Saturday, September 29, 2018

another plea that we not value the arts and funding for arts education on metrics, with a lengthy sidebar from Adorno on bourgeois art religion

Carter Gillies has a piece called "the consistency illusion"

Arts Council England (ACE) is preparing to launch a quality metrics scheme that will be mandatory for England's largest arts organisations. Explaining why, Simon Mellor, the organisation's Deputy Chief Executive for arts and culture, said in his blog: "At the very least, I am confident that in the future we will all be better able to talk about the quality of the work we help create in a more consistent and confident way."
There is a fascination with the idea that quality in art ought to be consistent - but unfortunately, consistent quality for the arts is a fiction. It is a fiction that seems to matter to some people though, so it is important to address the question: "Who, precisely, is this supposed to matter to?"

The people invested in the idealisation of consistency see the world in a particular way, which does not always align with the way that art (and indeed most of our lives) is conducted. The expectation is for things to actually be consistent and to be understood confidently. This is symptomatic of a larger and more complicated issue for society.
We are conditioned to justify the things we feel matter, but this is an attitude that needs to be examined. It’s not that there aren’t moments in our lives where being justified isn't of the utmost importance – it’s just that being justified is not the whole of the story.
Our real problem seems to be the need to compulsively justify anything and everything. Why else would being 'consistent' or 'confident' matter? We have the spurious idea that we can only be confident if we are justified, and we can only be justified if there is consistent and objective support for our judgments. This is a myth we ought to be well rid of.
Underlying the development of quality metrics seems to be the question: "Are the arts justified?" In other words, we are looking for evidence. This is the opening the quantifiers of the world need. Witness the attempts to find the value of the arts in their instrumental benefits to society, to the economy and to things like cognitive development. Not that these things can't or shouldn't be measured. It is just that they are not the reasons for art to exist. No child ever picked up a paintbrush to benefit the economy.
As bromides go you can't contest that no child ever picked up a paintbrush to help the economy by way of painting a picture of a cat, but if a child ever picked up a paintbrush to help the family paint a fence ... does the case still apply?
Measuring what would be best to direct funds to is not necessarily the same as insisting that something is to be valued or not valued on the basis of those metrics.  If in a music education program you discover that more people want to say, play the guitar or make music using a laptop and microphones than want to perform in a woodwind quintet do you insist that people take up the bassoon or the oboe because those instruments are considered endangered at a pedagogical level for the sake of the future of the orchestral repertoire?

Take this old 2014 article from Australian coverage.

The plight of the double-reed family could soon become a crisis for our orchestras if nothing is done.

There are just not enough people playing oboe and bassoon worldwide. Not enough people start young and nearly all schools struggle to find double reed players for their orchestras and bands. This causes a knock-on effect with popular community orchestras facing the same problem, a shortage of teachers and into the profession, with a major shortage of freelance players

or from The Telegraph earlier this year.

Now I love the oboe and bassoon.  I've been beating this drum for a while now but I don't see it as a given the future of the classical musical arts and disciplines as automatically being symphonic.  Chamber music is more my interest.  The d'Amore Duo has, what four or five CDs out and it's an oboe and guitar duet, about which I want to write stuff somewhere down the road.  There's oboe and guitar literature aplenty.  There's even bassoon and guitar literature, and there's a CD of some of that music recorded by Yvonne Kershaw, for instance, I heartily endorse. 

But my point is to ask whether a solution to the perceived decline of interest in the double reeds is to insist on allocating funds to those programs to keep them going.   Not necessarily, or to fit within the polemic in the link above, if people value X less then dumping money into teaching it won't make it more popular.  If there's an extent to which this kind of appeal in the age of what gets called neoliberalism can boomerang this could be an area.  You might think pedagogy should "catch up" to discussing the music people want to make rather than teaching stuff that people want kept that might not win in metrics--or if people want to produce hip hop or rock does music pedagogy shift away from centuries of Western musical heritage to adapt to ... market demands?  Sometimes it seems that critiques of neoliberalism by appeals to tradition get stuck with poelmics that can be brought out by neoliberal or even progressive approaches that plead that pedagogy "catch up" to current actual demand ... even if such an appeal-to-the-market approach has proven in some times and places to be a double edged sword.

But the tacit and even explicit claim that we shouldn't need evidence for everything we value ... can't that come off like a basically religious appeal?  I have my various disagreements with Adorno but op ed pieces like the one above seem to be exemplars of a kind of bourgeois art religion that many an artists and arts teacher would imagine is not what they exemplify.  Pleading that we stop trying to justify the arts and funding for arts education based on the metrics of their profitability could be a lea in which "arts" gets replaced with "religion" and the funding of anything because it should be worth any cost as an emblem of the highest most divine qualities of human experience and beauty ... that could be art-as-religion of the sort Wagner championed. 

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

ISBN 0-8264-6757-1

Page 2
… As a result of its inevitable withdrawal from theology, from the unqualified claim to the truth of salvation, a secularization without which art would never have developed, art is condemned to provide the world as it exists with a consolation that—shorn of any hope of a world beyond—strengthens the spell of that from which the autonomy of art wants to free itself.  …

I.e. in the attempt to extricate art as an expression or distillation of religious dogmas and devotions and rites, the arts were divested from throne and alter doctrines at the expense of intensifying "the spell" that art has on its consumers or observers.  Art may have "broken the spell" that Church and State had over it in terms of formal power but the power of the spell art cast over those who observed it or participated in making it became all the stronger as art became more and more "autonomous".  In breaking art free from religious obligations or obligations to the ruling castes art became more frenetic and frantic in religious devotion but as a devotion to art-as-process, or art for the sake of art. Instead of appeals to humanity as bearing the divine image in Judeo-Christian religious traditions Art became the new god who imaged humanity back to itself so as to reveal a new kind of divine image in humanity.  

With no life to come, the power of the spell art holds over us becomes all the stronger because the spell itself of art becomes the most potent thing we can experience if we set aside all the usual other suspects of food, drink, sex, community, etc.  Without a world beyond to imagine the most art can do is affirm the world as it is.  Ellul wrote that Adorno more than most others perceived the double bind in which the arts found themselves in the 20th century but I'll have to write about The Empire of Non-Sense later.

Ellul merely alluded to the aporio, Adorno explains it a bit here:

Page 39
The artwork is not only the echo of suffering, it diminishes it; form, the organon of its seriousness, is at the same time the organon of the neutralization of suffering. Art thereby falls into an unsolvable aporia. The demand for complete responsibility on the part of artworks increases the burden of their guilt; therefore this demand is to be set in counterpoint with the antithetical demand for irresponsibility. The latter is reminiscent of the element of play, without which there is no more possibility of art than of theory. As play, art seeks to absolve itself of the guilt of its semblance. Art is in any case irresponsible as delusion, as spleen, and without it there is no art whatsoever. The art of absolute responsibility terminates in sterility, whose breath can be felt on almost all consistently developed artworks; absolute irresponsibility degrades art to fun; a synthesis of responsibility and irresponsibility is precluded by the concept itself. [bold emphasis added, italics original] Any relation to what was once thought of as the dignity of art—what Holderlin called that "noble, grave genius"14—has become ambivalent. True, in the face of the culture industry art maintains that dignity; it enrobes two measures of a Beethoven quartet snatched up from between the murky stream of hit tunes while tuning the radio dial. By contrast, modern art that laid claim to dignity would be pitilessly ideological. To act dignified it would have to put on airs, strike a pose, claim to be other than what it can be. It is precisely its seriousness that compels modern art to lay aside pretensions long since hopelessly compromised by the Wagnerian art religion. A solemn tone would condemn artworks to ridiculousness, just as would the gestures of grandeur and might. [emphasis added] Certainly, without the subjective form-giving power art is not thinkable, yet this capacity has nothing to do with an artwork's achieving expressive strength through its form. Even subjectively this strength is heavily compromised, for art partakes of weakness no less than of strength. …

The more art presents itself as sublime the more ridiculous it can seem.  Art may be sublime in what it depicts and what it resembles but when art itself seeks to present itself as sublime it can be absurd.  I'll put it this way, I watched Das Rhinegold last year and it frankly seemed to me not unlike a Michael Bay Transformers film.  Paul Dini, I think it was, once said in a commentary about an episode of Batman: the animated series that there's a saying in the television industry--you don't actually win the Emmy by going for the Emmy. Wagner was, so to speak, going for the Emmy.  

Adorno had some scorn for those who insisted that art communicates directly, a la this or that art directly conveys the feelings and emotional experiences of the artist. There are always forms and always mediating conventions, constraints and possibilities:

Page 350

…To whoever remains strictly internal, art will not open its eyes, and whoever remains strictly external distorts artworks by a lack of affinity. Yet aesthetics becomes more than a rhapsodic back and forth between the two standpoints by developing their reciprocal mediation in the artwork itself.

