Monday, September 25, 2017

Shostakovich's Birthday Today!

And I didn't get him anything! Let's celebrate with three of his silliest and most whimsical compositions. The first, Tahiti Trot, came out of a bet. He was with a friend, forget who, and for some reason his friend bet him that he couldn't do a full orchestration of "Tea for Two" in under an hour after hearing it once. Here is the result, after forty minutes or so:


Here is his potential top-forty hit, Waltz No. 2 from a Suite for Jazz Orchestra:


And finally, his Polka from a ballet, "The Age of Gold"


Now blow out the candles!

A 20th Century Debate

My post from Saturday on the Ten Best Compositions of the 20th Century sparked some interesting comments. One of them made such outstanding points that I want to bring it, and my response, into a separate post. First you should go read the original post so you know what we are arguing about. Where the discussion got very interesting was with this comment from Anonymous (a regular commentator):
I find that list depressing. Mind you, the selection is perfectly reasonable. I would probably add Ligeti, remove Prokofiev or Ives. But it's scary to think how relatively weak these pieces are compared with a 19th c. equivalent. (Only the Rite stands out.) Wagner alone has produced greater music than all of your pieces combined.
I think the problem is the very concept of 20th c. music. It actually makes little sense historically. Twenty is just a nice round number but it's meaningless. Historically, the period you want to consider and compare would be called "modernity" and that's 1870-1950. You would then have a more coherent, and far stronger selection.
To which I responded:
Very good point about the arbitrariness of the century and yes, 1870 to 1950 is an era in itself. However, in recent years historians have been eschewing using terms like "Baroque" and "Romantic" in favor of labeling their studies simply the "19th Century" or the "20th Century." However I have to disagree about the 19th century. It is just personal taste, but I don't find much that I enjoy from the death of Schubert to Debussy. Shocking, I know, but I have never had much liking for the ponderous pomposity of 19th century music. Exceptions for Chopin, some Brahms... I find Wagner to be particularly unpleasant! But, as I say, just a personal view. I look at the list of 20th century music and think, "wow, what great stuff!"
Anonymous came back with a further comment:
In your list only Stravinsky might be seriously considered in the top 10 among all composers. Perhaps Bartok but that's already pushing it. 
Meanwhile, in the 19th c., you have Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy, Wagner who are all instant top-10 members. Next, people like Schumann, Brahms, Verdi, Chopin, Puccini are all knocking on the door. 
In other words, nearly half of the 10 greatest composers who ever lived can be associated with the 19th c. 
Another problem with your list is the sole inclusion of Reich. To me, he's the greatest American composer that ever lived. But his inclusion requires the consideration of Jazz musicians, for example, Miles Davis, Kenny Clarke, Thelonious Monk, and especially John Coltrane. So if you're going to have Reich, then you need to have Coltrane because they share so much -- and in just about all aspects (originality, range, influence), people like Miles Davis and John Coltrane leave, say, Ives or Messiaen in the dust.
The problem is this: until 1950, the best musical minds went into classical music. After that, this was no longer true. Also, too much of music composition moved into academia, from which great art has never emerged.
This was a very stimulating comment, so I responded with this:
Excellent comment!! I did say that this was just personal taste for me, so setting that aside and looking at it objectively, yes, there are a lot of great, that is to say, widely loved, composers from the 19th century. Let's take the New York Times list, put together by Anthony Tommasini as our benchmark. The list, in order, is Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Debussy, Stravinsky, Brahms, Verdi, Wagner and Bartók. We might quibble over some, but let's just take it as a reasonable attempt to list the greatest composers no longer living starting with Bach (pre-Bach composers were excluded).
Here are my quibbles: Beethoven and Schubert are composers born in the 18th century who had their greatest influence in the 19th century, but to my mind, they are not really 19th century composers. What Charles Rosen calls "The Romantic Generation" begins with a number of composers all born around 1810: Berlioz, Liszt, Schumann and Chopin. Those are the true 19th century composers. Beethoven and Schubert wrote music on a solid 18th century foundation. Debussy, while born in the 19th century (as were Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Sibelius, all composers we consider 20th century) is considered to be perhaps the founder of 20th century music. I know that it seems as if I have just promulgated a contradiction: why do I consider composers born in the late 18th century to be more 18th century and ones born in the late 19th century to be more 20th century? Yes, it seems odd! But I think that is due to the fact that the large tidal movements in the arts do not quite align with the zeros! In other words, the 18th century musical structures did in fact endure into the first part of the 19th century, while the 20th century concepts of structure began a bit before the turn of the century. This is all debatable, of course! But assuming that what I have proposed is plausible, that means that, on Tommasini's list, four of the ten are 18th century (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert), three are 20th century (Debussy, Stravinsky and Bartók) and only three are 19th century (Brahms, Verdi and Wagner) and two of them are known only for opera.
Your other point is regarding Steve Reich. Yes, he does seem to both be an awkward fit with the other composers on the list, but at the same time, I agree, he is perhaps the greatest American composer. He is the only one on the list who came to prominence after 1950. But I think it is pretty clear that he is a "classical" composer. According to Reich's own way of classifying music, he is one of the guys who writes it down, that is to say, he creates a musical score which is then performed by specialist musicians. Jazz, while an influence on his style, is a very different genre with different methods. If we accept your criteria we would have to consider other influences: drumming from Ghana and gamelan from Bali. In a similar vein, we would have to bring in Ravi Shankar if we are talking about the music of Philip Glass.
But your last point is a very powerful one! I have experienced this with my own students: the most highly gifted tended to go into something else other than classical music! And yes again, academia does not produce great music, though I am not sure why. Composers are always bemoaning their poverty and difficulty of getting performances and general insignificance. Academia provides a nurturing environment with a steady paycheck, enthusiastic students, performance opportunities and prestige. So why don't academic composers write great music?
Here is the Tommasini list from the New York Times:



