Faure's Requiem middle movements. Pie Jesus along with the Agnus Dei movement.

- Jason

Suma

Olivia's picture

I love that piece too! Thanks for posting it.

I listened to Rachmaninov himself play the Rach 3 concerto today and was very surprised at how fast he played it. I'm most familiar with the version of Andre Previn conducting Alicia de Larrocha which is slower in pace - makes it last longer!

Oh ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

It's not any kind of potshot on my part, sugartits (ok, THAT was a potshot. Sticking out tongue )

That's the kind of potshot I like—Vinegartits. Sticking out tongue

It's not any kind of potshot

Jmaurone's picture

It's not any kind of potshot on my part, sugartits (ok, THAT was a potshot. Sticking out tongue)

 I mean I don't have the time and patience to slow down and do this right. But I've been meaning to bring up the idea of the "gordion knot" tactic, since no one else has mentioned it. 

 (And yes, I don't have time for the protracted arguments that these threads usually devolve into, unfortunately. But I am sincerely interested in the question of whether Rand set the bar too high...). 

Oy!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Suma and Joe—what the hell kind of discussion tactic is this? Take an indistinct pot shot then beg off on the grounds of being too busy or too impatient to linger?

Suma, if Rand was right to set the bar too high, why did she also blithely walk right under it?

If we can't say the Rach Prelude you post (which I'm delirious to have Rach himself playing) is objectively superior to Goode's Slayer trash, then we're in deep doo-doo.

Gordian Knot (not)

Jmaurone's picture

Suma: " I sympathize with the premise, but I don't find the essay convincing - Rand was right to "set the bar too high"."

 I agree, but want to add that it's not so much Linz's conclusion I have a problem with, but the methodology. I don't have time to get into this proper, or the patience right now...but what's been bugging me is the "cutting of the Gordian knot" of Rand's challenge. 

The Gordian Knot is a legend associated with Alexander the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem, solved by a bold stroke ("cutting the Gordian knot").

 The question is, was Rand truly presenting such an intractable problem? The Alexandrian method is appropriate in such a case, I'm just not convinced that this was such a case, and I don't think a strong enough argument was presented to justify it; rather, more questions than answers are implied. 

However, it it certainly is fair to ask the question of Rand. If i'm not convinced yet, I do think it's open to debate. I'd love to hear more.  

  

Thanks Linz

Suma's picture

Thanks for the essay Linz. Immediate response: I sympathize with the premise, but I don't find the essay convincing - Rand was right to "set the bar too high". I want to chew on it more though, and read all the other responses too before I say more...and it will be a while as I am super-busy.

For Olivia and others: Here is a piece I love - Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G-minor Op.23 No.5
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... (by Emil Gilels)

"... last two phrases of the Widmung."

Jameson's picture

Schumann's 'Dedication' lifts to express "for which I float" then descends to "O my grave."

The Etude

Olivia's picture

In listening more and more to the Liszt Etude, it's definitely grown on me. Love its steady climb toward fullness. Beautiful.

Delius, "The Walk to the Paradise Garden"

Chris Cathcart's picture

http://youtube.com/watch?v=9Zv...

Also, even for those that don't go much for Delius's music, there is a nice little gem of a movie I just saw for the first time, "A Song of Summer," now up on YouTube (at least for now), which dramatizes the relationship between Delius and fan/collaborator Eric Fenby for the last 5 years of the composer's life:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=4Vy...
(Some information from the IMDB on this: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt00... )

And, btw ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I dusted off an old LP in my shelves after spotting the name Lanza on the spine. "The Student Prince" and other musical comedies. My new Citronic turntable thankfully cuts right through the crackle and pop. Some good lyrics, great voice. 'Drink drink drink' is one for parties. I'll track down one of his better LPs one day.

Open up, man! Serenade, I'll Walk with God, Romance, I'll See You Again, If I Loved You, I'll Be Seeing You ... you'll NEVER hear singing like that by anyone living in this lifetime.

Nope.

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The end of Widmung sounds similar to a melody in Wunderlich's song before.
http://www.solopassion.com/node/4585#comment-51955

But thanks for playing. Smiling

Today

gregster's picture

I dusted off an old LP in my shelves after spotting the name Lanza on the spine. "The Student Prince" and other musical comedies. My new Citronic turntable thankfully cuts right through the crackle and pop.

Some good lyrics, great voice. 'Drink drink drink' is one for parties. I'll track down one of his better LPs one day.

The end of Widmung sounds similar to a melody in Wunderlich's song before.
http://www.solopassion.com/nod...

Erm ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

As for the Etude... even though it's the virtuosity of Liszt I find more often than not Etudes to be a little harsh on my ear. I seldom ever seek them out to listen to, not even Rach's or Chopin's. Am I missing anything terribly important?

Yes. And you should try actually listening to this one. Anything less harsh on the ear I can't imagine.

BTW, there'll be a prize for who identifies to what Schumann is alluding in the last two phrases of the Widmung.

Delightful.

Olivia's picture

The Widmung is just lovely. The melody is sensuously sweet - reminds me of playful, loving intimacy. I am not familar with it until now. I love it!

As for the Etude... even though it's the virtuosity of Liszt I find more often than not Etudes to be a little harsh on my ear. I seldom ever seek them out to listen to, not even Rach's or Chopin's. Am I missing anything terribly important? Smiling

Lady S

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Links are there. Smiling

For some very annoying reason...

Olivia's picture

these embedded versions sometimes do not show up on my screen.

Linz, do you mind posting just the link to these and I'll go straight to YouTube and hear them that way.

Thanks in advance my Lord Baron.

More objectively superior music of the gods

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Stanislav Richter plays Harmonies du Soir by Franz Liszt (from Transcendental Etudes):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

Van Cliburn plays Liszt's transcription of Schumann's Widmung:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

A sample of Giorgio Battistelli

Marcus's picture

From a piece called "Experimentum Mundi" about the sounds of hand-workers. If there was ever someone who fit Linz's description of "Pistons and Jackhammers" modern music, it's this guy.

Experimentum Mundi

Barry Lyndon

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Just watched it, as if for the first time since I still remembered almost nothing of it. Amazing movie! Yes, the ADDs wouldn't last five minutes with it, but how refreshing to find a well-crafted movie so unrushed, with clear, crisp, economical dialogue, superbly matched music scoring, great acting (the scene where Barry's mother dismisses Reverend Runt [!!] is a side-splitter; the scene where his young son is paralysed and dying after the horse accident is almost unwatchably intense) and of course a decent plot. I think Lyndon's comeuppance was about right, and needless to say his gold-digging opportunism put me in mind of a certain twosome we've been discussing here a lot lately. Barry has endearing, redeeming virtues those two lack, though.

Age of crap?

Marcus's picture

More like the "age of exploding green diarrhoea"!

"The legendary La Scala opera house in Milan has commissioned a full-length work to be based on his book, An Inconvenient Truth, and the Oscar-winning documentary of the same title.

La Scala's artistic director, Stephane Lissner, told a press conference the new opera had been commissioned from an Italian composer, Giorgio Battistelli. He said it would be staged in 2011.

"Lissner has had this idea in mind for some time," said a spokesman for the theatre. "Since before the award of Al Gore's Nobel, I believe."

http://www.solopassion.com/nod...

Linz -

jriggenbach's picture

"And will Mr. R. debate at all, or just flounce, as he did last time?"

It all depends on his mood. (He's a range-of-the-moment whim-worshipper, you know.) Also on his context. At the moment, he has time on his hands. He's sitting in a hotel room killing time with a laptop while his wife does some business.

Try him.

JR

Chris -

jriggenbach's picture

"The idea that (is there a composer we can all agree upon here?) -- okay, whether you care for it much or not -- a Beethoven symphony is so much superior in any number of ways to, say, punk rock (maybe the genre that reviles me the most), seems too obvious to be even worth arguing."

I'm no great admirer of Beethoven, but sure - that's obviously true.

"It's like the whole idea of punk is to be mired in the mediocre, the irritating, the obnoxious, rebellion for the sake of rebellion, pissing all over anything resembling technique or structure, back beating with pots, front-beating with pans, lousy melody, deliberately bad production values, not a single iota of effort put into making something of aspiring beauty . . . just aural shit by talentless shitheads. It's like the idea of punk is to react to safe, boring, lily-livered, almost-muzak mainstream pop by taking a trash can, dumping it out, and proceeding to beat on the trash can with a stick."