As soon as the artwork is considered from an external vantage, bourgeois consciousness tends to become suspicious of alienness to art, even though in its own relation to artworks bourgeois consciousness tends to disport itself  externally to them. The suspicion must be kept in mind that artistic experience as a whole is in no way as immediate as the official art religion would have it. Every experience of an artwork depends on its ambience, its function, and, literally and figuratively, its locus. Overzealous naivete that refuses to admit this distorts what it considers so holy. In fact, every artwork, even the hermetic work, reaches beyond its monadological boundaries by its formal language. Each work, if it is to be experienced, requires thought, however rudimentary it may be, and because this thought does not permit itself to be checked, each work ultimately requires philosophy as the thinking comportment that does not stop short in obedience to the prescriptions stipulated by the division of labor. [emphasis added] ...

With respect to the art of music what this can practically mean is that music is an art of conventions and these conventions have external and internal elements as processes of performance and interpretive cognitions.  You're not just hearing music disembodied from vibrations in the air.  But when you look at a score you can observe thematic developments and structural relationships from the score even if you can't hear a live performance of the music.  In this sense a Scruton can say somewhat accurately that classical music has an "argument" but that would be true of a roughly two and a half century stretch of music from the common practice period.  You could observe a great deal about the music from the pages even if you can't hear the music.  On the other hand, at another level if you can't hear the music what's the point of reading the score?  The score is the recipe for a dish that is to be cooked and the pleasure and sustenance are in the eating.

What teaching the arts allows is for the full mind to be engaged in the learning of and the creation of and the continuation of the arts.  I'm all for that ... but that doesn't oblige me to be in favor of what a Richard Wagner or a Theodore Adorno described as an art religion.

Instead I could invoke Hans Rookmaaker who proposed that modernist art may have gone so far off the rails in contrast to applied or practical arts because the fine arts were asked to do, expected to do too much--painting could not just be painting, it had to be iconic or continue a role that had previously been iconic.  It might be ironic that a Rookmaaker and an Adorno, probably on opposite sides of the Marxist/anti-Marxist divide if I had to guess, could paradoxically have some agreement that the art religion that fostered modernist art was revealing itself to be a dead end.  Or at least that's what I'm mulling over at the moment.

The case that we should invest in art and teach it because we value it without getting into why can seem like a bluntly but implicitly religious claim.  A Christian can say "I believe Christ is risen and that Jesus is Lord" as a statement of faith and provide cases for the basis for such a profession and confession.  "Art is valuable because it defines who I am" or "Art is valuable because it allows me to discover how I can be human" is still functionally a religious kind of claim.  If you took these things away from a person would they stop being human?  Not that you should, mind you, but I am making a point that there are things people use to define themselves that are not so much necessary as so desirable to preclude alternatives.  People who are drawn to the arts tend, in the West, to not wish to think of themselves as strictly economic or transactional beings.  I get that, I totally get that ...

but the older I get the more it seems that arts education falters in the West by not admitting that it is a religious discipline in many respects.  Make art because ... artist!  Would you make art even if it was a monetary loss for you your whole life?  Would you make art even if you were not formally published?  Would you sacrifice in that sort of way to be able to make art?  It hardly seems difficult to see how that can be a form of religious devotion.  For someone like Johann Sebastian Bach it was, obviously, an act of religious devotion and an act of careerism, too.  What artists in the West seem to want is to invoke the artist as seer, artist as prophet, artist as outsider-who-speaks-truth-to-power and, oh, I should also be able to pay all my bills and my food expenses doing this, too, and have some nice medical care and ... they don't get how this would make them a new kind of priesthood along the way? 

of the recent Facebook hack

So Facebook was hacked
I guess i'll have to modify a haiku I wrote a few years back about a headline about Yahoo ...

there's no better time
than now to have never had
a Facebook account

HT Bryan Townshend, Pitchfork feature on Auto-Tune and a short survey of old school choral music

Bryan Townshend has linked to some of my blogging lately and I think I've linked to some of his blogging in the past but in case I've been forgetful, here's some blogging he did yesterday that links to discussions of the emergence of Auto-Tune.


Right from the start, it always felt like a gimmick, something forever on the brink of falling from public favor. But Auto-Tune proved to be the fad that just wouldn’t fade. Its use is now more entrenched than ever. Despite all the premature expectations of its imminent demise, Auto-Tune’s potential as a creative tool turned out to be wider and wilder than anybody could ever have dreamt back when “Believe” topped the charts in 23 countries.

What follows is the story of the life of Auto-Tune—its unexpected staying power, its global penetration, its freakily persistent power to thrill listeners. Few innovations in sound-production have been simultaneously so reviled and so revolutionary. Epoch-defining or epoch-defacing, Auto-Tune is indisputably the sound of the 21st century so far. Its imprint is the date-stamp that detractors claim will make recordings from this era sound dated. But it seems far more likely to become a trigger for fond nostalgia: how we’ll remember these strange times we’re living through.

The crucial shift with Auto-Tune came when artists started to use it as a real-time process, rather than as a fix-it-it-in-the-mix application after the event. Singing or rapping in the booth, listening to their own Auto-Tuned voice through headphones, they learned how to push the effect. Some engineers will record the vocal so that there is a “raw” version to be fixed up later, but—increasingly in rap—there is no uncooked original to work from. The true voice, the definitive performance, is Auto-Tuned right from the start.

Rap of the 2010s is where that process has played out most glaringly and compellingly: MCs like Future, Chief Keef, and Quavo are almost literally cyborgs, inseparable from the vocal prosthetics that serve as their bionic superpowers. But we can also hear the long-term influence of Auto-Tune on singing styles on Top 40 radio. Vocalists have learned to bend with the effect, exploiting the supersmooth sheen it lends to long sustained notes, and intuitively singing slightly flat because that triggers over-correction in Auto-Tune pleasingly. In a feedback loop, there are even examples of singers, like YouTube mini-sensation Emma Robinson, who’ve learned to imitate Auto-Tune and generate the “artifacts” that the plug-in produces when used in deliberately unsubtle ways entirely naturally from their own vocal tracts.


Chances are that any vocal you hear on the radio today is a complex artifact that’s been subjected to an overlapping array of processes. Think of it as similar to the hair on a pop star’s head, which has probably been dyed, then cut and layered, then plastered with grooming products, and possibly had extensions woven into it. The result might have a natural feel to it, even a stylized disorder, but it is an intensely cultivated and sculpted assemblage. The same goes for the singing we hear on records. But because at some deep level we still respond to the voice in terms of intimacy and honesty—as an outpouring of the naked self—we don’t really like to think of it as being doctored and denatured as a neon green wig.

Much of this anti-Auto-Tune sentiment presented the idea that the technology is a dehumanizing deception foisted upon the public. Attempting to deflect this angle of attack, Hildebrand once offered an analogy with a generally accepted form of everyday artifice, asking, “My wife wears makeup, does that make her evil?” Perhaps because of Cher’s involvement in Auto-Tune’s debut on the world pop stage, critics have often connected pitch-correction and cosmetic surgery, comparing the effect to Botox, face peels, collagen injections, and the rest. [emphasis added] In the video for “Believe,” Cher actually looks how Auto-Tune sounds. The combination of three levels of enhancement—surgery, makeup, and that old trick of bright lights that flatten the skin surface into a blank dazzle—means that her face and her voice seem to be made out of the same immaterial substance. If the “Believe” promo was produced today, a fourth level of falsification would be routinely applied: digital post production procedures like motion-retouching or colorizing that operate at the level of pixels rather than pores, fundamentally altering the integrity of the image.

The article does not quite get at how much of the criticism of Auto-Tune emerges from a white cultural center ... it does go there, but it doesn't necessarily unpack why there's a Western-centric critique of Auto-Tune and related technology in the production of vocal music. 

There's something mentioned that's worth quoting:

When it was first embraced by Western audiences in the ’80s, African music tended to be associated with qualities like rootsy, earthy, authentic, natural—in other words, values fundamentally at odds with Auto-Tune. Actually, this was a mistaken—and dare I say, rockist—projection. Most early forms of Afro-pop, such as highlife or juju, were slick, the work of highly professional bands not averse to a little bit of razzle dazzle. There was nothing particular rural about this sound, which was to a large degree associated with an urbane, sophisticated, cosmopolitan audience. Nor was it particularly “pure” in the way that Western world music enthusiasts seemed to crave: It always eagerly incorporated ideas from black America, the Caribbean, and the outside world, from King Sunny Adé’s Shadows-style twangy guitar, to the synths and drum machines in ’80s Ethiopian electro-funk.

