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Toward a Phenomenology of Music: A Musician's Composition Journal Author(s): F. Joseph Smith Source: Philosophy

Toward a Phenomenology of Music: A Musician's Composition Journal Author(s): F. Joseph Smith Source: Philosophy of Music Education Review, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Spring, 1995), pp. 21-33 Published by: Indiana University Press Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40327085 Accessed: 08-11-2018 14:26 UTC

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Toward a Phenomenology of Music:

A Musician's Composition Journal

F. Joseph Smith

Chicago City College

Foreword

Journal keeping is rife these days, and in fact

it has a long literary history. It needs no particu-

lar justification as a genre of writing and is

actually more direct and honest as a form of

expression. The following are entries from my

journal now in its seventy-first volume, compris-

ing nearly 14,250 pages to date, written in a

number of languages, covering many topics and

including major sections on the philosophy of

music. I excerpt segments of this extensive,

partially published opus dealing with musical composition. My composition teacher was Leo

Sowerby at the American Conservatory of Mu- sic, Chicago. He wanted me to major in compo-

sition, but at Freiburg University I was led astray

into musicology and phenomenology, returning

later to composition as such. My works have

been presented and premiered at colleges, univer-

sities, churches (American Guild of Organists

recitals and regular services), and coffee sessions

in the USA and Canada over the years. Enough

said! Currently, a new York publisher is looking

at a set of Preludes and Fugues among other

pieces, that include a 'Peace Cantata*' and key-

board "Explorations." Let the "phenomenology

of music" emerge spontaneously from these

journal entries. And maybe that is better music

education as well! These are edited entries from

about 1993 to the present. "Negative" comments have since given way to more positive attitudes,

greatly due to the wonderful new instruments to

compose for at church and for people there.

1. Re-identifying as a composer and performer,

after wandering afield into musicology and

phenomenology as such, I now appreciate the

complaints of specialist-composers that we are

treated by the music media as though we didn't

exist, or that what we are engaged in does not

factor into the current musical and artistic cul-

ture. In musicology we may well and deservedly be regarded as marginal, given the narrow and often trivial pursuits engaged in-with a goodly number of notable exceptions, of course. But at

least musicologists get published and have access

to national and other conferences. Under such

circumstances few of the composers we actually

get to hear at Chicago Symphony Orchestra

concerts-Daniel Barenboim is steadily improving

this situation-or on FM radio would ever have

gotten known. Conceivably, even Mozart would

have gotten masked out by a canon of older

music, and we might never have heard of him

but for some meticulous and studious musicolog-

ical treatise or two. It is a bit frightening both

for working composers as well as for the pros-

pects of general artistic culture, it seems to me.

We are presented in recitals and on FM with past

glories. But where is the future if our actual

present is missing, except marginally?

2. Extensive Holocaust studies prompt me also

to add that contemporary composers might begin

to feel some solidarity with vanished composers

© Philosophy of Music Education Review 3, no. 1 (Spring 1995): 21-33.

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22 Philosophy of Music Education Review

like Erwin Schulhoff, cut down in mid-sympho-

ny (no. 8) in KZ Wülzburg during "Thé pour deux, World a Medieval War Chanson" II. in various

It's hardly the same, but our awareness needs to

variations and permutations. My response was

settings. Stravinsky has written that the best

response to music is simply more music. And

we thus set up more than just a wordy dialogue with our colleagues. A "new tonality," refresh-

ing and enjoyable! Mostly, listenable and play-

able, too.

4. The all but total silence on any music outside the sacred canon has been a form of oppression-

by-ignoring. Luckily there are progressive

musicians at work trying to remedy this. At

least in rock music, such as it is, composers get

heard. So do jazz musicians and organists

improvising at clubs and in churches and tem-

ples. Without our contemporary composers

actual culture goes begging. Recitals and radio

give us museum pieces, marvels of art, but out

of another age. What we need in America are

Music Nova ensembles, as in student days in

Europe, not tokenism or even sincere efforts to

schedule a few new composers' works. At

Freiburg/FRG I heard a lot of live contemporary

music, including Pierre Boulez, and radio con-

certs by the regional radio orchestras. Coming

home to the USA I searched in vain for anything

remotely comparable.

5. Recently at the Art Institute exhibit on Entar-

tete Musik, I examined a score by Arnold

Schoenberg and saw right away what he was trying to do: searching and following not a system but the Muse. He developed not arid rules or a straightjacket system but saw and

heard emergent patterns that were clues to under-

lying pantonal principles, themselves never

meant to be systematized the way it was done in

the fifties over here. Calling any musical tradi-

tion dépassé is too abstract a characterization. Rather, a musician grasps instinctively that a

given tradition is simply played out No one can

compose like Mozart again and produce that

sound again. It has already been played through and out! Mozart is not thereby disparaged but is

be reawakened. It is a sad fact that conservative

conductors like the brilliant and mystical Karajan

made careers after the War that in effect buried

such composers in oblivion. To its eternal

credit, musicology is bringing them back to life!