Quite so. The problem here is that, to Linz, *all* rock music fits your description of punk rock. And this is utterly absurd.

"Given an expansive enough definition of 'music,' this utterly talentless trash-can-beating would qualify as music."

Of course it's music. It's bad music, but it's music.

"JR, please don't tell me that you became a classical music connoisseur without having taken into account that it tends to result in music much more like what music ought to sound like, than the oodles of trashier and lesser genres out there."

I'd accept that statement up to a point. I suspect, however, that I draw the genre line a bit differently from either you or Linz. There's lots of jazz I'd rather listen to than anything by Chopin or Schumann. There's lots of "classic rock" I'd rather listen to than most of the works of Beethoven or Brahms. There's lots of traditional American pop (Frank Sinatra, Eydie Gorme, the instrumentals of the big band era) that I'd rather listen to than the complete works of Berlioz. There's even some electronica and country/western I'd rather listen to than the complete works of Alexander Glazunov.

JR

The Best Within Us

Newberry's picture

“Since this is all about aesthetics, IMO, I think it's of central importance to ask whether a piece of music aspires to project beauty (or beauty-truth, as in those music theorists who inform us that ugliness in Mahler can be beautiful, in the sense that ugliness conveys some truth about the human condition -- but not ugliness for the sake of ugliness). Even if Mozart bores you, beauty was an object of his composing. Heck, even some non-Romanticist modernist composers have that as an object, even if expressed in a much more abstract, less accessible way. Gutter music doesn't even give a shit about such things.”

Chris hits upon an important issue: beauty vs. shit.

Beauty is a tough concept to nail down without being subjective. Surprisingly, one of the greatest treatises on beauty comes from Kant. He discusses that it is essentially a composite of form, theme, resolution, sensual (appeal to the senses), and consequently it brings pleasure of the “languid type,” (“value swoon” in other quarters.) He does state that the judgment is not cognitive, rather it is a matter of universal taste. Hence why my mother thinks her taste, without qualifications or explanation, is equally valid. Eye

I have mentioned this in other places but the incredibly clever manipulation of Kant is that he does a super job in identifying the nature of beauty in art than turns it on its ear. For example he rejects the “languid” pleasure in art in favor of the sublimity of strenuous shitting:

“Every affection of the STRENUOUS TYPE (such, that is, as excites the consciousness of our power of overcoming every resistance [animusstrenuus]) is aesthetically sublime, e.g., anger, even desperation(the rage of forlorn hope but not faint-hearted despair). On the other hand, affection of the LANGUID TYPE (which converts the very effort of resistance into an object of displeasure [animus languidus] has nothing noble about it, though it may take its rank as possessing beauty of the sensuous order.”

Translation: there is nothing noble in your joyful experience of beautiful art, nobility is reserved only for those willing to submit to brutal “aesthetic” experiences. (Richard Goode anyone?)

In Kant's Critique of Pure Judgment, he goes on to dismantle the values of theme, resolution, a comprehensive unit, and integration of the total form–all to be superceded by a painful turn on the toilet, i.e. his concepts of the sublime: anti-theme, anti-beginning/middle/end, disintegration, and anti-form.

What we need to do is re-flip Kant’s pathetically sick inversion by reclaiming that the proper view of sublimity is that it represents the best within us.

 

www.michaelnewberry.com

Oy!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

For Linz, it's not Mahler or Sibelius, but Tchaik and Rach. These are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things. He regards the last movement of Rach 2 as a leading exemplar of the total passion for the total height, while you might choose the finale to Mahler 3 as a better example.

It's the third movement, if you mean the symphony, the second if you mean the concerto. Smiling

As far as I'm concerned these are not quibbles at all, let alone "minor" ones. Of course you can find "total passion for the total height" in Mahler and Sibelius. My point all along is that with them, you have to go looking for it in the midst of all the portentous blowhardery. With the full-blown Romantics, it's routine. And there are scores of others apart from Tchaik and Rach. Chris, it's your hang-up and delusion that I listen to no one else. I fear every time I furnish an example of great music it's treated as my saying this composer is the only worthwhile one and everyone should sound just like him. For fuck's sake!!

I seem to recall saying right at the top of my essay that the argument as to who is and who isn't a Romantic will have to keep. My concern here is Rand's claim, which I have come to see as Emperor's New Clothes territory within Objectivism, that we cannot pronounce Romantic music (or any kind of music) objectively superior to any other kind. How the pomowankers have seized upon that! Time it was debunked. We have all the information we need for an adequate conceptual vocabulary.

Why doesn't someone debate what I did say, not what I didn't?! (And will Mr. R. debate at all, or just flounce, as he did last time? The world's first flounce over Sibelius!)

"I like what Linz is trying to do, just his execution is not getting it quite right. I don't know how at this point I'd do it myself so as to get it right, but it's something I've been giving some thought to. The idea that (is there a composer we can all agree upon here?) -- okay, whether you care for it much or not -- a Beethoven symphony is so much superior in any number of ways to, say, punk rock (maybe the genre that reviles me the most), seems too obvious to be even worth arguing. It's like the whole idea of punk is to be mired in the mediocre, the irritating, the obnoxious, rebellion for the sake of rebellion, pissing all over anything resembling technique or structure, back beating with pots, front-beating with pans, lousy melody, deliberately bad production values, not a single iota of effort put into making something of aspiring beauty . . . just aural shit by talentless shitheads. It's like the idea of punk is to react to safe, boring, lily-livered, almost-muzak mainstream pop by taking a trash can, dumping it out, and proceeding to beat on the trash can with a stick."

Precisely. Very KASSly put! So what's the problem?

To repair to Mr. Cresswell's "shit" analogy: there's food and there's shit. Lots of stuff qualifies as "food" (not vegetables, of course). Food is objectively superior to shit. Modernity is addicted to shit. One of SOLO's missions is to promote food.

I would agree, but . . .

Chris Cathcart's picture

If the cookie-cutter standard were so narrowly defined that it kept Tchaik, Rach, Chopin and Beethoven on the "approved" list while keeping out Sibelius, Nielsen, Barber, Hanson, Mahler, Vaughan Williams and Delius, just to name a few, then that's obvious prima facie evidence that it's a fucked-up standard.

I like what Linz is trying to do, just his execution is not getting it quite right. I don't know how at this point I'd do it myself so as to get it right, but it's something I've been giving some thought to. The idea that (is there a composer we can all agree upon here?) -- okay, whether you care for it much or not -- a Beethoven symphony is so much superior in any number of ways to, say, punk rock (maybe the genre that reviles me the most), seems too obvious to be even worth arguing. It's like the whole idea of punk is to be mired in the mediocre, the irritating, the obnoxious, rebellion for the sake of rebellion, pissing all over anything resembling technique or structure, back beating with pots, front-beating with pans, lousy melody, deliberately bad production values, not a single iota of effort put into making something of aspiring beauty . . . just aural shit by talentless shitheads. It's like the idea of punk is to react to safe, boring, lily-livered, almost-muzak mainstream pop by taking a trash can, dumping it out, and proceeding to beat on the trash can with a stick.

(Rap, while a lot of it is also shit, can be more creative with lyrics, beats, samples, etc. I used to listen for a year or so as a mid-teen and could still manage listening to some of it now. Metal quite often requires technicality and actually often has a point -- stereotypically to project aggression. At least it has a point. And I could manage to listen to some of what I listened to as a teen, realizing that while there are aspects of it that are good, it's not a especially impressive genre once you're aware of what classical offers. The point of punk? The point there seems to be shit for shit's sake. Seems to me that the poor souls who are into it are seriously aesthetically stunted. I don't see anything of serious redeeming value in it. It's beneath safe and lame. Safe and lame is street-level; this stuff is the aesthetic sewer.)

Given an expansive enough definition of "music," this utterly talentless trash-can-beating would qualify as music. Even accepting such an expansive definition, we'd have to break it down further into the music worth listening to, and the music that's garbage. Linz is doing perfectly legitimate work in arguing that there is an area we can carve out in this vast expanse that is the music world, and say that it's worthy music.

JR, please don't tell me that you became a classical music connoisseur without having taken into account that it tends to result in music much more like what music ought to sound like, than the oodles of trashier and lesser genres out there.

