In Beethoven’s Shadow

by Mark English

“Are you mad?”

“But you asked me to play.”

“I asked you to play. If you can’t think of anything better, play a chromatic scale or a five-finger exercise, but spare me your suburban shopgirl trash.”

This exchange comes from a very popular movie of the 1940s, The Seventh Veil. (1) A romantic melodrama, it explores the complex relationship between a shy, musically-gifted girl (played by Ann Todd) and her misogynistic guardian (James Mason). In the scene in question, the Ann Todd character, who had by then developed into an excellent pianist, had just come in from a night out with her boyfriend, and she had dared to play a popular waltz instead of the usual Beethoven, Chopin or Schumann.

Margaret Rowley suggested in a recent discussion that the inordinate respect granted to certain composers of the past had – and continues to have – unfortunate effects on musicians. (2) She referred specifically to the “trope that Beethoven exemplified: moody, alone (both physically and mentally) … dark, brooding, brilliant.” This is certainly one form that the Romantic ideal of the creative artist has taken, and it certainly has had an impact.

As Rowley noted, even the “brilliant and musically literate Brahms was afraid to write symphonies because of “Beethoven’s shadow” – as have been countless composers since the nineteenth century.”

According to Rowley, this way of looking at things has had far-reaching implications. For one thing, the composer is seen to be the ultimate authority on his music, and the performer’s role is essentially to try to fulfill the intentions of the composer. Secondly, composers “should be fully-formed, musically-literate beings with a sprinkling of genius.” Composers compose. Performers perform.

The result is musicians who, like me, are comfortable rendering recreations that are imperfect, inauthentic replicas of what we hope a composer intended – and, simultaneously, we are entirely musically illiterate when it comes to improvising and composing. Imagine being a painter and being limited to (poorly) copying Rembrandt. Imagine being a wordsmith limited to re-writing books that have already been written, but not being allowed to speak or write a new work. We all – all musicians, at least in my generation and prior – live uneasily in Beethoven’s shadow.

It seems to me that there are two incompatible Romantic myths at work here: the one being criticized is a kind of retrospective Romanticism, Romanticism with a conservative overlay; whereas the notion of the musician who is comfortable and confident in his or her own perspectives and creative abilities – who has moved out of Beethoven’s shadow – is also a Romantic one. In fact, the latter position, lacking any conservative overlay, seems to me to reflect more directly the original spirit of the Romantic period.

My concern here is not to make judgments about the value or usefulness of various Romantic perspectives or ideals, but simply to describe my encounters with some of them.

My main academic focus in terms of intellectual history has been on the first half of the 20th century, and I also take an interest in the popular culture of that period. The cinema – more than any other art form – encapsulates the society from which it springs: manners, ways of speaking, a whole range of cultural assumptions and myths. And implicit in The Seventh Veil is a set of values relating to art, celebrity and sexual politics. The film mixes popular ideas of love and romance with pseudo-Freudian psychology and Romantic myths about music and musicians.

It is structured as a series of flashbacks. The opening sequence involves a suicide attempt by the main character, who is a young but celebrated pianist. Believing she will never play again, she throws herself off a bridge.

This scene brings to mind any number of similar scenes in other movies or in fiction. A cinematic example from the same period is a segment of the movie Quartet (based on stories by William Somerset Maugham), in which an aspiring pianist played by Dirk Bogarde is judged not to have the spark of greatness. (3)

We see Romantic myth in action in both these examples: variations on the theme of musical genius. In neither case was there any suggestion that the pianist should also be a composer, so they reflect what I am calling Romanticism with a conservative overlay. The master-works involved are seen as given, timeless, representing a pinnacle of musical art; and the composers as Romantic icons, almost as gods.

Todd’s character says at one point that she had never met a man who understood the spirit of music better than her guardian. He is presented as a lover of music and a masterful teacher but he is not – much to his chagrin – a true musician. By contrast, a gifted pianist like the character played by Todd is seen as a kind of medium, someone who interprets and brings to life the work of the great composers within which this “spirit of music” lies dormant.

A clear hierarchy is being presented here. It is not a social but an artistic hierarchy. At the bottom are those who don’t appreciate “the spirit of music” – like the pianist’s former high school classmate who bursts into her dressing room before a performance, comes late to her seat and stifles a yawn as the concert begins. Then there are those with an artistic sensibility; then those who are gifted musically and who become performers. At the top of the hierarchy are the composers, the true creators.

These myths didn’t exist just in the movies. I know that Ludwig Wittgenstein (whose brother Paul was a celebrated pianist) thought in similar terms to this. He judged a society by whom it chose to honor. He himself honored artists, and particularly composers. Brahms meant a lot to him, I believe.

Even much later in the century, in boring, provincial cities far from the main centers of art and civilization, traces of these myths were discernible. I’m thinking of gifted pianists I have known personally. One was a boy at my high school who modeled himself on Beethoven. He was a bit of a rebel. Interestingly, he also liked rock music, and claimed that Beethoven would have also. I was three years older than he was and a prefect and so was obliged to uphold and enforce the school’s strict standards of behavior and dress. He didn’t conform. We had polite arguments about it. He argued his case quite well, actually. I heard much later that he had joined the army.

Another promising pianist I knew died of a drug overdose in his early twenties; and another, about the time of her graduation, had a traumatic experience performing a concerto which led to her giving up music and joining an extreme right-wing politico-religious sect.

My brother had some dealings with the pianist, André Tchaikowsky. But Tchaikowsky’s greatest wish (unfulfilled) was to be recognized not only as a pianist but also as a significant composer. He died of colon cancer at the age of 46, bequeathing his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company to be used as Yorick’s skull in Hamlet (which it was – and maybe still is). Was he a Romantic? Very much so.

My father was never an aspiring artist, but he too was strongly influenced by the kind of conservative Romanticism I have been focusing on here. As a child growing up in the Western Australian goldfields, he was deeply influenced (after his own father’s early death) by a remittance man who was perhaps a failed musician. (4) It was from this man that he got his lifelong love for the music of Beethoven and Chopin.

My father’s family – dominated by strong women – was in the hotel and guesthouse business. Presumably the remittance man lodged with them, and this made it possible for him to interact with my father and become a sort of mentor, or even father-figure for him.

There’s another side to this story. It relates to a musically gifted schoolgirl called Eileen Joyce who was known to my paternal relatives. I’m not sure of the nature or the closeness of the connection, but I do know that during a period when she did not have access to a good piano (her family was very poor) she was allowed to practice on the grand piano of a hotel run by my father’s family.

