Sunday, July 29, 2018

John Borstlap on the impossibility of pop, world music, jazz and film music being able to revitalize the Western art music traditions--an assertion that seems at odds with the actual history of Western art music even within Borstlap's recommended reading list

The Classical Revolution: Thoughts on New Music in the 21st Century
revised and expanded edition
John Borstlap
Dover Publications
Copyright (c) 2013, 2017 by John Borstlap
ISBN 9780486814483
ISBN 0486814483

page 21
... A contemporary composer with the talents of a Beethoven, Mahler, or Debussy will not be found among the "composers" who think that tonality is a superfluous and outdated tool or that they can infuse their work with the drab confections from pop or world music, jazz or film music [emphasis added], without restricting the art form's potential.  Given the immense richness of past achievement, a really great talent will try to emulate, not to destroy or deny it. ...
The exclusions of what "can't" be relied upon to invigorate the Western art music tradition seems pretty stringent, more stringent than even Adorno would have ever endorsed.  We'll get to Adorno soon enough but let's take these excluded categories in the order in which they are mentioned.


So, obviously, let's take "pop" first.  Former champion of all sorts of modernist music, Charles Rosen, had this to say about Haydn:

Charles Rosen
Copyright © 1997, 1972, 1971 by Charles Rosen
ISBN 0-393-31712-9 PBK

Page 329

By 1790 Haydn had created and mastered a deliberately popular style. The immensity of his success is reflected in the volume of his production in the next ten years, the decade after the death of Mozart: fourteen string quartets, three piano sonatas, fourteen piano trios ,six masses, the Sinfonia Concertante, the Seasons, twelve symphonies, and a great number of minor works.  Today, when Haydn is almost a connoisseur’s composer whose music cannot compete at the box office with that of Mozart and Beethoven, this atmosphere of enormous popular success must be borne in mind in order to understand the late works, above all the symphonies and the oratorios.  There have been composers who were as much admired in their lifetimes, but none who so completely won at the same time the unquestioned and generous respect of the musical community and the ungrudging acclaim of the public. 

So if Haydn was so popular that his music could be known and loved in America within the first decade after his death he had to have become popular somehow.  H. C. Robbins Landon and others have noted that Haydn was popular through bootleg editions of his string quartets and other works.  So, it would seem that there's at least one composer who was intercontinentally popular in the classical tradition.  Then there's Rosen's comments about one of Haydn's friends, too. 

Page 332
The procedures of Haydn and Mozart must be understood in a larger context, that of the creation of a popular style which abandons none of the pretensions of high art. Their achievement is perhaps unique in Western music; Beethoven attempted a similar synthesis in the last movement of the Ninth symphony, and his triumph, which seems to me incontestable, has nevertheless been contested.  This solitary success in the history of musical style should make us wary of critics who reproach the avant-garde composer for an uncompromisingly hermetic style, or the popular composer (like Offenbach or Gershwin) for low ideals; that is like blaming a man for not having blue eyes or for not having been born in Vienna.  The most esoteric composer would welcome the popularity of Mozart in Prague, where people whistled `No piu andrai’ in the streets, if he could achieve it as Mozart did without sacrificing a jot of his refinement or even his `difficulty.’ Only for one brief historical period in the operas of Mozart, the late symphonies of Haydn, and some of the Schubert songs, has the utmost sophistication and complexity of musical technique existed alongside—or better, fused with—the virtues of the street song.

So it would seem that even among fans of the modernist music Borstlap doesn't like there could bee a quick and ready concession that popular level music that was as accomplished as work by Offenbach or Gershwin was worth celebrating even if by the criteria of the highest academic ideals the music might seem a bit wanting. 