As long as we can agree on that, how far exactly to narrow down the standard is secondary. You've commented on how Mozart is "nice" but overrated and lame compared to Bach, Mahler and Sibelius. For Linz, it's not Mahler or Sibelius, but Tchaik and Rach. These are minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things. He regards the last movement of Rach 2 as a leading exemplar of the total passion for the total height, while you might choose the finale to Mahler 3 as a better example. And we could at least listen to those pieces and see how someone could reach their respective assessments. And we could see how each are so far removed from gutter music that it's pointless to make any serious comparison on criteria beyond that they each produce a succession of sounds.

Since this is all about aesthetics, IMO, I think it's of central importance to ask whether a piece of music aspires to project beauty (or beauty-truth, as in those music theorists who inform us that ugliness in Mahler can be beautiful, in the sense that ugliness conveys some truth about the human condition -- but not ugliness for the sake of ugliness). Even if Mozart bores you, beauty was an object of his composing. Heck, even some non-Romanticist modernist composers have that as an object, even if expressed in a much more abstract, less accessible way. Gutter music doesn't even give a shit about such things.

Classical and jazz are often labeled "high-brow" genres, which strikes me as a way of saying that it's for elites, and elitism is a bad thing. That's roughly akin, in my view, to anti-reason anti-intellectualists rampaging around in our culture (the neanderthals on the right, for instance) gleefully lambasting intellectuals as elitists, as an excuse to wallow in their mindless crap. The conflation of intellectuality with elitism is a means of trying to level the good and the bad. No classical or jazz afficionados that I know of ever said that little to nothing of value comes out of other genres, either. But the good stuff that comes out of these genres tends to be the things that jazz and classical composition make it a point, qua genre, to try to aspire to. (I'll exempt "free jazz" from that claim for the time being; my hunch is that Rand's comments about free verse apply here.) The other genres seem to only incidentally include these things as just a few amongst many other possible aims.

Well, that's what I've got for now; me's tired.

Actually Cutting to the Chase

jriggenbach's picture

Judging all music by the same cookie-cutter "standard," expecting it all to sound alike and proceed according to the same principles - this is as good a definition of musical ignorance as I can come up with on the fly.

JR

Barry Lyndon

jriggenbach's picture

Barry Lyndon is undeniably Kubrick's finest film - and one of the best ever made.

JR

Jason's clips

Lindsay Perigo's picture

The first is Rach's Paganini Rhapsody from the famous 18th Variation to the end. The second and third are the final movement of the Rach 3, somewhat truncated. Watch, and you'll better appreciate why I said in my essay:

Romantic music is composed and performed by the heroes in our midst. It speaks and appeals to the best within us. It awakens our capacity for rapture. It is appreciated and adored by the passionately enlightened. It is inspired by and inspires the most intensely life-affirming value-swoons possible to man. If the expression, "total passion for the total height" means anything, it finds that meaning in Romantic music. In terms of what went into it and what can be taken out of it, Romantic music is simply the best.

Byron Janis

Jason Quintana's picture

Edit : I was watching/listening to these earlier today. Byron Janis is one of the great American piano virtuosos, and his REAL recording of Rachmaninoff's 3rd Piano concerto is (in my not humble opinion) the very best. Here are some excellent samples (with a few sour notes) that I think fit perfectly with the spirit of this thread.



Barry Lyndon

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I saw it when it first came out and remember absolutely nothing about it. I've just ordered it from amazon.

Barry Lyndon

Chris Cathcart's picture

Having seen that movie numerous times I have to say my favorite music is the adagio from that one cello sonata in E, RV40 (orchestrated with strings in the film) by Vivaldi, used during the "I'm sorry" kiss scene in Lady Lyndon's washroom. It's about the most interesting Vivaldi I've encountered. And not having really caught onto Bach, the Bach piece used in the "Don't you think he fits my shoes well, your ladyship?" scene.

While it may not have overt indications of being a work of Romantic art aside from the never-ending magic-hour visuals, Barry Lyndon is my favorite film to this day. It captures Kubrick's vision of the human condition at least as truthfully as any of his other works. The philistines with ADD (that's attention deficit disorder, not analog-digital-digital Smiling ) usually complain about the pacing and/or the alleged dry detachment.

The way the Schubert trio is actually used in the movie:

The Bach:

Strangely I don't find a clip with the Vivaldi.

A brief intro-part to one of Schubert's late impromptus is also used right at the end of Part I, but wasn't put onto the soundtrack album.

This piece always hits me in *that* place

Jameson's picture

Schubert's Trio in E flat, Opus 100

Well then ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

To skirt the issue of Cage vs. Lanza, neither are role models or have significance for me.

'Twere better not to have mentioned them in the first place!

To Skirt the Issue

Newberry's picture

Searching "artistic integrity" via google and online dictionary sources, I was surprised to learn there isn't a definition for it. I did find this book, Integrity and the Fragile Self, by Cox, La Caze, and Levine. You can read it but not copy and paste, http://books.google.com/books?...

Around page 132, they have a good discussion about the difference between artistic integrity and moral integrity, citing the differences between Gauguin the man and the artist.

To find Rand's view of artistic integrity, her quote Lindsay stated does not apply, rather we would have to glean the definition from her short story, The Simplest Thing, and from Roark's choices in The Fountainhead. Not a simple project.

A little over 500 years ago, Michelangelo wrote a ruthless satirical letter to the Pope in response to the Pope's request that Michelangelo build a colossus from blocks of marble. Michelangelo described what the project would be if he forewent his artistic integrity, the concept being true to the single block of marble, and increased the size, and practicality of the project. Turning it into a gigantic, sculpted man, smoking a pipe, and big enough to house a real smoke shop inside the base, at storefront level, and even hollow out the marble to have real smoke, like a chimney, to escape the marble pipe. The Pope would even make profits on rents.

To skirt the issue of Cage vs. Lanza, neither are role models or have significance for me. Michelangelo, on the other hand, does.

www.michaelnewberry.com

Michael (N)

Lindsay Perigo's picture

"Integrity does not consist of loyalty to one's subjective whims, but of loyalty to rational principles" is a verbatim quote from "Doesn't Life Require Compromise?" written for The Objectivist Newsletter in July 1962.

You say:

Rand's idea was that the men of ability left the field of art to them, and that to reclaim it there needs to be artists that have the whole caboodle, i.e. talent and artistic integrity. Search me how anyone here could have problem with that opinion.

Of course not, when you put it that way. It's when you make unwarranted attacks on the artistic integrity of my heroes, and compare their integrity unfavourably with that of a maggot like Cage, that you'll get into trouble with me.

Anti-concept

gregster's picture

Local anti-art artist Billy Apple probably 'listens' to Cage. Years ago he commissioned my music producer partner to score a single synthesizer tone of A to last a specific time. It was for television. I pointed out that that high tone would be inaudible on most TV sets. That didn't matter, I'd missed the point obviously.

Artist George Baloghy commenting on anti-artist Mr Apple

They say Cage's best composition is 4'33"

Chris Cathcart's picture

More listenable than the rest of his stuff. Smiling

whole caboodle

Newberry's picture


"My view of integrity, artistic or any other kind, agrees with Rand's: it consists of loyalty to rational values, not subjective, nihilist filth of the kind Cage is spouting here.
Our views of integrity couldn't be more different. Impasse."

It doesn't need to be an impasse. It's worth examining--and, I, for sure, don't mind.

I would love to see the passage or quote of Rand's that you are talking about. I don't think it exists.

The one quote I found of her's about artistic integrity, somewhere around on this site, had to do with Dostoevsky being true to the premises he gave his intended benevolent hero, who became Dostoevsky's "most evil character."
But one thing I have tried to do, in which I don't see any controversy in the least, is observe that the postmodernists that stuck to their premises, regardless how misguided, warped, evil, etc. rose to prominence and dominated the 20th Century art culture. All of you should be aware, I do not think that their ascension was a good thing.

Rand's idea was that the men of ability left the field of art to them, and that to reclaim it there needs to be artists that have the whole caboodle, i.e. talent and artistic integrity.
Search me how anyone here could have problem with that opinion.

 

www.michaelnewberry.com

Oh, Mikey ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Lately, I seem to be baited, directly or indirectly, everywhere I visit. The Wunderlich was beautiful. I love the topic of artistic integrity, but every time I go there I seem to alienate a gazillion people.

It's a tough ol' life, ain't it? Eye

It's simple really. You include in your concept of integrity vile people acting consistently with the vile things they say. To wit, Cage (your original example). They are being true to their statements, thus displaying integrity in your view—more than a Mario Lanza (your original example) who "sells himself" to whomever. My view of integrity, artistic or any other kind, agrees with Rand's: it consists of loyalty to rational values, not subjective, nihilist filth of the kind Cage is spouting here.

