Question on Fountainhead passage regarding Architecture

JoeM's picture
Submitted by JoeM on Sun, 2006-05-21 01:38

I have a duel question for Peter for the architecture forum and Adam Buker for the music forum (though if anyone else has an answer, please feel free). In the FOUNTAINHEAD, Rand has Roark say in the beginning to the Dean and Peter that he will not build in the style of others, that his work is not classical or Rococco, but Roark. He advises Peter that to go to the Beaux Arts would only result in designing Italian postcards, and is criticized by the Dean for turning in original work when assigned to design in traditional styles. Roark makes a point in stressing that he would learn the mechanics, but not how to build in the traditional styles.

My question: I was thinking about the analogy of music to architecture when I was rereading this. Musicians in academies are taught the mechanics of music theory as well as how to compose and perform in traditional styles. I was thinking how Roark's stance might translate into the other arts, mainly music. What if a musician took the same stance, and studied the theory but instead of turning in homework assignments to compose etudes and concertos instead did his own style? This becomes especially more relevant with new tone-generating technology. If an architect must not use steel to copy marble structures, or marble to copy wood structures, is a musician to find new forms as well?

Musicians are told they should learn to play the masters and classics before they can consider composing, is this a dead end similar to the one from which Roark walked away? To what extent do artists study the past without becoming a slave to it? Roark refuses to create in other's style, even as a homework assignment, yet he exhibits knowledge of those styles in his criticism of the Parthenon. (I don't know if painters in fine arts academies are required to duplicate THE LAST SUPPER or THE MONA LISA, I wouldn't think so....)

I'm thinking the analogy breaks down because performing another composer's work does not contain the practical restraints of building a house, and does not contain the utilitarian function. And it would seem wierd for a musician to refuse to play another composer's work in the classical realm, but at the same time, I think Roark's stance would be more important in music. But then, not all performers are composers....

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I see a lot of that in rock music

Landon Erp's picture

Especially in anyone who uses the adjective "true" to describe their work.

You hear less talented imitators stealing chord progressions without really thinking about what made them work and copying lots of "accidental" elements without understanding why. I think one of the worst examples I heard was I heard a version of a song played where on the original recording the drummer dropped his stick at the end of the song and the person covering the song copied this.

I think the main equivilant to what you're talking about comes any time someone tries to copy the end result without understanding the elements which made it work and you see that in many arts.

I'm kind of reminded now about "swipe artists" in comics who literally trace panel compositions they liked watering down the original literary attempt and keeping themselves from growing.

A big problem with this approach is that you can't truly copy every element of a good piece of art without forgoing your ownership of it. If you make a perfect copy of every element you can't even try to claim that any part of it is your own, save the time you wasted on redoing something which was already done. So in order to pull this off you have to steal but if you don't understand the underlying elements you wind up just choosing a few random pieces of the work which often were only noticable on the absolute surface of the work and contained no of the genuine "frame work" which made the work so great.

Conversely as a method of learning the elements it is often good to examine great examples of completed work to see how everything works in conjunction with each other, but without the underlying understanding it's just pointless for everyone involved.


Inking is sexy.

Adam, I'm curious about

JoeM's picture

Adam, I'm curious about something. When music students study composers whose work is based on their countries local folk songs, do they also study the folk songs, or all the ingredients and influences that go into a major composition? I'm wondering if the parallel is the same to the FOUNTAINHEAD to say that if a musician copies a composer without understanding why the composer did certain things, or used certain techniques, if that's the same as "borrowing" in architecture.
(I'd think it could be secondhandedness, but it seems like the analogy may break down due to the mallable nature of music. An modern example that comes to mind is Pink Floyd's use of backward recorded symbols to cover the "seams", i.e. tape splices, in one song. If another person hears that and thought it sounded good, and used them in his own song, without knowing about the tape splicing, It would be seem wrong, but at the same time, it could work if used with a reason.


Adam Buker's picture

I think it does apply, but not in regard to historical styles of music, but contemporary ones. One of the problems I'm having right now at SIU is because of the fact that I generally disdain what passes for music composition out of my contemporaries and professors. Hardly any of it can be even qualified as music, yet in my composition and theory courses, I have to write this garbage. I have about three semesters of it left. I don't know if my degree will really mean anything to me by the time I get it.


Adam, thanks for the

JoeM's picture

Adam, thanks for the explanation. With that rationale, Roark's refusal makes perfect sense, and I can see the distinction.

"The equivalent in music would have been - but fortunately wasn't - if all music prior to the 20th century contained imitations of already familiar sounds."

Not enough of an expert to agree or disagree on this, but the first thing that comes to my mind is Beethoven's use of the piano for compositions not playable on the more fragile keyboards of his day. I wonder if there were composers who attempted to write harpsichord compositions for the piano? At any rate, those composers would be long forgotten, I suppose.

Thanks, Adam.

"Classicism" is different things in different arts

AdamReed's picture


The reason Roark refused to do traditional styles is because - beginning with the copies of fluted columns on the Parthenon - historical styles in architecture were fundamentally dishonest, false to the reality of their technological context. The equivalent in music would have been - but fortunately wasn't - if all music prior to the 20th century contained imitations of already familiar sounds. Since the fakery inherent in historical Western architecture before the late 19th century has no parallel in music, there is no foundation in the integrity of a contemporary composer for a radical rejection of historical musical styles.

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