Thus, silence on our composers has had oppres-

sive and tragic implications, going far beyond

mere neglect or marginalization in favor of

musical canons or trite commercialism. None of

us performers or composers has been carted

away to a death camp in mid-performance or

right after a première, as happened at Theresiens-

tadt and other camps. Victor UUmann has

written of the "spiritual counter-world" created by composers, as their defiant resistance at that

notorious "resort"

3. Looking at some of my own recent pieces,

like 'The Twenty-Six Preludes" on the Presbyte-

rian Hymnal, many performed as part of the

services, I seem to write in a "new tonality." It

is no return to classic tonalities and modes but

rather a recouping of both classic and a spectrum of contemporary idioms where they seem appro-

priate and useful. I agree with Theodor Adorno

that what we call classic tonality-pace Leonard

Bernstein and others-is not identical with natural

tonality as such, which among other things is

hardly well-tempered. I believe with John

Gilbert and other contemporary composers that

there is a broad range of possible styles today

and that a fresh look at tonality is among these options. (Cf. Gilbert and others in the recent CD

"New Sounds from the Village.") The days of

the official style are over. Our current situation is one of a liberated pluralism, in which we may

even subsume the values of the past into Jhe

present and future, transformed and even trans-

muted, of course, for the new century that is

almost upon us. Gilbert's witty "If Time Re-

members" spoofs and transmutes 'Tea for Two"

in a series of clever and imaginative keyboard

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F. Joseph

Smith

instead

waters and muddled heads with little heart or

honored

a

era

imitating him,

and

insight into beauty and even honesty.

style. W

example, resonate

f

of

7. Not just classic harmonies and rhythms are

"naive," we think; and we can no longer com-

the

Concerto

pose that way except in quotations or flashbacks.

6. Hannah

collapsed

The display of runs, octaves, repeated broken

chords, these are also no longer available to us

Arendt

tradit

future. We're

in a modern idiom. There is a lot more, there-

at

s

menting

fore, to focus on than just an expansion of

in

hopes

in our works. Thus one ties in with such com-

posers as Aaron Copland's concept of American music, even as we resist imitating here, too. It

is a start and an aspect of our recovery from the

perhaps unintended devastation by serial tech-

niques, the scholasticizing of Schoenberg's

creative insights in a phenomenon that was more intellectual than musical, barring obvious excep-

tions. Real creative spirits by contrast accept

that we are in a temporary limbo that no system-

atizing will remedy. We are in some sort of

unfinished state of being, in a negative ontology

that nevertheless bespeaks freshness, lucidity and

hope, alongside the inadequacies and vague

longings. We need to listen for our truer feel-

ings in this open area bordering on hope and

despair, an area that nothing can quite fill and

that defeats vain strivings and spurious activities.

It is the feeling of being unformed, embryonic, at loose ends, of being everywhere and nowhere;

a feeling of freshness and hope, of dark damp- ness, a certain transparency and perlucidity of

spirit precisely because we are searching amid

resonances from the past and expectations of an

aborning future. Something flowing, something

singing-perhaps in the spirit of a Schumann, a

Mozart, a Mendelssohn-that's what a person needs to compose again, though in our new

idioms! If we can no longer do that, something

seems drastically amiss with our efforts, it seems

to me. In our expansion toward pantonality in

whatever contemporary idiom, we have come up

with quite a range of musical curiosities that

make one yearn for simpler and perhaps more sincere days! Some clarification is called for in

our century after experiencing such muddied

harmonic range. The whole shape of contempo-

rary music demands an inventiveness not hereto-

fore imagined. Are we up to such an enormous task, individually or collectively? The phenome-

non is almost cosmic in scope! Any current

phenomenology of music has to begin here.

8. Not unlike Wittgenstein, John Cage came up

with aphoristic pronouncements and then stepped

on to ever new ones, not bothering to elaborate much or work things through. But it is exactly

this that we musicians must develop in both

concept and practical detail. Whatever we think

of Edmund Husserl, he did insist on working

things through (ausarbeiten), not just making

grand assertions. I believe a composer realizes

best of all the need to work things out.

9. Bernstein always composed with a program in mind, Joan Peyser tells us. It was never an

academic exercise with him but music for a

show, even without actors or a stage. This is

probably more germane to the actual nature of

music as a social phenomenon. It was also what

made his music not just listenable but intriguing.

Apparently, we learn, it was René Leibowitz

who brought serialism to Paris, establishing a

kind of theoretical supremacy that could even

characterize Igor Stravinsky as a dilettante! Peyser describes the whole project as deadly

serious and joyless. Boulez, Leibowitz' s student,

apparently even led a booing session at a Stra- vinsky concert! With Milton Babbitt it meant

graduating from pop to art music. Now that all seems passé and defunct!

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24 Philosophy of Music Education Review

10. Bernstein, following the lead of classic jazz

times theorists consciously thematized tonality, if

as well as the classics he played and conducted

we read medieval, Renaissance and Baroque

so well, went for tonality. And music even theorists, Schoenberg and not just impose nineteenth

advised his tennis partner, George century musical Gershwin, pedagogy and to harmonic catego-

stick with his tonal genius and ries retroactively not take on lessons them. We throw the word

in serialism. And Berthold Brecht got Kurt

'tonality" around rather loosely to describe

Weill off sterile experiments into people music.

