The accomplished artist must combine two faculties: imagination and craft.
The artisan without art is, in his modest way, a respectable contributor
to man's man-made environment. The artist without artisanship contributes
nothing, creates nothing that could be appreciated by others. 'He has taste,'
said Haydn of Mozart, 'and great technical knowledge.' Knowledge, the servant
of imagination and inventiveness. Everything depends on the balance between
the two, on the moment when the divine and the human join together to create
a work of art, be it music, poetry or painting. The fate of every art is
governed by this balance: the art flourishes when the balance is perfect,
declines when it is disturbed.
This, precisely, is the central problem of new music. It is sometimes said
that, in music more than in the other arts, periods of severe discipline
alternate with periods of great freedom. But since really 'old' music has
vanished, since we know only the music of the past five centuries and truly
understand only that of the last three, all we can really say with conviction
is that, before our very eyes, music has freed itself from many restrictive
rules, has lived through an era of considerable freedom and, more recently,
has returned to stricter rules. Whether this is a regularly repeated rhythm
it is difficult to tell, but there is no doubt that during the era of freedom
which we know best music has, as far as our knowledge of it goes, acquired
properties which it never possessed before. The fact that after such a period
of freedom composers are again seeking the greater security of explicit rules
must be taken as a sign of our times. It was precisely this that Schoenberg
After the Second World War, when all cultural, political and authoritarian
control was broken, when the new teaching had begun to spread beyond the
Vienna School and Webern's example was generally accessible, the former
uncompromising orthodoxy was relaxed and a new generation felt encouraged
to seek renewal and reformation, in order not to abrogate the new laws but
to refine and develop them. Generally speaking, as I have observed before,
the complete twelve-note row provided the composer with four basic forms:
the row itself, its inversion, its mirror and the inversion of the mirror.
If, for instance, that row is divided into three groups or series of four
notes each, the composer gains twelve new basic forms in addition to the
original four, to which all the rules and possibilities apply. This is the
simplest formula for turning twelve-note music into serial music and twelve-note
composition into serial composition. Composers did not stop at such primitive
discoveries and found that the serial technique of row, inversion, mirror
and inversion of the mirror could be extended to rhythm and tone colours,
dynamics and tempo, to everything which may be called a musical element,
and this increased the possibilities of combination and permutation almost
as widely as the seven or eight chromatic octaves of diatonic music. Almost-for
there were many possibilities in extended serial music, but little freedom.
In principle this development has some similarity with the change from
preclassical monothematic to classical polythematic music. Then creative
imagination strained at the leash of overpowering craftsmanship. Is it this
creative imagination which compels an extension of the rules today?
The result was, and still is, an unending series of experiments. It is worth
noting that the centre has definitely moved away from the old haunts of new
music. If any proof were required that the choice of Vienna had been a mere
coincidence, there it was. The genius of change left Austria without a backward
glance and settled in France-in Paris, where, with Olivier Messiaen, a new
intellectual impetus gathered momentum. We shall repeatedly have to quote
Pierre Boulez, Messiaen's pupil and the best brain in new music. Reviewing
the events of the last fifteen years he speaks of 'terrible and regular
epidemics', of 'ciphered rows', of 'tone colours', 'co-ordinated tempi',
'stereophonics', 'actions', 'chances' and 'informalities'. In fact, as an
outsider and a non-composer one is confounded by all the complications which
today surround any attempt at writing a piece of serious music. From an
ever-growing and an ever more bewildering literature I can only quote the
most important composers-theorists who actually do as they say or say as
they do: Boulez himself, Ernst Krenek and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Stockhausen pleads for an 'indeterminate' music. He gives the performers
a kind of basic rule of the game and then leaves it to them to find and to
play one or more of the hundred million possible variants of a piece like
'Refrain'. On the other hand, one reads in the preface to Ernst Krenek's
'questio temporis': 'Everything one hears is determined by exact measurements
of entrances and durations of the acoustic elements based on the units which
result from the intervals of the basic note row and its derivatives obtained
by rotation of the notes.... Where the density of the texture increases beyond
a certain level (this aspect, too, is determined serially), statistical
scattering takes the place of exact measurement.' And Boulez once wrote in
respect of music, 'Time, like pitch, possesses the three dimensions: horizontal,
vertical and diagonal.' But this only proves that confusion of thought cannot
always hide behind dark meanings and tortuous phrases. For time has no dimension,
it is a dimension; therefore music, which is a function of time, has no other
dimension but duration. Everything else, including the diagonal, is direction.