To put this in a potentially controversial way, if the "right" or "conservative" reaction to black music was to dismiss it as so primitive as to not even really be music there's a "left" or "liberal" (far more accurately, perhaps) commitment in music criticism to the primitivism as "authentic" or "real" or "raw".   What I'm not sure white liberal (and generally male) journalists and critics and academics may always realize is that this is just as absurdly racist an approach as the more officially regarded-as-racist stance of reactionaries or conservatives who dismiss black music as too crude to count as real music (I'm reading Edward A. Berlin's biography of Scott Joplin and his survey of ragtime right now so I'm swimming in discussion of these kinds of white reactionary tropes as well as discussion of vehement denunciation of an innovative African American style by black clergy, since it is historically important to bear in mind that opposition to innovations in African American music didn't always come from white centers of power). 

That's another topic that's going to have to be a separate post ... some time later. 

But I do think that there's a very limited sense in which complaints about how the use of Auto-Tune could suggest a lack of musical skill from Western art music traditionalists can be understood if you understand just how gigantic the vocal literature of Western music has been in the last thousand years and just how far out, technically and theoretically complex the fusion of melodic lines, "harmonic" results and textual interactions can be.

Since part of my musical background was singing Tenor II and Baritone in choirs, as well as singing songs in a would-be prog rock band my experience has been you either can hit the notes or you can't.  So whether it was covering "Tom Sawyer" or singing the tenor part in Messiaen's O Sacrum Convivum (which, if you want to hear it, here's a demonstration). I never got to sing Nuits by Xenakis but here's another example of how far out unaccompanied choral singing can get from what might be considered the "norm".

A lot of folks are more likely to think of something like this when they think of unaccompanied choral singing, the Kyrie from William Byrd's gorgeous Mass for Five Voices

or the opening Kyrie from J. S. Bach's Mass in B minor

or ... Orlando Gibbons' "O Clap Your Hands".  Although the performance pitch is not the same as the scored pitch.

Sang the Gibbons in college and it was a blast.

Didn't get to sing Rachmaninoff All Night Vigil but here's an example from it.

This is not to say that contemporary chorales spun out in pop songs using Auto-Tune don't have musical interest or value, it's to say that for those who are part of choral traditions that have done surreal things with the human voice going back fifty to five hundred years it can seem needless to rely so much on mediating technologies when voices can do so much already ... although that's precisely the point at which academic traditions and customs tied to church and university (which is basically still connected to churches or synagogues in the Western tradition) come up.  It's not a given to me that a new corporate-governed system is actually too fundamentally different than a church or university centered system. 

The complexity of the musical textures can come up or get arrived at in newer and different ways but I don't wantto dive into the Adornian duality of linear-dynamic vs spatial-rhythmic in this post. 

Iannis Xenakis: Nuits (w score) for twelve voices

This was a piece dedicated to political prisoners.  It's Xenakis, so it's gonna sound weird to people who aren't already familiar with his music. It's not even going to sound like music whose commitment is to the idea that music has to be derived from the overtone series in a way that works itself out in diatonic major or diatonic minor keys or modes.

But it's a spectacular piece of music.  One of the old saws against this kind of music is that somehow it goes against the natural way the human voice wants to sing or think about music.  Maybe for dyed in the wool types committed to 19th century European art religion conceptions of deep music Xenakis doesn't seem like music but for those of us who can appreciate Byrd or Tallis or Josquin, whose works are not explicable in terms of major and minor key systems, Xenakis or Messiaen also wrote beautiful music.  Not everything Xenakis or Messiaen wrote "works" for me but not everything Haydn "works" for me at the same level.  For that matter Haydn tends to get passed over compared to other composers whose biographies are more amenable to Romantic era myth-making. 

I do get the sense that American musicologists have bridled at German-centric musicology and there's plenty that has been or could be written about that ... but I admit to being a little traditionalist/conservative on this particular point when I say that Ian Pace has a point in saying that it's a MISTAKE to assume that only conservatives are interested in preserving traditional Western art music.  It's also a mistake to think that everyone interested in preserving and sustaining elements of the Western literate musical tradition are committed first and foremost to the keyboard and symphonic and chamber traditions of 19th century Europe.  No, that's not me dissing the Mendelssohn string quartets, which I actually like!  It's certainly not me trying to diss Chopin because I like his piano sonatas.  But I am suggesting that for those whose conception of the Western art music tradition is the piano literature of the symphony you folks are focusing on a mere century and a half of a millenia's worth of Western music.  Those of us whose roots are more in: 1) the guitar and 2) choral literature are still trying to work in the Western traditions but without the foregone conclusion that we have to work in idioms that are freighted with symphonic weight a la Bruckner or Mahler in the wake of Beethoven.  Or ...

Eh ... maybe I should just quote Iannis Xenakis here:

Copyright 1992 by Pendragon Press
ISBN 0-945193-24-6 

page 242-243

Musical theoreticians did base their theories on Fourier, more or less directly, in order to support the argument about the natural harmony of tonality. Moreover, in defining tonality, the 20th-century depracators of the new musical languages based their arguments on the theory of vibration of elastic bodies and media, that is, in the end, on Fourier analysis. But they were thus creating a paradox., for although they wanted to keep music in the intuitive and instinctive domain, in order to legitimize the tonal universe they made use of physico-mathematical arguments!


It is therefore natural to think that the disruptions in music in the last 60 years tend to prove once again that music and its "rules" are socio-cultural and historical conditionings, and hence modifiable. 


Now I think it can be said that Xenakis probably tried to modify too many rules and conventions too quickly for his music to catch on with more than a fairly small set of people.  But his dry jocular observation about the irony of people invoking a physical-mathematical argument to defend the natural harmony of tonality as a science-invoking plea to retain what was ultimately a commitment to an intuitionist "right brain" approach to art seems irrefutable.  

To cast it in the nomenclature of Daniel Kahneman's terms in Thinking Fast and Slow, 19th century theorizing and punditry presumed the stability of a musical idiom to a point where a lot of sentiment assumed that the core of art could be handled, once all your traditional training hoops were jumped through, by System 1 thinking.  The more revolutionary composers of the 20th century more or less rejected the often tacit assumption that only Type 1 thinking was involved in the artistic process, intuition, associative free-wheeling, "feeling" or "heart".  Type 2 thinking, rigorously analytical, syntactic, also had to play a role.  If this still seems a bit unclear I could try to put it this way, that right-brain thought tends to be "emotional" or "symbolic" or "intuitive" but that the left-brain can be thought of as having a handle on logical flow, syntax, sequence, elements of cohesion.  In that sense the Quincy Jones criticism of a lot of contemporary music is that besides being too formulaic and trite and cribbing stuff that's been done there's a deeper, more core mistake being made by the kids these days who don't understand that the left hemisphere has to be involved in the creative process.  

I'm not going to argue with the guy who helped give us the two Michael Jackson albums I can still remember thirty years later.  

Which does not necessarily contradict or conflict with this post being formally about a remarkable choral work composed by Xenakis. 

Messiaen: O sacrum convivium w score (Cambridge Singers conducted by John Rutter)

I was part of a choir that performed this back when I was in college twenty years ago and this little work is a gem.  From the opening F sharp major seventh chord to the closing F sharp chord where the sopranos pivot back and forth in a perfect fourth between the G sharp and the D sharp creating the cumulative effect of an F sharp ninth with added sixth sonority everything about this little work is magnificent! 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

HT Jim West, Carey Scott suit against Christine Caine, Zondervan and HarperCollins news in The Christian Post

Author Carey Scott has filed a complaint against Christine Caine, Zondervan and HarperCollins, back in May of 2018.

Sort of a general reminder that Christian inspirational author types have come up in plagiarism controversies in the past five or six years ... although for things to go so far as suits is  a different level.

There was ... somebody who was a subject of blogging here and elsewhere he was embroiled in a plagiarism controversy for a while, but subsequent editions of books looked different from first editions.

It might be better to not read any inspirational/devotional/encouraging books from contemporary American "Christian"publishing than to buy books from an industry in which a company at the level of Zondervan and HarperCollins can become a defendant in a suit.

One of the subplots in Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco has Alice reading a manuscript slated for publication under the topic of religion and it turns out as she reads and studies the work the book is by an out and out fraud.  With the book so close to publication she "solves" the problem by relabeling it as "self help and actualization" so that the fraudulent book can get published.