Our views of integrity couldn't be more different. Impasse.

rationalizations, deflections, incriminations, denunciations...

Newberry's picture


"Truly revolting. Cage, some might remember, is the one whom Newberry deemed to have more artistic integrity than Mario Lanza, which, for those unfamiliar with our history, might help explain the difficulty we have in getting along."

Oh no. Eye

Lately, I seem to be baited, directly or indirectly, everywhere I visit.

The Wunderlich was beautiful.

I love the topic of artistic integrity, but every time I go there I seem to alienate a gazillion people. It is tough topic, and people take it personally--I think because it reflects, in many ways, their own choices and the accompanying rationalizations, deflections, incriminations, denunciations, and, sometimes, their objectivity. Eye

 

 

www.michaelnewberry.com

The teaser ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... of course is Granada which was a Lanza hit.

I should dig out my Singers of Renown (National Radio) tribute to Fritz and post it.

And

gregster's picture

Liked this teaser: http://nme.com/video/id/o2l0s7...
Another of the aria here http://findinternettv.com/Vide...
but I liked your version better because of his more delicate control especially at 2min 51.

If you mean ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... Oh Holy Night then no, it's not on Youtube. I have it here, and I assume TVNZ still have it if they didn't burn it in their rewriting of history to erase all evidence I ever existed. It would be an excellent thing to resurrect it: children would drown themselves in the nearest sea and pomowankers would drown in their own snot, and those developments would be a huge advance on the status quo.

In the meantime, I would kill to find one person who had a glimmering of a fucking clue about the beauty of the Wunderlich/Mozart. Just one among seven billion. Shouldn't be that hard.

I gave Fritz a go

gregster's picture

Of course he's impressive I'll give you. He sounds a fun kind of guy, he'd "drink a bottle of beer every evening in order to let his voice grow," "secretly take photographs of the girls at the Kusel swimming baths and sell the pictures," " smoke a pipe," "play the trumpet and sing like Louis Armstrong."

Reminds me a little of you Linz and when you first stood out from the pack -I couldn't believe my eyes seeing you singing on TVNZ. I remember thinking "that took a bit of courage." Is there a tape somewhere? Youtube ain't got it.

Ah well ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I see Fritz fell on deaf ears. Wotta surprise.

Now, remember how I remarked on the Hume/Goode/Slayer connection—how it's entirely appropriate?

Here's a quote from that piece of filth, John Cage, "serious" music's equivalent of Slayer et al. All I can say is, wouldn't you know it?

If you develop an ear for sounds that are musical it is like developing an ego. You begin to refuse sounds that are not musical and that way cut yourself off from a good deal of experience.

Truly revolting. Cage, some might remember, is the one whom Newberry deemed to have more artistic integrity than Mario Lanza, which, for those unfamiliar with our history, might help explain the difficulty we have in getting along. Smiling

Retaliation!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

comes from none other than one of the most revered (among the pomo-cognoscenti) modernist composers, Elliott Carter!

As I said, complete crap.

Here's something beautiful, from Fritz Wunderlich and Mozart:

Hey, some better avant-garde

Chris Cathcart's picture

Just for more fun and frivolity. Ignore if you think it's a threadjack. At least it involves highlighting differences between the "best of" avant-garde and the best Romanticism.

Jonny Greenwood (who happens to also be the leading creative figure, along with Thom Yorke, behind Radiohead) did the original scoring for There Will Be Blood. One piece of the score was actually used from a pre-existing Greenwood composition, Popcorn Superhet Receiver. The short soundrack version (~4 minutes) and then the long streaming version (~20 min.) from the BBC website, if the short version piques your interest:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/ne...

I have a tough time deciding whether he's just aping Ligeti's "Atmospheres" and "Lontano", or outdoes them.

That complete crap

Chris Cathcart's picture

comes from none other than one of the most revered (among the pomo-cognoscenti) modernist composers, Elliott Carter!

(I like how this video-link system can link to stuff without biasing things by telling you the name of the composer or piece.)

"Headbanging" music done to appropriate effect

Chris Cathcart's picture

I regard Pink Floyd as a sort of standard-setter for the listenable brand of mainstream rock with some quasi-classical emphasis on actually caring for melodic and harmonic beauty, smoothed-out sonic structures (e.g. less emphasis on the in-your-face rhythmic beating), and more elaborate, larger-scale song structures. (In these regards, Flody has been lumped in with what's been called the "progressive rock" genre, despite not having a strongly similar sound to, e.g., Rush, King Crimson, or Genesis. But the use of the term "progressive" usually tends to indicate that the music isn't your short, simplistic typical radio stuff.)

With that I present an example from a leading contemporary heir to Floyd, Porcupine Tree, which in recent years has incorporated heavier hard-rock elements, but the nice thing about it is that, unlike your usual head-banger metal that starts, middles and ends with hard stuff without letting up, this example uses it when appropriate for greater dramatic dynamism. One main problem with typical heavy metal -- aside from the sheer lack of ability to write a good melody to focus on chord structures and progressions -- is that it loses all meaning to have the headbanging stuff all the way through, with nothing to contrast it with. It's like the opposite end of the spectrum from always-mild, quiet and meek muzak (see: smooth jazz) that never rises above a certain decibel level or dares to be interesting, for fear of offending anyone above the age of 90.

Now, the Tree:

There is, on this same album (In Absentia), a diversity of "styles" from track to track which produces, in my mind, not just a dramatic/dynamic contrast within songs, but from one song to the next. So in one track, you'll get something mellow with the emphasis on Floydian-style harmonics:

and in another you'll get some more-creative-than-usual headbanger stuff (Linz may recoil at this one Evil ):

One thing nice about the heavy riffs and tracks when the Tree does them is they know well enough not to even bother with vocals. Smiling Even this track is not all headbangy, once you get last minute and a half with the atmospherics and extended fade-out.

I do believe that the Tree's albums In Absentia and Deadwing will end up classics of modern rock, and the only ones I can think of with mainstream potential that have a heavy edge. (Besides Led Zeppelin, I suppose?)

Ha!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I tuned out after 1' 20". To invoke our wonderful conceptual vocabulary again, complete crap. Smiling

And the headbanging is all unlistenable. As I said earlier, hear one headbanger you've heard 'em all.

Linz's hierarchy of unlistenability

Chris Cathcart's picture

Just for some fun and frivolity. Smiling How does Linz rank the levels of unlistenability between headbanging caterwauling (heavy metal), caterwauling headbanging (punk), unsophisticated anti-cerebralism (rap) and . . . oversophisticated cerebral pomo-wank (modernist classical)? Just an example of some pomo-wank taken more or less at random from the intertubes, for comparison/contrast purposes:

For me, on the rare occasion I do find modernist stuff minimally listenable (see: Ligeti, Takemitsu), it's still devoid of emotional content. Ligeti could paint an erie aural landscape with "Atmospheres" (most well-known of course from its use in Kubrick's 2001, as has been noted for the 2001th time) but after a while I just . . . stopped caring.

Grace notes 3

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Grace, you asked:

How can you say that there is no need for a conceptual vocabulary to define what makes objectively superior music? Until it can be defined what the subconscious mind responds to in music then all we have to go on are people’s subjective opinions. The brain has an instinctual preference for tonal music with rhythm, oddly enough that encompasses a lot of genres and musical eras. Beyond that what makes us musically tick is as mysterious as it is individual. We could discuss technical superiority but even then it is hard to separate out personal response. Personal response to music is important and to ignore it to takes the art out of it.

I absolutely am not ignoring personal response. To the contrary, it's part of what I'm building my case on: Romanticism brought individualism to music! Yet, while humans differ, they're also the same. They're human! A is A. As you note yourself, human brains qua human brains gravitate to tonal music with rhythm. It doesn't actually matter that we don't know why; fact is, they do. It's part of their identity. We know this from introspection and observation. My argument is that the best such music is that in the Romantic category, both in terms of its technical structure, which allows the depth, breadth and scope Michael is talking about, and its sense-of-life appeal.

The technical case remains pretty settled as far as I'm concerned. Re sense-of-life, I've incorporated an additional term into the conclusion to my essay: "capacity for rapture." It now reads:

Romantic music is composed and performed by the heroes in our midst. It speaks and appeals to the best within us. It awakens our capacity for rapture. It is appreciated and adored by the passionately enlightened. It is inspired by and inspires the most intensely life-affirming value-swoons currently possible to man. In terms of what went into it and what can be taken out of it, it is simply the best.