Eventually she attracted the attention of some influential people and went to Germany to study. She became quite famous, especially in England and Europe.

In fact, she played the piano for the soundtrack of a number of classic movies, including Brief Encounter, Quartet – and The Seventh Veil. She tutored Ann Todd in how to move her body, arms and hands like a professional pianist. But the extreme close-ups in the movie are of Joyce’s hands on the keyboard, not Todd’s.

Notes

  1. https://youtu.be/ftoufdcz-3s The link is to the full movie. I suggest three (or four) highlights: a scene in which the James Mason character persuades the girl to play for him for the first time (16 minute mark to 20 minute mark); and the two concert scenes – parts of the Grieg concerto (39-43), and parts of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 (46-51). The final scene of the movie is (in my opinion) a brilliant piece of theater, but I suspect that it may irk some viewers.
  2. https://theelectricagora.com/2017/04/11/a-few-thoughts-on-romanticism/#comments
  3. https://youtu.be/iHHovbYDcXM See the second segment, “The Alien Corn”.
  4. Remittance men were generally the offspring of wealthy British families who didn’t fit in at home or had caused some scandal or embarrassment. Their families sent them to the colonies, remitting money to them on a regular basis.

39 Comments »

  1. “Filmmaking was [Daniel] Chazelle’s first love, but he subsequently wanted to be a musician, and struggled to make it as a jazz drummer at Princeton High School. He has said he had an intense music teacher, who was the inspiration for the character of Terence Fletcher in Chazelle’s breakout film Whiplash. Unlike the film’s protagonist…Chazelle stated that he knew instinctively he never had the talent to be a great musician, and after high school, pursued filmmaking again” [Wikipedia]. Whiplash knowingly plays with all these tropes you’ve mentioned.

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  2. That conservative Romanticism has an effect on poetry, but oddly it seems to be held by people who don’t read, write or even ever think about poetry, until they read something they don’t judge a poem, because it doesn’t have the hallmarks of what they assume a poem should be & then suddenly they become experts saying “it doesn’t rhyme, it isn’t about daffodils & unicorns blah blah…(incoherent waffle)”. Art is similar. They look at Botticelli & admire it, they look at Kandinsky & say “I could do that.” It may just be that i am from a working class background of course.
    On being free from the shadow of Beethoven, i am, in the eyes of a pro, an offense to music, but all i ever wanted was to pick up a guitar & play. i never learn anything by the book, but i can improvise until the sun comes down. i don’t know if i’d trade this for replicating masters or even songwriters. i have seen the stress of professional musicians to be perfect & though i am envious of the talent, i am not envious enough to make music stressful; i have seen some people who have told me they hate playing sometimes. Must be the weight of that shadow. i can pick up my guitar, noodle about, have fun, meditate through the playing & use it as a release; my old housemate was a violinist & always said she envied i could do this— she hardly ever played her violin because it was a stress for her. i am not saying one is right & the other not, just outlining my experiences.

    Interesting article & an important topic to explore. It often seems to me our continued baying to the past is the reason people can say of the current generation that it lost, when in fact it is a cornucopia of production in all the arts, & many like me, have to do while they work full time. Which to me speaks volumes about the Millennial’s determination to produce & make a mark on history.

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  3. Mark,
    Well remarked.

    Although my own musical interests lean more heavily toward the folk and popular genres, even in those spheres the myth of the heroic composer or musician has done enormous damage. The survivors are largely those who accept that they have a job to entertain people, and that creativity is a luxury and ‘greatness’ (really only a kind of fame) a kind of happy accident.

    I say “even in those spheres” (popular music) because it should be evident that popular music is a business. Promoters and producers have no interest in ‘genius’ or ‘art’ and those who live with this (even those on the margins, like punk rockers), understand this and are content to make the music they can, when they do. Those who can’t live with this end up in hospitals or dead. Very sad.

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  4. Excellent stuff, Mark, I really enjoyed reading this. Here are a couple Boulez quotes that sprung to mind:

    “I suggested that it was not enough to add a moustache to the Mona Lisa; it should simply be destroyed. All I meant was just to urge the public to grow up and once for all to cut the umbilical cord attaching it to the past. The artists I admire – Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy, Berlioz – have not followed tradition but have been able to force tradition to follow them. We need to restore the spirit of irreverence in music.”

    I guess this accords with your second myth of romanticism.

    “I believe a civilisation that conserves is one that will decay because it is afraid of going forward and attributes more importance to memory than the future. The strongest civilisations are those without memory – those capable of complete forgetfulness. They are strong enough to destroy because they know they can replace what is destroyed. Today our musical civilisation is not strong; it shows clear signs of withering… […] Conducting has forced me to absorb a great deal of history, so much so, in fact, that history seems more than ever to me a great burden. In my opinion we must get rid of it once and for all.”

    I’m not sure I agree with him on this, but he was definitely an iconoclast of Romantic shadows.

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  5. davidlduffy

    “Whiplash knowingly plays with all these tropes you’ve mentioned.”

    Yes it’s amazing how persistent some of these ideas are.

    From Peter Debruge’s review for Variety: “[Whiplash] demolishes the clichés of the musical-prodigy genre, investing the traditionally polite stages and rehearsal studios of a topnotch conservatory with all the psychological intensity of a battlefield or sports arena.”

    This is obviously not the conservative Romanticism described in the essay where the great composers represent “the spirit of music”. But strangely – from the accounts I have read at any rate – it looks like a conservative element is operating here also. There is a lot of looking back to jazz greats, and the teacher justifies his methods in terms of trying to help his students to emulate them.

    There are other parallels: the suicide theme, for example. Another parallel seems to be that the relationship between the (abusive) teacher and the student survives.

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  6. danielpaulmarshall

    Thanks.

    You make some interesting points, especially about (self-imposed?) stress, and the negative aspects of a conservative outlook in these matters.

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  7. ejwinner

    Thanks.

    As you suggest, there is still a lot of talk about art and genius and inspiration and so on, and these ideas are still significant for many people (including musicians and aspiring musicians). I guess it is less harmful for those who have either achieved commercial success or who don’t expect to.

    “[P]opular music is a business. Promoters and producers have no interest in ‘genius’ or ‘art’ and those who live with this (even those on the margins, like punk rockers), understand this…”

    But promoters still (cynically) exploit the “genius” idea (or ideas like it), don’t they?