Yet, while noting this, so to speak, in the margin, I do not wish to get
involved in any polemics. This is not meant to be a technical guide to, or
through, new music. I only want to show how painful even the approach to
music has become.
'Structure' is the imperative of new music. 'When one meditates on the new
structure of mathematics, of theoretical physics . . . one can realize exactly
what an immense road musicians still have to travel before arriving at a
general synthesist (Boulez). Perhaps we can catch a glimpse here of the process
of creating music today. There has always been a mysterious connection between
mathematics and music which has intrigued mathematicians but rarely bothered
musicians. But now music seems to be irritated by it. And at once Boulez
varies Debussy's famous phrase: what music must touch is not the bare flesh
of emotion but the bare flesh of evidence. Are we not here on the threshold
of a new, neopythagorean harmony of the spheres? Of a music which consciously
and avidly seeks contact with exact sciences and wishes to share with them
the quality of 'evidence'? Evidence is almost the opposite of imagination,
which in turn is the source of all the arts. At the end of a long and abstruse
treatise Boulez finds himself using the 'fatal' word 'inspiration', replacing
it at once with the more comfortable 'imagination', as if he had picked up
a hot brick. But where evidence is sought imagination has no place. To surmount
the obstacles of evidence is, or was until recently, the very purpose of
the arts. The mathematician and philosopher Leibniz formulated the mystery
of music, at a time of severe regimentation: 'Musica est exercitium arithmeticae
occultum nescientis se numerare animi'-'music is a mysterious arithmetical
exercise of the mind which is unaware that it deals with figures'. What matters
is not arithmetic, not evidence, but mysterious, unconscious application.
Our generation has experienced so much new evidence that everything mysterious
or unconscious or instinctive has become an object of suspicion. And music
strives to create 'structures' which could vie with the newly found structures
of mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. What a strange obsession
for a musician! It means that 'how' attracts all the talent, all the diligence,
all the speculation, while 'what' seems to lose all its meaning. In all the
literature written for the ordinary listener and music-lover rather than
the budding or mature composer there is ample explanation of how the composer
does or should put notes together, but no word about what he wishes to convey
to the listener. That every interval is strictly measured? Or that every
note is improvised from a given pattern? Structures? Is all the meaning,
all the purpose of this new music exhausted on technique? The unbiased listener
to the old, conventional kind, so far as his existence is still justified
or admitted at all, will have to concede that the audible result of this
music in no way bears witness to the amount of thought and theory which go
into the making of a new and usually short work. From the new structures
of mathematics, physics and chemistry have sprung the atom bomb, the space
rocket, antibiotics, radar and innumerable other things which mark the evidence
of all the theoretical assumptions and calculations. But what evidence is
brought forth by those complicated structures of new music? A magma, as a
French critic once said to me, which obscures all the niceties of painfully
calculated intervals and differentiated rhythms. It is certainly true that
a piece like Boulez's 'Le Soleil des eaux' first strikes the listener with
a new and very clever sound but this sound does not change as the work progresses
and the overall acoustic impression is that of a static lifelessness.
The conventional listener will have to admit also that this new music of
our time has lost much of the ferocity with which it stormed the fortresses
of diatonic music after the First World War. But he cannot escape the menacing
question: where does the boundary lie between music and noise? The organization
or structure of noise cannot be the decisive criterion, for every engine
produces a mechanically organized noise. Is it intention rather than fact
which differentiates between the two? The engine serves a practical purpose
and in doing so makes an incidental and undesirable noise. Does this or a
similar noise become music if the practical purpose is removed? Is it
music-making in any accepted sense to play Stockhausen's 'Cyclus' from a
score on a great battery of percussion instruments? Stockhausen himself provides
the answer: 'Whether organized sound is called music does not interest me.'