The question of why the environment of academia seems to stifle creativity is a good one, and one that I don't have an answer for.

On reflection, it seems that one of the most important events in music in the 19th century was the dominance of opera. I don't think any other century or era witnessed the over-reaching of one genre to this extent. The concerto was very important in the 18th century, but it did not dominate the way opera did in the 19th century. Just look, two out of the three 19th century composers were known ONLY for opera! And the century is rife with other composers who were nearly exclusively opera composers: Rossini (yes, born in the 18th century, but worked extensively in the 19th), Puccini, Massenet, Bellini, Gounod, Offenbach, Bizet, Rimsky-Korsakov. The only serious rivals to opera were the solo piano recital, invented by Liszt, and the symphony concert. These two genres were almost as important as opera, to music historians at least, if not the audiences of the day. Opera was the mass entertainment of the century as the cinema and team sports were of the 20th century.

It is spectacularly true that no 20th century composers were very successful with opera, with the exception of Alban Berg, who only wrote two (well, one and a bit). Overnight, it seems, composers moved into other genres.

Fascinating subject...

Let's have an envoi. How about some great 19th century music? Giuseppe Verdi's life precisely spans what I see as the "19th Century" which actually begins a bit into the century: 1813 - 1901. Aida is one of his greatest masterpieces. This is a San Francisco Opera production starring Luciano Pavarotti and Margaret Price:


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Veridical and Illusory Aesthetic Characteristics

Getting back to Monroe C. Beardsley's book Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism, I want to do a few more posts on aesthetics.