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  8. Eysenck devised the P(sychoticism) subscale of the EPQ with stereotypes of creativity and madness in mind. Psychometrically, the items breaks down into several different domains – schizotypy and unusual thinking more than sociopathy.

    http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pms.1979.49.3.919

    “In a recent study (Götz & Götz, 1979) 257 painters and sculptors had been given the Eysenck Personality Questionnaire. From this group four art experts selected the names of 60 well-known artists. Another group of 18 art experts judged the degrees of success of these artists and also their ‘contributions to the development of contemporary art’. Successful artists scored much higher on Psychoticism than the less successful artists. No significant differences between the means on Extraversion, Neuroticism, and the Lie scale were found.”

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  9. Christos

    Thanks for the kind words.

    Those views of Boulez do sound a little extreme. Zen-like? The line about destroying the Mona Lisa sounds like that well-known saying about killing the Buddha.

    Boulez: “…All I meant was just to urge the public to grow up and once for all to cut the umbilical cord attaching it to the past. The artists I admire – Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy, Berlioz – have not followed tradition but have been able to force tradition to follow them. We need to restore the spirit of irreverence in music.”

    You’re right, this is in line with my “second myth of romanticism.” Real Romanticism, actually.

    Boulez: “I believe a civilisation that conserves is one that will decay because it is afraid of going forward and attributes more importance to memory than the future. The strongest civilisations are those without memory – those capable of complete forgetfulness. They are strong enough to destroy because they know they can replace what is destroyed. Today our musical civilisation is not strong; it shows clear signs of withering… […] Conducting has forced me to absorb a great deal of history, so much so, in fact, that history seems more than ever to me a great burden. In my opinion we must get rid of it once and for all.”

    You yourself express reservations about this.

    I see cultural history in terms of the rise and fall of particular forms. The forms are explored and mature. What is appropriate for one time (e.g. music in a certain style or for a certain kind of orchestra) is not so appropriate for another time. It can still be enjoyed, of course, but the focus of the creators of original material will have shifted, sometimes dramatically.

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  10. One of the characteristics of the great conquerors (Alexander, Genghis Khan, etc.) was that they leveraged a technological advantage. This enabled them to do things on the battlefield that others could not imagine.

    I wonder whether this is also true of Beethoven. Anton Reicha reported pulling broken strings out of a piano during the master’s performance of a concerto. If technology had remained as it was, Beethoven might be forgotten. Fortunately (as I recall), the iron frame pianoforte was invented at this time, and so Beethoven (and perhaps Mozart after him) had the opportunity to create an entirely new oeuvre, unconstrained by expectations or critical acceptance. Nobody wonders, for example, about Beethoven’s rendering of Bach’s fugues.

    And of course Beethoven had emotional traumas to release – traumas typical of his age that his music may have exposed in others. The coupling of social context, emotional need, genius and technology may never be reproduced.

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  11. I wonder about the shadows of philosophers. Kant’s shadow seems to be pretty massive. But in contemporary analytic philosophy, the style of research programs prevents perhaps both myths of romanticism.

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  12. Nice essay, Mark, thanks.

    In Joachim Fest’s “Not I”, his account of his honourable Nazi-resistant father, he describes how he and his family and friends in Berlin idolised Mozart and Beethoven. His family was Catholic, and his neighbour was a Catholic priest, who also worshiped Mozart and Beethoven. The priest struggled to convince himself of God’s reality. Finally, he had a breakthrough — God must exist, since what else could account for Mozart’s genius?

    “I’ve got it at last!” he says. “Forget the Scholastics and Thomas Aquinas! Forget Descartes and Leibniz! I have the definitive proof of the existence of God! The matter requires no complicated deductions but consists of one word, like all convincing insights. The most convincing proof of the existence of God is … Mozart! Every single page of his biography teaches us that he comes from another world and at the same time, despite all the tormenting concealment, makes it visible. Why has no-one seen it before?”

    Fest later (during the war) visited Vienna, and was astonished to find that the Viennese regarded Schubert as semi-divine.

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  13. Hi Mark, while interesting, it was harder to understand for me since I am not a musician, audiophile, or know that much about music*. So I sort of tried to translate to what I do know and love, which are movies… and their living counterpart, plays. Let’s see if I succeeded or not.

    Just as much as the musician has to constrain themselves to fit the (presumed) character of their part in the composition, so actors must match the (presumed) character of their role in the play or movie. The presumed characters are *supposed* to reflect the intentions of the author. To be true to the spirit of the piece (aka intention of author). In fact, not just the actor, but the director/conductor must do so. This would seem to be the conservative Romanticism you discussed. And you can see the uproar along these lines when people remake movies and plays to reflect different ideas, themes, or settings (for example, modernizations of Shakespeare), or actors “make a role their own” and pull a known persona in a very different direction.

    (As a side note, I did not understand the idea of some generalized spirit of music. Is there a spirit of theater? Cinema? I understand spirit of a specific thing, even if abstracted to a time period, but to the level of the medium itself? That I’m not sure.)

    Anyway, based on what I was saying I think the issue comes down to a conflict between the performer whose only connection to romantic notions of self (not to mention fame) is in the here and now, whereas composers/authors can project romantic notions of themselves (not to mention fame) into the future. And this gets differential treatment based on the different sentiments of the audience. Just as it would be considered bad form to interrupt or heckle a performer mid-act (an insult to the actor), it can be considered bad form for the performers to interrupt the composer/author by messing with their work.

    So it becomes a tension of interests, which can be found in any collaborative process. When changes are made, performers are taking a risk, but if they succeed the reward can be great (though again, in the case of live performances, fleeting).

    Here’s an anecdote addressing this point. One year a script of mine won a contest to be read before a live audience, and to my excitement it was chosen to be read by a very cool theater company from Chicago. Now this was based on old, well known characters. In more recent history they had been changed dramatically from their origins, and my script took them back to original intent. You could say I was attempting to serve both the conservative and liberal Romantic notions, by using my voice and themes to defy recent (though somewhat long standing) convention. In addition I had taken a recently introduced character and significantly changed him from a shrill, conniving old white guy, to a very deep, meditative young black guy… which to me suited the original tone *and* modern issues better.