But the matter is too dangerous to be dealt with so summarily. In one of
his statements the following obscure words occur: 'The first question is
to avoid the separation of sound and noise.... The zero value of the noise
scale is then the sound.' I will not attempt to discover the exact meaning
of this observation, but the conclusion is inescapable: the acoustic result
of the 'structure' is irrelevant.
John Cage, who has a few followers inside and outside the United States (though
one could scarcely call him, as his admirers do, a leading intellectual power
in the world today), seems more concerned with the purpose and meaning of
music than his more articulate contemporaries. 'Our lives are not based on
melody or harmony or polyphony.... We can enjoy entering into chaos.' And
he then demonstrates this in his own works, ranging from 'silence', with
neither music nor noise, to shattering noises with no rhyme or reason.
All these various tendencies show the same perplexity as to what exactly
is intended. This is obviously why all creative effort is bent on 'how' to
the detriment of 'what'. In vain Boulez quotes (from sources which are not
necessarily valid) evidence that there is no contradiction between form and
content. Music is and remains an acoustic phenomenon, just as painting and
sculpture are visual ones. One must first see a picture and hear a piece
of music before one can think about them. To read about them-and a score
is no more than a description-is not enough. In times of great formal freedom
form is no longer a vehicle for the content; in times of severe formal regulation
form and content become closely linked. J. S. Bach, too, could compose
'fantasias' where form and content are further removed from each other than
in his fugues, although his 'fantasy' was more rigorously controlled than
either Mozart's or Beethoven's. But only by listening can the congruity or
discrepancy between form and content be judged. If the acoustic phenomenon
obscures the form and is uncertain of its content the listener is left with
little to go by.
But perhaps this new music is not meant to be heard? It is here that
Webern-rather than the two romantics, Schoenberg and Berg-proves to be the
true inspiration of new music. His disregard of the actual sound of his music,
his merciless elimination of all emotion and every hint of a 'meaning' from
it, are the soil in which our new music grows. Some may say it is an arid
soil and desert vegetation that grows in it, but it certainly is something
Schoenberg and Berg never intended and never achieved: a new attitude to
music, to the arts, to the world and to humanity. Whatever reservations one
may have, this change in attitude must be seen in the larger context of the
time in which we live.
Boulez, and with him all the composers of new music, deny that they are
'boundlessly' abstract. But one need only look at a random selection of titles
to recognize how a form or structure imperceptible to the ear has absorbed
the content: 'Segmenti' (Kazimierz Serocki), 'Polymorphia' (Krystof Penderecki),
'Spectra' (Gunther Schuller), 'Circles' (Luciano Berio), 'Figures, Doubles,
Prismes' (Boulez), 'Available Forms' (Earle Brown), 'Extreme' (Boguslav
Schaffer)and occasional obvious absurdities such as 'Variations without a
Theme' (Tadeusz Baird). There is perhaps a very fine difference between abstract
and absolute music. In I878 Wagner wrote of Bach's 'Wohltemperiertes Klavier',
'This is pure music. Everything we do is applied music.' He was thinking,
no doubt, of his own music dramas as much as of Liszt's programme music or
of Schumann's 'Haunted Place'. 'Absolute' music has no clearly defined or
definable meaning either. As long as music was essentially vocal the problem
did not arise, because music borrowed or appropriated the meaning of the
words even if it did not seem to have any close and inner contact with them.
But instrumental music certainly posed the problem of an independent meaning;
and this problem was solved with great ease. In the seventeenth century,
when instrumental music developed, it set out to be first and foremost beautiful,
agreeable. It gave up much of its former cleverness so that beauty should
not be impaired. And later, in the course of the eighteenth century, it
discovered its faculty for expressing moods, for being hilarious or sad.
Occasionally this interfered with its beauty, but it provided a 'meaning'
without being forced to spell out the reasons. Neither moods nor ornaments
need justification so long as they are welcome. One would not call either
Corelli or Haydn 'abstract'. 'Prelude' or 'sonata' are absolute musical forms.