If Charles Rosen could throw a bone to Gershwin and Offenbach as being good popular composers ... you know ... it reminds me that even Adorno had very nice things to say about Offenbach and even Puccini.  That's stuff that folks who have arrayed themselves against Adorno have not tended to bring up.  I didn't discover that Adorno wrote positively about even these sorts of composers until I actually slogged through Aesthetic Theory and Philosophy of New Music.  Now there's a case to be made that Adorno comes off as racist and ethnocentrist about tonality and who gets to use it "legitimately", but some of Adorno's most vitriolic comments involve demeaning comments about Slavs rather than blacks; and Adorno grudgingly conceded that "if" someone could chart a middle path between the extremes of Schoenberg and Stravinsky it would be Bartok.  This, too, is not something that I would have learned about Adorno from reading Borstlap. 

For that matter ... I probably wouldn't learn anything much at all about what Adorno actually wrote except for Adorno's arguments against tonality and advocacy for the music of Schoenberg ... but even that doesn't get at "why" Adorno was convinced that atonality "had" to embraced as an alternative to what he regarded as the exhausted parameters of tonality.  That's something for some other time.


Having touched upon pop music we're now at "world music".  On this point, too, Rosen is useful. Rosen's observation that:

Page 331
We know that Haydn was interested in collecting folk tunes, and that, as a young man, he gained experience in the popular music of street serenading.

If Haydn made use of folk tunes that could be thought of as having Czech, Hungarian or even Polish pedigree then in relationship to the "mainstream" of a German or French or Italian or English art music tradition that's ... "world music". 

When 18th and 19th century composers wrote anything "a la Turk" did that not count as "world music"?  What about Chopin's mazurkas?  Do they get cast aside because "world music" can't revitalize or recontextualize the Western art music tradition?  What about Debussy's interest in gamelan?  Stravinsky's interest in Russian and Ukrainian and Lithuanian folk tunes?  Alois Haba's interest in regional folk song that had microtonal elements?  Even Xenakis had works that he wrote for chorus that make more sense in musical terms if you understand which elements if Greek folk music he was drawing upon.  The idea that "world music" in the here and now can't revitalize Western art music theory and practice runs pretty hard against the historical realities that that's precisely what nationalism in music ran with over the last ... two centuries, or even the last three centuries. 

Borstlap's general distrust that "world music" could be used to revitalize the Western concert music tradition is particularly self-defeating in light of the thousands of pages that have been written about Stravinsky and Bartok making use of the folk music of their respective regions.  Did Russian and Hungarian folk music magically become not-world-music after Stravinsky and Bartok wrote music that made into the concert music canon?  I have been reading Taruskin's Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions (good luck finding a cheap version!) over the last couple of years as it is so I'm puzzled that Borstlap could speak in such sweeping terms about how "world music" can't be used to reinvigorate classical music when a number of the books he recommends people read at the back of The Classical Revolution can be regarded as literally textbook historical case for precisely that happening over the last century or two.  Debussy's use of gamelan music as an inspiration for his own composing couldn't be a more textbook case of a Western composer being influenced by "world music".  When Ravel wrote a "blues" in his sonata for violin and guitar was drawing upon an African Americna idiom on the part of a French composer "not" a case of what could be called "world music"?  That "world music" can be construed as "cultural appropriation" isn't something I want to delve into here, the point is that intercultural borrowing has been so routine in the centuries of Western music the idea that suddenly it's off limits now requires a more extensive historical and cultural case than Borstlap has seemed willing (or perhaps able) to provide.


For someone who has taken such pains to denounce the legacy of T. W. Adorno as a disastrous influence on Western European art music and patronage systems; and who has been so consistent in denying that jazz could possibly reinvigorate anything about European art music traditions the weirdest irony about John Borstlap's position is that for as long as he takes that position about jazz and classical music, that the latter could never possibly be admixed with the former there are two simple observations that can be made.

The first is that as early music studies continue the conceptual similarities between European "early music" and jazz in terms of recorded practice (if hardly anything in theory) suggests what practical musicians in the jazz and classical world have been observing over the last forty years, that there's room for jazz and Bach to, so to speak, share a space.