    Before the reading, the director and actors were congratulating me and saying how much they liked the script. I asked one actor, who seemed the most enthusiastic, which part he played. He said that deep, meditative black guy. My heart skipped a beat. This was a white guy with a rather high voice. I thanked him and took my place to watch this production of my script, based on characters originally written by someone else (and modified by myriads of other authors/directors since then). Everything was going well until that actor came on. He had made it his own, but it was clearly some hybrid of the shrill, conniving old white guy with someone I didn’t write… a shrill, sinister young white guy. Now maybe it was the lack of black actors in that group, which led to that situation. Or maybe it was the idea of the director to head this direction, or maybe it was the actor (and the director went with it). I don’t know.

    I watched the audience responses to gauge what this difference meant between MY intended scenario and its actual performance. Afterward, I thanked the group, including the actor, though there is no way if I was director the character would have been played that way. And the question becomes, whose spirit was trampled here, and whose brought out? Which Romantic ideal was served? My guess is all of us in this process had liberal Romantic visions of the self, as well as conservative Romantic visions of playing to some original ideals. The result was its own thing.

    My assumption is that this must translate in some form, to most musical performances.

    *Another anecdote, this one to prove my musical ignorance. My gf is a violinist from a relatively musical family from Warszawa (Warsaw). I decided to impress her about writers at EA by name-dropping. I said one of them had a brother that had some dealings with Tchaikowsky. Tchaikowsky! She looked at me and said that was impossible. She said, “How old is that guy? Tchaikowsky was a Romantic.” I said yeah, that’s what he said. A bit of debate (in part if anyone could be considered a Romantic if they lived outside the Romatic era) and then a Wiki search cleared up my ignorance (I only knew the name Tchaikowsky, and didn’t realize there was a more famous Pyotr). It turns out, despite being from Warszawa she had never heard of Andre. She said that made sense because he was *only* a musician, and *not* a composer. For the musician there must be some added sense of impermanence, and so frustration, compared to the composer.

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  14. In reality this is about Aristotle’s shadow and not Beethoven’s shadow.

    Aristotle’s shadow is the desire, the impetus, the craving for excellence in all that we do and create. This giant shadow has coloured our world for many hundreds of years and its tail end has shaped the Renaissance.

    With the arrival of modernity we legitimised emotional appeal as an end in itself. Modernity has replaced the desire for excellence with naked emotional appeal. Art is no longer shaped by the appeal of excellence. It is instead measured by its emotional appeal to desire.

    Now I am as vulnerable to, and driven by the emotional appeal of desire, as any other person, but desire is quickly satiated, while the hunger for excellence, when properly cultivated, is never satisfied. We have stopped cultivating excellence and settled for its facile substitute, emotional appeal.

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  15. Alan Tapper,
    you made a nice point about Joachim Fest.
    I would reword his comment

    The most convincing proof of the existence of God is … Mozart!

    as follows:
    The most convincing proof of the existence of God is … the beauty of excellence! It is the divine spirit that animates us.

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  16. labnut, the story was about the priest, not about Fest. Fest was not endorsing the priest’s claims. I think he took the priest to be delusional, though an honourable man who shared his father’s anti-Nazi politics.

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  17. davidlduffy

    So it looks like there might be something behind the stereotype of the great artist as mentally unstable. What about the “mad scientist”? 🙂

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  18. Brian

    You’re right to bring in the technological angle. It’s hugely important. And, as you say, new technologies combine with other factors (e.g. psychosocial) to produce the art of any given period. The modern piano is at the heart of musical Romanticism.

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  19. Christos

    You’re right on both counts: about Kant’s shadow, and also about the unromantic nature of most analytic philosophy.

    Discussing this here would take us off-topic, but let me just say that I think that the very notion of a canon implies either a religious outlook or one which is committed to ideas like inspiration and genius.

    Science is also dependent on inspiration and genius, of course, but in a different way from the arts. The great figures of science are honored for their ideas, which are incorporated, usually in modified form, into present theories. Their actual words/original works, however, become the province of *historians* of science.

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  20. Alan

    Yes, it’s curious how musicians and especially composers have been seen in this way. I don’t know that Karl Barth took quite the same line on Mozart as Fest’s neighbor, but I know that Mozart’s music and (what Barth saw as) its deep and intrinsic optimism was hugely important for him.

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  21. dbholmes

    Yes, if he had known Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, my poor brother would have to be at least 130 years old! Funny story.

    The parallels you draw between composers and authors, and musicians and actors/directors are apropos. You have experienced this from the point of view of a writer whose intentions were undermined. There is always going to be a tension here.

    “… I did not understand the idea of some generalized spirit of music. Is there a spirit of theater? Cinema? I understand spirit of a specific thing, even if abstracted to a time period, but to the level of the medium itself?”

    Music is often seen as the purest art form, and thus a very special medium. I mentioned Wittgenstein, a *non-musician* for whom music held a very special place. There is a saying, “All art aspires to music.” And there is also that old notion – cosmic and Platonic – of “the music of the spheres.”

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  22. labnut

    “In reality this is about Aristotle’s shadow and not Beethoven’s shadow.”

    Well, the essay is about Beethoven’s shadow, and Romantic ideas as they manifested themselves in the 20th century and beyond. (The film Whiplash, mentioned in comments, certainly shares common elements with The Seventh Veil.)

    You mention Aristotle. But the Romantics, initially at least, drew on *Plato*.

    I don’t recall what Aristotle said about it, but Plato was fascinated by music, wasn’t he? As a Pythagorean, he would be.

    “Aristotle’s shadow is the desire, the impetus, the craving for excellence in all that we do and create. This giant shadow has coloured our world for many hundreds of years and its tail end has shaped the Renaissance.

    “With the arrival of modernity we legitimised emotional appeal as an end in itself. Modernity has replaced the desire for excellence with naked emotional appeal. Art is no longer shaped by the appeal of excellence. It is instead measured by its emotional appeal to desire.”

    I see what you’re saying. I don’t think it does justice to the Platonist elements in Romanticism – though undoubtedly Romantic ideas have, over time, been vulgarized in the way you describe.

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  23. Hi Mark,

    “Music is often seen as the purest art form, and thus a very special medium.”

    Hmmmmm… it is the most direct, with capacities EJ pointed out nicely, but I’d have a hard time accepting it as pure. And even still, what is the singular “spirit” of this medium? Without invoking a conservative Romantic concept of a specific period (or composer, which you essay seems to be getting at) I am not sure how to reconcile the many different styles as sharing the same “spirit” and so someone being true to it or not.

    Do *you* believe there is a spirit of music itself?