The title sounds rather fancy, I know. It is just pointing out that some characteristics belong to the aesthetic object, while others do not. For example, knowing that Sibelius had great financial difficulties or that Charles Ives worked in the insurance industry are not facts or characteristics belonging to the music they wrote. So much of what we read in program or liner notes actually points us away from the music, rather than toward it. Things that depend on knowledge of the causal conditions of the production of an artwork, whether a building contains steel beams or not, or whether a composer used software rather than manuscript paper, are not part of the aesthetic object as perceived by the viewer or listener. Beardsley writes:
...to hear properly certain kinds of music, it may be necessary for a listener whose phenomenal field is easily affected by his beliefs about the lives and loves of composers to push those beliefs out of his focus of attention: if Schubert's music sounds pathetic to one who sympathizes with his poverty, that is a mistake. [op. cit. p. 52]
This is not to say that we come to all aesthetic objects cold: an experienced listener brings to the table a lot of knowledge of the style, genre, and general construction of the work even if hearing it for the first time.

There are some interesting problems associated with the performing arts that do not trouble us in the case of, say, paintings or sculptures. The main ones have to do with the fact that a musical composition has various productions, each of which may reveal some, if not all, of the characteristics of the aesthetic object. Beardsley writes:
Let us, then, distinguish, in the case of music, three things: (1) There is the composer's artifact--in this case, the score. (2) There is the performance; any rendition of the sonata that is recognizably guided by the composer's instructions in the artifact will be called a performance of that sonata, but there will, of course, be many different performances of the same work. (3) There is the presentation-- a single experience of the music--and for each performance there may be a number of presentations. [He means that there is a presentation for each listener, including the performer. Op. cit. p. 55]
There is an interesting problem that arises: how do you answer the question, "how long is the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor?" If we look at this clip of the movement conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste we see that it is 15:34 long:


But when we listen to this clip of the same piece conducted by Vaclav Naumann it is 17:19 in length:


So how long is the movement? Fifteen minutes or seventeen minutes? This just demonstrates that the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven, first movement, is not the name of a single aesthetic object. These are both productions of the same work, but they are not producing the same aesthetic object. Music critics, when they are reviewing a performance of a musical work are reviewing a particular production of that work as it was presented to them. A music theorist or musicologist, however, might be talking, not about any particular production or presentation, but about the composer's artifact, i.e. the score. So I might be tempted to answer the question, "how long is the first movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 by saying, "It is 547 measures long" which is how many measures there are in the score.

There are some interesting differences in popular music where there is often one unique production of a work. For example, The Beatles' recording of "Strawberry Fields Forever" is the one and only original production of the song (though there are some varying and fragmentary recorded versions created during the writing of the song--we could consider them "sketches"). It is 4:07 in duration. So for this composition, there is an answer to the question, "how long is Strawberry Fields Forever?" Mind you, each "cover" of the song by other artists will have a different length.

So there you go, just some little observations about aesthetics to muse over.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Ten Best Compositions of the 20th Century

Way back in the mid-1970s I was enrolled in an undergraduate course in music titled "20th Century Music" that was a survey course. Twenty years later I found myself in a similar course, "20th Century Theory and Analysis" (a doctoral seminar) taught by the same professor! At one point he remarked that every year he taught either course it got more difficult because the century got longer. When he started, he only had seventy or so years to teach, but now it was almost a hundred. Actually, I think it would be much easier now because the winds of time have started winnowing down the repertoire you have to cover. Back then you had to discuss Momente by Stockhausen and Le Marteau sans Maître by Boulez and something by Ligeti and Xenakis and Nono and Kagel. But now I think we can ignore that stuff as it seems to have sunk below the surface due to widespread audience rejection. The uncomfortable truth is that the audience does in fact have the final word. If no-one wants to hear your music, then musicians will sooner or later give up playing it.

One of the best ways to attract traffic on the internet seems to be by doing lists. Of course if you are doing lists of classical music you do limit your audience! Much better to do lists of the best cat videos or the stupidest things politicians said this week or best recipes for pasta sauces. Still, my list of the top ten pieces for classical guitar remains a perennial favorite, the most-viewed post on the blog. So here goes, my pick of the ten best compositions of the 20th century. I suspect you know what number one will be. In traditional internet style, we begin with number 10. The links will undoubtedly decay over time, but for now I will put in clips of each piece.