But the second and more amusing irony is that when Borstlap inveighs relentlessly against the very idea that making use of jazz could revitalize classical music he sounds like Adorno.  But Adorno's essay "On Jazz" as ghastly as it reads in the 21st century, is probably best understood as a rant against capitalism first and foremost, and as a claim that the freedom of jazz was illusory at multiple levels. 

The first level of the illusion of freedom was in "hot jazz" having improvisational "breaks" that did nothing to interrupt the steady pulse of the marching rhythms of jazz on the one hand and, on the other, stereotypically and even mechanically appeared at precisely those points at which a harmonic and melodic cadence had already formally resolved a phrase.  Adorno saw this as even more mechanistic and conformist in practice than earlier musical styles and forms to which jazz and, more emphatically, it's fans and marketers, claimed to have a new healthier and more liberated alternative. 

But the second level of the illusion of freedom had to do with the social element of jazz.  It gave an illusion of freedom on the part of musicians who were no less part of the proverbial servant class than they were before.  This is a more thorny element to deal with because I do think Adorno's initial appraisal of jazz was wrong.  But since I've been slogging through Introduction to the Sociology of Music and Current of Music (to a much smaller degree, you can't binge-read or blitz-read Adorno! Nor should you try) I know that in later work Adorno granted there were some truly brilliant musicians in American jazz, who had more inspiration and better playing that any number of musicians he'd heard trying to keep the classical music thing going. 

The trouble is that people who have arrayed themselves against Adorno don't have any incentive to mention this stuff.  Roger Scruton doesn't mention this side of Adorno's work in his polemics against Adorno's work (there are things to be said for and against this later on because I think Scruton is right to say we can and should take jazz seriously and American popular song seriously as art forms but that's for later).  On the other hand Scruton does take seriously Adorno's warning that musical art should not devolve entirely into kitsch and that whether we agree with Adorno's Marxism we can grant Adorno had every reason to raise this concern about popular music.

But Borstlap has a considerably less-nuanced polemic against Adorno and Adorno's influence on Western musical culture in general and his perceived influence on patronage systems in European nations.  But to the extent that Borstlap thinks jazz can't invigorate European classical music Borstlap is merely agreeing with what Adorno more or less said in 1936.  That Adorno point blank doubted the extent to which jazz could in any way be meaningfully linked to the black experience or black musicians seems patently absurd here in 2018 and it was arguably just as absurd back then, though even here someone could throw a bone generally thrown Adorno's way by pointing out that what "jazz" was available was a European form of popular music and that Adorno's polemic was against popular music.

Which gets us back to the anti-capitalist nature of Adorno's polemic.  He was trying to make a case that even the best jazz musicians were still ultimately recycling musical moments they heard in Debussy and Delius. Adorno regarded tonality as in some key way "used up" and so attempts to take up the tonal language were doomed to fail and bee subordinated to the culture industry. 

Borstlap's polemical position against Adorno has to split the difference between agreeing with Adorno's axiom that jazz could not revitalize the Western European classical traditions on the one hand while, on the other hand, doing two things that seem hard to do: 1) to assert that tonality isn't "exhausted" on the one hand while also 2) somehow insisting that jazz, a musical tradition with a debt to the French Impressionist composers and even to Russian music that is telegraphed by works like "Blue Serge" from Mercer Ellington to explicit name-dropping from jazz masters over the last century to having appreciation of composers ranging from Ravel and Delius back to Bach or to Stravinsky, has nothing to add to a range of musical traditions to which composers on both sides of the jazz/classical divide have more or less continuously said they regard as anywhere from a permeable to an ultimately non-existent boundary. 

When 18th and 19th century composers wrote anything "a la Turk" did that not count as "world music"?  What about Chopin's mazurkas?  Do they get cast aside because "world music" can't revitalize or recontextualize the Western art music tradition?  What about Debussy's interest in gamelan?  Stravinsky's interest in Russian and Ukrainian and Lithuanian folk tunes?  Alois Haba's interest in regional folk song that had microtonal elements?  Even Xenakis had works that he wrote for chorus that make more sense in musical terms if you understand which elements if Greek folk music he was drawing upon.  The idea that "world music" in the here and now can't revitalize Western art music theory and practice runs pretty hard against the historical realities that that's precisely what nationalism in music ran with over the last ... two centuries, or even the last three centuries. 