People should reconsider whether to sink money into a "Christian" variant of a James Frey style "Million Little Pieces" inspirational tale of overcoming suffering and great obstacles which, not so coincidentally, is the formula for a best-selling author dryly trotted out in the aforementioned Whit Stillman film.  When a tertiary character complains about how stupid and formulaic that approach to writing a best-seller is, Kate Beckinsale's Charlotte rolls her eyes and acidly replies, "Of course it's formulaic, that's why they call it formula."  And since I've been reading Adorno books in the last few years that's also what can be called the engine of "the culture industry".  And ... also not so coincidentally, I'd say, it's part of what Joseph Campbell once called the hero's journey and is known as the monomyth. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ferenc Farkas: Serenade for woodwind quintet, first movement

Farkas was a Hungarian composer who lived in the 20th century (1905-2000)

He caught my attention because I read he composed a set of 24 little works for the guitar in every major and minor key.  Naturally, that got my attention!  I may yet write about those in the future but ... as I keep saying, I tend to bite off more than I can chew in terms of what I want to write about and what I realistically can carve out time and energy to write about.

Nonetheless, I can link to a performance from a Serenade he composed for woodwind quintet. 

German Dzhaparidze: Prelude and Fugue in E major

The Dzhaparidze cycle isn't published and I hope that can change some time soon.  Meanwhile, this is Colucci's recorded performance of  the prelude and fugue in E major.  The prelude has a warm, languid feel to it, it kind of reminds me of Villa-Lobos' Prelude 5 in terms of its mood if you took out the minor-key middle episode.

The fugue is a perky 12/8 subject and of the fugues in E major I've heard so far this one is, easily, the most charming. 

German Dzhaparidze: Fugue in C sharp minor for solo guitar

I have Esteban Colucci's recording of German Dzhaparidze's cycle of 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar.  It is a fantastic cycle and I heartily recommend that if you like classical guitar music you go out and buy this recording!

I'm not going to pretend I'm not shamelessly advocating for this music.  I am shamelessly advocating for this music.  I hope to blog more extensively about the cycle in 2019 but as I'm still not even done blogging about Koshkin's cycle I figure I have to tackle that.  That said, the Dzhaparidze cycle is something I want to blog about in the future. 

Johann Nepomuk David, Guitar Sonata, movement 1

Decades ago, back in college, I was part of a choir that sing Johann Nepomuk David's setting of Veni Creator Spiritus.  A lot of people in the choir hated the piece but I loved it.  It sounded surreal and fascinating to me. 

I had no idea until this week David composed music for the guitar, too.  But I was hunting around on the net for guitar music stuff and found out that J. N. David did, in fact, compose a sonata for the guitar.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

John Borstlap on why he thinks Charles Ives is overrated, and a recent nod to John Ruskin which, ironically, brings me back to Charles Ives and Kyle Gann's case that Ruskin was more influential to Ives's thought than generally credited by scholars

While this is not a direct discussion of John Borstlap's The Classical Revolution (yet), which I'm still reviewing in an episodic fashion by topic, what I'm about to discuss seems necessary to bracket into a discussion of the recently reprinted book by way of a case study.  This case study, however, derives not from Borstlap's book but from his blogging.  Now having read his book a couple of times I never got the sense he ever managed to define what music actually is in contrast to the stuff that he considers to be not-music.  But in his blogging he sometimes clarifies things.  

For instance, he regards Charles Ives as a seriously over-rated and not-a-great composer.  But let's consider what he has to say as to why that's so.

Today – 23/8/13 – I stumbled into an article on the interesting website 

So I entered a comment:


“His father also told him that any harmony at all was acceptable if you knew what you were doing with it. Nobody had ever told a young composer that before.” The reason that no young composer had heard that before lies in the caveat in the first sentence: “… if you knew what you were doing with it”. That Ives went-on doing his thing with any harmony does not mean that therefore the results are artistically great. His music has to stand on its own, autonomous feet, and has to be judged on its intrinsic artistic qualities. Ives’ approach was materialist, not spiritual: he threw-in all his eclectic bits of material into the pot in a literal way, without working them through, synthesizing them, modelling them, integrating them. This explains the messy nature of so much of his work and the lack of a real, worked-through idiom. [emphasis added]

…  Ives had talent and fantasy, but lacked understanding of the musical work of art, which is also demonstrated – for instance – by his lack of understanding of Debussy’s music, of which he talked with contempt. That ‘audiences cannot take it’ may be because of a conservative outlook, but may as well be the result of a better understanding of what a musical work really is, an understanding better than Ives himself entertained. Here, the article falls into the very trap of modernist mythology, which confuses non-conformist handling of material with musical quality, a mythology already half a century old and without any real cultural substance. Ives was indeed far ahead of his time – but a time which gradually destroyed classical music as a living and dynamic tradition, so nothing to celebrate, really. New music nowadays is in a profound existential crisis on all fronts, and appreciation of the work of Ives as ‘great music’ merely helps eroding any sense of musical greatness.

And then – what an ugly sound that 4th movement is! What an uninteresting, messy chaos, what a pretentious exercise! It is fun, nonetheless, to perform it once in a while, but to call it the great American symphony goes, in my opinion, much and much too far.

John Borstlap / 2013

Kyle Gann has spent more than just a few years working to dismantle mythological presentations of Ives as primitive, for instance, or Ives as someone who was somehow unfamiliar with the Western European concert repertoire.  That Charles Ives could write fugues and sonatas and then chose not to does not necessarily mean that he couldn't write in those forms or didn't understand them.  During the 1970s through the 1990s there were scholars who went so far as to declare that Dmitri Shostakovich never properly "mastered" sonata form despite the fact that he wrote plenty of sonata forms, but did not necessarily always write sonata forms that hewed closely to "textbook" definitions of sonata forms.  

To borrow the typology developed by Hepokoski and Darcy in Elements of Sonata Theory, Shostakovich didn't have to write "Type 3" sonatas all the time to demonstrate a mastery of sonata forms. Truncated and radically recomposed recapitulations are all over sonata forms from the 18th century up through to today if you care to look them up.  Simply because some academics claimed Shostakovich did not master sonata form doesn't make it so, and by extension, simply declaring that Charles Ives didn't master sonata or fugue because he made use of cumulative forms and cyclical modes of thematic development that weren't explicitly tied to Western European norms of cyclical development doesn't mean he was a musical rube. 

So it was interesting to read Borstlap link to an article in The Guardian recently about the art critic John Ruskin. 

Ruskin was born in London in 1819 to a wealthy Scottish wine-merchant father and a strict Evangelical mother. Having graduated from Oxford University in 1842, he came to public prominence with his defence of JMW Turner, published in the first volume of his acclaimed treatise on art, Modern Painters. He gained fame as a public intellectual – writing, teaching and delivering lectures on art, architecture and other subjects, all in his eccentric style. Ruskin’s art criticism and advocacy was a particular inspiration to the pre-Raphaelites.

In the 1860s, he turned his attention to politics and society against the backdrop of the inequality and rampant poverty many suffered in the industrial capitalist age. He railed against the exploitation of the poor and the self-interest of the wealthy. Ruskin proposed reform, and carried out practical projects – such as getting his students to work on widening roads in Oxford – which provided a hands-on social parable for his beliefs.

While much of his thinking was considered radical, and could be considered a precursor to socialism, he adhered to an older conservative tradition that believed in hierarchy and the established authority; it also suggested that those who naturally held power had a duty to serve and protect the poor. By the mid-20th century, some of his ideas had filtered into the perceived wisdom of the British welfare state.

“In some ways, Ruskin seems like the most Victorian of the Victorians, so not applicable to our lives now,” says David Russell, associate professor of English at Corpus Christi College Oxford. “People get hung up on how eccentric some of his ideas were, but the core of his claims remains relevant and important. That is to say: our aesthetic experience, our experience of beauty in ordinary life, must be central to thinking about any good life and society. It’s not just decoration or luxury for the few. If you are taught how to see the world properly through an understanding of aesthetics, then you’ll see society properly.”

Ruskin, who died in Brantwood in 1900, has been cited as an influence on William Morris and Gandhi, the arts and craft movement, ecological thinking and the foundations of the welfare state.

His most searing social critique is contained in his 1860-62 essays, Unto This Last, in which he takes a scythe to Victorian capitalist values: “the art of establishing maximum inequality in our own favour … the rash and absurd assumption that such inequalities are necessarily advantageous, lies at the root of most of the popular fallacies on the subject of political economy”.

In his conclusion, Ruskin states baldly: “Luxury is indeed possible in the future – innocent and exquisite; luxury for all, and by the help of all; but luxury at present can only be enjoyed by the ignorant; the cruellest man living could not sit at his feast, unless he sat blindfolded.”

A central line of thinking for Ruskin, cutting across his art criticism and political writing, is that a society founded on structures that are embroiled in heartlessness – in brutal treatment of people and the environment around them – is indifferent to beauty. As we see the growth of vast inequalities today, such billionaire tech firms employing precarious workers with diminished rights and pervasive environmental ruin, it is not hard to see parallels in our current moment.