And that's a fact.

I'm now getting conflicting messages as to whether I need to "prove" this, with the bar set at Rand's impossibly high level (which she blithely but rightly proceeded to walk right under), or merely to "persuade." Actually, the music can do both, for those prepared to make the effort. This is not a matter of Tchaikovsky's superiority over Brahms or vice versa, but of both of them over the likes of Slayer—of Romantic music (and its relatives and offspring) generally over "trash metal" or whatever that filth is called.

Suppose we could hook Goode up to electrodes while he was jollying off to a good pounding from Slayer, and hook me up while I was doing the same to Rach. Suppose the part of the brain that jollies off went berserk in both of us and this was duly registered on a monitor. What would that tell us that we don't already know? As I keep saying, it's a matter of values, not physiology. You want intentional ugliness, go for Slayer. You want rasping and screaming instead of singing, go for Slayer. You want inaudible and meaningless lyrics, go for Slayer. You want distorted instruments, go for Slayer. You want anger for the sake of anger, go for Slayer. You want to damage your hearing, go for Slayer. You want monotony set to cacophony, go for Slayer. It's your inalienable right! Knock yourself out! But all those things are anti-life, and life is Objectivism's standard of value. The life-affirming is not only superior to the life-negating, it trumps it totally.

At the gym yesterday they had the filth blaring as usual. I wore my earplugs, as usual, but the commotion was still close to unbearable. I observed the other attendees, who were not wearing earplugs, closely. They weren't "pumping" to the filth (I've never seen anyone do that except the occasional grunting steroid freak), they were completely switched off to it. I wondered how they could just shut out something so dangerously loud and aggressively unpleasant. My fear and suspicion is that it goes into their subconscious at a subliminal level and corrodes their souls. Anyway, it occurred to me that we have a perfectly adequate conceptual vocabulary for this stuff already: "Crap!" We don't hesitate to invoke this concept when it comes to blobs and smears in the visual arts and the Lois Cooks of literature; we don't wait to hook viewers and readers up to electrodes; why should it be any different for the musical equivalent?

I'm convinced now that the capacity for rapture is dormant if not dead within most people, and that's a tragedy. Worse, there's no enthusiasm for recovering it—rapture is not "cool." There's no enthusiasm, period. As Tim Sturm notes, value-swooning is not cool. In fact, it's unheard of! Value-swooning is for noble souls, and the ignoble is what's cool. Slayer et al are the ignoble writ large and loud. And no doubt about it, they're cool. I feel so sorry for folk.

Edited to add: Michael, I believe I value-swooned recently to Lance's and Grace's cooking. I'd highly recommend both.

Ah yes, here we are: The Davey/SOLO Bed-and-Breakfast: Objectively Superior! Smiling

Lance is the cook at our place

Grace's picture

and we always love guests.

The wine glass analogy works better if you were to compare it to the stereo you are playing it out of, or to the quality of the orchestra performing that symphony.  In art I imagine it would be similar to the type  of canvas used, or to the optimum viewing light for a painting.  There are reasons for these based in fact, but while it may improve the viewing experience the art still needs to persuade on its own merits for 'value-swoon'.

I think we have some decent wine tasting glasses around here somewhere.

 

Grace,

Newberry's picture

Grace,

I am coming to dinner the next time in New Zealand. And if you can't cook, I will. Smiling

Those quotes about Brahms where hilarious!!! Smiling

When I was a kid I remember Berstein giving lectures on Television...like discussing Beehoven writing different endings for his 5th, and Bernstein conducted each ending. It was an incredible experience to witness. Bernstein wanted to show the difference, and demonstrate why the end that Beethovn used was the best of them.

The sad thing is that if we think it is all subjective, then we have really fried our brains and can't conceive of the difference between shit and brilliance.

The French use different shaped glasses for different wines, these glasses are created in such away to maximise the taste and experience of the wines. To people who don't know any better, than it is all BS. But to the people who do know it adds to the quality of life.

Cheers,

Michael

 

www.michaelnewberry.com

And there it is

Grace's picture

The need is for persuasion rather than proof.  Without knowing how music makes us react, both physiologically and psychologically, I think a definition of what makes one type of music superior is presumptuous.

I also believe there are musical high points of achievement, and Lindsay has named a few, but my views can be different from others for different reasons.  Those with musical training view great music in a very different way to those without, because we are listening with a different set of knowledge behind us.  Somehow there should be a way to find out if the music loved by musicians and non-musicians a like could be classed as superior, but it doesn't exist, and even then would we want it to?  Tchaikovsky's 2nd Symphony is a good example of that, on my mind as it was played by the NZSO earlier this year.  Isn't half the joy in finding out for yourself?

Take Brahms.  Considered by many as one of the heroes in music but a lot of musicians dislike(d) him.
Tchaikovsky: "I played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms. What a giftless bastard! It annoys me that this self-inflated mediocrity is hailed as a genius. Why, in comparison with him, Raff is a giant, not to speak of Rubinstein, who is after all a live and important human being, while Brahms is chaotic and absolutely empty dried-up stuff."
Hugo Wolf: "The art of composing without ideas has decidedly found in Brahms one of its worthiest representatives."
Mahler: "I have gone through all of Brahms pretty well by now. All I can say of him is that he's a puny little dwarf with a rather narrow chest."
Britten: "It's not bad Brahms I mind', it's good Brahms I can't stand."

It was even suggested that when Boston's Symphony Hall was being built, that signs be fitted over the doorways reading, "Exit in case of Brahms"!

With such differing views on Brahms does the definitive answer to the value of his music lie some where we are not looking? Do we need proof or is persuasion enough?

Sensible People

Newberry's picture

 

Scope is often too subjective to be in placed in a technical discussion, although range is specifically discussed in regards to pitch. It is definitely pertinent from the perspective of the composer's intent and listeners reaction, but here we hit subjective territory.

 

Definition: The range of one's perceptions, thoughts, or actions.
# Breadth or opportunity to function.
# The area covered by a given activity or subject.

 

It is difficult for me to talk about music, I don't know anything technical about it. But I am decently familiar with performers, conductors, periods, styles. Puccini wrote into the 20th century, though he wasn't the first to do this, his integration of the arias and choruses into the sweep of the music as a whole is noticeably different than Verdi, Beethoven (Fidelio), and Vivaldi.

Several Jazz musicians complained that Ella Fitzgerald wanted to know in advance the "improvisations" they would make with the Duke Ellington Song Book recordings. Cole Porter once told Sarah Vaughan she was a wonderful composer herself--she had performed some of his songs, and took so much license with them that they were no longer recognizable. I doubt that anyone could create a timeless opera based on improvisation, and of course, once you created one, the next performance should be literally something totally different again.

I enjoy listening to operas in their entirety, 2 to 3 hours of music. And I enjoy that these pieces are essentially structured note for note, though there will be interpretations, and, I think the are cadenzas (?) a part of the piece that the performer can improvise. Maria Callas was adamant about this in her Juilliard sessions, that you couldn't just do what you wanted but had to maintain the style of the composer and the style of the time. She was ruthlessly short with one of the student's about this. Still these are fairly short, and allow for performers of different skills to either shine or be conservative. Though, in later operas, I don't think they had these, rather you just had to nail the piece as written, very few exceptions.

The amateur that I am in music, I find it hard to believe that it can't be demonstratively shown that the structure and scope of epic works as grand operas and symphonic forms are not high points of musical achievement.

But, then in the arts there is no hammer of proof, one simply has to persuade sensible people about truth of it.

www.michaelnewberry.com

Hi Michael

Grace's picture

Thanks for the response, it took me quite some time to pull apart something Lindsay put together so well, and even then I wasn't sure I wanted to.

Structure is considered very important in the construction of a piece of music.  Not just to give the composer boundaries to work with but to allow the listener some familarity in hearing the piece and in the resolution of the themes.  Lindsay does talk a bit about form but the Romantic period is famous for expanding on exsisting forms rather than creating new ones.

Scope is often too subjective to be in placed in a technical discussion, although range is specifically discussed in regards to pitch.  It is definitely pertinent from the perspective of the composer's intent and listeners reaction, but here we hit subjective territory.

There are some giants in the music world and opinions on what they are vary as to whether you are the listener, or the performer, and even then what instrument you are performing on.  I have my own favourites but for the most part I am always revising them as I explore music I haven't listened to before, or haven't listened to in a long time.  When it comes to music I am always prepared to change my mind, but it is not persuasive words that can do that only the music itself.  That may seem fickle but there really is some fantastic stuff out there.