10. Charles Ives, Three Places in New England


9. Alban Berg, Wozzeck


8. Sergei Prokofiev, Piano Concerto No. 2


7. Olivier Messiaen, Turangalîla-Symphonie


6. Igor Stravinsky, Symphony of Psalms


5. Jean Sibelius, Symphony No. 5


4. Bela Bartók, Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta


3. Dmitri Shostakovich, Symphony No. 5


2. Steve Reich, Music for 18 Musicians


1. Igor Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring


(I don't know why, but this clip insists on starting a few seconds in. Just put it back to the beginning!)

Enjoy! And explain to me how I'm all wrong in the comments. I wasn't too analytical with this. I just went with my gut for most of it. These are pieces that continue to fascinate me and that I always enjoy listening to. For some of them I could have swapped in others: instead of Wozzeck I could have listed the Schoenberg Violin Concerto. Instead of the Prokofiev Piano Concerto I could have listed the Sibelius Violin Concerto and so on. The only ones on the list that are really indispensable are The Rite, Steve Reich's Music, and the Turangalîla-Symphonie because they really don't have any equivalents! But I could have replaced the Shostakovich symphony with a couple of other pieces by him and the same with the Bartók. Anyway, these are my choices! If I had one more space I would have included the Symphony No. 3 by Gorecki or something by Arvo Pärt.

Just a final note: I do in fact think that The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky is the finest composition of the 20th century and there is a lot of evidence to back that up. But for the rest of the list, the order is somewhat arbitrary. If you want to say that the Sibelius symphony should come before the Bartók, then I won't argue. These pieces are in such different styles that they are rather incommensurable. Which is better, Wozzeck or the Symphony of Psalms? Or the Music for 18 Musicians? Tell me about it in the comments.

Models of Artistic Lives

Artists of all kinds are outliers in the social fabric. The reasons for this are probably complex, but they likely include things like the difficulty of earning money through artistic creation, a disinterest in the usual criteria of success in life and an ambiguous relationship with the social hierarchy. All this does tend to free one to focus on the creative act, but it also complicates ordinary life.

In the era of patronage, when most artists were funded by the church or the nobility, often in competition with one another, what you had to do was fairly clear, I would imagine: appeal to the tastes or vanity or ambition of your patron. Italy seems to have been particularly blessed with wealthy, visionary patrons which partly explains the great art of the Renaissance and Baroque. As the eighteenth century came to an end the patronage began to shift from the aristocracy, more and more eliminated by revolution and social change, to a widespread support by the middle class, who began to adopt some of the artistic tastes of the nobility. Haydn was supported for most of his life by a single aristocratic family, the Esterházys, Beethoven by a circle of wealthy patrons, but Schumann wrote music criticism and edited a journal. Chopin taught private students, Mendelssohn was a conductor, as was Mahler, and director of an important music school. Some composers, like Wagner, still had aristocratic patronage, but that was rare in the later 19th century. By the time we get to someone like Sibelius (1865 - 1957) the struggle to support a family was dire indeed. Here is a lament he wrote in 1911:
My domestic harmony and peace are at an end because I cannot earn sufficient income to supply all that is needed. A constant battle with tears and misery at home. A hell! I feel completely unworthy in my own home ... Poor Aino! [his wife] It can hardly be easy to manage the house on so little. It makes me more than aware of the truth in the old saying: do not marry if you cannot provide for your wife in the style to which she was accustomed before. The same food, clothes, servants -- in a word the same income.
Sibelius, like many Finns, was a family man. He and Aino had six daughters. Most artists, while they are, as I said, outliers, they are outliers from a certain level in society--the upper middle class. Yes, there are working class artists and aristocratic artists, but I suspect that they are the minority. Most come from some level of the middle class, especially considering that this is the largest part of modern societies. All his life Sibelius struggled with the two problems of providing for his family and his overindulgence in cigars and alcohol. He received support from the state and an income from publishing, but this was never quite enough.

