Monday, March 23, 2015

The loss of faith made music mute. . .

As a subscriber, I belong to the Nashville Symphony.  I love it.  It is like a mini vacation whenever one of our appointed concerts comes up on my calendar.  I know it is expensive but we do not go to the movies and we spend little money on entertainment other than the Symphony.

That said, it burns me up when I go to the Symphony and end up with half a program of atonal, modern music that seems to explore every aspect of music but melody.  The program notes are often replete with words describing what was in the author's mind in composing the piece and sometimes he is sitting in the audience with me.  The patrons are gracious and too many standing ovations are born of a deep desire to support classical music rather than exemplary composition.  The symphony players are wonderful and I am sure they playing the notes correctly -- but the notes sound more like an accident than a design.  That is not true of all modern music but it is true of too much of it.

In discussing this at home we have found ourselves longing to hear more old music than new because the atonality and melodic deprived nature of too much modern music leaves you with little but regret that you spend so much money to hear it.  I wonder how many of these pieces will be on programs in fifty or a hundred years but I have no doubt that Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Dvorak, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Barber, and too many more will continue to be played.  Then I read a piece by Oliver Rudland in the March 2015 issue of Standpoint magazine (you can read it online here).

Rudland charts the eruption of music that accompanied the growth of the nation state but noted that a deeper set of convictions united the composers of this 19th century phenomenon -- the states and the music was predicated upon Christianity.  When in the 1960s the seismic shift of culture and authority raised its challenge to Christianity and gave birth to a sexual and moral revolution, music changed.  Popular music shifted the focus onto the feelings, the highs and lows of the casual relationship, and the unchained desire that had previously been merely hinted at in music.  Worse, it seems the classical music seems to have either died or entered a coma.  Rudland calls this a "God shaped hole."  Where classical music continued to live and breathe, it was fostered and sustained in the church.  Think of the exceptions -- Eric Whitacre, for example.  No, Rudland is absolutely correct.  Musical genius flourished under the inspiration of the faith and the tutelage of the Church.  Absent the belief and confidence in the value and virtue of our Christian identities, our music has gone mute -- except for that which glorifies and is preoccupied with sexual desire (too often under the guise of love).

Some will surely insist that I am wrong and Rudland mistaken but I think the erosion of the Christian foundations of culture and society have done far more damage than we care to admit.  They have left us without the song that inspires and ennobles us as people.  Instead we look down into the gutter to express when previous generations knew was better left hidden.  Either for lack of taste or ability or inspiration, modern music has failed to produce musical genius to compare with other points in history.  And that, my friends, is a sad state of affairs for us all -- even those who would never darken a symphony hall.


Anonymous said...

There is a correlation of active church and beautiful music. Thank you for this essay.

Robert said...

"Either for lack of taste or ability or inspiration, modern music has failed to produce musical genius to compare with other points in history."

Really?! To paraphrase Hebrews: time would fail me to speak of Messiaen, Stravinsky, MacMillan, Penderecki, Gorecki, Persichetti, Golijov, Adams, or others whose faith (or lack of it in the case of the last two) has inspired them to explore new musical horizons. While the appellation of "genius" is ultimately useless, it must be vigorously maintained that "modern" music is not devoid of integrity. Perhaps the reduction of one's criteria for accepting a new work to "can you hum the tunes" is a better indication of the loss of culture than the musical works being rejected.

Janis Williams said...

The same conditions apply to the visual arts. There is much more than being able to know of a certainty what is being represented (hum a tune). There is much more to seeing a sculpture which looks like an explosion in a metalworks (atonality). Both sides of the artist's trade are potent. This is a fallen world. At times the ugliness of sin (and it's results) are, and should be portrayed. This is still a very beautiful world, and at times this is also depicted. In visual Art, it is much simpler to understand the re presentational. Abstract or non-representational art requires both openness and thought. We may dislike a piece of Art, or a particular style of Art. Dislike does not invalidate it anymore than preference for it gives it legitimacy. I am not advocating artists such as Mapplethorp, or those who deal in the profane simplly for the sake of being profane. I do believe there is great ability in the artist who chooses a "modern" path. Inspiration comes to the artist, and he works on whether he inspires. I'm way too wordy. I will stop.