    “There is a saying, “All art aspires to music.” And there is also that old notion – cosmic and Platonic – of “the music of the spheres.”

    These I would reject as a platitudes. I have to wonder what these people think of the deaf? Or what the deaf think of these statements?

    Music is very powerful, but so is imagery. This is why… in addition to the quality you mentioned (“The cinema – more than any other art form – encapsulates the society from which it springs”)… I think movies and theater are the most powerful of the arts. They combine both of the most powerful sensations we have.

    “Science is also dependent on inspiration and genius, of course, but in a different way from the arts. The great figures of science are honored for their ideas, which are incorporated, usually in modified form, into present theories. Their actual words/original works, however, become the province of *historians* of science.”

    On your reply to Christos, I think science is open to the same problem as the arts. There is a kind of conservative Romantic hero worship, visions of purity (especially genius breaking from current dogma), and not wanting to disrupt lines of thought/research/method of a notable scientist. And as far as I can tell there are liberal Romantic visions of the self held by scientists in the here and now. I will be the first to cure/discover/understand this mysterious X.

    It may seem incongruous for something that is supposed to be so analytical, rational, and the product of the Enlightenment to allow for such Romaticism. But maybe that is why the Enlightenment was not enough, and seems to have come undone. It was always there and the ideal of perfect rationality was itself an error in reason.

    But this raised a question for me. Weren’t there approaches to music that were considered very analytical, almost mathematical?

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  24. Apologies, in my last reply that should have been “your essay” not “you essay” and “reject as platitudes” not “reject as a platitudes”. Writing a bit too quick, and didn’t reread before posting.

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  25. Hi DB,
    you question Mark’s assertions, saying
    Music is very powerful, but so is imagery. This is why… in addition to the quality you mentioned (“The cinema – more than any other art form – encapsulates the society from which it springs”)… I think movies and theater are the most powerful of the arts. They combine both of the most powerful sensations we have.

    The problem I have here is with your use of the word “powerful”. To understand that we must ask the question, what does it have the power to do? I read that as meaning having the power to move our emotions. Music, beauty and narrative all have the power to move our emotions. When combined they have a great synergistic power. Does it even make sense to ask which has the greater power to move our emotions?

    While considering this problem I realised I had answered it before, in another comment, which I repeat below. The upshot is this – no medium, except music, has the power to so dramatically mobilise and harmonise group action towards a goal. This surely is the most potent measure. Certainly movies and theatre do not have the direct, dramatic effect to mobilise and harmonise that we see in the linked Youtube movie below.

    ——-comment to an earlier essay by Margaret——
    Margaret,
    The idea that music is a language is similarly difficult and flawed. On the one hand, music is fairly adept at communicating emotions, some of which may be difficult to communicate with words.

    While I agree with you, I think it goes deeper than just communicating emotions. My own belief is that music serves to harmonize or synchronise our emotions towards some group goal.

    Consider the South African toyi toyi, of which I have seen many live performances. See the linked Youtube movie as an illustration of what I mean.

    A toyi toyi is a rythmic, stamping dance and chant. It is probably an example of humankind’s most primitive form of music, directed at mobilising violence against another group, humankind’s most urgent and compelling activity. You may think of it as a mass synchronised, musical war dance where the musical instruments are mankind’s earliest weapon, the clubs and the accompanying drums are the thuds of thousands of stamping feet.

    The toyi toyi serves to guide mass action through several stages:
    1) Mobilisation. As the column sweeps through the township it draws in more and more participants, who are infected by the mass emotion.
    2) Motivation. As they participate in the toyi toyi their emotions are intensified and synchronised. They start to believe in their invincibility.
    3) Commitment. They become totally immersed in the goals of the toyi toyi, to the exclusion of all other considerations, especially moral considerations.
    4) Attack. This is usually begun with attempts to intimidate the enemy and to provoke him to break formation. The toyi toyi sustains the high levels of motivation and commitment during these preliminaries.

    In today’s toyi toyi I belief we are re-enacting the origins of music in its barest, most basic form. So it cannot be considered to be a form of language but is instead a powerful means of harmonizing group emotions. Other music is derived from this. In its most basic form these were the sad ululations of grief from the defeated and the exultant, triumphal chants of the winners.

    In war, in grief and in triumph we need to be united or harmonized in solidarity and music performs this function. It is not a language but it is a synchronised dance of the emotions.

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  26. Hi Mark

    I recall that Barth (not a name you hear much these days) kept a bust of Mozart on his desk and listened to Mozart recordings every day. He loved the music for anti-Romantic reasons, I think. Mozart signified equanimity as well as optimism, as opposed to Romantic emotional highs and lows, its Sturm und drang.

    In the Fest story, their heroes were literary (Goethe and Schiller), as well as musical (Mozart and Beethoven). His father gave him pocket money only if he learned Goethe’s poems by heart. But by age 14 he had discovered Mark Twain and Moby Dick for himself.

    What a different world from today — but also from my youth in which sport was just about everything.

    Alan

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  27. dbholmes

    “[W]hat is the singular “spirit” of this medium? Without invoking a conservative Romantic concept of a specific period (or composer, which your essay seems to be getting at) I am not sure how to reconcile the many different styles as sharing the same “spirit” and so someone being true to it or not.”

    I am getting at precisely what you say I seem to be getting at. The thing is, I am trying to understand and describe what was/is going on in terms of the way people thought/think, not necessarily attacking or defending particular points of view (though naturally my own opinion comes out from time to time).

    That phrase “the spirit of music” was used by the character played by Ann Todd in the film. The script (which, for what it’s worth, won an Academy Award for best original screenplay) was written by Muriel and Sydney Box. What they meant exactly is impossible to say, I suppose, but to me it is a part of the Platonism/idealism associated with the popular Romanticism of the time (and earlier). You indicated that the phrase made no sense to you, and I referred to Plato and quoted a saying. I checked the source of the saying. It was Walter Pater, a Romantically- and Platonically-oriented writer and art critic. The exact quote is: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” He meant that the arts seek to unify subject-matter and form, and music is the only art in which subject and form are seemingly one.

    “Do *you* believe there is a spirit of music itself?”

    I find the phrase very vague but – obviously from what I have said above – not meaningless. As you suggested, it is associated here with a conservative view of (Western) musical history. Do I accept that view? Intellectually, no. Emotionally maybe.