So it would seem that even among fans of the modernist music Borstlap doesn't like there could bee a quick and ready concession that popular level music that was as accomplished as work by Offenbach or Gershwin was worth celebrating even if by the criteria of the highest academic ideals the music might seem a bit wanting.  Borstlap's position might seem, at first blush, less generous toward popular music and "world music" than Rosen's position. 

About jazz there doesn't seem to be too much to add beyond the previously mentioned similarity between Borstlap's disbelief in the possibility that jazz could reinvigorate the classical traditions and Adorno's disbelief.  On that point Borstlap and Adorno may turn out to be on the same side, not opposing sides.

Let's look at what Adorno had to say in Aesthetic Theory, for instance, about jazz and rock in contrast to Beethoven.

Aesthetic Theory
Theodore Adorno
Copyright (c) 1997 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota

ISBN 0-8264-6757-1
pages 319-320
The demise of art, which is today being proclaimed with as much glibness as resentment, would be false, a gesture of conformism. The desublimation, the immediate and momentary gain of pleasure that is demanded of art, is inner-aesthetically beneath art; in real terms, however, that momentary pleasure is unable to grant what is expected of it. The recently adopted insistence on culturing uncultivation, the enthusiasm for the beauty of street battles, is a reprise of futurist and dadaist actions. The cheap aestheticism of short-winded politics is reciprocal with the faltering of aesthetic power. Recommending jazz and rock-and-roll instead of Beethoven does not demolish the affirmative lie of culture but rather furnishes barbarism and the profit interest of the culture industry with a subterfuge. The allegedly vital and uncorrupted nature of such products is synthetically processed by precisely those powers that are supposedly the target of the Great Refusal: These products are the truly corrupt. [emphasis added]

what did Adorno have to say about jazz in an earlier work?

Introduction to the Sociology of Music
Theodore W Adorno
Seabury Press
ISBN 0-8164-92662-2

page 13
On the other hand, in crucial points such as expanded-impressionistic harmonics and the simple standardization of form, jazz remains imprisoned within narrow bounds. The undisputed predominance of the beat, from which all syncopic arts must take orders; the inability to conceive music dynamically in the proper sense of the word, as something freely evolving-these endow even this listening type with the character of bondage to authority.

page 14

The jazz realm is tied to commercial music by its predominant basic material, the hit songs, if by nothing else. Part of its physiognomies is the amateurish incapacity to account for things musical in exact musical terms-an incapacity which it is futile to rationalize with the difficulty of nailing down the secret of the irregularities of jazz, long after the notators of serious music have learned to fix fluctuations of incomparably greater difficulty. In this type the estrangement from sanctioned musical culture recoils into a preartistic barbarism vainly advertised as a burst of primal feelings. Numerically, even if we count all those whom the leaders take for fellow travelers, this type too is modest for the time being. But in Germany it is apt to grow and probably merge with the resentment audience in the not-too-distant future.

If Borstlap would like us to regard Adorno's cumulative influence as wrong because he advocated for twelve-tone music and rejected tonality that's one kind of case to make, but Borstlap couldn't be bothered to quote even a single paragraph of any book written by Adorno in The Classical Revolution, not even in its second edition that came out recently. Roger Scruton has, at least, summarized Adorno's ideas and claims in a way that shows that he has actually read the primary source materials.  I have some issues with even Scruton's take on Adorno but that would require another post.  Let's turn to some other comments from Adorno on jazz:

page 26
... The higher music's relation to its historical form is dialectical. It catches fire on those forms, melts them down, makes them vanish and return in vanishing. Popular music, on the other hand, uses the types as empty cans into which the material is pressed without interacting with the forms. Unrelated to the forms, the substance withers and at the same time belies the forms, which no longer serve for compositional organization.