True, we need to reconceptualize ties, it seems and to experiment me. Detailed musicological data

musics of quite different origins and conceptuali-

with the parameters of classic tonalities. Mozart

back this up. Whatever the case, Schoenberg

and then Haydn arrived beyond accidentalism at

"structural chromaticism/' which is more than

tried testing the limits of tonal music as he knew

it from modern times and tuning and did so

just the alteration of an otherwise creatively enough, diatonic never seg- regarding his probings

ment or section, and which may even have

as a system or prescribed mechanism or mindset,

foreshadowed Schoenberg himself (one thinks of

especially not a set that engendered any music

the beginning page of Mozart's C Major Quar-

tet). Schoenberg seems to have been the final

per se, like some sort of pseudo-Platonic arche-

typal form.

chapter in this musical evolution; and Leibowitz,

Babbitt, and others seem to represent a scholasü-

12. At the practical level, the composer can

cizing decline, guilty also of a number of sim-

work with the given keyboards (piano, organ,

plicities: identifying tonality as such with all

synthesizer, etc.) and try to expand the range and

music before Schoenberg, though such classic

resonances of tonality as such, without giving up

music of recent eras was but one actualized and

delimited form of tonality; thinking that "atonali-

ty" was the "solution," even as it ended up as an

intellectualizing form of pan-tonality; adopting a rather artificial "mathematics" instead of delving

into a more thorough philosophy of number, as

did even the medieval music theorists like

the search and struggle by settling for any kind

of categorical system or simplistic arithmetical mechanism. Thus a new chromatic spelling may

also be needed, departing from Harmony I as we learned it from updated pedagogy. We carry it

over into a new structural conceptuality not

dictated by school categories or mindsets but by

Jacques de liège in the "reactionary" but thor-

what emerges within the explored phenomenon of

oughly thought-through and voluminous Specu-

sound itself y specifically from the actual materials

lum Musicae9 the neglected summation of all

of sound we work with-keyboards and instru-

medieval music theory as such.

ments, figures, shapes, motives, permutations of

form, etc. There seems to be a natural reason, I

think, for some pieces of ours and of others to

11. We should no longer try going the way of

serialist scholasticizers. There is something in

sound bad, while others do not. It cannot all be

the very nature of sound itself that we have thus

just cultural conditioning. There must somehow

far failed to grasp, especially as a guide to

be a natural and ear-related cause for our rejec-

musical composition, to say nothing of a philoso-

tion of some contemporary pieces as "unmusi-

phy of music. Momentarily abstracting from the

cal." Our inability to tolerate certain new com-

various historic tunings, we have the generality

positions is not only because they sound bad,

of tonal music as such in variant expressions, however correctly conceptualized. Rather our

though tonality per se has never really been

physiological and aesthetic sensibilities and

shown as an achieved concept, only as a fact of

perceptions have been badly impacted by awk-

musical life in a kind of generalized postulation.

In history composers of whatever ilk and some- reasons for sound to coalesce or not, to make

ward or arbitrary schemes. There are natural

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F. Joseph

Smith

25

modes.

music or not. This needs

brittle categorizations canno

ress in

the discovery

IS. Musical sound is not sound as such. A

of the

music as a phenomenon, th

waterfall, a rainstorm, a thundering train or truck

(pace Cage!), even wind chimes are not ipso

because we are either too eag

facto music but rather materials to be worked up

13. Once we begin

into musical composition through the creative

to acc

against dissonance, we can

the "objective" phenomena of sound but of the

natural basis of consonance,

human agent or subject. It is a matter not just of

als

as we see from medieval treatises and farther

back in history. What is in fact the natura soni,

the very nature of sound as such? We can

neither accept acoustical data as "objective," nor can we submit to purely "subjective" theories. It

is the phenomenon we need to question, as we

work with and within it experientially. I see the

need here for astute and practical reductions of

both sound-phenomena and our perceptions,

leaving both intact but significantly modified in

the crucible of thought and actual composition.

14. There seems to be an instinctive musicality at work in us that both attracts us away from

trite tonalities and thought-forms toward the

expansion of our musical horizons, and a sense

of revulsion at what is maladroit or constitutes

merely mentalistic forms, as we think, compose,

listen, perform. Sound as such becomes musical,

whatever the musical materials, in the workshop

of the composer and theorist We need to sound

out the process better than we have thus far.

And maybe we do even achieve the crystal-

lization of concepts in the sense of Walter

Benjamin, concepts that contain and reflect

experiential percepts themselves. Yet~and on a

natural basis still to be laid bare-not all sound

materials seem able to be musically elaborated.

There are more than just musical considerations

at work here! What indeed is the natural funda-

ment of sound that, prior to perception and

conceptualizations, is either co-optable within or

intractable to a humane musical aesthetic? We

need to work up an "aesthetic from below," from the phenomenon itself, not from prior mindsets,

and lay bare a truer musical affectivity that

results from listening and not just preset thought-

engagement of the human subject acting on

sound. (Thus, one begins to grasp Kzysztov

Penderewsky's De Natura Sonoris.) It takes the

creative human to shape natural sound, giving it shape as art.

16. I do not understand musicians today who

are "only" historians, educators, composers,

theorists, or whatever! I believe the Muse moves

us to do some of all of that at one time or

another. As composer, Bach was always teach-

ing us through his compositions what could be

done with extant musical materials and forms.

We are required by our Muse to do many diverse

things, maybe become a Magister Ludi (cf.

Hermann Hesse's Das Glasperlenspiel)l

17. I just finished "Afterthought in D" and it

sounds a bit like Bernstein! I agree with him

that there are uncharted and fresh possibilities

within tonality, understood in a larger sense,

even as broadened to embrace neo-Romanticism

itself. Bernstein was in touch not just with an

academic tonalism but with a rich cultural ma-

trix, drawing on jazz, the classics, Jewish roots,

and even atonal effects. His was a vibrant

tonality, a mixed phenomenon; and this "real-

ism" kept him from the naive pursuit of intellect-

ualoid fads of those now apparently defunct

times. Instinctively he knew his genuine musical

roots and, not unlike Benjamin Britten, he ad-

vised composers to say what they had to, provid-

ed it was an honest and uncontrived expression

or statement that was and remained musical.