    “Music is very powerful, but so is imagery. This is why… in addition to the quality you mentioned (“The cinema – more than any other art form – encapsulates the society from which it springs”)… I think movies and theater are the most powerful of the arts. They combine both of the most powerful sensations we have.”

    I note labnut’s comment. I’m not sure myself how to reply to this (or the reference to the deaf) because I am not sure exactly what you are questioning. I agree that forms which combine various elements, like opera and cinema, can be extremely powerful.

    You quote from my reply to Christos: “Science is also dependent on inspiration and genius, of course, but in a different way from the arts. The great figures of science are honored for their ideas, which are incorporated, usually in modified form, into present theories. Their actual words/original works, however, become the province of *historians* of science.”

    And then you say:

    “I think science is open to the same problem as the arts. There is a kind of conservative Romantic hero worship, visions of purity (especially genius breaking from current dogma), and not wanting to disrupt lines of thought/research/method of a notable scientist. And as far as I can tell there are liberal Romantic visions of the self held by scientists in the here and now. I will be the first to cure/discover/understand this mysterious X.

    “It may seem incongruous for something that is supposed to be so analytical, rational, and the product of the Enlightenment to allow for such Romanticism. But maybe that is why the Enlightenment was not enough, and seems to have come undone. It was always there and the ideal of perfect rationality was itself an error in reason.

    “But this raised a question for me. Weren’t there approaches to music that were considered very analytical, almost mathematical?”

    I think you are talking about something slightly different from what I was talking about. I’m not entirely clear where this is going. Draw me out further if you like.

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  28. Hi DB,
    Thinking more about your comment, below:
    I think movies and theater are the most powerful of the arts. They combine both of the most powerful sensations we have.”

    I grant that narratives(and here I include works of fiction or history) are exceedingly powerful because they constitute our communal memory. This communal memory shapes who we are, what we value and what we aspire towards. The preeminent example of this is the Bible, probably the most important piece of Western literature ever created(you will heartily disagree!)

    And yet music sinks into our soul in a way that no other art form does. It reaches down into our pre-rational mind, commanding a strong response, as we saw in the linked toyi-toyi video. What is so powerful about this response is the way that it synchronises or harmonises both our emotions and our actions. This is what makes music both unique and more powerful than any other art form. Music immediately links our emotions with the people around us, commanding a communal response. This is why I defined music as the synchronised dance of the emotions. Narratives, while exceedingly powerful, lack this powerful immediacy to command and synchronise.

    Another indicator of the difference between music and narrative is the unending freshness of the same musical piece. We seldom tire of listening to it again and again. Narratives, on the other hand, may be repeated a small number of times but we soon tire of them. The one exception to this is poetry, which I find can be read time and again with the same enjoyment. But then poetry is very close to song.

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  29. Hi Labnut,

    “I read that as meaning having the power to move our emotions.”

    Yes, that’s right. What you go on to describe (in both of your replies) about music’s special quality seems very similar to what I was referring to as “capacities EJ pointed out nicely”. I guess I should have noted your earlier reply to Margaret as well.

    “This communal memory shapes who we are, what we value and what we aspire towards. The preeminent example of this is the Bible, probably the most important piece of Western literature ever created(you will heartily disagree!)”

    While I would disagree that the Bible (or any Abrahamic text) involves a communal memory of what all people value or aspire toward, I’d be a moron to disagree that the Bible is the most important piece of Western literature. It’s influence, whether intellectual or indoctrinated at force of arms, is unparalleled. Until recently, even those who disagreed were sort of forced to place their arguments on many subjects as responses to it.

    “Another indicator of the difference between music and narrative is the unending freshness of the same musical piece. We seldom tire of listening to it again and again. Narratives, on the other hand, may be repeated a small number of times but we soon tire of them. The one exception to this is poetry, which I find can be read time and again with the same enjoyment. But then poetry is very close to song.”

    I think this might vary from person to person and piece to piece. I can tire of music quickly, and can’t stand most poetry, whereas I can and have watched/read narrative pieces over and over. I believe there are certain movies that could play almost endlessly in the background and I wouldn’t get bored. It would be comforting.

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  30. Since we are talking about Beethoven’s shadow it is useful to see quite how large this shadow is. Charles Murray’s book, Human Accomplishment, the Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 BC to 1950, examines excellence in the main fields of the arts and the sciences, producing a normalised score from 1 to 100 for all the significant figures. Below is the table of the first 20 composers of Western music. This shows that Beethoven and Mozart were the giants, towering over every one else. Bach and Wagner were a distant third and fourth while the rest were also-rans.

    100 Beethoven
    100 Mozart
    87 JS Bach
    80 Wagner
    56 Haydn
    46 Handel
    45 Stravinsky
    45 Debussy
    45 Liszt
    44 Schubert
    42 Schumann
    41 Berlioz
    39 Schoenberg
    35 Brahms
    32 Chopin
    31 Monteverdi
    30 Verdi
    30 Mendelssohn
    27 Weber
    26 Gluck

    Murray calculated these scores by examining the main reference works in the field, counting references and space devoted to each figure. The figure thus represents the broad opinion of many experts. From page 76 onward, the calculation process is explained in considerable detail.

    From the examination of philosophy we can see that Aristotle casts an equally large shadow.

    100 Aristotle
    87 Plato
    74 Kant
    51 Descartes
    46 Hegel
    39 Aquinas
    37 Locke
    36 Hume
    30 Augustine
    27 Spinoza
    27 Leibniz
    26 Socrates
    24 Schopenhauer
    21 Berkely
    20 Nietsche
    19 Hobbes
    18 Russell
    17 Rousseau
    17 Plotinus
    17 Fichte

    But even this does not tell the true story. Aristotle was not only ranked 1 in philosophy, he was also ranked 2 in biology, after Darwin, and 3 in the combines sciences, after Newton and Galileo. To use a hackneyed phrase which is especially true in his case, he was the giant among the giants.

    Will there ever be such a person again?

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  31. Hi Mark,

    “The script (which, for what it’s worth, won an Academy Award for best original screenplay) was written by Muriel and Sydney Box.”

    Being a movie buff and a James Mason fan, I should really watch it.

    “The exact quote is: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.” He meant that the arts seek to unify subject-matter and form, and music is the only art in which subject and form are seemingly one.”

    Now *that* makes sense to me. “The condition of” totally changes how I read it, and your explanation clarifies it. Thanks!

    “I’m not sure myself how to reply to this (or the reference to the deaf) because I am not sure exactly what you are questioning.”