But the titles of new music I have quoted above are abstract subjects, 'segments'
are geometrical, 'spectra' physical notions, just as Liszt's 'Tasso' is a
literary one. If absolute music is the music which seeks and finds its subject
in itself and applied music the music which receives its inspiration from
other, non-musical sources and not only from literature, then this new music
is not absolute but applied, and, as the subjects to which it is applied
belong to the most abstract exercises of the human mind, new music becomes,
despite all protestations, abstract.
Many observers may find a spiritual kinship between abstract painting and
sculpture on the one hand and abstract music on the other. But, apart from
John Cage's slightly scurrilous ideas, nothing in new music has that deliberate
object of avoiding all rules which distinguishes abstract painting and sculpture.
If a comparison between music and painting is at all admissible a work of
new music might be compared with the green turf of the Ghent altarpiece which,
on closer examination, proves to be a carpet of minutely drawn flowers and
blades of grass. Similarly in new music the sound covers every detail of
the construction and only close scrutiny reveals the innumerable details.
It is perhaps the insuffciency of the purely musical, acoustic result which
compels the composer of new music again and again to explain his methods
and his technique. Never before has the public been pestered with so many
complicated, impatient and sometimes aggressive treatises of a theoretical
and technical nature. They seem to be begging-or warning-people not to be
misled by mere sound but to look for the consummate art and effort behind
that sound, which assign the necessary and correct place to every note and
every dot. Beethoven's music too has a basic theory which is beyond the great
majority of listeners, and irrelevant to the enjoyment of his works. With
new music this is not enough. The listener should also know how it is composed.
It may be said that this is a higher level of appreciation altogether. But
the artist is exceptional: the ordinary mortal does not need to know how
a divine spark can be turned into an intelligible message.
Sometimes I think that the same happens to new music as to certain technical
innovations. The first locomotives or motor-cars were ugly, cumbersome things.
Their pride was not in their appearance but in their technical attributes,
their pistons, cylinders, sparking-plugs. Some even spoke of new aesthetics.
Only when the purely technical sensation had abated could a new sense of
form or shape hide all the gadgets beneath a shining exterior. And the more
they were hidden the more efficient the machines became. Many mistakes had
to be made before a satisfactory solution was found-even coal tenders, for
example, were painted with flowers. But in the end the right answer was found.
In a similar way the composers of new music may today be so obsessed with
their own techniques that they never stop talking and writing about them.
But the day may come when they will have more confidence in their works and
leave technicalities alone, justas Mozart or Beethoven did. Such explanations
will then be found only where they belong, in textbooks for students of
This much, however, the layman can learn from all these writings: music is
no longer for simple people-neither simple composers nor simple listeners.
The instinct which once could find in the dark what knowledge could not see
in broad daylight has been extinguished.
The increasing difficulty of composing music, the requirement of higher
intelligence and deeper thought and, therefore, greater experience-has removed
from music two things which in more carefree times belonged to it as to no
other art: early maturity and large output.
Gone, at least for the time being, are the days when a very young man could
write masterpieces like those of Pergolesi, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn,
Chopin and even Richard Strauss (who was only eighteen when he wrote the
Serenade for Wind Instruments, Op. 7). There are certainly people who prefer
full maturity to precocity. But such early maturity has a particular charm,
which nobody has better described than Carl Maria von Weber, writing of Mozart's
Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.
I venture to state my belief that in the Entfuhrung Mozart's artistic experience
has reached its perfection and it was the experience of the world around
him which thereafter guided his pen. The world was entitled to expect from
him operas such as Figaro and Don Giovanni but he could not write another
Entfiihrung, which was for him what adolescence is for every man, the happiness
which can never be recaptured again. For by improving on shortcomings,
irretrievable charms are lost.
In those carefree days youth and music naturally belonged together and we
have still not quite abandoned this idea. Who, even today, would think of
music as a grey-bearded monster? But music has become altogether too difficult,
too stern, too complicated. Its heights cannot be stormed by audacity and
fiery impulse alone. A heavy burden of knowledge and thought has to be carried
painfully uphill, and this cannot be acquired in a few years or by instinct.
