|Schoenberg's musical notation|
based on an afternoon tennis match
Fine art can create incredible tension in certain communities, and I have come to believe that this is mostly born of simply not knowing the arts well enough -- as Dr. Hugh Hinton (world class pianist) has pointed out, America has never once in its history taken music education seriously. So we all shouldn't be surprised by the existence of this tension. Saddened, but not surprised.
But I am surprised when I encounter this "tension" amongst Christians. Of all audiences, we should be the very best. We should be open to surprises, the drama in different forms, story telling in different media, seemingly small truths hidden in vast worlds of darkness. Instead, we are often the most reluctant when it comes to experiencing fine art music.
Several of my friends recently shared this article from The Imaginative Conservative. Good, smart people there. I'm sure that Robert Reilly and I would make grand friends, and I should mention now that I'm somewhat intimidated mentioning him here. Mr. Reilly outranks me in pretty much every way he can: smarts, experience, bravery (he served in the military, I believe?) success, authority. He probably has more education, too. I'm twenty-six, unmarried, Anglican, and a classical pianist who helps out with the local food pantry.
I'll get to the point. This article left me exasperated and depressed. I want to do a formal write up about it. In fact, I've written about and devoted much time in studying Schoenberg and Cage during my years at school (and Boethius and Cicero, I might add) -- I should really share some of it here on the blog. But, for now, I want to share just one or two things from my first read through and then, likely over the summer, I'll devote a real blog post worthy of the seriousness of the article.
First: Order does not equate to beauty. I cannot even begin to convey my horror of this definition. "The music of the spheres" argument for dismissing Schoenberg and Cage is an old one (and tiresome). Hitler was incredibly meticulous and organized. We have documents that tell us exactly what time and by what method particular Jewish children were gassed. I would recommend reading some more Tolkien if you truly think that order creates beauty. I would also recommend that you study some Bach chorales and notice, with delight, the places where he purposefully breaks "the rules." (Music is a discipline of practice and not rules. More on this later). Order can be monstrously ugly and evil.
Second: Judge the art and not the artist. Reilly gives the famous "emancipation of the dissonance" quote from Schoenberg, and for many reasons it's an important quote. I'll write more about it. But are we engaging with the music or with the composer's philosophy? If, as Christians, we are to dismiss the music of composers on the grounds of their immorality/rebellious philosophy/what-have-you, then we need to stop listening to Mozart. Put the Requiem in the trash. (An aside: there is a lot of writing and scholarship on the "emancipation" quote, as you could well guess, but one important aspect I want to mention here is its historical context: Schoenberg was himself an escapee of Warsaw, and he chose the word "emancipation" as a political statement regarding Poland. Not that we as listeners shoulder "hear dissonance as consonance" as Reilly claims. More on that later).
Third and finally: the purpose of music is not beauty. This looks like a bold claim, but it really isn't. Two important questions: "What is man's primary purpose?" and what is beauty? Let's the leave the second question for a later post. Consider the first one: if we and all things are here to glorify God, do realize that aesthetically the incarnations of this can be surprising. Giraffes, for example, are to the glory of God. Which is hilarious. So are unmarried women. The soldier who throws himself on a grenade for his friends. So is that disturbing painting "The Rape of Lucretia." Oh, and mud. Mud is glorious. I love mud. Also, I love Schoenberg and Cage.