    The discussion and characterization of music seemed to be granting it a kind of supremacy over other art forms, and so something the rest aspire to, rather than just differentiating it from the others. I was questioning that (if it was meant).

    “I think you are talking about something slightly different from what I was talking about. I’m not entirely clear where this is going. ”

    It’s possible I missed your point but let’s see…

    You (seemingly) tried to differentiate sciences from the arts, stating… “Science is also dependent on inspiration and genius, of course, but in a different way from the arts.” I’m not sure if this is true. When artists are inspired it can come from an internal passion they want to express (liberal Romantic?) as well as ideals of past masters (conservative Romantic?) and the rather Romantic idea “genius” is somehow involved with their successes. I don’t see scientists operating any differently. Other than scientists having to suppress personal passions in the midst of work, to get it done right, where do you see the difference?

    I’m not sure if you know that presentation, and mixing with art, is becoming a big thing in science. As far as I can tell presentation, image, and inspiration (moving people) is starting to surpass understanding as the awardable quality in science. I don’t know how many meetings I’ve been to where PechaKucha was the advertised hot thing on the program. For those that don’t know what that is here is a link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PechaKucha) and a for example: “For example, in Groningen, in the Netherlands, two slots are given to a live band, and the final 20 seconds of each presentation consists of an immediate critique of the presentation by the host’s sidekicks.”

    Traditionally, scientists are supposed to restrict themselves to a rational, analytical ideal. The prose dry and straightforward. Dispassionate. Almost clinical. With little of what we might call “artistry”. That is an ideal of behavior and thought that IIRC emerged from/during the Enlightenment, and to which Romanticism was a reaction (or over-reaction?). I think this “reaction” was more or less people realizing (much like the individual artist seeking to escape the bonds of Beethoven) that such formalities are artificial and too constraining for how people actually operate… want to operate.

    Scientists may be the last community to be breaking out of this artificial shell, to leave the shadow of the formalisms of its past masters, but I think it is coming. The sad thing for me is that it is not emerging organically, being pushed by audience desire for infotainment, and is influencing the necessary analytical quality of the work. One day, I hope, a suitable balance will be reached.

    I asked about mathematical approaches to music, because I wanted to hint at the idea music could very well (depending on social tradition) have gone the way of science… with composers and musicians approaching their work analytically and technically, rather than as passionate “geniuses”.

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  32. dbholmes

    “The discussion and characterization of music seemed to be granting it a kind of supremacy over other art forms, and so something the rest aspire to, rather than just differentiating it from the others. I was questioning that (if it was meant).”

    I wouldn’t claim any such thing, though I do think music is very special in the way it impacts on the brain. (Very directly.) I know a neurologist who is very interested in its potential uses in his field.

    “You (seemingly) tried to differentiate sciences from the arts, stating… “Science is also dependent on inspiration and genius, of course, but in a different way from the arts.” I’m not sure if this is true. When artists are inspired it can come from an internal passion they want to express (liberal Romantic?) as well as ideals of past masters (conservative Romantic?) and the rather Romantic idea “genius” is somehow involved with their successes. I don’t see scientists operating any differently. Other than scientists having to suppress personal passions in the midst of work, to get it done right, where do you see the difference?”

    I wasn’t meaning to make general claims about the way scientists work. I was merely suggesting that the *original words and works* of scientific pioneers are of interest not so much to scientists as to historians (of science). This is decidedly not the case in the area of literature, say, or theology or (for many) philosophy.

    “I’m not sure if you know that presentation, and mixing with art, is becoming a big thing in science.”

    This doesn’t really impact on my point.

    “As far as I can tell presentation, image, and inspiration (moving people) is starting to surpass understanding as the awardable quality in science.”

    Aren’t you really talking here about people being rewarded (or “awarded”) for organizing or leadership or communicating (about science)?

    “Traditionally, scientists are supposed to restrict themselves to a rational, analytical ideal.”

    Well, I thought that it was always ‘anything goes’ in the earlier stages of new thinking.

    “The prose dry and straightforward. Dispassionate. Almost clinical. With little of what we might call “artistry”. That is an ideal of behavior and thought that IIRC emerged from/during the Enlightenment, and to which Romanticism was a reaction (or over-reaction?).”

    Romanticism was not a single thing, and, to the extent that one can speak of it as if it were, it was a reaction to *many* things.

    “Scientists may be the last community to be breaking out of this artificial shell, to leave the shadow of the formalisms of its past masters, but I think it is coming. The sad thing for me is that it is not emerging organically, being pushed by audience desire for infotainment, and is influencing the necessary analytical quality of the work. One day, I hope, a suitable balance will be reached.”

    Good luck with that one!

    You obviously have some strong dissatisfactions with the way science is done and some ideal regarding how it should be done, but I am still a bit unclear as to the details and aspects of the rationale.

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  33. Hi Mark,

    “I do think music is very special in the way it impacts on the brain. (Very directly.) I know a neurologist who is very interested in its potential uses in his field.”

    As I said I agree music is basically the most direct art form. It would involve less interpretation than visual or narrative arts.

    “Aren’t you really talking here about people being rewarded (or “awarded”) for organizing or leadership or communicating (about science)?”

    No. Not really. It is interesting that in the past Carl Sagan caught flack from scientists for being a communicator/popularizer of science rather than acting like a scientist.

    “Romanticism was not a single thing, and, to the extent that one can speak of it as if it were, it was a reaction to *many* things.”

    That’s probably true. Remember I said in an earlier thread that I was taught it was largely a reaction to the Enlightenment. So it may take a bit of nudging to break down that concept for me.

    “You obviously have some strong dissatisfactions with the way science is done and some ideal regarding how it should be done, but I am still a bit unclear as to the details and aspects of the rationale.”

    Given the rise in retractions of articles in the sciences, including outright fraud, (so much so it is getting commentary within the sciences) I would say it is not so much an ideal about how it should be done that I am worried about. But yes I do think there is an ideal, which I think has some connection/analogy with shadows people like Beethoven might throw over modern music/musicians.

    I was reacting to this…

    “… about Kant’s shadow, and also about the unromantic nature of most analytic philosophy… but let me just say that I think that the very notion of a canon implies either a religious outlook or one which is committed to ideas like inspiration and genius. Science is also dependent on inspiration and genius, of course, but in a different way from the arts. The great figures of science are honored for their ideas, which are incorporated, usually in modified form, into present theories. ”

    I think there is more to it than just their ideas. I would agree it is not about their exact words, but is the dominating “spirit” or “genius” of Beethoven about the exact notes?