Grace 

 

Grace notes, cont. ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Anyway that entire post is redundant if we can clarify the first post of mine. I am looking forward to your thoughts.

Coming. I'm trying to watch the Hurricanes (21-0 at the moment; oops, just became 21-7) while posting on my press release.

Appoggiatura! Smiling

Techniques

Grace's picture

My comments in techniques are not about saying things did not occur in the Romantic period but the fact that they did not only happen in the Romantic period, which for the layman is not obvious in your original essay.

Programmatic music has been around a lot longer than just the Romantic music, the most famous example being The Four Seasons by Vivaldi.  Tone poems are the same thing, but tend to follow in Sonata Form starting with Beethoven.  Personally I consider them just a development of what had already been occuring.

The other forms have been around in one way or another for longer.

I'll give you that there are extra instruments, and most notably in the percussion section.  I have to admit that often think of the piccolo and contrabasson as periphal instruments and forget their place in the Romantic orchestra, despite the wonderful colour they bring to the orchestra when used sparingly.  The bass clarinet is rarely used even in the 20th Century and the Cor Anglais has had predecessors in the orchestra dating back to the Baroque period.

I don't disagree with you about opera but in context it is the development of melody that caused this explosion and I thought you were double dipping on points.  Anyway that entire post is redundant if we can clarify the first post of mine.  I am looking forward to your thoughts.

For those who are unsure my previous posts were my exposition, and now we are into the development.  It remains to be seen if there will be a recapitulation.

Acciaccatura Eye

Grace notes ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Oh heck, I expect my little pun will be lost on all but Grace! Smiling

Grace—nice to have the informed response of a professional. Thank you for taking the time. I'm not going to bog myself down in a point-by-point comment on the technical matters, since by and large you seem to agree or semi-agree and where you don't you're misattributing to me the view that certain things were exclusive to the Romantic period rather than reaching their apogee in it. And you seem to have overlooked my comment re mini-Romanticism in which the Romantic traditions were continued in miniature and diverse forms.

You do explicitly disagree with me about new instruments and forms. How about the tone poem which you love so much? Smiling They started with Liszt, you know. How about all the etudes, nocturnes, ballades, variations, etc., written for the piano as it supplanted the organ and harpsichord? How about "programmatic" overtures? How about Strauss and his waltzes? How about orchestras expanding to include contrabassoon, bass clarinet, piccolo, and English horn? How about valves on brass instruments? How about all the extra percussion, such as bass and side drums, xylophones, celestas, gongs, cymbals, castanets, bells and triangles, and what-not?

Why choose melody over any other musical characteristic? I already said. It's fundamental. Not to dismiss the others, but it all starts with melody.

Opera already established? Yes. My term was "came into its own." It exploded. We even got Verdi and Puccini and Wagner (don't tell Cresswell I said this).

But these are bagatelles. The meat of your critique is in your other post, which I'll address separately. Maybe not tonight. Super 14! Hurricanes! Smiling

95% Brilliant

Newberry's picture

 Hey Grace,

 As the heading suggests, 95% brilliant. 

 Two things I missed in this thread, are scope and structure. If those two are considered important values in music, then some of the great symphonies and operas could be considered giants in the music world.

 For the rest, I tremendously enjoyed reading your posts. 

Michael 

 

www.michaelnewberry.com

The technical music stuff

Grace's picture

I was surprised to find you did not explore some more recent studies on how music affects the brain. One such study is on the instinctual reactions of children, who naturally respond from as early as 8 months to rhythm and tonal pitch. In fact babies are shown to have components of perfect pitch that starts to wan as they learn speech, hence why studies show that there are a higher percentage of tonal language speakers who have perfect pitch.

These elements are not lessened in modern music. Often the pitch and rhythm create more of a physical response because the next bar can be anticipated, shown in ways such as involuntary foot tapping and humming along. Simplicity itself often inspires these responses. That doesn’t mean you will not foot tap and sway to some complex Latin rhythms as it still creates stability in repeated patterns and regular use of time signatures.

We know that certain simultaneous combinations of tones (harmony), because of the mathematical relationship of their frequencies, are, as a matter of metaphysical fact, integratable by the human brain (consonant) and others are not (dissonant); that this is true for all human beings apart from the tone-deaf; that the resolution of dissonance into consonance helps give a piece suspense, sophistication and satisfaction, a sense of home-coming; and so we may rightly judge the deliberate refusal to resolve for the sake of refusal to resolve to be an act of sabotage and assassination.

In this essay I would have like to see you take this point further. The connections with atonal music are obvious but not so with more modern music. Atonal music very rarely about creating suspense, sophistication and satisfaction, a sense of home-coming (usually it is suspense, followed by more suspense without resolution.) Modern music does tend to have all of these things, to varying degrees. However it does have to contend with the loss of naturally occuring harmonics due to its electronic nature. Distortion, reverb and other effects commonly used in the modern music world cause the notes never to be perfectly in tune, effectively taking away the possibly for harmonic overtones.

Perhaps our preference for in tune music lies in the joy of hearing upper harmonics, those faint resonances of notes unplayed, the basis for our western harmonic structure? I have a belief that the answer may lie in the harmonic series. The ear enjoys these intervals in order of preference – Octave, Perfect 5th, Perfect 4th, (Major 3rd, Major 6th, Minor 3rd, Minor 6th,[these four tend to get lumped together in literature]) Major 2nd, Minor 7th, Minor 2nd, Major 7th, , Augmented 4th/Diminished 5th/Devils Interval. Why is that? And why does this happen to correspond with the harmonic series?

But then again if you had taken that point further you would have had to explain away all the beautiful in tune music from before the Romantic Period.

We know that in the Romantic period (nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) composers and performers pushed the boundaries of every musical element, primary and secondary, achieving an unprecedented emotional expressiveness while avoiding the descent into the atonal anarchy that followed.

New instruments, bigger orchestras; Come on now. The orchestra had been steadily growing since the idea of playing in a group. The greatest of the ‘new’ instruments to be found in the orchestra were created in the classical period – the clarinet and the French horn, with the piano occasionally used for colour or for concertos. Unless you are talking about the saxophone? That is not extensively used in orchestras, even in the Romantic period.

new forms, and the expansion of old forms; Forgive my ignorance here Lindsay but what new forms are you talking about? I completely agree that old forms were used and stretched to fit.

the coming of age of opera and ballet; I only agree with this in a certain sense, and for those of you who take Lindsay’s word at face value I will explain. Music prior to the Romantic period was largely driven by the church or by the court. Quite simply put that was how the majority of composers earned a living. Commissions were far more common by the Romantic period so music was no longer dictated by the conservative nature of the church, or the political and whimsical views of the court. Opera and ballet flourished because more themes were available to them, although cheeky classical composers pushed all boundaries of what was considered ‘decency’ with some of their work, such as Mozart’s Le Nozze de Figaro. Opera and ballet were already firmly cemented as genres by the Romantic period so its growth was in some of these other areas Lindsay touches on.

virtuoso stars, like our modern-day “celebs” only with talent; There is some incredible talent out there and virtuosity is not confined to the Romantic period. The trick is to find it in an age where media is a tool for propaganda rather than honest reporting. We also live in an age where we are surrounded by recordings of various mediums, so are able to make comparisons of greatness with far more resources to hand. I agree that it is hard to spot the talented when regaled with Paris Hilton and Britney Spears at every turn, but they are there.

the cult of the conductor; Another god-like figure! Conductors were needed with the expansion of the orchestra, firstly to maintain the timing. The star was on the ascending for conductors with the invention of recordings in the 20th century, as comparisons can be made in styles and results.

more inventive melodies using bigger intervals between notes; Agreed. Beethoven started something in the late classical period that avid fans of his, such as Schubert with his lieder followed on with. In all aspects I believe this should have been a main point, with harmony and tonality supporting.

greater dynamic range—fff (fortississimo: very, very loud) to ppp (pianississimo: very, very soft); Agreed. The most dramatic change was in the classical period with the inclusion of gradually changing dynamics, and also specifically composer directed changes.

more daring harmonies (chromatic and dissonant, without recourse to the sabotage or assassination that became de rigueur later) Semi-agree. There was some interesting progress here, but this was more as a result of melodic change to chromaticism and also your following point on modulation. The greatest progress in tonal harmony can be found in jazz music, with the frequent and deliberate inclusion of added notes beyond the dominant 7th.

modulating more frequently into other keys; Yes! And the methods of modulation became more varied and unpredictable. One of my favourite things about the Romantic period!

more rhthmic variety, including greater use of syncopation, This syncopation grew out of dance music that already existed. While there is an overall improvement on the classical period for varied use of rhythms it still does not compare to the exciting rhythms of the 20th Century persuasion and also of ‘world music’, such as that ‘primitive’ stuff you get from Latin America and small African tribes etc.

rubato (bending of the rhythm), accelerando (speeding up) and ritardando (slowing down), Listen to a cadenza of any period and all of those things are there. However I will agree that these things become more prevalent as the melodic line now dictates the course of the tempo.

changing of the time signature within movements, etc. This has occurred before in music and even more so since the Romantic Period.

