classicism

Topic

As a young artist during the 1950s, I immediately got the point of modernism – to maintain a high aesthetic without relying on traditional narrative structure. But it required some effort to remove the crust of politics that had been applied to it during the 1930s – progressively distorting its deeper meaning and importance – by communist idealists, liberals, radicals, and fellow travelers, most notably in the arts and education.

view of Seaside, Florida

When orchestras rack their brains to discover the ways that they are relevant to their communities, they invariably come up with a wide range of replies that almost never includes their concert hall. Yet there is little else that could appear on that list that is as permanent and concrete as the daily encounter of a community with its concert hall.

Giorgio Vasari: Six Tuscan Poets

It is a common criticism today, as it was in 1341, that to look “backwards” is to look upon something old and decrepit, outdated and dilapidated. Time for us moves only forward, and so paradoxically, while our civilization grows old, it is our past that we label as aged and the day itself as eternally young.

Gerrit Dou: Astronomer by Candlelight (detail), c. 1665.

I hope that my study in contrast will lead us to a deeper understanding of music as it relates to the whole of all things, our human condition and our happiness. I also hope that it will show why music is the most comprehensive of the liberal arts, and why it is the case that to speak about music is to speak about everything.

The ruins of Saint-Etienne-le-Vieux in Caen, France.

Not only is beautiful music being written again but, it turns out, beautiful music was written all along, throughout the 20th century. It simply went underground, but it is surfacing once again. And it is glorious. The tremendously good news is that we are living at the time of a major musical renaissance.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center in Nashville

Designing with this particular attitude towards context does not mean we will arrive at one universally perfect solution every time. If we follow this formula, however, we are most likely to arrive at a building that will be relevant to, embraced and even loved by, the greatest number of people who will see it, visit it, or touch it on any given day.

Plan for a New Lincoln Center by the firm of Franck Lohsen McCrery.

Lincoln Center was to be an acropolis for New York; in a secular city, it was to be a shrine for the arts, a testament to man’s capacity to imagine and represent an ideal world of beauty and harmony, of self-discipline in the service of an ideal, of the communal celebration of man’s spiritual nature and noblest aspirations. Architects Quinlan Terry, Robert Adam, and the firm of Franck Lohsen McCrery present their plans to replace the crumbling structure.

Detail of line engraving by D. Cunego: Pythagoras, after R.Meng, 1782.

Philosophical propositions have a very direct and profound impact upon composers and what they do. John Adams said that he had “learned in college that tonality died somewhere around the time that Nietzsche’s God died, and I believed it.” The connection is quite compelling. At the same time God disappears, so does the intelligible order in creation. This is just as much a problem for music as it is for philosophy.

Panthéon de Paris: Interior view.

Our distorted view of the relationship between modernity and culture has much to do with the idea that culture develops like a timeline: first this, then that – development from A via B to C and so on, with the implication and the hope that it is, in general, an upward line. If this were so in culture, we would end up with some obvious absurdities.

Ambrosius Benson: Le Concert après le repas, 1532.

The modernist composer György Ligeti said in an interview that he felt imprisoned between, on one hand, the past, and on the other, modernism – the avant-garde which he himself had helped into being but which he felt he had somehow to transcend, because “progress” meant to him having to “go forward” all the time on the line of historical development.

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