This year, David Zwirner Books published the long out-of-print Giotto and His Works in Padua, Ruskin’s consideration of the Italian painter’s 12th-century fresco cycle at the Arena Chapel in northern Italy. Even here, when contemplating the beauty of early Renaissance art, Ruskin writes: “As long as it can bear to see misery and squalor in its streets, it can neither invent nor accept human beauty in its pictures.” As Robert Hewison adds in an introduction to the new edition: “Is this 1860, or 2018?”
Whether Ruskin remains an influence on the left, however, is another matter. “There is an important echo in contemporary radicalism,” says Jeremy Gilbert, a member of the founding national committee of Momentum and a professor of cultural and political theory at the University of East London. “Ruskin is not really much of a presence in contemporary left culture, but there are definitely resonances, especially in the popularisation of post-work politics.”

Ruskin’s criticism of the alienating nature of work and the aesthetic impoverishment of industrial capitalism chimes with current arguments about inequality and the despoiling of the environment. But, for Gilbert, “it’s never clear with Ruskin what the strategy was meant to be politically to resolve the problem.”

Where Ruskin’s continuing political influence is concerned, Gilbert says he remains central to an ethical-socialist radical tradition, a belief-system embraced by Tony Benn and even Jeremy Corbyn, whose “own vision of the world is a moral one: it’s not really about class struggles, so much as it is about wanting a moral and ethical society”. While Ruskin is not widely cited by the left today, this concept is something he espoused.

Gilbert suggests that the strongest link between Ruskin and contemporary discourse lies in the possibility that automation might be a liberation – allowing people to lead more creative and and aesthetically fulfilled lives because they don’t have to do boring work anymore.

In Unto This Last, Ruskin offers, in his elaborate style, exhortations: “The equality of wages, then, being the first object towards which we have to discover the directest available road, the second is … that of maintaining constant numbers of workmen in employment.”

There are also provocations: “Whereas it has long been known and declared that the poor have no right to the property of the rich, I wish it also to be known and declared that the rich have no right to property of the poor.”

And there are dramatic paeans to what might be possible. “There is no wealth but life. Life including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration,” he writes. “That country is richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings.”

I've quoted at length to establish Ruskin's role and influence in arts criticism. It would seem Borstlap in some sense approves of some ideas by Ruskin and the role Ruskin played in informing arts criticism. That's something to keep in mind because we're going to go through parts of Kyle Gann's monograph on Charles Ives's Concord Sonata in a bit.  

First, we'll get to some blog posts, one in which Gann points out that there's a case to be made that Charles Ive's opposition between "substance" and "manner" may have derived from an opposition that was earlier formulated by John Ruskin, whom Borstlap took time to mention at his blog.

So I start here with the passages explaining why I think Ives’s opposition between substance and manner may have had its source in the art critic John Ruskin. In an early review of my book proposal, an anonymous prof sternly warned me that the subject of Ives’s intellectual inheritance had been exhaustively mined by Peter Burkholder in his Charles Ives: The Ideas Behind the Music, and that I would find nothing new to report. Peter’s book is indeed excellent, but Ruskin is not mentioned in it (nor is Tolstoy, Hegel, or Henry Sturt, all of whom I discuss in terms of their appearances in Essays Before a Sonata). Peter had his priorities and I have mine. My book does not render his superfluous, nor vice versa. It would be as ludicrous to fault him for not doing what I did as it would to fault me for not duplicating him. There is room in Ives’s world for at least two people to frame complementary narratives of his mental development.
One recurring idea in my book is that when one traces the quotations in Ives’s Essays to their source, the original context often tells us more about what Ives was thinking than the specific quote does
On the topic of Ives as a primitive being a straw man depiction of his music, Gann had the following to say (let's just take some of the post for consideration): 

At some point in the 1980s, all the musicologists started trying to demonstrate that Ives hadn’t been so original after all. They compared his piano figurations with (very dissimilar) ones by Chopin and Liszt, showing triumphantly that he was well versed in the European literature. They downplayed the influence of Ives’s father, and hinting that Ives learned a lot more from the German-trained Horatio Parker than he admitted. Everything he did in music he actually learned from the Europeans, if you just look at it the right way, and that’s why he was a great composer after all. They set out to prove (and here I’m going to start quoting from an article, to be named later, that I find particularly inspiring for its perspective on this) that Ives “. . . was as much a part of the European tradition of art music as were Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky, Berg, and the other progressive composers of his time.” (p. 99) Their aim, this author said, was “to prove the worthiness of Ives’s music, to remove the stigma of its ‘outsider’ status, and to show that it ‘lies squarely within the European tradition, extending and transforming the aesthetic assumptions . . . of late Romantic tonal music. . . .’” (p. 99) 
This bugged me. In fact, for many years in the ‘80s and ’90s I refused to read any books about Ives, because everything the musicologists were saying about him made me wince (and after the Maynard Solomon episode it only became worse). It was Jan Swafford’s biography of Ives, which was sent to me by the publisher and which I avoided even opening for years after I got it, that I finally grudgingly picked up one day and couldn’t put down. Jan – a fine composer himself – got it right, and lured me back into the Ives musicology fold.
I bought the box set of Ives’s symphonies as a teenager, and you would have to be deaf or illiterate or a moron to listen to Ives’s First Symphony and think that Ives had no cognizance of European tradition. Peter Burkholder, in his magnificent book All Made of Tunes, has shown at admirable length how Ives carefully studied, and imitated, symphonies by Brahms, Dvorak, and Tchaikovsky in a studious attempt to master the traditional forms. But you knew it without the demonstration. Someone who could play the Mendelssohn organ sonatas at age 15 is going to be awfully difficult to paint as an untutored savage. Ives knew as much about European music as a young American composer possibly could have at the time, without actually going to Europe. That much, some of us always knew, and learned some of it from reading Cowell. And then, as corrective to Cowell, we all have to switch to the opposite side of the argument, and pretend that everything Ives ever put in his music turned out to have precedents in the classical repertoire. I’m not even going to dignify that perception by listing counter-examples. You know what they are.

Ives’s Essays Before a Sonata, if you read it closely – and perhaps this is why academics have avoided doing so – advances an aesthetic much at odds with classic modernism. In his view, if a piece of music can be analyzed, reduced to a single principle or small set of principles, then it is insufficiently reflective of how we experience the real world. To be true to nature, a piece of music must be messy, incommensurable in its parts, containing shards of truth that suggest but never add up to a whole. A piece that can be fully analyzed is a piece Ives would regard as a failure, or a triviality. I argue in my book that he took this view from the most Romantic of sources – not only Emerson, but John Ruskin, although they can only have confirmed what his artistic intuition already told him. As Jonathan Kramer has shown in his writings on postmodernism, Ives poses a challenge to the modernist paradigms, and will never fit neatly within them. Did Ives master the European musical idiom? Yes. Did he do a lot of things in his music that he had never seen or heard in any previous music? Yes. Is it really such a burden to keep both those facts in one’s head at the same time?

All Made of Tunes is a fantastic read, by the way.  Burkholder does a masterful job of laying out how and why Ives developed cumulative form as an alternative to the scripts of sonata forms and other more conventional European instrumental syntactic scripts--the short reason was that Ives could take up cumulative form as a way to frontload developmental processes that would culminate in a recognizable American folk tune, hymn, popular song or some recognizable musical moment in a way that would not be chained to formulas of symphonic "argument" that were current in the symphonic literature.  That's my take on Burkholder's argument, and I would also suggest that if you have some familiarity with the ideological and aesthetic aims and interests of the later 19th century the ideal of "endless melody" or constant organicist transformation of material could be observed without fixing it to a preset range of macro-structural norms.  In other words, Ives could constantly develop his ideas without being obliged to do so according to formulaic plans for sonatas, for instance. 

But I should do more than just summarize Burkholder. I should quote him.  

All Made of Tunes: Charles Ives and the Uses of Musical Borrowing
J. Peter Burkholder
Copyright (c) 1995 by J. Peter Burkholder
Yale University Press
ISBN 0-300-05642-7

page 137

The ternary and sonata forms that Ives used in his First String Quartet and first two symphonies depended upon the presentation, development, and reprise of themes. But from about 1902, he turned increasingly to forms that did not use large-scale repetition and did not present their themes at the outset. The most significant of these new forms is cumulative setting. This is a variety of cumulative form, a thematic, non-repetitive form in which the  principle theme is presented, not at the beginning as in traditional forms, but near the end, and is preceded, not followed, by its development. In cumulative form, there is no repetition of long segments of music, as there is in ternary, sonata, rondo, and many other forms, but rather a continual development that leads up to the definitive statement of the theme.  

page 138 
... In a cumulative setting, the borrowed or paraphrased theme is first heard in fragments, often varied; is gradually assembled and clarified; and appears in full for the first time near the end of the movement. In most instances, the full statement of the theme is accompanied by a countermelody that is developed in a similar manner and usually appears complete before the theme itself.  In a cumulative setting, Ives uses paraphrase not only to create themes and countermelodies, but as part of a process of discovery, as the theme slowly emerges from the fragments and varients that precede its culminating appearance. The elements of the theme, its countermelody, and their accompaniment gradually accumulate until the borrowed tune and its setting appear together in their entirety--hence the name "cumulative setting."

