Sir Roger Scruton

Author

Vintage film camera

You often hear the expression “film music” used pejoratively. “It’s just film music,” said of some new symphonic piece, suggests an overblown pursuit of effect at the cost of structure, of atmosphere at the cost of musical form. But is this just the snobbery of the avant-garde, a kind of musical elitism that belongs to an age from which we have recovered, now that our innocent distractions, once dismissed as “mass culture,” can be enjoyed for what they are, namely fun?

Louis-Léopold Boilly: L'effet du mélodrame (detail), 1830.

What modern producers seem to forget is that audiences are gifted with the faculty of imagination. This faculty is not extinguished by being bourgeois. Indeed, it is one of the faculties that an ordinary decent bourgeois has to exercise continuously, if only in order to respond forgivingly to the contempt of which he is the target.

Modernist buildings loom faceless and jeering over the long-settled streets of the City of London.

The modern concert venue is designed with only two things in view: to create a space uniquely designed for a kind of laboratory listening, and to announce to the world the arrival of yet another architect of genius. The combination of inner sterility and outer megalomania essentially cuts the venue off from the life around it. The resulting hall is not part of the city but stands in opposition to it, defiant testimonial to a dying culture.

Girl listening to music in headphones.

We must be prepared to show young people that the coal face from which their addictive songs have been chipped contains other, more beautiful and more interesting seams of meaning, and that behind the glittering surface lie treasures that are worth far more than the superficial dross.

Woodcut by Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff: Nürnberg von Süden, 1493.

Self-criticism is a virtue, and part of what distinguishes Western civilisation from its more evident rivals. At a certain stage, however, and for no apparent reason, self-criticism gave way to repudiation.

Marcus Stone: An Appeal for Mercy (detail), 1793

The famous French writer Alexis de Tocqueville discerned a permanent danger, which he described in these terms: the tyranny of the majority – that is to say, the danger that every public decision will be taken by the majority for the majority and disregard both the rights of minorities and the possibility of disagreement.

Michelangelo: The Creation of Adam

We have the impression often that truly serious music has, as it were, put its ear to the ground and heard the far-off murmur of the infinite. And that’s the kind of experience you have obviously from things like the openings of Bruckner’s symphonies and the famous opening of Beethoven’s ninth symphony in which the music is saying, “Look, something is speaking through me from far, far away – and you must put your ear to the ground just as I am doing.”

Sandro Botticelli: The Birth of Venus, 1486

People misconceive aesthetics when they see it merely as the realm of beauty. And I think people take revenge on beauty because they don’t see that there’s something more important without which there can be no revenge. And that more important thing is just our instinct to get things right, to make things fit in and harmonize. This is where the aesthetic judgment is a fundamental part of our everyday lives; we are making it all the time.

Max Silbert: Gesangsstunde in der Kinderschule, detail, 1907

I value the musical education that I received, since it did not merely implant in me a love of serious music, but also opened my mind to the way music is composed. It gave me an inside view of the workings of this art, and of the extraordinary part it has had to play in the history of the West.

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