18. There's nothing wrong with either expand-

ing tonality or working at its edges as did not

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26 Philosophy of Music Education Review

only Schoenberg, but in terms of structural

factored into whatever musical or other judgment

chromatics, also Mozart himself, and later

Haydn, too. But just to break in a vacuum with our cultural roots to pursue a vastly and artifi- cially reduced musical phenomenon is something

quite other than either instinct or genuine culture.

Bernstein, perhaps precisely because he was "all too human," was all the more genuine, musically

and otherwise. The music flows in incredible

we might make!

20. Graduating from jazz and Broadway, Babbitt

must have thought he could find musical struc-

ture in the correct "set of formulas" with which

mind could govern practice. It was not only a

matter of asceticism, but also of slaying father

figures like Stravinsky. They were too focused

variety. Babbitt's music seems largely a result

on pitch and harmonic permutation, it seems to

of an intellectual adventure. Even his prose concerning the Bernstein book seems fall of

me. Yet one of the things a good musician

instinctively knows is that rhythm has to be in

controlled Agnew-esque alliterations. He with-

your bones, not just your calculating head!

draws into a narrow arithmetical shell, from which, however, the Muse does seem to have

rescued him from time to time, if we go along

with Judy Lochhead's analyses. Bernstein, no such ascetic, is at least to me infinitely more

appealing, even as I recognize historic intellectu-

al needs with attendant excesses decreed by

uncritical restructuring mandates. Look at the

rich sources Bernstein could drawn on: classical

music, American and Judaic songs and rhythms,

everything from Mozart through Scott Joplin and

Gershwin! After he left jazz, what was there left

for Babbitt to draw on except increasingly arid and listener-alienated mindsets seeking embodi-

ment in what was left as music? Anyone is, of

course, at liberty to experiment in whatever

manner he or she chooses, but pitch sets and

acoustics are not music as such: an art form that

listens to the Muse in a larger mathesis than

rudimentary counting. Moreover, the overcom-

ing of classic tonality, not unlike its development

since the Renaissance, is a collective effort of

generations of composers, not the task, assumed or imposed, of one self-appointed individual or

even school. And this holds unless we are

simply to submit to a new scholasticism.

Similarly, motives and themes, even anti-themes,

have to be in your ear, in your musical imagina-

tion. There is a point after which both harmony

and ihythm in Babbitt and others seem simply a

head trip. But music is not mere technique or

mathematics. Musical number is there, as the

history of measured sound tells us, but it is there

to be heard and not just to be stored in the

recesses of our brains. It does matter to have

people want to listen to our works, such as they

maybe.

21. It's all fan, yet there's a desperate edge to

a lot of these people in their efforts to forge

ahead. One also sees the risk of having music

break out of context with theater, language,

people, culture and society itself in favor of often frenetic individual explorations. Music

seems manipulated, too, for other ends, personal

and careerist. I was shocked to read Babbitt's

comments on academic versus "show-biz

crowds," i.e., ordinary concert-going people. He

composed, he says, for philosophers (luce Carl

Hempel?) and mathematicians! I find the narrow

perspective, in which mathematics never gets

beyond rudimentary arithmetic, not just offput-

ting but appalling. There is nothing at all wrong

19. Yet~a bit of reassuring relief-Stephen

with maintaining a particular view of music, but

Sondheim's lessons with Babbitt at Princeton

reveal a more tolerant person, who would not

impose his own schemes on an original talent.

Surely this must mitigate our criticisms and be

when the rest of us are supposed to feel even

guilty about not being committed serialists, something is amiss. In fairness, however, it

must be noted, that Babbitt himself seems not to

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F. Joseph

Smith

27

have been

responsible fo

Donaueschingen, and recently at Northwestern

Fidelity

this is all history

University. I experimented a lot, even whi

title, Who Cares i

now!

working as a medievalist and musicologist, b

I remain mostly a tonalist/modalist, but hardly

the tradition. I've improvised with others on

22. Karlheinz Stockhause

takte) presents a much

mga> got the idea of the "moment" or t

ric

conceptuality. He worke

with

"now," as also of the "nuclear cell" that gene

for

the process of

ates form, and so on. It all occurs to just about

suitable pitches from

into noise, of

forming

every modern composer, along with what to d

with the serialist guilt trip laid on the America

nois

rhyt

All of

Babbitt's seemingly

this was vastly

scene. Babbitt did, of course, work with tradi-

m

tional equal temperament at one time as well a

nar

with the archaic piano-roll synthesizer (pr

Moog) at Columbia/Princeton. That all seem

Momente, however, we s

And

simply

it is here that Babbit

very

naive and campy now!

traditional, p

Some others, such

The need for preliminary instructions that

prepare us for serial music seems to follow on

deficiency of the phenomenon itself, incapable

being presented as such to either the ordina

as Stoc

and Luciano Berio seem to be much more inter-

esting composers with a richer musical experi-

ence. As in philosophy, American theorizings

seem arid, if not aesthetically impoverished.

Whatever makes our intellectuals that way,

musicians are not so by nature!

listener or the musician. Meticulous instructions

on either composing or listening seem to connote

a brittle metaphysical superstructure, perhaps

born of what Husserl called a metaphysical

adventure, a structure unable to exist outside the

laboratory hothouse and incomprehensible except

to an initiated few. What is the agenda here for

both decent musician or hapless audience?

