I read a comment that a Dutch colleague wrote about a rock band that was popular last century. He was lauding their raw sound as well as their revolution against bourgeois society. Funny enough, the band still performs even though most of them are in their seventies. Another colleague of mine is well-known for confusing the listener. His highest goal is to make a symphony orchestra sound like an out-of-tune upright. Another well-known Dutch composer refuses to even write for symphony orchestra, since for him it represents the most bourgeois aspect of society. I recently watched a performance of a Dutch composition that had won a prestigious international prize. The work was brilliant and marvelously crafted but I was perplexed by the content. Alienation and confusion seemed to be the subject matter of the piece: well known, albeit outdated themes since the first avant garde movements of the 1920s.
I started thinking about all this, and started to realize that there is a common thread here: rebellion. It all seems to center around rebelling against ones perception of society (do I detect shades of rebelling against your own father here?). It was like what our mayor of Amsterdam said about a recent protest: it seemed that most of the protestors weren’t really interested in what the protest was about, they were more interested in protesting for protesting’s sake.
My first instinct was to mentally try this on for size. How would I, as a fifty-six year old established composer, be able to use this idea in my own compositions? Am I even interested in this as a subject matter? I contemplated the position of classical music as such in today’s society and remembered the quote of Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt: ‘Concerts are poorly attended and budget deficits grow from year to year’, ironically from 1926. It would appear that classical music has never been supported by society at large.
Besides, we’re talking about musicians who have dedicated hours, days, weeks, months, years of practicing, often sacrificing other aspects of their lives to achieve that level of perfection in their art. This would seem to be about the most non-bourgeois thing one could do.
In other words: classical music has mostly been a marginal form of art. It is almost an act of rebellion to become a classical musician! What higher form of protest could there be than to perform in a symphony orchestra or, God forbid, compose music for such a derisive institution.
What is more pervasive in today’s society than pop music? How could one possibly think that one is being rebellious by incorporating elements of pop music in his classical compositions? And after a century of alienation and deconstruction in avant garde art, what is the message nowadays of these rebellious themes, in our post-post-modern society, which craves for new forms of spirituality, depth, beauty, harmony and meaning?
Beyond the age of deconstruction, people nowadays feel free again to search for these once considered old-fashioned and bourgeois concepts. Is this a return to a naive pre-modern perspective? In this age, in which we are intimately interconnected through social networks, in an age in which we are grappling with the evolution of the universe, trying to comprehend how quantum particles can possibly communicate at a distance, art can and should lead the way in helping us understand what this interconnectivity can mean. And not try to destroy our grasp of the meaning of these relationships by alienation and revolt for their own sake, so very obsolete and meaningless. Isn’t it time to leave behind the destruction of the twentieth century and let art lead us into the exciting and wondrous future that is ours?