page 33
The social function of jazz coincides with its history, the history of a heresy that has been received into the mass culture. Certainly, jazz has the potential of a musical breakout from this culture on the part of those who were either refused admittance to it or annoyed by its mendacity. Time and again, however, jazz became a captive of the culture industry and thus of musical and social conformism; famed devices of its phases, such as "swing," "bebop," "cool jazz," are both advertising slogans and marks of that process of absorption. Popular music can no more be exploded from within, on its own premises and with its own habituated means, than its own sphere points beyond it.

Popular music could be characterized as a completely undialectical product in Adorno's understanding, whereas in the Western art music traditions there was a dialectical relationship between form and content that made Beethoven's work vibrant.  Adorno was not necessarily saying that classical music was "good" in sociological terms, he had a few things to say about the ownership class since he was, after all, a Marxist.  But Adorno was willing to write this:

pages 21-22
Conversely, as long as the objective spirit was not yet wholly planned and steered by administrative centers, the higher art would recall the extent to which its own principle involved injustices to the many. Time and again it felt the need of something else, of something that would resist the formative esthetic will and that might serve as the touchstone of that will and so, whether unintentionally or intentionally, it would absorb elements of the lower music. Some of this shows in the old custom of parody, of setting spiritual texts to profane melodies. Bach did not shrink from borrowing from below even in his instrumental works, as in the Quodlibet of the "Goldberg Variations," and neither Haydn nor the Mozart of The Magic Flute or Beethoven would be conceivable without an interaction of what by then were separated spheres. The last instance of their reconciliation, utterly stylized and teetering as on a narrow mountain by pass, was The Magic Flute-an instant still mourned and longed for in such structures as Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Ariadne auf Naxos. There were times far into the nineteenth century when it was possible to write decent popular music . [emphasis added] Its esthetic decay is as one with the irrevocable and irrelative dissociation of the two realms.

This is something that has been stated by a variety of authors on what's conventionally understood to be the left, there was  along stretch in the West in which it was perfectly possible for art to simultaneously be at the highest level of "high" art accomplishment while appealing to a popular, mass or "low" interest.  There was, because the term is obviously relevant, a dialectical relationship between "high" and "low" that spanned pre-industrial Europe that informed its art.  This is what we can consider Charles Rosen's comments to have observed about Haydn and Mozart.  It looks like even Adorno could grant that up until the Industrial Revolution this kind of dialectic happened.

page 13

The historical reasons for the rise of Masscult are well known. There could obviously be no mass culture until, there were masses, in our modern sense. The industrial revolution produced the masses. It uprooted people from their agrarian communities and packed them into factory cities. It produced goods in such unprecedented abundance that the population of the Western world has increased more in the last two centuries than in the preceding two millennia-poor Malthus, never has a brilliantly original theorist been so speedily refuted by history! And it subjected them to a uniform discipline whose only precedent was the "slave socialism" of Egypt. But the Egypt of the Pharaohs produced no Masscult any more than did the great Oriental empires or the late Rome of the proletarian
rabble, because the masses were passive, inert, submerged far below the level of political or cultural power. It was not until the end of the eighteenth century in Europe that the majority of people began to play an active part in either history or culture.

Up to then, there was only High Culture and Folk Art. To some extent, Masscult is a continuation of Folk Art, but the differences are more striking than the similarities. Folk Art grew mainly from below, an autochthonous product shaped by the people to fit their own needs, even though it often took its cue from High Culture. Masscult comes from above. It is fabricated by technicians hired by businessmen. They try this and try that and if something clicks at the box office, they try to cash in with similar products, like consumer-researchers with a new cereal, or like a Pavlovian biologist who has hit on a reflex he thinks can be conditioned. It is one thing to satisfy popular tastes, as Robert Burns's poetry did, and quite another to exploit them, as Hollywood does. Folk Art was the people's own institution, their private little kitchen-garden walled off from the great formal park of their masters. But Masscult breaks down the wall, integrating the masses into a debased form of High Culture and thus becoming an instrument of domination. If one had no other data to go on, Masscult would expose capitalism as a class society rather than the harmonious commonwealth that, in election years, both parties tell us it is.