Charles Ives' life (1874 - 1954) illustrates the difficulties of an artist in the New World. Though he studied music at Yale, he never seriously attempted to earn a living as a composer. Soon after graduation he entered the insurance business and later on founded his own company. It was Charles Ives who invented the field of estate planning for the wealthy! He composed a great deal of largely experimental music, but stopped around 1927. His manuscripts moldered in a garage and his music was largely ignored until Leonard Bernstein did some important premieres in the 1950s.

In the later 20th century things got even worse because few governments outside of northern Europe provide any pension for their artists, just a few paltry and sporadic grants. Nearly every composer has to follow the path of academia, teaching theory and composition in a conservatory or university. This does not seem to lead to much brilliant, creative work! The outstanding composers all seem to be outside that model. Philip Glass worked at lower class jobs like driving a taxi, being a plumber and a furniture mover and he did this well into his forties when he started getting enough commissions to scrape by. He lived a largely bohemian life. Steve Reich seems to have found enough patrons to subsist until he formed his ensemble and began doing a lot of performances and recordings.

Stravinsky seems to have been the last composer to have achieved enough fame in society to generate a good income. Early on he got significant commissions from Diaghilev and continued to write well-received ballets for decades after. He got a lot of important commissions and also derived income from performances, recordings and a long series of books written with Robert Craft.  Alas, with the exception of Philip Glass, who has followed a similar path in his prolific writing for theatre and film, this seems out of reach for anyone else.

One siren call these days seems to be to figure out a way to emulate or share in the bounty of popular music where it is possible to earn fantastic sums of money. But while the occasional popular artist might dabble in art music and the occasional classical composer might dabble in popular music, the two seem largely unreconcilable.

It ain't easy!

Let's listen to a fairly early piece by Charles Ives. This is Central Park in the Dark, composed in 1906. This the Northern Sinfonia conducted by James Sinclair:


Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Miscellanea

Kicking off the miscellanea with the 50 best-selling music artists of all time from the Independent. It starts with The Beatles, of course:
England's greatest rock band holds the top spot on the all-time ranking of best-selling artists by album sales, and it looks untouchable on a bizarre list filled with a number of surprising appearances.
It's somewhat shocking to find out, for instance, that smooth-jazz saxophonist Kenny G has sold more albums than Eminem, and that Garth Brooks has sold more than Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. 
We compiled this list by ranking the most successful acts in music history according to their total certified album units sold in the US, as provided by the RIAA. 
I have GOT to release a "smooth classical" album! Here are the top 4:
4. Led Zeppelin -- 111.5 million units
3. Elvis Presley -- 136 million units
2. Garth Brooks -- 148 million units
1. The Beatles -- 178 million units
The thing is that this is only for the US. Other lists have the Beatles and Elvis Presley tied for first place with about a billion units each on worldwide sales.

* * *

The Washington Post has an article on the legacy of Leonard Bernstein:
But Bernstein also spotlights some of the fault lines running through the American musical establishment, and the centennial makes it clear that, in spite of his example, they haven’t changed all that much. Ironically, the classical music world will be feting Bernstein in part for his role in merging the American vernacular with high-art music, in works such as “Candide” and “West Side Story.” But throughout his life, critics castigated him for not being serious enough. And even today, the classical music world tends to look down on Broadway, or film scores, as not being fully serious, or somehow tainted. Some of the artists who most energetically took up Bernstein’s mantle as a champion of both musicals and operas — such as DeMain and John Mauceri, who worked closely with Bernstein for 18 years — haven’t always gotten the respect accorded to conductors who focused on the standard European canon.
That last bit is just the usual shibboleths isn't it? If you write light music or Broadway or film scores it is not that the classical world thinks you are unserious or "tainted" (good grief, tainted?), it is just that these genres have a different function and audience. Even Beethoven wrote light music such as Scottish folksong arrangements and Wellington's Victory and no-one says he is "tainted."