23. The spectrum of avant garde music since

1945 is quite bewildering. There is no way we

could even get to listen to it all, let alone ana-

lyze it satisfactorily. Perhaps the "new analysis"

of Lawrence Ferrara of New York University

would be more enabling of it. Anyway, live

performances seem at a premium, as if only the

pre-war classics existed. And what of us ordi-

nary workings stiffs?! Coming from a back-

ground of classic modality in addition to Bach

and company, we were exposed to medieval,

Renaissance, and Baroque music in spades, and

also to Olivier Messiaens and Jean Langlais. We

knew Bela Bartók' s music and that of

24. Babbitt did indeed address himself to the

"perceptional and conceptional capacities of the

human auditor," but in a critique of the electron-

ic revolution and thus defensively. And the

"human auditor" sounds like some odd entity

"out there" for him, something he in the last

instance cannot afford to utterly ignore. One suspects that for his laboratory tape there is

another corresponding tape: the human auditor

Stravinsky. We heard Phillip Glass and George

viewed as a necessary evil, as receptor for his

Perle, a good bit of Copland and others. But

input By contrast, Stockhausen appealed to the

unless you get this through a good survey (such

listening subject. This, it seems to me, is less

as Griffiths) and conscientiously sample it as

stilted and more humane as well as being more

best you can, you remain rather benumbed by

phenomenological. This current critique surely

the sheer phenomenon itself, even as underrepre-

has a place in the progress of composition in a

sented in recital and radio programs. I heard

post-serialist milieu that admits of a great deal

Stockhausen played at the Freiburg Kaufhaus

more in the sensible recovery of a transformed

hall by H-P Goebel in recital there, by Boulez at

tonality, in the shared struggle of wondering-

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28 Philosophy of Music Education Review

with many other musicians-where dance in we your came head, from utterly awa

and whither we are progressing, perhaps partly in

partner and people making merr

a cyclical return to roots and origins. In criticiz-

my real critique: serialist arith

ing facets of some composers, concentrating

simplistic and naive but a dea

especially on the listenability of some of their

applied dogmatically to music

efforts, we begin an inchoate phenomenology of

prelude to the death of music

music as such. The preliminary stage is natural

ask! And how mathematical was Babbitt's

and allowable, in fact inevitable. No one denies

music after all? Beyond counting and juggling

others' obvious talents, but many additive meters, of our does he mentors get into proportionality

(<z la Jacques de liège), let alone logorhythms (à

were terribly flawed withal. The critique only

underlines a basic acceptance and respect for the

la Iannis Xenakis)? Electronic composers get

sincere struggles of others and their ingenuity.

into some of this by dint of the technology itself.

One only objects to any absolutizing of whatever

But mathematics as such goes a long way, and

emerges in the struggle or to putting oneself in

I'm unsure how developed serial mathematics

the same category as Bach, Mozart, and the like.

really is beyond counting staggered metrics as in

Relata I and II.

25. I think what we all are doing is aiming for

a "new tonality" under whatever guise, and

27. Babbitt scores European serialism for using

meanwhile, in almost Kantian manner, we seem

the row as a compositional device instead of a

to be probing the edges of an already achieved

precompositional scheme. What does this mean?

terrain. All these new efforts may be stages in

That mathematics (admittedly only arithmetic) is

what may hopefully become a convincingly

available new synthesis, accessible, basically

the bones of music, that it comes before any

sound, that it is indeed preset, that it is some sort

listenable, essentially do-able, a new but com-

of form that in a neo-scholasticism shapes musi-

monly spoken musical language that has been

cal matter? It looks as though music theory is

through individualistic traps and cultural risks

now supposed to generate practice precisely in

and merely private languages. There is, of

terms of mindsets that are arithmetically preset.

course, always room for dialects, patois, and

This is a narrow interpretation indeed of creative

even some jargon. I have a hunch that some of

musical intelligence and the compositional

this critique is that serialism process. has It is doubtless seemed clever im- enough but at a

posed- unasked, unneeded and rather unwanted-on primitive mathematical the level. It is moot

body of musical composition. There is an

whether or not the genius of either mathematics

element of humbug and hoax to dogmatic theory

or of music inhabits such simple tinkerings with

of the sort criticized here. It's reassuring to read

the bones of the Muse. For me, too, it resonates

similar even scathing comments on the subject

the life-hating ascetic with intellectual preten-

by such stellar musicians as Leon Kirchner. He

sions never quite met, the withdrawn recluse

denounced cerebralism and who "quasi-arithmeti- wants to drag the hapless Muse into his

cians" who worship the fetish of complexity for

cave, there to torture her with his childish puz-

its own sake. He opted for warm-blooded music

and away from graphs, charts, and cold stylistic

28. I was glad to read that author Gilbert Chase regarded serialism as at very least quite conser- 26. "One, two, three" is not vative a matter and even traditional, of abstract if not reactionary!

minutiae.

zles.