Now obviously there are any number of ways to contest Macdonald's narrative and point but I'm mentioning him to point out that whether we're looking at a Charles Rosen or an Adorno or a Dwight Macdonald the observation has held in the last century that a successful fusion of "high" and "low" was possible in the past. If there is a case to be made that it stopped being possible that case tends to focus on one or both of two theories. The first theory is that the Industrial Revolution created masses of people whose mass made them a class and of a sort that would and did stop having local folkloric traditions as they began to live in congested urban centers. The second theory is pretty organically connected to the first and proposes that as mass production led to mass consumption the emergence of "masscult" culture began to take root, what Adorno identified as the culture industry.  "Masscult" was another name for it and this was held to be distinct from either traditional high art or traditional folk art.  Macdonald could cheerfully endorse jazz while damning rock and pop music because he believed jazz was thoroughly steeped in folk idioms while pop music was a top-down industry.  But even he granted that it was still possible for something to be popular and well-made, thus has fondness for Chaplin films. 

Adorno couldn't endorse jazz as art, though, and as we've been looking at his polemical claims about jazz it looks as though Borstlap and Adorno are more or less in agreement that whatever is going to revitalize classical music in Western Europe it sure won't be and can't be jazz because jazz is entertainment rather than art.  If that's the case then, could Borstlap's engagement (such as it is) with Adorno show a tiny bit more nuance.  It's more than possible to argue that Adorno's understanding of jazz and master narrative regarding history can be wrong on the one hand, and proposing that Borstlap's insistence that jazz could not be used to inform or inspire classical music is also historically dubious.  If it's not possible for African American popular idioms to in some way be part of the Western musical canon why does the second edition of The Classical Revolution include a Dover edition of piano rags? Or are we supposed to imagine that ragtime only made the cut because of the work of Joseph Lamb rather than Scott Joplin or James Scott?  I doubt that was Borstlap's intent, by the way, I'm just making a dry joke.


Now, on to film music.  Whether we're talking about Adorno in Introduction to the Sociology of Music or an anti-Adornian like Richard Taruskin in his Oxford History of Western Music, there's a remarkable consensus--opera became antiquated once cinema emerged.   Whatever role opera or theater played up until the early 20th century has been displaced, in sociological terms, by film and television.  Yet if film music is precluded because it is incidental music to some dramatic work what about musicals?  Do they not count because of the popular song element?  Is something that is too popular more or less excluded from being art?

The claim that film music can't revitalize classical music seems like a category mistake.  If the idea is to revitalize appreciation of symphonic music then treating soundtracks for films as artistic works would seem easy enough to do.  We're living in an era in which John Williams' Star Wars soundtracks so saturate popular culture that there's a decent chance you might have seen a VW commercial with that theme in it

You know ...

I hope that Shirley Walker's scores for the soundtrack work she did on Batman: the Animated series eventually gets published because I love the work she did for "Heart of Ice"

Now maybe Korngold still has more corn than gold but the history of composers writing music for film in the classical tradition seems like it needs little mention.  Copland wrote film music. Stravinsky took a stab at film music, though he might want people to forget "The Flood" happened.  Shostakovich got his start accompanying silent films, if memory serves.  Castelnuovo-Tedesco ghostwrote film scores and was a mentor to John Williams.   That much of this music lacks a musical "argument" in terms of gestural development at a macro-structural or cyclic level on par with the 19th century symphonic canon is almost a given but does that make it bad music?  If dance music for aristocratic enclaves precluded music from simultaneously being art then music from the Baroque era might have some troubled reception history now. 


