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A Brief Thought On New Music

Posted by acdtest on May 29, 2003

A Brief Thought On New Music

ll art aspires to the condition of music,” wrote one extraordinarily perceptive individual whose name now escapes me.* That trenchant aphorism refers to music’s unique ability among all the arts to touch directly the human emotional center sans the necessary participation of, or recourse to, the human intellectual apparatus. In fact, at its best, music has the uncanny capacity to paralyze intellect; to force, for the time, an automatic suspension of rational thought.

It’s precisely that unique ability and uncanny capacity that’s so singularly absent in what’s presented as “serious” (i.e., “art” or “classical”) music by those composers who first began writing after about 1950 or so. Of that so-called new music of which I’ve direct experience, all of it requires at some level or other, and to greater or lesser degree, the active participation of the intellect in order to appreciate or, in some cases, even begin to comprehend. That, to my way of thinking, is the very definition of non-music — more, and much worse, a veritable perverse contradiction of just what it means to be music. In short, anti-music.

Which is not to say all of it can’t (or shouldn’t) be enjoyed, even relished, at some other level. But at the level of music — that condition to which all art aspires — it fails utterly and abjectly. And that’s why, having not much time left me for music listening as the human span goes, I’ve little or no time for it. There’s simply too much music — genuine music — I’ve either not yet experienced, or not experienced to the fullest measure of which I’m capable. And so I leave the experiencing of that other stuff to those who’ve a taste for such quasi-musical pursuits. My musical palate is far too refined (or too parochial, if you wish) for such fare.

[*Thanks to weblogger Aaron Haspel for reminding me that Walter Pater was the author of that splendid aphorism; one, incredibly, not to be found in Bartlett, 15th Edition, 1980.]

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