    Anyway, I seem not to be making my point, and it is off topic as you suggested to Christos, so we can leave it there if you want.

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  34. dbholmes

    “I would agree it is not about [scientists’] exact words, but is the dominating “spirit” or “genius” of Beethoven about the exact notes?”

    The spirit of music *is* seen to be dependent on the exact notes of the music written by the great masters, I would say, more or less as the word of God is seen by believers to lie in the exact words of the Bible. As you conceded, science doesn’t work like this.

    What I am saying here about music ties in, I think, with what Margaret was saying about the way Beethoven and other composers are often seen.

    Sviatoslav Richter had the attitude which Margaret was criticizing. He was very self-critical as a performer and gave up trying to compose very early on in his career. I think he is a good (and very famous) example of a performer who passionately felt that he had to reproduce *exactly* what the composer would have wanted.

    I heard him play Beethoven’s 3rd at the Royal Albert Hall. As an encore he played the last movement again, as if to say, “You may have thought that was good, but it didn’t satisfy me – or Beethoven’s ghost.” 🙂

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  35. Hi Mark, this is meant as a question and not an attempt to challenge your point.

    “The spirit of music *is* seen to be dependent on the exact notes of the music written by the great masters”

    It was my (mis?)understanding that it was more than, and separate from, simply the notes. That a musician could break from how things were written (to some degree) and still capture the spirit. Indeed, that by strict adherence it might prevent one from bringing out the spirit of the piece or composer.

    I got this from hearing discussions of technical brilliance (spot on reproduction of notes) versus artistic brilliance after performances.

    If what you say is true, does that mean computers will not just become capable but *be* the best conveyers of the spirit of music?

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  36. dbholmes

    I was articulating a particular view which I took Margaret Rowley to be articulating and which I saw reflected in The Seventh Veil and which, as I understand it, has been exemplified by many prominent – and not-so-prominent – performers. I specifically mentioned Sviatoslav Richter. According to this view, the composer is seen as having been inspired in a very special sense, and the performer’s job is to be what I called a kind of medium, tuning in to the spirit of the original work which is interpreted as far as possible in terms of the original intentions of the composer. All that technical training (emphasized in the film) is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to be a great musician. You’ve got to master the technical side, but that is not enough. The performer must also have a certain kind of flair and insight.

    The phrase “the spirit of music”, which was used in the film, is very vague. You objected to it. I tried to give a plausible interpretation. On the one hand, understanding the spirit of music is about having a particular kind of artistic sensibility. But it also implies (in this context, at least) that something *resides in* the great works. (I made a comparison with holy writ.) You need to follow the exact notes to access this living heart of the work, but you also need to tune in to – and recreate – its “spirit”.

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  37. I’m late to the party! I’m very flattered to be quoted at length, especially about a topic that is so near (if not dear) to the hearts of so many performers and former-performers. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with Conservative Romanticism, and I must admit that much of my education about Romanticism is musical in nature- in all likelihood there are large -scapes on which I’ve missed out because of that.

    I need to do some catch-up comment reading, but just a word (and thanks for the above comment clarifying that I was critiquing this view):

    Labnut, you wrote “Will there ever be such a person again?”

    These are difficult ideas for me to articulate, so forgive any lack of clarity: Beethoven was a man. He was a sick man, probably had stomach ulcers, likely an alcoholic. He was moody, a total asshole to his sister-in-law, he inspired his nephew to attempt suicide. He was somewhat of a forger, taking on the noble “Von Beethoven” instead of the less-meaningful “van Beethoven” in order to try to win a court battle. He wrote music that was popular during his lifetime, and because of the strictly-set rules of harmony and his own musical training, was able to go on composing and conducting long after he could no longer hear. He may have had, many musicologists argue, an African ancestor or two. In short, he was a complex, imperfect human like the rest of us, and his music is complex and imperfect. Of course it is, by many Western measures, good music- but there are many good composers. I prefer some of them. So why the shadow?

    In 1855, twenty-eight years after Beethoven’s death, Wilhem von Lenz published “Beethoven et ses trois styles.” This was the first attempt at dividing Beethoven’s output into three stylistic periods, and it also made a stab at solidifying Beethoven’s place in the canon. Musicology (musikologie, music criticism) was in its infancy, and it was all German. German musicologists had a stake in making sure that the world knew that Beethoven’s music, and the music of other German composers, was the best and most highly evolved music in the world. “Like all products of nature,” speculated Johann Nikolaus Forkel, “the arts and sciences grow to perfection only gradually.” That perfection, obviously, was Germany in the mid-nineteenth century.

    There are many more examples that I’d be happy to search for in my notes- suffice to say, there was much (German) praise of Beethoven after his (German) life was over. As a musicologist, I’m left with several burning questions, among them this: who decides what is good? I would challenge any one of us, me included, to listen anonymously to a Brahms piano quintet and an Amy Beach piano quintet and tell them apart, supposing that we don’t know the specific pieces of either composer intimately. So why is one composer known to even a musical lay-person, and the other was news for the doctoral students in my course this semester?

    My final argument and TL:DR: Beethoven’s shadow has little to do with his music. It has to do with what his (admittedly “good”) music could do for musicologists, for the canon, for Germany. The shadow was created and is maintained within a Western musicological canon that excludes composers based on musical tradition, geographic and temporal location, mode of transmission, and gender. Why do we love Beethoven so much? Sure, his music is good… is it better than Debussy? Worse? How can we even compare them? I believe, especially after watching my students this semester, that we love Beethoven at least in part because we are TOLD that we love Beethoven, and that his music is the pinnacle of artistic achievement. He has a shadow because early musicology made him one, and because we keep maintaining it.

    So will we ever see his like again, as you wonder, Labnut? I would posit that it doesn’t matter. Even if a great composer came along (as many, many composers have in the intervening years), I don’t believe Beethoven’s dominance over Western music has much to do with his music- rather, it has everything to do with the legend continually perpetuated by musicology, and now, popular culture. Of course another composer could stand up to Beethoven’s music, and in my mind many have. (This is beside the point, but I cannot help but hear Beethoven as formulaic and trite after listening to, say, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.) But can another composer stand up to the carefully crafted, German, “perfection” myth of Beethoven?

    In other words, it’s hard to see things in the dark, and Beethoven’s shadow is very dark.

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