* * *

Yes, I know I am often complaining about Alex Ross, but he had quite an interesting item on his blog about John Wooldridge who was both a Royal Air Force bomber pilot and a composer. The two streams met when he wrote the music for a film, starring Dirk Bogarde, about his, Wooldridge's, life!
The best account of Wooldridge's life available is a Music Web International essay by his son, Hugh Wooldridge. During the war, he flew ninety-seven missions, an extraordinarily high number. He continued to compose while serving in the RAF. Hugh Wooldridge writes: "During the first three years of the war, and in between flying, he wrote his first and most notable musical work — a symphonic poem The Constellations (1944) working alternately on borrowed pianos and the local padre’s organ. Much of this was sketched during the long bombing missions over occupied mainland Europe."
* * *

The New York Times weighs in on the Oregon Bach Festival controversy. You should read the whole thing, but this bit really caught my eye:
After the Eugene Weekly broke the news of Mr. Halls’s firing last month, the festival released an upbeat statement claiming that it was “moving forward in an exciting direction.” Janelle McCoy, who became its executive director in 2016, said in the statement that she wanted future festivals to be planned by “guest curators” — “a choreographer, stage director or jazz musician, for example” — not by a single artistic director.
So we go from Helmut Rilling's "old-school, big-symphony approach to Bach" to Matthew Halls' more historic approach to this new, exciting direction? I think that I would describe a Bach festival with a music director who was a choreographer or jazz musician as rather a horrifying prospect! But I actually like Bach, unlike, it seems, the current administration of the Oregon Bach Festival.

* * *

Just as my Rite of Spring series comes to a close, the Wall Street Journal reviews a revival of a Pina Bausch production.
At 35 minutes in length, “The Rite of Spring,” the older of these works, closes the program with generically fraught and repetitious moves. Two 16-strong contingents of female and male dancers moving, sometimes at frantic paces, all over designer Rolf Borzik’s plush-rug-thick layer of russet-colored peat provide moments of visceral impact. But, mostly, Bausch reduces Stravinsky’s primal and often thundering sonorities evoking the arrival of a dramatically changed season into an animated depiction of matched sets of fearful women and overweening men. Climactically, to the score’s “Sacrificial Dance,” a woman, who’s been singled out from the group by an anonymous man, dances, at an exhausting pace, many of the sharp and flailing moves that have come before.
 * * *

The Paris Review has a review of a performance, on violin, of John Cage's 4'33. It is the kind of stream-of-consciousness that Virginia Woolf might have written.
And even bad music, and especially bad music, has what they call hooks, bits you can remember and by remembering enjoy, but the music Cage “composed,” the music the “red-haired” man was “playing,” and everything ought to be in quotes because everything is partly something else. And because the “silence” I was hearing wasn’t something else, had no hooks to distract me from the purity of what it was, although that sounds pleasant, in the actual act of sitting there, I noticed anger arising. That’s how D. T. Suzuki, the Buddhist writer and the teacher of Cage, would have described it, and it was arising in me because, beneath the anger there was a desolation I didn’t want to feel, an aversion that caused the anger, and yes, I was judging myself, my inability to confront that desolation, and the judgments, were evolving like the music...
* * *

My feeling is that the perfect review of 4'33 would be more like this:













If you see what I mean.

* * * 

Also in The Paris Review is a piece on my favorite musical, The Band Wagon, with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (who has possibly the greatest legs ever):
I’ve always thought of The Band Wagon as a poor man’s Singin’ in the Rain. In film classes, one is encouraged to compare the two, presumably because they are contemporaneous and both regarded among the top five of the genre. If The Band Wagon holds together at any point, it’s because of a certain continuity of mood and feeling. It’s the consummate “putting on a show” musical. And it’s a movie about the theater that seems to suggest, even more than Singin’ in the Rain does, that if your problems can’t be fixed by love, they can still be fixed by art. And that art, in turn, can be fixed by self-knowledge, including the knowledge of one’s own limitations. “I’m just an entertainer,” says Astaire, trying to nip the “Faust” business in the bud. Entertainers have no business making art. But of course, art is the result of The Band Wagon’s messy weirdness, in both narrative and meta-narrative—and it lends the film a sense of completeness in spite of itself. The Band Wagon is a movie that tries to break up with the Hollywood system while using all its tricks.
* * *

