I want to just pick up on the core idea here: that an artist--a genuine artist--has to be, in some sense a rebel. This is an idea of some vintage, but not an age-old one. In fact, this is an idea that really only dates from around 1830 with a few precursors.Clinging to David Garrett is the label of a rebel. For his appearance is not that of the classical musician, his concerts are no longer the kind his early audiences would expect, and his approach to music mixes up entrenched concepts, making them seem redundant.It is interesting to see that, in the course of his life, he has found himself repeatedly in positions that cast him as a rebel; even though, as he has stated, his natural inclination is to live in harmony with those around him.
We have an image of Beethoven as a rebel and nearly every musical rebel since has followed that model. It is a constructed model, however, even though there is some substance to it. The "Beethoven as rebel" is only one side of him. Pieces like his solitary opera Fidelio about the freeing of a political prisoner, his last symphony and his Symphony No. 3 are offered as evidence of his revolutionary, rebellious nature, with good reason. But that leaves out the vast majority of his work which was, as was most 18th century music, designed to amuse and entertain a music-loving aristocracy. Indeed, a number of these noblemen banded together to provide Beethoven with an annual stipend in his later years.
But by the 1830s and the music of Berlioz, Schumann, Liszt, Chopin and others, the model of the solitary, rebellious artist was firmly entrenched as it has been ever since. This is a kind of costume that all musicians and artists are forced to wear, no matter their real character. If you are not in some way a revolutionary rebel, then your work is not "serious" art--this is the very deeply embedded narrative.
And I have a problem with it!
The problem is basically that I think that this narrative is no longer very relevant and certainly should not determine what artists are forced to do. I guess I want to rebel against the rebellion! All through the 19th century it had some real relevance as music, and art generally, was moving away from an "aristocratic patron" model to a middle-class model. The old social structures were being modified or replaced and art provided a kind of aesthetic chronicle. Then the 20th century saw music veer into an extreme modernism--at first as a harbinger of the two World Wars and then post-WWII as a kind of benumbed post-traumatic reaction to the horrors of the wars. I think that this explains a great deal of the extremism we see between 1914 and 1970.
But in the 1960s some entirely new influences began to be felt, partly inspired by non-Western sources and partly by the exhaustion of the avant-garde. The ideas of transcendence and even joy began to return to art. In music the work of Steve Reich and Philip Glass broke away from the modernist progressive narrative and we hear a new emotional landscape. This is Steve Reich's Eight Lines from 1979:
Frankly, I have very little interest in writing dreary, fragmentary, agonized "progressive" music! What I want to write is music with transcendence and joy. When I listen to a symphony of Joseph Haydn and hear the astonishing brilliance and sheer jubilance of it I think, yes, that is the kind of thing we need now. Not more existentialist anxiety!