mathematics but of dancing numbers, getting

The kind of almost mechanical structures do not

people to hoof it with you! That is "higher

just prevent chromatic chaos, as intended, they

math," and not a reduction to a cold and deadly

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F. Joseph

Smith

29

make form

long since tried to do this but with spotty results

and

compositio

the classic Deity

in terms of tonal quality. Handmade instruments

created

beings out of

from other cultures help, but the answer is not in

chaos and

pri

not a skeleton

borrowing from others. Most of us turn out a

or a large

finely

crafted! Luckily, Sc

variety of experimental music, some of which

and

Webern

may be notable and memorable. I get the idea

had

such

pro

that they

brittle mentalisms. What w

the

submitted

that Babbitt wants to ensure that every note he

ever wrote will be memorable and listable, even

in

disciples is unfortunately

if not listenable. People like Stephan Wolpe and

o

some strange deity. I'd

T. Ross Finney seem musically more convincing,

e

suggest that Babbitt and

as they sought chromatic integration and structur-

their own

musical al organization, listenable potenti and accessible as well.

even

grow

such

an

"expanded" seria

By contrast Perle seems the voice of both musi-

musically

cal innovaüveness and humaneness.

or even

circumstances? Wa

30. As composers of today we cannot imitate

ment or perhaps just the e

trip? I only

great composers of the past or present, but we

ask. They

m

genii of

can use them as creative models. We need to

the fifties-now

o

one was never convinced even then. It struck

me as a forced march, as cerebral in a particular-

ly skewed manner, as an intellectuality that stood

up quite badly against the greats of even medi-

eval music theory. And the more I learn of it

the more I think my initial reaction was instinc-

tively on the mark!

29. Even the tonal elements we all reacted

get at the qualities we see and hear in them, e.g.

the classic clarity of Mozart or Ravel. And there is no harm in resonating traces of classic idioms honoring great composers. The adulatory organ

pieces of Sigfrid Karg-Elert are, disappointingly,

just good imitations! In Bach we admire not just

the consummate craftmanship but the imaginative

inventiveness, seemingly endless, in short, his

superb artistry. In Mozart we admire his mastery

against, including the soggy Wagnerian pathos, in the execution of musical ideas, in Beethoven

are not adequately addressed in serial music. We the channeling of an almost volcanic energy, in

search for models, and Mozart's "structural

Debussy the imaginative breaching of the borders

chromaticism"--not yet adequately thematized

of tonality but always in musical manner, in

and described-seems a better start, in that it was

Ravel the clarity and spice. We can take these

already more than mere accidentalism. It does

models of artistry and craftsmanship into any

not and did not, of course, 'lead" to serialism, contemporary as idiom, where they will stand us in

asserted by one author. Neither did late

good stead along with a resonating of prior

Beethoven quartets or piano works of Debussy. techniques and forms, like toccata, fugues, and

What to do with the extant keyboard and its

sonata now seen as a shaping of sound and not

tuning was the real question, never addressed iust in as a ready-made form.

all this, except by the "exotic" Edgard Varèse.

Perhaps we just need to accept that tonality, such

31. We can get clues, too, from the other arts as

as we have known it, has done its all, like classic

to where to go from here! If music goes its own

modalities. Where to go from here may be

way regardless of what culture, the arts, science

toward different instruments, differently and

and language are achieving, is this a proper

more idiomatically tuned, and toward new men- contextual development, or is it musical autono-

talities more attuned to musical instinct, rather

my driven into isolation? We have to remain

than to "mind" Synthesizers, of course, have

with the perceptive listener and all those partici-

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30 Philosophy of Music Education Review

pating in the Gesamtkunstwerk which finds better

33. As critic, I am simply disappointed at the

goals in the work of Roman Ingarden, his pheno-

lack of richness of musical experience and

menology of music and film, than in the classic-

apparent default of a viable musical organizing

Romantic approach of Wagner. In other words,

principle within a larger human context. The

it is a matter of music within a viable culture

and context. Within our culture, we can then

begin to ascertain where not only music is

tending but the arts as such, and in fact, where humanity itself is going! In a way this compli- cates everything yet simultaneously expands our

ability to develop contextual nodes within a vital

world, not just in the recesses of an isolated

mind. And what is a "node"? Probably a

developmental point within musical and artistic

dynamics. And here we might even consult

some sophisticated mathematical or computer

models.

32. After exploring the edges of extant harmony

and form and seeing the results of mentalisüc

adventures, what are we actually looking for as

musical within a human and humane context?

For starters, it might be simply clarity or clearly

simplicity. Any past or present models interest us, as primers of the pump! Chant still beckons

as a model of modality, and Purcell, Bach,

Couperin, Mozart and Ravel for different slants

on tonality. We can no longer recompose such

music, but we can strive for a viable vision of

clarity and integrity that motivated them on a

path toward great art. This implies a fresh

diatonicism as well as structural chromaticism.

In all this I think we are led back to a philoso-

phy of the human being, but in a down-to-earth

sense, touching the questions we all ask of

ourselves, our children, our city, our country-the

world itself: What is humanity? and Where is

our world going? This is in fact an amplification

of Kant's own query! This is after all the con-

text of our question and our quest: la situation

humaine. It is enormous in scope, but-dull or

brilliant- we all have to cope with it every day in

some way and at some level just to survive, to

say nothing of creating a culture, a humane

atmosphere for society and the arts.

reductive-ness of serialism was ascetical and

counterproductive, it seems to me. And, as soon

as we begin to mention organizing principles and structures, we should be aware of classic models,

like that of Kant. There are still useful elements

available in critical philosophy, itself brought

into our own century.

34. By contrast with the eras of Bach and of

Mozart, our times are characterized by instability

in general and in the arts, particularly in musical

composition, as we flail about for guidance and direction in a meaningful expression of our art.

