Jimmy Mac sent me this link to a brief opinion piece at The Tablet. For me, the text and commentariat both illustrate perfectly how the hermeneutic of subtraction has infiltrated both the realms of religion and music. Many remarks give me pause, and illustrate less a love for music and more a love for particularity. It’s not very catholic:
And yet in no other cultural ambit is there music of equal grandeur to that born in the ambit of the Christian faith: from Palestrina to Bach, to Handel, up to Mozart, Beethoven and Bruckner. Western music is something unique, which has no equal in other cultures. (Pope Benedict)
(H)e is upholding the mantle of a nineteenth-century grounded Hegelian aesthetic in which geniuses (white, male geniuses, of course) are the sole recipients of divinely granted talents. (John Bellarmine Vallier)
I love Pope Benedict. He has great taste in music. He knows what transports the soul and it isn’t “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” (anniefitz)
It is a mark of today’s culture to exalt one’s own preferences by diminishing the preferences of others. It happens rather gently and back-handedly by suggesting one’s tastes have no equal. It happens by the political over-analysis of what gets created in the mind of an artist. It happens in the cult of celebrity.
Music critique is a difficult road. Most good musicians I know rarely criticize music not their own. There is a sense of admiration of art that someone else makes. I think some musicians appreciate the artistic creativity as well as effort they know that goes into the performance of fine music. And believe me: it’s more about a perfect performance coming from a perfect composer. One of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed the university symphony and haven’t missed (much) big city orchestras so much these past seven years is that I know the people performing, and I know what making music means to a young student, a professor, and a university community that relishes the atmosphere of learning and creativity.
I suppose I’m a critic across the board on everything in this piece.
I realize that central European composers have given the world amazing music. It’s not the only amazing music. But it’s what some people grew up with. In Pope Benedict’s case, it’s what he played.
I also realize that some artists, probably all of them, were not perfect saints. If one considers Richard Wagner tainted because of his own opinions or those of his champions, consider that the composer is now dead. In Beethoven’s case, I’d say his ninth symphony works not because of how it might be interpreted negatively, but because of the touch of the divine in the creation of it. Will we examine Ugandan music with a critical eye if one of its creators favor female genital mutilation?
Being a fangirl or fanboy is fine. There’s also a value in learning to play or sing music and appreciating from the inside out. And for those thinking, “Oh, I’m not a musician!” Please: don’t give me that. Even if a music fan does it for only one season, join a community chorus. Take music lessons. Play the music of the people one claims to love. Even imperfectly. In my piano lessons ways back in the 80’s, I was assigned people I didn’t really enjoy playing–at first. But one develops a stronger sense of the music–Bartok, Bach, Mendelssohn, by an appreciation from within. Being a spectator isn’t enough. Listening to music as a mental sedative isn’t the (only) way to go.
Now, speaking for my own taste in music, I appreciate things more Catholic, like this fine concert that encompasses a sea with many cultures rather than one small part of one continent.