In some respects it is strange that younger men, who a century ago would
have been considered much too young, have a larger share in the affairs of
the world today than they have had since the Middle Ages, when life was simpler
and its span much shorter. But to music, or the arts in general, this does
not apply. Real youth lacks the perseverance which New Music requires.
This also explains why, by comparison, the output of composers of new music
is small. A large output came as naturally to music as it came to painting
'Sempre disegna!' Raphael insisted with his pupils; and he did it himself,
for designing was a difficult art, eye and hand had to achieve virtuosity
through constant training, and such virtuosity had to be so perfect that
it was not only a faithful servant of inspiration but could, if necessary,
produce remarkable works without it. It is no easier to catch and shape a
flashing musical 'thought', and training produced the facility which in turn
resulted in a prodigious output. As far back as we can see, composers were
prolific to an extent which is almost incomprehensible in our time; not only
J. S. Bach or Handel, but also Orlando Lasso and even Donizetti.
But the composer of New Music cannot be compared with his predecessors.
Schoenberg once said to me that if he had not composed as many works as Mozart
he had certainly written as many notes. This remark was as true as it was
ominous. In one phrase, it told the whole sad tale of the new creative process.
None the less Richard Strauss in his eighty-five years wrote more than three
hundred works, some of them very large indeed. Schoenberg, after seventy-seven
years, left scarcely eighty, of which only Gurre-Lieder compares in size
with Strauss's operas. To younger people this will still appear as a large
measure. Virtuosity has become useless, dispensable. It is only by the sweat
of the brow that a work of strictly controlled structure enters this world.
Hard-headed conservatives accuse the composers of new music of being swindlers
to a man. But the true swindler is a man who tries to possess himself easily,
quickly and illegally of things for which the good citizen has to work hard
and long. How could any man who writes music with sweat and blood be a swindler?
The carelessness with which Rossini could toss off a whole opera in a fortnight
is now roundly condemned. Today it takes weeks and months to write a few
bars. That the works cannot be long follows from their contrapuntal nature.
But they cannot be numerous either, and the fruits of all this cerebration
and calculation remain small. The composers of New Music are not flooding
the world with their works as their forebears did.
There is a strange quality about a work of art at its height of perfection.
Not only does the faultlessly shaped content grip the observer; in such works
there glows the joy of creation, which touches even the onlooker or listener
as mysteriously as the finger of the Lord touches Adam on the Sistine ceiling.
But no creative joy shines through the overburdened works of New Music. Only
the dull flame of an inner urge flickers there.
It is a surprising and a contradiction that an element of improvisation can
creep into the anxiously controlled music of today. As far as the heavy chains
of calculation and consideration allow, this improvisation tries to escape
control. This does not only happen with Stockhausen. Others such as Lutoslawski
indicate, for instance, long, rising chains of trills without writing down
definite notes, and others again, such as Gilbert Amy, ask that certain bars
or groups of bars should be repeated, or inserted in other places, as the
performer pleases. One might have thought that such arbitrary behaviour had
ended with the basso continuo. From Beethoven's Fifth Piano Concerto onwards
composers even hesitated to leave the cadenzas to the performers. Rossini,
and Verdi even more so, complained about singers who would not respect the
printed text of their parts. Now, in the midst of carefully elaborated
structures, the performer is called upon to make his own contribution.
It is also noteworthy that the leading representative of the younger generation
of composers, Boulez himself, is often in doubt about the finality of a work
and produces new versions after having arrived with great labour at what
seemed irrevocably and necessarily the one and only solution to his chosen
This tendency towards change and instability soon combined with the new ways
of producing sounds electronically which have a colour or indeed a nature
different from the sounds which the human breath, the finger on a string
or a tuned pipe produce. There is nothing fundamentally new in the quest
for new sounds and sonorities. At any earlier time, when new sounds were
wanted new instruments were constructed. In the beginning was the composer-and
the instrument-maker followed him. One only has to think of the introduction
of violins at the end of the sixteenth century and their striking advance
in the seventeenth. The younger generation then demanded a more violent sound,
while their elders lamented the shrill noise after the dark whisperings of
lutes and theorboes. These new instruments were an inspiration to the musical
art, and two generations later, when they had spread from the Cremonese workshops
throughout the western world, they became the ideal of beauty of sound. They
created a literature of great richness: and they dominated the orchestra.