We try to be different and neither trite nor

reactionary. Yet a certain sameness emerges that

is disconcerting, at least within serialism, and

bordering on the boring and the trite. I'm not sure but that some minor devil is cackling hid-

eously somewhere in Hades, as he welcomes

individualists to the same cave over which hangs

Dante's sign: Lasciate ogni speranza voi chi

intrate! Why is it that so many serial composi-

tions sound the same? And even in perceptual

chaos, however highly organized conceptually,

what comes out seems anemic, frustrated, abort-

ed. One continues to admire Schoenberg, Berg, Anton Webern and others, including some nota-

ble Americans. What I seem to be objecting to

is the classic club, that became a kind of incubus

imposed on the musical world after World War

II. Maybe deprogramming or an exorcism was

required. But in the meantime, it seems just to

have faded away. The great composers, includ-

ing Stravinsky and Copland, made serialism their

own in an adapted and humanized manner, trying

to make music out of it, but unable to adhere to

the dogma. My own use of serialism is mostly spoofing and mocking and a perceptual rather

than conceptual approach, thus working not from

sets but sounds, from the phenomenon not

mentalisms. This may well come out as not very

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F. Joseph

Smith

31

successfully

action. The implosion of the musical materials

veiled

disdain.

anyone's actual talent, o

vehicle of

seems obvious, both to the ear and to a critical

mind.

it, that in

fac

undermined

some control mechanism. B

the whole mus

36. As you reach for fuller sound phenomena in

sound

than with

phenomena of

musical composition, you think not just of

what

pitch

harmony, counterpoint, musical nuclei and nodes,

tones or c

evoke the resonances of

form and shape, but also of individual instru-

sources, shape ments and ensemble. the You don't spectr necessarily set

apprentices to out to compose the for solo Muse instruments, to write he for

fixated

on

our own

a quartet, piano trio, chamber music, or for full

preset

push

limits of

heed

back

orchestra; rather, it seems to happen as you

the intellectua

the musical phe

compose, as you build and expand, as you search

Kant's warnings abo

for embodiment of viable concepts under inspira-

and

still end

tion by the Muse. Classic rule-writing fostered

the notion that following all the regulation leads

up

with

an

ae

35. As sentient to a work of persons art. But, while we must needs we be

erably

ness. This is perhaps what

mixed

schooled in some good pedagogy, we also in-

stinctively know that the Muse looks askance

phenomenon

And

here we also run

more often than not at mere pedantry. For the

st

warnings even

any

fluidity

referto. German Idealism

first time I think I see where I am headed in

about that:

composition. I'm free to use "melodic types"

way, not to expect "co

and

from music history as well as to work immedi-

a matrix

for

ately with complex sound phenomena. I can

menology naively pounced

"content" of

compose with a clearer conscience, making use

of the cornucopia of historical models as well as

consciousness

rated

an

inchoate dynam

the sheer inspiration of sound as such. But it is

seems to be a kind

obvious that my compositions still need some-

how to be transcended, either acoustically or

electronically, so that what we end up with in a second stage of composition are resonances and

trace materials that survive in a critical musical

consciousness. One can perform some of this

already on the standard keyboards such as piano

and organ, and instruments could be added to

help trace evanescent facets of the extant fin- ished piece. In a certain real sense all my piano pieces end up only as material for some sort of trace or resonance transmutation. (I detect some

of this very thing in Gilbert's piano works.) In

certain "homage" compositions I felt the distinct

need to transmute out of the obvious idioms I

of

redu

the flow of consciousness, but one achieved

within very restrictive and even naive

mentalisms. We should now concentrate less on

harmony and meterized ordinary time frames and

get at a more basic perceptual capacity and at the

very roots of rhythm, if we can. Serialism was

caught in a simplistic view of linear time and

temporal division, as well as fixated on purely scalar considerations like pitch. The system of

series-writing is at best intriguing, but it only compounds the basic naivete, i.e., the uncritical use of the dimensions of ordinary time, as op-

posed to a viable ontology within fluid human

consciousness. Within linear time, spatially

metaphorized, you never get off the plateau onto

a fuller and richer level of expanded time-con-

sciousness. Serial positivism stays frozen at a

certain artificial level of consciousness and

was working with, i.e., working my way out of. Thus our various works go through stages: the first, naive achievement; followed by its trace-

reduction in musical consciousness; the third,

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32 Philosophy of Music Education Review

musical synthesis.

often inept or awkward prose. If so, this is

surely his salvation from himself! What I have

37. Boulez* transformations» used in Répons,

thus far heard frankly does not sound that good

heard at Northwestern University and described

at all~or that bad! He is certainly a musical

by his assistant, Gerzso, in Composers' Musk

Review (October 1984: 23-34), seem quite tra-

phenomenon, and I stand to be better instructed

Yet the man and the musicus in me suspect there

ditional in linking electronic is an responses equal amount of humbug (respon- along with what-

sories!) to acoustical instruments, transforming

ever "genius"~that tired and tiresome word. I

them in terms of an almost classic intervallic

maintain faith in the human ear as guide, what-

logic. I'm sure this is not mathematical enough

ever flights of fancy or logic the mind may take.

for the Babbitt group, nor pure enough either.

But it seems more naturally and culturally rele- his listeners, even as he lifted us all to his level.