... Once cumulative setting is recognized as a form, many difficulties in analyzing, understanding, and performing these works disappear, and both the overall design and the individual features of each movement come into sharper focus.

Now how would this proposal connect to Borstlap's claim that Ives had imagination and creativity but lacked the discipline or formal knowledge to "properly" develop his ideas?  Let's go to what Burkholder has to say on page 146 of All Made of Tunes:

The form here is of particular interest, It is something like the development and recapitulation of a sonata form without the exposition. The two forms share the presence of two themes of contrasting characters; the process of developing these themes through fragmentation, variation, transposition, and recombination; the sense of arrival at a subsequent statement of the principle theme; and the harmonic closure created by presenting the secondary theme at the end in the tonic, after first presenting it in another key. Yet Ives avoids both the clear exposition of themes at the outset and the exact thematic repetition of traditional sonata form.

Burkholder spells out the significance of this formal reversal on page 147:

Saving the full presentation of the theme for the end of the movement reverses the sequence of other thematic forms, such as sonata or variation form. However, as one might expect, the surviving sketches show that Ives first worked out a countermelody and harmonization for the theme and then drafted the earlier sections in which those ideas were developed. Sketches for a number of other cumulative settings show a similar process, suggesting that it became Ives's typical practice to draft the theme, countermelody, and accompaniment in combination before sketching the earlier sections of the movement. The compositional process is not unlike that of other composers or of Ives's own earlier music, as it relies on common procedures of elaboration and development. What has changed is the order of events within the piece; we don't hear the parts in the order in which they were conceived, but rather begin with the peak of fragmentation and variation and work toward the relative clarity and directness of the theme itself. 

I've quoted Burkholder at such length for two reasons.  

The first has to do with an observation made about the evolution of sonata forms in the 19th century compared to the 19th century that was made by Leonard B. Meyer.  Should we wish to get a sense of why an American composer in the early 20th century would make such a drastic change to the syntactics of procedural development of thematic materials let's look at what could be said about the way sonata forms were handled in the 19th century. 

ISBN 0-226-52152-4

page 142
... our age has conceived of creativity almost entirely in terms of the discovery and use of novelty. ... undue emphasis on the generation of novelty has resulted in almost total neglect of the other facet of creativity--choosing. Of course, choosing is always done by some individual. But the constraints that seem most to influence the compositional choices which shape the course of music history are not those peculiar to the psyche of the individual composer, but those of the prevalent musical style and of the larger cultural community. [I will very quickly get to the choosing part as it connects to an 18th century compositional tradition, this isn't as much a rabbit trail as it seems]

page 220
Put aphoristically: radical individualism seeks to undermine the norms on which its expression depends 

age 245-246
... While music of the Classic period employs plan-based patternings, these are almost always coordinated with and dominated by syntactic scripts. In the nineteenth century, the situation is more or less reversed: what had been specific syntactic scripts tend to be subsumed within or transformed into general plans. [emphasis added] For instance, from this very broad point of view, the history of the practice and theory of sonata form during the nineteenth century might be interpreted as the transformation of a script--a tonally defined hierarchic schema of slots--into a thematic plan, often of a dialectic or narrative sort (thesis/antithesis --> synthesis; opposition/conflict ---. resolution). More generally, as suggested earlier (and argued later), the role of the secondary parameters in the shaping of musical forms and processes becomes increasingly important during the course of the nineteenth century. The forms and processes thus shaped are based on plans, not on scripts.

So by Meyer's accounting, at least, the 19th century approach to sonata became more plan-based than script-based.  As I've put it before, you can go "off script" any time you want but if you change your plan you basically need a whole new plan.  Or you needed a whole new script, and the development by Ives (and others) of cumulative form and cumulative setting was the development of a new scripting possibility for composers.

The second reason has to do with the nature of cumulative form, and another charge that has been made against Ives, that he wasn't "original" enough to create his own melodies.  

In her monograph on Haydn and variation (it's literally called Haydn and the Classical Variation, ISBN 0-674-38315 , Elaine Sisman's first page recounts how musicology has tended to look down on the Classic era variation tradition. 

Why has variation form in general and the Classical variation in particular received such [harsh academic] treatment? Simply put, its common practices do not accord with several cherished assumptions about musical value. First, the form is associated with borrowing a theme and keeping it more or less in full view, thus violating the principle of original thematic invention. Indeed, the eighteenth century presided over the shift in meaning of invention from finding to making. [emphasis added] Second, as a repetitive series of short, discrete segments with the same structure, variations seem artificial and arbitrary, incapable of sustained organic structure, and thus violate one of the central tenets of German Romanticism. Third, the ornamental and decorative techniques assumed to prevail in the variations of Haydn and Mozart are considered "surface" features, failing to penetrate and transform the thematic model like "deeper" contrapuntal, characteristic, developmental, or transformational techniques.  Finally, enormous numbers of variation sets produced by virtuosos between about 1790 and 1840 provoked a reaction against their empty display, or what Momigny called "much speech but little sense (Sisman, pages 1 to 2)

I realize I keep beating this particular drum but it bears re-beating--the people in "classical music" composition and theory who have been showing themselves most open to any kind of reproachment with popular and vernacular styles seem more in the 20th century (or, obviously, the 21st century), but also in 18th century specialization.  I'm seeing attempts at a fusion of jazz with fugue, whether it's Nikolai Kapustin or Michelle Gorrell.  Another way to put this, with a far more polemical twist, is to say that for people interested in popular music who are open to classical music, the "enemy" within the classical side is not necessarily going to be a "modernist" or a Baroque specialist but more likely a Romanticist, someone who advocates for the 19th century style post-Idealist Germanic or French art religion.  

But where Ives is concerned, even if it were proven across dozens of his scores that he used tunes he didn't originally come up with this is hardly a charge to seriously hold against him for two reasons.  The first is we've established that "sampling" has run through the Western art music tradition going back millenia, whether through parody masses or variations on popular ground bass lines in the Baroque era, variations on popular opera songs in the 18th century and folk songs in the 19th century up through Ives's day.  The second is that copyright law was different and so whatever was in public domain in Ives's day was quite simply free to be appropriated.  The trouble some people have with copyright may not necessarily be just that they feel copyright is too restrictive as much as too many composers these days only draw from the well of copyright-protected musical styles.  I would strongly urge them to listen to a whole lot more public domain music that they can rip off with impunity ... it arguably worked out well enough for Ives!

So ... since the Romantic era moving forward inventio was regarded as the creation or literal invention of a thematic idea for formal development or variation, whereas in the 18th century inventio could be taken to mean you or some other composer discovered something and made use of it in an entertaining and surprising way.  Haydn might make use of Croatian folk songs as the basis for movements in one of his symphonies, Wenzel Matiegka might transcribe materials he heard or read from Haydn scores or performances and transform those into sonatas or variation movements for solo guitar.  

Now, of course, Matiegka is so late 18th century as to be early 19th century!  But my polemical point is that it's been known that openly making use of someone else's tunes happened in the 18th century and that what might today be colloquially called "sampling" was okay back then, and probably in no small part because if you have military sinecure day jobs with the local militia, army or aristocratic courts you can quite literally afford to have your music known about via bootlegs the way Haydn's was.  Or you had some other clerical job by day (Sor) or a teaching post (Matiegka, turns out, taught theology ... so perhaps readers will pardon my sympathy for a guitarist composer who occasionally likes to discuss theology ... . )  But I digress.

How does this connect to Ives?  Well, Ives may be beloved by some "modernists" but his philosophy and approach to composition do not necessarily mean that he was a modernist, certainly not a modernist in a post-World War II sense or maybe even a post-World War I sense in any "Eurocentric" conception of modernism. 

If Charles Ives didn't know how to properly develop his ideas by what standard did Ives fail?  It's at this point we'll quote Borstlap's book to show what's going on.

