16 August 2007

Music shall be political

Financial Times review of Weber's Der Freisch├╝tz at the Salzburg Festival:

When the best things in an opera performance are the special effects, it is time to worry. Especially when this is the Salzburg Festival, with the Vienna Philharmonic in the pit and one of the key works of German music history on their music-stands ...

As Max finishes casting his magic bullets, columns of fire shoot up from the stage floor and explode into mushroom-shaped conflagrations with a whoosh. The heat reaches the back row ...

[Director Falk Richter] has decided that the German shooting competition — a tradition still alive and well in many villages — was really master-minded by the military, in order to single out the best marksmen for their own ends. He has updated it to the present, and set it in a place that he obviously wants us to think of as rightwing America. In case we miss the point, he adds large screeds of didactic dialogue, which often lapses into pseudo-Hollywood English. "Be a man, for Chrissakes," Kasper urges Max, then explains: "Rape, war, invasion/Burnt children, low taxes and religion/That is what we would kill for/That is what our hearts yearn for." ...

[Another character] has two verbose interpolated "helpers" who explain to us that the magic bullets contain uranium and a pinch of genocide. They distribute crosses to the chorus and use the dead Kaspar's blood to write "In God we trust" on the wall during the final scene. Richter wants to tell us that ambition, success and money are the roots of all evil ...

Richter pads the townspeople out with fake fat and lets them bop on the beat, parodying Yankee plebs.
Culture in a mediocracy is rebranded as an intrinsically social activity. Cultural output is to be regarded as an expression of the community rather than as the output of a few individuals. Culture must always be seen as a product of its time and place, and determined by the position in social space (class, gender, etc.) of the individuals associated with its production.

The idea of an artist or intellectual standing outside the political process is bourgeois and hence invalid. Cultural output cannot, we are taught, be assessed or appreciated without awareness of its political motivations, social implications and historical context.

No art form is allowed to escape the requirements of the mediocratic ethos. Music may seem relatively harmless, as it is hard to see how it could be making appropriate statements about the social condition, but that makes it in some ways all the more threatening. There must not be any area of life immune from the social searchlight. If something exists, it is social by definition, and hence we need to consider its compatibility with agreed ideological standards.

With musical drama, the decree that culture should express social reality becomes relatively easy to implement. Mediocratic opera productions emphasise the supposed political and sexual aspects of a piece, regardless of whether they were in the mind of the author.

3 comments:

Saltburn subversives said...

Fabian
You might have come across this blog before, if not you will find some very interesting posts in the archive,
http://drsanity.blogspot.com/2007_08_01_archive.html

Sir James Beiggelschwarz said...

The idea of an artist or intellectual standing outside the political process is bourgeois and hence invalid. Cultural output cannot, we are taught, be assessed or appreciated without awareness of its political motivations, social implications and historical context.

Wildean in its scope, Fabian but I agree.

Fabian Tassano said...

"The idea of an artist or intellectual standing outside the political process is bourgeois and hence invalid."

As I'm sure you realised, James, this was meant to be ironic. I just don't always write "we are required to believe that ..." because it gets cumbrous. Which is it you agree with, this position or my criticism of it?