The incomparable Bach never played down to

vant withal. The Boulez piece seemed to be

I agree that the listener has been too passively

very complex but musical throughout, even coherent in terms of perception, not just in

conceived and that the '^bourgeois" ear mires us in the trite and the expected. But the audience, such as it is, still needs to be brought into the

conception. To professional logicians this must

all seem simplistic. But how far along such

performance in some viable manner, and our

lines can music actually go as a primarily per-

ceptual art? Perception, of course, is not just

what is left over after conceptualization, as an

musical theory has to focus on this facet of

analysis, too. Any performer, especially with a

group, knows that the players get more out of it

intellectual poor relation. It is rather a rich arena for the reception of a whole musical Gestalt that

than passive listeners. So, our goal is to get

everyone to "perform." Church musicians

touches us as humans and in complex ways.

already do this!

While vindicating the obvious proper place of

critical and practical intellect, perception seems

larger: the matrix of receptive sensibility, without

39. Reading Rockwell, I see that as individual

composers we are on a very perplexing and

which there just is no music at all, whatever complex journey as we search for the Muse,

"mind" devises in secretive recesses and imposes trying somehow to figure out just what we are

on hapless ears. Meantime there is no one true

kind of transformation. It is an area to be ex-

plored, a matter of shifting gears into a different

perceptive consciousness, allowing the play and

replay of musical resonances in the stream of consciousness itself. Of course, we are also

working here with some metaphorical rhetoric,

and the reality of the phenomenon is not in

verbalizations, however clever, but in musical

realizations of what we intend. Some of our

about and what to do about it. The phenomenon of contemporary music is so diverse and contra- dictory as to offer a dizzying pallet of possibili-

ties from which to choose. And I believe seek-

ing fame can no longer be a primary goal in

music. It may or may not happen; but we still

have to create what we can. Musical integrity

requires constant struggle as we proceed, and if

we are in touch with the Muse and touch some

sensitive ears as well, we will have done our part

better concepts get defeated or routed within the

in helping weave the grand tapestry of musical

act of actual composition or performance, as we

culture. Out of all this one day may emerge

all well know.

38. John Rockwell, New York music critic,

suggests that Babbitt's compositions often sound

good despite the abstruse calculations and the

another Mozart, and we will have helped prepare the ground. Meantime, in the home, at church

and temple, in college and university music

department we will also have reached the ears

and maybe also the hearts of a good many

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F. Joseph

Smith

33

people.

a spectacle of costumes, weird actions, lighting

effects, and so on. But how long can a real

musician thrive under such artificial and silly

circumstances, whatever the pay or pay-off?

Thus, Rockwell's essay begins to show possibili-

ties of art rescuable amid frantic and frenetic

show-biz.

40. There is something to Ernest Ansermet's

and Bernstein's contention that pitch scales do not need to be invented by either individuals or

cultures, because they are already there, untuned,

in Nature! Some, of course, contend this is self- evident, since most cultures have built on this

concept in some manner, however differently.

Whatever the case, the "fresh discovery of a

fuller and natural tonality" can indeed amount to

a new and refreshing musical event. Simply

letting go of isolated or warped mentalisms and

being "at one with Nature*' may be our future in

43. Rockwell puts serialism down as out of date

and as the oppressor of genuine American music,

now being thankfully rediscovered and redevel-

oped. Yet he also shows how Schoenberg and

others were a counter in the twenties and thirties

to a bloated and Nazi Wagnerianism, how the

Big Serialist Three (the "Vienna School") helped

rescue musical art and structure, whatever subse-

quent American scholasticizers did out of histor-

ical and even musical context. My impression of both serialists, who are so de rigueur, and mere

experimentalists, is that there may be an inordi-

nate amount of humbug and opportunism at

work.

modern music. I would add that to do so is also

to require some sort of available reduction of the

phenomenon as such, as the product of human

nature.

41. Walter Murch's music is a case of expand-

ing the very concept of what music is to include:

the "artful organizing" of sound collages. It

seems to be a convincing case, judging from the

music composed for the film, Apocalypse. It certainly brings musique concrète closer to home! It is impossible as composer to be all

things to all people, given the chaotic and even

far-out scene, without making a fool of yourself.

We need simply to accept who we are, our

talent, its limitations, and then work creatively

for what it's worth in what is a natural and

44. Sometimes I am aghast at the underdevelop-

ment of talented musicians' intellectual grids, the

received and uncritically accepted perspectives

and categories, vocabularies and suppositions.

This need not be a replay of Husserl. We have

all been in naive situations, and it takes time and

effort to come out from under received conceptu-

alities, especially in music theory and musicolo- gy, both, it seems, narrowly conceived, both in

need of a breakthrough. I suggest a critical

philosophy of music that abets our exit from

pedantry, careerist restrictions, ideologies, ment-

comfortable framework for us.

42. Rockwell's chapter on Neil Young is the

best essay on rock that I've ever read! It makes

its artistry plausible, while discussing plenty of alisms, and worn-out categories. There are great

problems inherent in the show, the son et lum- talents at work, and they need to have an open

ière, especially the deadly commercialism. To

forum of expression. It seems that music educa-

tion is the proper arena for fruitful explorations

me it has seemed an already musically defunct

movement kept alive only by a combination of of our innate potential in composition, perfor-

corporate greed, simpleton antics, a few chords,

and public stupidity. Apparently, they also don't

care if you listen! The primitiveness of rock is

neither primordiality nor musical ethos but more

often crude and even moronic. In the apparent

absence of any attempt at art we are subjected to

mance and the understanding of a genuine

musical ethos.

Dedicated to the memory of Professor Arthur

Motycka, Rhode Island University-music educator,

author, colleague, and friend

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