Copyright (c) 2013, 2017 by John Borstlap
ISBN 9780486814483
ISBN 0486814483


page 103-104

Almost all great composers since Beethoven either had no academic training, or in case they let themselves be subjected to it, strongly rebelled against its life-draining character, or/and got into trouble with "official authority." [emphasis added] It has to be stressed that this specific kind of rebellion against authority was not common in the old master-pupil system, because in those times the relationship was much more personal and the overall consensus left enough space for personal expression. Berlioz suffered severely in his conservatory days, as did Debussy who, though winning a Prix de Rome, carried a profound dislike for all academic enterprise with him for the rest of his life.  The continuous rejections Ravel received for his Prix entries created a public scandal resulting in the resignation of the director of the conservatory.  Rimsky-Korsakov wisely did not want young Stravinsky to enter the conservatory, thus recreating the old master-pupil situation, which had also served Chopin, Brahms, and Schoenberg so well.  Hugo Wolf was kicked out of the conservatory in Vienna, where Gustav Mahler was a close friend, and who, after some rebellion, chose to submit to its authoritarian rule, which must have been very painful for someone of his temperament. Bruckner never studied at a conservatory--which might have crushed his already low self-esteem--and only hesitatingly accepted a post as a teacher there later in his career.  And it can be argued that Berg and Webern, who studied privately with Schoenberg, would never have come under his spell within a conservatory context, although it has to be doubted whether that would have been, in comparison, a bad thing. 

... but Ives apparently needed to learn how to really develop his themes?  

It may just come across as if when John Borstlap likes a composer their bridling at scholastic routine and rigor becomes a sign of their tortured and straijacketed talents but if Borstlap doesn't like a composer then all of a sudden the strictures of a conventional 19th century music education are what the unliked composer would have benefited from.  What if it could be (and has been) demonstrated that Ives had that kind of education and also rejected it but that Ives simply chose to develop new syntactic processes and scripts that would help him avoid writing what were increasingly formulaic developmental procedures from the 19th century Romantic and post-Romantic eras?  

What if, furthermore, this process could be shown to have been indebted to Ives' familiarity with John Ruskin?  It's at this point I finally get to quoting Kyle Gann's monograph on the Concord Sonata.  It is worth pointing out that for Borstlap to declare that Charles Ives composed from a "materialist" perspective has to account for why on earth a "materialist" would compose an entire sonata paying tribute to the New England transcendentalists while invoking Ruskin.  

Charles Ives’ Concord: Essays After a Sonata
Kyle Gann
University of Illinois Press
Copyright © 2017 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
ISBN 9780252040856
Ebook 9780252099366

Page 275
… Monteverdi and Josquin prove Ives’ hypothesis that even the highest peaks of music can recede into the past if the social conventions on which their performances depend become simply too foreign—not because the music has been found less worthy than once thought, but because the cultural assumptions of that music have become too foreign as society has evolved.

Page 276
… But there seems to me to be a striking parallel between Ives’ project here and that of John Ruskin in volume 2 of Modern Painters (1846). Ives quotes Ruskin only three times, but the contexts from which those quotes are taken are so apposite as to make me think Ruskin’s influence on Ives was more pervasive than has been noticed. …

… Ruskin draws a distinction between fancy and imagination parallel to Ives’s manner and substance … [bold emphasis added, italics original]

Page 277
… Ruskin then describes the process of an artist who is capable of imagination …

If … the combination made is to be harmonious, the artist must induce in each of the component parts (suppose two only, for simplicity’s sake,) such imperfection as that the other shall put it right. If one of them be perfect by itself, the other will be an excrescence. Both must be faulty when separate, and each corrected by the presence of the other. If he can accomplish this, the result will be beautiful; it will be a whole, organized body with dependent members:--he is an inventor. If not, let his separate features be as beautiful, as apposite, or as resemblant as they may, they form no whole. They are two members glued together. He is only a carpenter and a joiner.
[John Ruskin, Modern Painters, edited and abridged by David Barrie (New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 1987, pages 249, 247]

Page 278
Ruskin’s division is more severe than Ives’s: a painter is capable of either fancy or imagination, but the processes are mutually exclusive. And, like Ives, with his Beethoven/Strauss pairing), he [Ruskin] draws this line not between good art and bad, but between sublime, permanently relevant art and pretty good art that people like but that does not manifest eternal values and will probably go out of fashion.

Page 279
… Ruskin pointed to imagination as a harmony of imperfections conceived as a unity, as opposed to a collection of self-sufficient types.

Page 280
Manner, on the other hand,has to do with for, quantity, media, comfort, platitudes, sentimentality, prejudice, “unearned exultation,” “a symphony written to amuse and entertain”. … A composer of mere manner wants to “impress, startle, and shock the audience,” and will gauge success based on “the appreciation of an audience rather than in the effect on the ideals of the inner conscience of the artist or the composer”.

Page 281
Manner can take an opposite, less entertaining direction—that of being merely academically correct, as was true of so much American classical music before Ives. 
… Many would agree that the viral spread of twelve-tone technique after 1950 created a massive new repertoire of such works in another idiom altogether, particularly in the United States, where, in symbiotic combination with a sudden influx of composers into academia at a time of Space Age science envy, an entire generation of composers learned to write “blackboard music” that was more interesting to analyze than listen to.

At this point, having volumes of Ruskin’s Modern Painters, we can also skip straight to the unabridged source.

Chapter 2, section 6 "Of Imagination Associative"
page 161 of Volume 2 (but page 195 if you're reading the PDF copy from

But all this time the imagination has not once shown itself. All this (except the gift of fancy) may be taught; all this is easily comprehended and analyzed; but imagination is neither to be taught, nor by any efforts to be attained, nor by any acuteness of discernment dissected or analyzed.

It has been said that in composition the mind can only take cognizance of likeness or dissimilarity, or of abstract beauty among the ideas it brings together. But neither likeness nor dissimilarity secures harmony. We saw in the Chapter on Unity that likeness destroyed harmony or unity of membership; and that difference did not necessarily secure it, but only that particular imperfection in each of the harmonizing parts which can only be supplied by its fellow part. If, therefore, the combination made is to be harmonious) the artist must induce in each of its component parts (suppose two only, for simplicity's sake), such imperfection as that the other shall put it right. If one of them be perfect by itself, the other will be an excrescence. Both must be faulty when separate, and each corrected by the presence of the other. If he can accomplish this, the result will be beautiful; it will be a whole, an organized body with dependent members; he is an inventor. If not, let his separate features be as beautiful, as apposite, or as resemblant as they may, they form no whole. They are two members glued together. He is only a carpenter and joiner.

section 7
Now, the conceivable imperfections of any single feature are infinite. It is impossible, therefore, to fix upon a form of imperfection in the one, and try with this all the forms of imperfection of the other until one fits; but the two imperfections must be; co-relatively and simultaneously conceived.

This is Imagination, properly so called; imagination associative, :the grandest mechanical power that the human intelligence possesses, arid one which will appear more and more marvellous the Ionger we consider it. By its operation, two ideas are chosen out of an infinite mass (for it evidently matters not whether the imperfections be conceived out of the infinite number conceivable, or selected out of a number recollected), two ideas which are separately wrong, which together shall be right, and of whose unity, therefore, the idea must be formed at the instant they are seized, as it is only in that unity that either is good, and therefore only the conception of that unity can prompt the preference. Now, what is that prophetic action of mind, which out of an infinite mass of things that cannot be tried together, seizes, at the same instant, two that are fit for each other ; together right, yet each disagreeable alone ? [bold emphases added, italics original]

The likelihood that a John Borstlap can "prove" that Charles Ives failed by the measures of John Ruskin to have had "imagination" rather than "fancy" isn't zero, but the way he has tended to argue against Charles Ives the likelihood still seems low.  A person might be forgiven for thinking that Ives pioneering a cumulative setting approach to thematic development would be an apotheosis of rejecting the hidebound rule-governed pedagogy of 19th century music instruction.  It seems, however, that where Ives is concerned Borstlap wants to make a case that Ives is "fancy" rather than "imagination".  I like a lot of Ives's music but I'm open to someone trying to make a case like that, it's just that nothing Borstlap has written so far suggests he's made that case successfully yet.

It doesn't seem too difficult to propose Ives made use of Ruskin's fancy vs imagination distinction. 
The use of themes or ideas that seem imperfect by themselves but that make sense as part of an organically conceived whole (and how Romantic is that!?) does take place in Ives's work, just not according to the plans that were considered normative and acceptable within 19th century pedagogical terms.  A John Borstlap can't exactly have it both ways.  If 19th century era musical pedagogy was so stifling wouldn't it be beneficial for composers to not be hamstrung by it?  

On the other hand, if the problem with Charles Ives was that he didn't know how to develop his ideas "properly" in the opinion of Borstlap perhaps Borstlap doesn't see a rigid conservatory education as a bad thing in itself.  He's definitely set against serialism and atonality but in that case, so what?  Kyle Gann thinks that atonality and serialism have run their course and that composition students these days have more fun and interesting options than the Darmstadt scene to draw inspiration from.  The most compelling arguments I've seen against twelve-tone and serialist music have not come from self-designated traditionalist polemicists but from the microtonalists and advocates of popular styles like jazz and rock.  I could even eventually trawl through works by Edward Berlin to show that many of the scabrous polemics related to rap and hip hop today are mirrored in polemics that were made for and against ragtime ... 