The orchestra grew louder and louder, and its colour changed. First were
added clarinets, which contributed to the rounding-off of its sonority. They,
again, were new instruments, and Mozart was the first to appreciate their
qualities. His orchestra seems to have been in perfect balance. He obviously
had all the instruments he needed and the instruments had all the required
capabilities. But with Beethoven this balance is already disturbed. In his
big symphonies, in the Missa Solemnis, his orchestra does not measure up
to his grand design and later improvers such as Gustav Mahler and Felix von
Weingartner tried to remedy these defects with the perfected instruments
of their time. The generation after Beethoven had what it wanted-fully chromatic
trumpets and horns, and Wagner tubas filling the gap in the middle baritone
register; Berlioz (and Wagner himself) showed how to handle an orchestra
which had grown in every section and was capable of effects never heard before,
from the delicate sound of divided violins in the Lohengrin Prelude to the
thunder of the 'Ride of the Valkyries' and the eighteen-strong brass section
of Strauss's Heldenleben. Mozart had sent Tamino and Pamina through their
fire-and-water ordeal to the same melody of the magic flute (and a soft
accompaniment of trombones and kettledrums which just hinted at the danger
of their journey). But in Wagner's orchestra the flames of the 'Fire Music'
blaze and through it flows the mighty Rhine. It is perhaps unnecessary to
remember that at the same time the piano had developed from a chirping rustle
to a real thunder machine.
But satisfaction is only momentary. A new mood asked for more new sounds
and sought for these sounds not among the old-fashioned instrument-makers
but in the wide field of electronics. In those early days the most successful
pioneer in new, 'dehumanized' sounds was Maurice Martenot, but it was not
until after the Second World War that research and experiment began on a
larger scale. In the United States of America electric organs with manuals
and pedals but no pipes or bellows had been built before the war, and these
new 'theatre organs' could replace whole jazz bands. However this was not
the right way to imitate sounds which could be produced by conventional
instruments. In America, as well as in Europe, new sounds were produced in
costly laboratories by costly devices.
In January 1950 I visited Paul Collaer, head of music of the Flemish section
of the Belgian radio and a steadfast champion of new music. 'You have arrived
at the right moment,' he said. 'I have just received a parcel of tapes from
Paris, the latest thing in music, "musique concrète". Let us hear
it!' We listened, half amused and half astonished, as it groaned and moaned,
shrieked and whimpered. The author was Pierre Schaeffer and the tape had
some indecent title which I do not remember. When it was all over Collaer
said, quite seriously, 'This is really new. For the first time we have
Often enough technical innovations make this kind of aimless start before
they discover their more reasonable application. 'Musique concrète'
was soon forgotten and electronic music found a more serious purpose. For
the World Exhibition in Brussels Edgar Varese, one of the oldest experimenters,
invented a kind of electronic symphony, a vast piece which, as he said himself,
was by no means as improvised as it sounded.
To create music from entirely dematerialized, 'de-humanized' sounds, a 'music
of the spheres' as it were, is a great temptation for both the technician
and the musician. Perhaps the organ had the reputation of being God's instrument
because it was the nearest approach to the mystery of sound. But it still
needed the expertise of a skilful player, and this human element was to be
eliminated as well. This at least is more sensible than the misuse of traditional
instruments for purposes and effects for which they are not made. For the
performance of new music a large orchestra is often assembled, but each musician
has only occasionally to play this or that note, usually in some extraordinary
and unexpected manner. It is an absurd thought that the violin in the hand
of the orchestra leader, dangling idly for most of the time between his fingers,
now violently plucked and then disrespectfully slapped on the back, could
be a Stradivarius. Such large orchestras are designed for large outbursts
or for homogeneous sonorities; but none of this is sought in new music.