So why choose the Romantic Period? Would you choose it for the great advancements in melodic movement, and some minor advancements in other areas? Why choose the development of one musical characteristic over another?

Romanticism was the culmination of what preceded it, and the transcending of it; it was the high point of musical evolution to date; it was the “total height”—and it remains so. (What came after was disintegration into vagueness, gratuitous dissonance, ostentation, random plinkety-plonk, silly silences and traffic noise.)

Music divided into many styles in the 20th Century and while atonal music has and is being explored, it is by no means the majority of music being composed and performed. To say that music has not improved since the Romantic period is to dismiss the evolution of musical characteristics since then and to write off musical invention itself.

Still having commented on all of this it is only about technique and not about how we react emotionally to it. All of this is a lot like me saying that Luciano Pavarotti was technically superior to Mario Lanza, but what does it matter unless we look at the emotional impact.

Ignoring all previous posts

Grace's picture

I have taken my time to read this essay a few times now. I really enjoyed your offerings and the debate within myself that this writing has created, you can call me schizo later, although please say in a scherzo fashion. I am curious to how people have reacted so thought it was time to take my turn to spew forth some thoughts.

“Until a conceptual vocabulary is discovered and defined, no objectively valid criterion of esthetic judgment is possible in the field of music … No one, therefore, can claim the objective superiority of his choices over the choices of others. Where no objective proof is available, it's every man for himself—and only for himself”? Ayn Rand

How can you say that there is no need for a conceptual vocabulary to define what makes objectively superior music? Until it can be defined what the subconscious mind responds to in music then all we have to go on are people’s subjective opinions. The brain has an instinctual preference for tonal music with rhythm, oddly enough that encompasses a lot of genres and musical eras. Beyond that what makes us musically tick is as mysterious as it is individual. We could discuss technical superiority but even then it is hard to separate out personal response. Personal response to music is important and to ignore it to takes the art out of it.

This, Rand goes on, means we need to do what we currently cannot do in musical perception: separate subject and object:

“In listening to music, a man cannot tell clearly, neither to himself nor to others—and therefore, cannot prove—which aspects of his experience are inherent in the music and which are contributed by his own consciousness. He experiences it as an indivisible whole, he feels as if the magnificent exaltation were there in the music—and he is helplessly bewildered when he discovers that some men do experience it and some do not. In regard to the nature of music, mankind is still on the perceptual level of awareness.”

Now, it is my contention that Rand has set the bar way too high here—we don’t need to know all that in order to judge—and that furthermore, my contention has her imprimatur:

Of course you need this to judge Lindsay! It explains why people have different reactions, to Sibelius and to Slayer. Without knowing this information you can only press your own reactions on other people as being superior without actual fact to back you up. Please don’t tell me about the Romantic period being the greatest in expansion of tonal music, otherwise it makes no sense as to why you write off neo-classical and post romantic music, the fuller harmonies of jazz or even the musical characteristic of rhythm that had its mini renaissance in the 20th Century. Every period in Musical history has seen expansion and music has not stopped its growth since the Romantic period.

As for the ‘primitive’ music statement to back up your point, Rand makes no justification for these comments, making them subjective rather than objective. All in all a nice piece of editing to suit the purpose of your well crafted essay.

To state that something is objectively superior to another you first have to take out the emotion. However, there is no way that we can yet do this when discussing how a piece of music is more pleasing than another without including the emotional effect. Rand herself notes this when she says that, “The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements is, 'This is (or is not) life as I see it.'"

Breathes there the man with soul so dead he cannot behold this and exult: “What a piece of work is man!”? This response, of course, is life-affirming, and so, by Objectivist standards, good. Moreover, it is the response the work and the performance are intended to evoke, so the subject’s reaction is consistent with the content of the object.

I am not sure where life affirming comes into this, as much as I love the sentiment. I would think that when Rand states, “The essential meaning of a viewer’s or reader’s response, under all of its lesser elements is, 'This is (or is not) life as I see it'" it would suggest that the reflection of life does not always need to be so positive, or even ring true with all that hear it. Many people to listen to music not to affirm the life they have but rather to expel feelings that don’t want, treating it as a cathartic approach to life. How can the value of this music be diminished when discussing emotional impact? By all means technically pull apart the music but this still fails to create understanding in the beauty of music.

I have a right to be different to you and enjoy music that is dissimilar to that which you love and profess to be superior. My life is different to yours. By all means announce that Romantic music is subjectively superior to contemporary music, but to announce it as objectively superior is premature.

Until a time where our understanding of emotional response to music has increased, to unequivocally state that one style/genre of music is objectively superior to another is a task in futility.

Marcus

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Did you realize in what context most "fans" usually hear that music? It is in mass concerts and nightclubs.

Well of course. As is their right, the morons. My campaign is against the filth's unsolicited spread so that we're all involuntarily contaminated by it. And the Objectivist/relativist fiction that one may not pronounce Romantic music superior to it.

It is these people that consume the music, making it "popular" or "cool". Then it is played by shopkeepers in order to attract what they think is the image of being youthful, up to date and vibrant.

Prematurely deaf, down to hate and stupefied, more like it.

I am finding nowadays that even some shops that sell baby clothes are doing this. They are especially bonkers if you ask me. Why would any sane parent want to expose their baby to that level of noise? I won't buy from them, and I don't understand why anyone else would either.

Another good reason not to have babies. Smiling

Linz

Marcus's picture

"I'm intrigued by Marcus's notion that the headbangers aren't actually having a musical experience at all.."

Did you realize in what context most "fans" usually hear that music? It is in mass concerts and nightclubs.

I have always hated these places, not just because of the music, but because you can't even talk to anyone without shouting. (Once I went, about 15 years ago, into a London nightclub at the behest of an ex-girlfriend. I was partially deaf the next day as a result.) The main purpose for going there is part of the mating ritual and to dance. The only level of musical appreciation anyone is concerned with is "the beat" in order to "undulate". "The beat" should be as loud as possible, usually fast and continuous regardless of melody or vocal quality.

Another clue is in your use of the term "headbanging". What are those concert-goers actually doing? Appreciating music? No. They are just engaging in a ritual, purely emotional and subjective experience completely devoid of aesthetic reason or objectivity.

It is these people that consume the music, making it "popular" or "cool". Then it is played by shopkeepers in order to attract what they think is the image of being youthful, up to date and vibrant.

I am finding nowadays that even some shops that sell baby clothes are doing this. They are especially bonkers if you ask me. Why would any sane parent want to expose their baby to that level of noise? I won't buy from them, and I don't understand why anyone else would either.

Mark

Marcus's picture

Yes, the harpist is annoying and out-of-tune if you ask me.
However that was the only clip I could find on youtube of Jenkins conducting Palladio. Annoying because I think it's a great piece of music.

However, I just found out that Jenkins originally composed it for a famous De Beers diamond commercial from 1993. I post the clip below.

As to his politics, I haven't got a clue. I would have thought in Sanctus and Benedictus (the Armed Man Mass) it was, let's have peace, man. But Wikipedia says something quite different:

"The piece begins with a representation of marching feet, overlaid later by the shrill tones of a piccolo emulating the flutes of a military band. It stirs images of the Napoleonic wars, of "Redcoats" and war being glorious. The Sanctus seems to continue this theme as God is praised even as we proceed into war. Perhaps this is symbolic of "holy war" - God is on our side. Kipling's Hymn before Action stirs the listener much as Roman gladiators would with their "We, who are about to die, salute you, Caesar." Then the charge with blaring trumpets, crashing drums ending in the agonised screams of the dying. This is followed by an eerie silence, broken by the evocative sound of a lone trumpet playing the Last Post."

Glad to have appeased the Gods...