But there's this other element of a double bind or a double standard in Borstlap's polemics, which has to do with Benjamin Britten. But first let's get through a very long quote from Borstlap's concluding chapter of The Classical Revolution (this is all one undivided paragraph in the second edition):

pages 123-124
In this time of redefinition for Europe, of its cultural identity and the political future of its society; it is about time that the cultural achievements of the past and their progeny in the present are given their rightful place and role in public space (which would also have implications for American musical life). Performing bodies of classical art music should not—under the pressure of economic crises—be subjected to materialist profit assessment and thus to government cuts, but instead be generously supported as iconic spaces which would justify any financial sacrifice. The humanities at the universities, where cultural studies are taught, should likewise be considered as important for society as a whole and not subjected to economic functionalism or pragmatism; understanding of the best of art (particularly from the past) should be a normal part of the curriculum at every level of general education, including for young children. Also—and particularly—in times of economic hardship, art (i.e. real and meaningful art), should be the island of civilization where people will drink at the well of real humanity so that they can be able to face the challenges of modern life and protect the values of the human spirit. High art is an exercise of what is best in the human being. It offers a learning process of the intellect and the emotions that can lead to an increased awareness of what we really are and should be, and, as such, a source of inner strength.  It was exactly this role that the classical music repertoire played in World War II and in the period directly following this fundamental crisis; it would be unthinkable that people would scramble among the ruins of bombed city centers, desperate to hear a performance of Xenakis, Stockhausen, or Boulez (or in a later period along the glass and steel facades of modernist office blocks to hear the sonic art of Lachenmann, Widmann, or Birtwistle) hoping to be uplifted and to feel again what it means to be a human being.  Their work is a product of, not an answer to, the devastation of war trauma and the emptiness of the modern world. If we allow sonic art to be music, we finish off the jobs of destruction set in motion by Hitler and Stalin.  Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem was the right answer to that destruction, also in terms  [page 124] of beauty—and the most important works of far-reaching implications after the war were, from our perspective of the early twenty-first century, not the sound art of Boulez’s Marteau sans maître (1954), or Stockhausen’s Gesang der Junglinge (1956), or Nono’s Il canto sospeso (1956), but Britten’s Peter Grimes (1945),  and Shostakovich’s 1st Violin Concerto (1948), both works now in the regular repertoire and still growing in stature and reputation. And perhaps the piece that has been, with hindsight and in psychological terms, the most far-reaching in its stubborn faith in humanity, beauty, and the immortality of the soul, is that unexpected flowering of pure and beautiful expression, hovering over the ruins of a destroyed civilization, the last gasp of atonement of a man who saw his world go down but yet believed in the endurance of its best achievements in another, better world: Richard Strauss’ Vier Letzte Lieder (1948).

Firstly, it was precisely Richard Strauss whom Charles Ives set as "manner" against the "substance" of Beethoven.  Having taken my own semi-pitiless shots at Lachenmann and Ferneyhough for using extended techniques in guitar duets that were all used in blues recordings from the 1920s and 1930s I don't really mind if Borstlap can't stand those sorts of composers.  I'd take John Lee Hooker of Lachenmann most of the time.  But Strauss?  I've got better things to do with my life than take Strauss as the apotheosis of believing in the immortality of the soul.  Strauss was an atheist, wasn't he?  If I want to hear songs about the immortality of the soul I'd much rather hear Aretha Franklin singing Gospel songs or hear Mahalia Jackson sing "Take My Hand, Precious Lord".  Or, for that matter, I'd probably more interested in singing hymns composed by the Native American Thomas Commuck in his shape-note hymnal Indian Melodies.  If you want to point to someone who saw his civilization dismantled by wars or plagues or foreign intervention and who put hope in salvation and a better life to come through an explicitly Christian belief Thomas Commuck seems like a more plausible choice than Richard Strauss.  Since I've made no secret about having a half Native American lineage or being a Christian (and I used to be Pentecostal) I don't think anyone can reasonably hold it against me if I prefer Franklin and Jackson and Blind Willie Johnson or even Charles Ives to Richard Strauss.  

Borstlap seems to want a restoration of what a guy like Adorno would have called the bourgeois art religion.  Adorno is, unsurprisingly, one of the nemeses Borstlap sets his sights against in The Classical Revolution but without so much as quoting a single sentence Adorno ever wrote, let alone addressing or dismantling a single one of Adorno's actual arguments.  

But for all he has written Borstlap has nothing to offer by way of a conceptual renewal of the Western European art music tradition as a way of thinking.  He has explicitly denied the possibility of it being reinvigorated by any infusion of popular music or jazz.  Yet he has also made a point of subordinating any and all American (northern or southern American continents) to the fate of Western Europe.  If the entirety of Western Europe were to get hit with a plague this week the guitar sonatas of Carlos Guastavino would still be around for Argentine guitarists to play.  The piano sonatas of Myaskovsky would still get played in Russia, right?  The piano sonatas of the recently deceased American composer George Walker can still be played.  

If preserving the art music tradition that, however it clearly emerged within the context of Western Europe, has spread across the world depends entirely on the perceived (as distinct from actual) rejuvenation of Western European colonial powers as "really human" then everything hinges on the nation states as cultural iterations and not, weirdly, on preserving a way of thinking and making music.  It's possible that the way of thinking in music, about music, and in making music that may have originated in Western Europe can migrate elsewhere.  It seems dubious to claim a continuity of style and forms for Western Europe.  Nobody is singing isometric motets on the streets or even in most of the churches.  The scripts and plans of thematic development change over the centuries and will keep changing.  

I've gone through Borstlap's book twice and while I still admire symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven and Shostakovich I can't share the impression that Borstlap is like someone who was a fan of late Renaissance ars perfecta looking at a new "second practice" and regarding it all as non-musical garbage that isn't even music.  Well, advocates on behalf of the old Palestrina style could share similar put-downs about Monteverdi, too.  In the galant style period Haydn got slammed for doubling octaves that made hsi counterpoint "bad".  He was considered an impudent rule-breaker and yet within a generation he was treated as if he were the hidebound rule-maker whose symphonies were impeccable but whose example had to be transcended by Beethoven and Mozart.  Not really, I love Haydn's music more than either Beethoven's or Mozart's.  Now instead of ars perfecta from the late Renaissance we could say it was the 19th century Romantic and post-Romantic musical style refined by German composers and French composers into what some call "late late Romanticism".  On the other side would be composers ranging from Stravinsky to Schoenberg to Hindemith to Milhaud to Berg to ... also Charles Ives.  

And also Benjamin Britten ... which composer Borstlap regards as having had the "right" response to the horrors of World War II.  But that's interesting because if Britten gets a plaudit across the board then there's a question that has to be asked.  Britten wrote a work for solo guitar for Julian Bream called Nocturnal after John Dowland, one of the masterpieces of 20th century classical guitar repertoire.  

How do we describe the piece ... ?

David J Frackenpohl’s master’s thesis on Britten’s Nocturnal  from 1986

Stephen Goss’s treatment over here describes Nocturnal as "reverse variation", in which fragments of the theme are developed in dramatic and evocative ways until the entire cycle of variations culminates in a closing presentation of John Dowland's theme.  

But wait a minute, if Britten is fantastic (and I admire a good chunk of his music myself), and Britten used reverse variation form in which cumulative variations lead to a final emergence of the foundational theme then why would Benjamin Britten get to use a cumulative form but not Charles Ives?  This is the point at which Borstlap's denigration of Charles Ives while praising Benjamin Britten invites a question as to whether on the basis of his own prescribed criteria for assessing good, bad or great art whether or not Borstlap realizes he might be trafficking in double standards.



Not liking the music of Charles Ives is understandable.  Most of my friends and family can't abide the music of Charles Ives.  As tastes go that's fair enough. What I take issue with is when a case is made against the music of Ives that ends up relying on what seem curiously like double-standardized tests that other composers can "pass" but that Charles Ives "fails".  Britten using cumulative form and reverse-variation, for instance, could establish that Britten used a compositional method that was also used by Charles Ives.  If Borstlap were to say, "of the two composers who used reverse-variation or cumulative form, I think Benjamin Britten handled it better than Charles Ives did"  I'd say that's a fair point both in terms of personal taste and musicological argument.  Saying that Ives somehow didn't know how to develop his ideas "properly" is not nearly as persuasive an argument.

There are times when it is more intellectually honest to just say "I don't like composer X's music" and let that stand.  Borstlap's attempts to formulate arguments as to why he doesn't consider Ives to be a good composer can boomerang on him.  Even if we take Ives as having been a "primitive" or constrained by the limits of his educational approach, Borstlap's lengthy defense of Richard Wagner as someone who was largely self-taught but nevertheless an influential and important composer introduces another level of argument at which double standardized testing can get deployed.