So whether it's pop music, world music, jazz or film music we might grant Borstlap has plenty of reasons to believe that the symphonic tradition will not be revitalized by being influenced by these kinds of musical movements.  Borstlap's prescribed prohibitions can't be squared with even a rudimentary history of Western art music and that means that the prohibitions become self-defeating strictures simply on the basis of Borstlap's own attempted appeal to continuity of historical traditions.

He's got a right to his convictions there.  I think that, if anything, the last century has shown that orchestras are as likely to be known for soundtrack work as for the conventional art music concert canon.

Let's put it this way, the orchestra was really a small part of a millennium of Western art music history.  For the first half of that thousand-year history a lot of the music that has been preserved has been vocal music and choral music.  We have instrumental music, to be sure, but autonomous instrumental music of the later 18th century to the present day was not necessarily at the top of the pyramid.  It may have taken a slide off the top of the pyramid in the last century thanks in part to cultural shifts about aesthetics but also, perhaps more crucially, because of seismic changes in technology and music production.

I think the literate art music tradition is absolutely worth continuing and preserving but I also think we may be getting a chance to see how largely peripheral and elite it has been.  This isn't to say it's bad because of that, not even Adorno said it was bad because of that and he actually was a Marxist.  I think I've made at least some case that Adorno and Borstlap could be shown to be on the same page about denigrating rock and jazz and pop music as some kind of alternative art to the Western art music tradition.  Where Adorno and Borstlap differ, obviously, is on the question of whether tonalilty is "used up". Borstlap says "no" and Adorno said "yes" but in neither case have I found myself able to take the reasons all that seriously.  I am trying, however, to take both authors seriously as well as their concerns. 

So, here's a question, if old lefties like Adorno (a Marxist no less) and a Dwight Macdonald could easily grant that the boundaries between high and low were permeable the question we should ask about their polemics is why they believed the boundaries between high and low and become so impermeable?  Why was jazz incapable of being anything other than a product shilled by the culture industry in Adorno's understanding?  Did his conception of the global influence of capitalism preclude the possibility that African Americans could make some great music?  I am not interested in proposing that Adorno was a racist (he may well have been), I'm more interested in the antagonism assumed between high and low that has developed in the last two centuries in Western scholastic discourse that it would seem was an antagonism that predated the Industrial Revolution.  Parody masses could cause consternation when they were being composed. 

Rather than try to get into the possible sumptuary codes entailed in that kind of historical survey I'm trying to keep things relatively clear-cut--Borstlap seems set on the claim that classical music can't be revitalized by jazz or pop or film or world music when it would seem that even a relatively cursory survey of actual Western art music history could show that all of these idioms have interacted with "classical music", very often by way of being influenced by the art music traditions, and also by informing and supplementing the art music traditions.

As I've written about plenty of times, I'm a guitarist.  We guitarists were summarily dismissed as not even part of the literate musical tradition in the West by Richard Taruskin.  He's wrong and it would be the easiest thing in the world to prove he's wrong but I don't see a reason to take his glib dismissal personally.  Kyle Gann suggested that we make way for the guitar era in a post years ago at his ArtsJournal blog.  To go by its role in popular music of just about any style in the West, the 20th century was at least in part the guitar era.  Yet as Matanya Ophee noted in his lecture "Repertoire Issues" guitarists are not taken seriously by the classical music mainstream.

I am in favor of continuing the Western art music tradition but as a guitarist, perhaps, I have a pragmatic streak.  What are we trying to preserve?  Are we trying to preserve a canon of symphonic music?  The canon seems pretty well established.  Douglas Shadle and others have written about how the explicitly Germanic nature of that symphonic canon seems stifling.  Well, sure, but for those of us who are guitarists the symphonic canon or the chamber music canon has been established without reference to the guitar at all.  Borstlap seems to be aware that the cumulative influence of a Herder or a Hegel or 19th century pedagogy had negative influences but he paradoxically wants to continue the canon as conceived in 19th century terms.  There's a paradox at play that I'm not sure American progressives who would regard him as an old white guy reactionary have taken any time to notice. 