Jameson's picture

Lisa Gerrard is the gal with the deep throaty vocals. Smiling

Marcus

Mark Hubbard's picture

The Karl Jenkin's clips were interesting. I liked the music in the third clip especially, and the second was pleasing, although the video playing during that piece of music makes me 'wonder' as to his politics ...

The woman walking around with the harp on annoyed the hell out of me in the first clip: couldn't say why, exactly, possibly irrational.

Timmy

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I've hat-tipped the integration issue in a mere sentence, which will do for purposes of this essay. I've also added Rand's description of Halley's Concerto of Deliverance to the section on what Romanticism in music is. And I've made a few tweakings throughout. So for purposes of the TBA, you'll need to copy and paste again. Smiling

This damn thing had me feverish when I was preparing it. So many themes occur to one that have to end up on the cutting room floor.

I'm intrigued by Marcus's notion that the headbangers aren't actually having a musical experience at all: you could replace the electric guitars and percussion quite literally with chainsaws and jackhammers and the mosh-pitters wouldn't know the difference, as long as the eyeless-socketed, self-inducedly brainless ones on stage were jerking and contorting appropriately. Smiling

Ah, now you're smokin'!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Who was that sheila with the deep voice btw?! Smiling

By way of apology

Jameson's picture

Sorry, Lindsay. I offer this as an antidote to the 'poison': Smiling

Bernstein discusses Schiller's poem and then conducts the Symphony #9:

I too, have reconsidered the NIOF, Uncle Linz...

mvardoulis's picture

...but only with regard to kiwis who chronically abuse Americans collectively as the butt for their jokes… Eye

Ah, Timmy ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

How nice to read your note. I got such a laugh out of that old article to which you linked I've decided to reprise it, though I'm in deathly fear it will be taken literally by A.... well, you know.

I didn't deliberately pick Slayer as an "extreme version of nihilism"—I picked them because they'd been touted here. I can't tell the difference between any of the filth, so I wouldn't know if it's "extreme" or not. Hear one headbanger you've heard 'em all as far as I'm concerned. Smiling

May I be looking forward to an announcement soon?!

Lifting oneself out of the swamp

Tim S's picture

Linz wrote, a number of posts back:

The "integration" (and integratability) point is probably the most important of all, so if folk are interested I'll expand the essay or write a separate one.

Yes for gord's sake!! Hard to believe that no one has responded to this yet. There are some at least who will appreciate it a great deal if you choose to write it Linz!

Interesting that, as far as I can see, no one has yet disputed the central thesis of the article, which is that Romantic music is superior to "headbanging caterwauling" (I say 'as far as I can see' because a large number of the comments here seem to be impenetrable or irrelevant or both). Could that be because the thesis is so patently true?

Also no comments yet on your insight in joining together the dots in Rand's comments on music, which, if I can paraphrase, is that we don't need to understand the chemical reactions, for instance, that induce a certain emotional response when hearing music, when we can make objective pronouncements by simply observing in ourselves (and others) what those responses are.

I had to laugh at the line that "Musical masochism is for consenting adults in private; it shouldn’t be sadistically imposed on unconsenting adults in public." Clearly another case for Reconsidering NIOF Linz? Smiling Shouldn't those who advocated banning smoking in public places be more concerned about the mind-numbing effects of the banal rubbish being pumped out everywhere?

One last point on the issue of banality. Obviously you used the most extreme version of nihilism (Slayer) to illustrate your point. But the majority of mainstream music isn't so nihilistic, it's just mediocre. It actually takes a bit of mental effort to lift oneself out of the swamp, particularly after ones senses have become deadened by caterwauling at one extreme and easy-access pap at the other.

Look!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Don't you devotees of crap have enough outlets without hijacking this thread? Helen Clark set to "music"? Yes, Glenn, I'm pointing the finger at you. Start a thread called "Helen Clark set to music" by all means. This one is for the sacred.

Marcus...

Jameson's picture

I didn't mean the industrialised Zulus. Smiling

Greg: yeah I have all the Cocteau Twins and DCD and This Mortal Coil. Most of the latter doesn't hold up now, but a good portion of the Cocteaus do I think.

Gerrard has certainly improved with age and her collaborations with Pieter Bourke. As you no doubt know, this haunting track was used in the superb film "The Insider":

And also her work with Hans Zimmer, here on the film "Gladiator":

Actually, I think Zimmer does a pretty good job all round on this film. Here's "The Battle":

[apologies, Lindsay; I'm sure all this is just as harsh on your ear as my other recommendations]

DCD

gregster's picture

Glenn, I used to play old Dead Can Dance songs on bFM e.g. from 'Spleen and Ideal' and their first LP. Was very obscure until Lisa got into soundtracks. They romanticise only in tone though, and I'm not sure their ethos would pass muster even when marketing like capitalists. I have about six LPs and most of Cocteaus'. Still like a lot of it. Lately Brendan Perry (UK, ex NZ - Scavengers) is recycling old JD lyrics set to the usual chorals in his own church in the Irish countryside. Coincidence or great minds.. .

Mr Gregster

Rosie Purchas's picture

Thank you for the invitation to stay. Which means I will have to address the small problem of a pic without owning a digital camera. Lol

It is not crap, Mr Gregster. That man cannot create life has been one of his greatest scientific disappointments.  Only copies of life.  Conversely, man has not been able to destroy or remove death. How can this truism possibly be "crap"? If I am a puzzle to you then you are a mystery inside a puzzle inside an enigma to me!  (if I may copy the expression of Winston Churchill in describing Russia - and I wouldn't like to get myself into any more trouble with the communist dissenters on this site! lol)

But, nevertheless, who could help but like you all?! :)  I do not besmirch you at all. I am very sorry if you should take any jest of lunatic asylums to your sensitive heart. Just a little fun.  Can fun be a "value swoon"?  If sung in morbid but tuneful tone such that might bring a tear to the more sensitive amongst us?! lol

Rosie

gregster's picture

You besmirch us Ms Purchas; "I would say life and death are two things man cannot respectively create or destroy." You said it - and it's like the same crap Otani used to say. My query is specific not idiosyncratic.

"Is there another Mr Otani or did you, like every other's response to me, misinterpret something I said..?" Try google. And please stay, you are a puzzle.

"Forget his spaghettis..."

Marcus's picture

I didn't know any of his other music. It either is not played on my radio station or it's gone in one ear and out the other. I will have to give him a listen and let you know what I think later.

Re Nelson Mandela. Although this is way off topic, I agree that he and the ANC are pro-communist. Why do you think they have supported fellow communist Robert Mugabe for so long?

However your comment about going back to the Zulu's dark days was unfair. I have been told by a South African that the Zulus with their Inkatha Freedom Party are pro-liberty conservatives compared to the ANC.

Morricone

Chris Cathcart's picture

Marcus? Come now:

OK, his music may be the perfect complement to a spaghetti western, but I don't really want to sit down and listen to a CD of his.

Would you be able to tell this was composed "for a film"?

Rosie...

Jameson's picture

He was the head of the ANC and the militant MK, responsible for assassinations and other terror activities. Mandela's policies have created a reverse apartheid, sending thousands of white South Africans fleeing their homeland penniless.

Not a communist?

During his 1991 visit to Cuba he had this to say: "Long live the Cuban Revolution. Long live comrade Fidel Castro... Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice. We admire the sacrifices of the Cuban people in maintaining their independence and sovereignty in the face of a vicious imperialist campaign designed to destroy the advances of the Cuban revolution. We too want to control our destiny... There can be no surrender. It is a case of freedom or death. The Cuban revolution has been a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving people."

S.A. is heading back to the dark days of the Zulu. It's not a pretty picture, but what else would you expect from a communist?

As far as the Nobel Peace Prize goes, I'd say their credibility was well and truly shot after giving it to Al Gore.

Forget his spaghettis...

Jameson's picture

The Mission (see below), Cinema Paradiso, Malena... true beauties!!

Jameson

Rosie Purchas's picture

Nelson Mandela was only labeled a communist or terrorist by the pro apartheid crowd when he was an anti-apartheid activist and leader of the ANC - and for which he paid his dues with 27 years in prison. He has been praised by those same opponents in recent times after his course in Landmark and his switch to a policy of reconciliation and negotiation!!!  After the Advanced Course he was granted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993!!!  I am not sure whether he went on to do the Community Project - maybe his work in removing apartheid gave him a pass!!!!  Lol.  So, yeah, I think his endorsement is probably considered a good thing. Smiling

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