 Let's have a double-barreled envoi today. I would like to put up The Constellations by John Wooldridge, but there are just a few brief clips of his film music on YouTube. This is an excerpt from his music for the movie Angels One Five:


And for our second item, the famous scene from The Band Wagon where Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse learn how to dance together in Central Park:



Oh, and notice that the dance number is shot in just a couple of long takes instead of the frenetic jump cuts of today's videos. Fred and Cyd had to memorize the whole sequence and perform it flawlessly because, no editing!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Ad hominem plus guilt by association!

I wonder if my critique of the Musicology Now website a while back has not galvanized them into more activity. If that is so, I certainly apologize, because the heightened level of activity has not led to an improvement in quality. But given their core assumptions, I suppose that was to be expected. If Musicology Now is an accurate index of current musicology (which I don't believe), then they seem to have surrendered entirely to cultural Marxism. For an extended discussion, follow the link. But this quote gives some idea:
Cultural Marxists argue that all of life is a struggle against the forces of oppression and repression. Originally, classical Marxism focused rather narrowly on economic oppression and class conflict, but by the 1930s Neo-Marxists began to widen the scope of their cultural critique to include a broader range of social issues and even psychological factors – in particular, issues related to sexual repression. In their condemnation of Western culture, they emphasized social injustice and the plight of marginalized minorities – those victims of the bourgeois social order that included the working classes, racial minorities, radical feminists, homosexuals, and non-Christians in general. Therefore, it was within the context of their Neo-Marxist Critical Theory that they encouraged the politicization of the arts as part of a full-scale assault on Western culture.
The claim that all music, indeed every aspect of life, is political is a blatant ploy to end the discussion before it starts. If you disagree, then you are just another evil oppressor! My philosophical background leads me to reject all these sorts of arguments. One of my commentators alerts me to a recent post that really sums up what is wrong with this approach. The post is titled Does "Music Trump Politics"? Dennis Prager and the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra. The first part is a re-hashing of the recent controversy over a conservative pundit conducting a benefit performance by the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra. The discussion is little more than an ad hominem smear as if you follow the links you will find that Mr. Praeger has been seriously misrepresented. The author, Ted Gordon, complains that the performance, instead of bringing people together, was divisive. Ironically, it is precisely the identity politics of cultural Marxism that result in deep social divisions. We are not allowed to enjoy a concert without dissecting it for political aspects. All of life is a struggle against the forces of oppression and repression! Of course, as it is the cultural Marxists that define what oppression is and who are the oppressors, they turn out to be the major force of repression.

The second part of the post is all about guilt by association. Apparently, as poor Joseph Haydn wrote a slow quartet movement that was later used as the anthem of the Austro-Hungarian empire, he has a "long history with politics." Another sin was to be admired by the music theorist Heinrich Schenker. Haydn himself appears to have done nothing wrong except to write very fine music. But still
"As scholars, we must think seriously and carefully about what we mean when we talk about "classical music"--and how to remain vigilant against the promotion of "Western Art Music" in the name of "Western supremacy" built on hatred, fear, and bigotry."
These are not arguments: they are nothing more than vicious ideological assertions with no basis in reality. But wow, a lot of people fall for them.

Let's listen to that hateful, fearsome and bigoted piece of music by Joseph Haydn, the "Kaiserlied," originally the slow movement to the Op. 76 "Emperor" Quartet. The performers are the Veridis Quartet:


UPDATE: Misspelling of "ad hominem" corrected.