Borstlap's general aim is to preserve the symphonic tradition and open things up for new works to be written.  I can respect that goal but disentangling the orchestral canon rom the ideological polemics of the 19th century might be difficult.  His attempt to defend Wagner as a self-educated man with an anti-Semitism that was terrible but possibly explicable as what a Marxist might interpret as a beef against the ruling class attempts to make sense of Wagner's polemics within the political and economic climate of his time.  I can grant that ... but Borstlap may have a double standard at play that he'll need to address.  If it's possible to disentangle the artistic legacy of Wagner from what National Socialists decided to draw from Wagner's legacy on the one hand, isn't it just as possible to disentangle Marx and Engels from the legacy of the butchery of the Soviet regime?  To be blunt about it, why should we insist on disentangling one legacy of one literary or artistic figure from a subsequent century of brutality and not the other?  Wouldn't a considered scholarly, literary or artistic approach entail finding what is best in a work or tradition and carefully setting aside those things that seem dangerous or harmful?  If that could be done with Wagner's operas why can't the same be done for Marxist or socialist thought? 

It would seem that even a cursory survey of the 19th and 20th centuries for classical music would show that making use of local folk music (i.e. "world music" by another name for those who have had the benefit of living in Western nation-states with a history of colonial empires) has been inextricable from vital movements within the Western art music tradition, even in and especially in areas that were regarded as having "nationalist" moments like the Czech republic or Bulgaria or Hungary or Russia.  Colonial empires didn't seem to have "nationalist" streaks in musical-canonical terms. 

As sympathetic as I am to the prospect of continuing the musical traditions broadly known as classical music, Borstlap seems unable to put together a coherent or competent history of Western music that can withstand his own generic prohibitions for the present in light of what any music scholar (whether a formal professional or an amateur who loves the art music traditions) can look up in the age of the internet. 

Another matter regarding popular music and jazz, if Borstlap is set against the idea that the art music tradition has anything to learn from or benefit from interacting with popular music this would ironically put him on the same side as John Cage, whom Borstlap seems to regard as an amusical fraud and crackpot.  That may well be ... but if that's the case then wouldn't a person want to embrace jazz with open arms if the kinds of people who were dead set against its legitimacy as an art form were people with literary and musical legacies like Adorno and Cage, for whom Borstlap seems to have some understandable if overzealous distrust or dislike? 

I am all for continuing and revitalizing what people generically call classical music.  I just don't think that the range of prohibitions Borstlap keeps insisting upon are historically defensible or plausible.  It paradoxically plays into a dogmatic separation of high and low that Adorno and Cage upheld when it would seem that what we want to cultivate is a revived capacity for a "dialectic" of high and low musical cultures that even Adorno could grant was vibrantly taking place up through the later works of Haydn and Mozart.  What I will agree with Borstlap about is that the legacy of 19th century music pedagogy in Europe is not going to help us here.  Unlike Borstlap I think that there's every reason to believe that enough study of the syntactic developmental parameters of sonatas and fugues on the one hand and the music of regional folk and even popular music (i.e. styles like ragtime, blues, jazz, country, bluegrass, Native American folk music) can, in principle, work.  The fact that academic partisans for high and low culture have had such a vested interest in turf wars at the expense of reintroducing a profitable synergistic dynamic of high and low musical cultural traditions interacting says more about the gridlock in academies than about what practical musicians would like to see and hear happening.

It's possible to appreciate Borstlap's desire that the art music traditions continue without subscribing to his proposed prohibitions about what music to note use in continuing those traditions along the way.  The question we might want to pose and repose is whether we're trying to uphold and sustain a form of thinking in music or a set of canons.  These are not mutually exclusive aims in practice but Borstlap's attempt to do battle against sonic art and pop music at the same time may hamstring him into making them mutually exclusive when they don't need to be.

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