Therefore, such 'obsolete' congregations of instrumentalists are an unjustifiable
waste and their replacement by an electronic apparatus which can be served
by one or two technicians is held to be more practical and more satisfactory
than all the unbecoming tricks with which traditional instruments are being
However, there is something uncanny about all this new machinery, about
'synthesizers' designed to make music. One cannot help feeling uneasy when
one reads the list of 'instruments' required for Boulez's 'Poesie pour pouvoir',
such as sinus-wave generators, rectangle generator, low-tone generator, tone
generator for electronic pick-up, wobble adaptor, tone modulator, decay
controller, variable oscillator, echo chamber, eight-track magnetophone and
half a dozen other contraptions. Will there ever be a time when educated
musicians know these devices as well as they now know an oboe? We have spoken
about music and technical progress in another context, in connection with
the preservation and transportation of the acoustic phenomenon which has
affected the art itself. Here is yet another instance where the musical art
is in an obvious danger of being overwhelmed by technique.
A host of new problems arises from this new method of musicmaking. The most
obvious is a legal one. As long as a work is not written down it cannot be
protected. Tapes or discs are not fixtures in the legal sense. The law, which
cannot follow such developments quickly enough, still requires a written
record of the work which must be so objective that any infringement can be
recognized with certainty. I have called the score a recipe for the re-creation
of a musical work. As long as rhythm, intervals and chords are not too involved
my inner ear can hear the music when I am reading a written score which endows
it not only with a graphic but also with a specifically musical quality.
However, there was a time when notes were represented by letters; and
solmisation, such as the 'Tonic-Solfa' notation, is still in use. If you
give the singer-and it is necessarily a method for singers only-the first
note, he can sing the whole piece from the letters, dots and dashes, intervals
as well as rhythms. There is still a visual or graphic description of the
music. The graphs of electronic music on the other hand-dots, circles, dashes,
arrows, waving lines-disclose no quality or property of the sound. The performer
can do no more than follow the instructions when attending to the apparatus
and be surprised by the result. This does not require a musician so much
as a technician, and the performer in the true sense is eliminated.
This ought to be the greatest moment in the whole history of music, a change
which overshadows all other changes. It should accomplish what mechanical
reproduction of music cannot quite achieve, requiring as it does at least
one first performer. With electronically produced music, the art should finally
master a basic problem which was of little importance from early times until
the nineteenth century but has increasingly worried composers ever since:
the elimination of the interpreter and of interpretation. Would not Gustav
Mahler have cried 'Eureka!' if he could have composed his symphonies into
a machine for a technician to have reeled them off with infallibly the same
details, the same tempo and the same expression.
But this ideal concept is baulked by visible and invisible obstacles. The
visible obstacles are of a technical nature. I am told that electronic equipment
is not standardized and that the technician who is called upon to reproduce
a piece of electronic music from the graph has to adapt or arrange or paraphrase
it according to the machinery at his disposal. Such adaptations may require
a musical technician who is distinguished from the traditional interpreter
not so much by trying to be faithful to the original but by the disqualifying
knowledge that he is unable to reproduce it at all.
The invisible obstacles are more deep-seated; here, in fact, is the whole
problematical relationship between man and machine in microcosm. Machines
are invented and operated in order to be useful. Until computers were invented,
machines in general were designed to replace human physical exertion. Now
computers are capable of replacing mental effort as well. This is a serious
step, beyond the original conception of a 'machine'. Man used to be proud
of his mental capabilities, the talented enjoyed their mental efforts, only
to the idle and indolent was it a burden. There is a curious love-hate
relationship between man and machine: love because of the comfort it offers,
hate because of a feeling of redundancy which creates far-reaching social
and psychological problems. But the machine in electronic music, the
'synthethizer' or whatever it may be called, has no practical purpose, no
apparent usefulness. The physical exertion it saves is irrelevant. A good
composer loves not only inventing but also writing down his music. The machine
takes over invention itself and leaves to the 'composer' only the act of
selection from a number of possibilities. Here, to a truly ominous extent,
the machine replaces the mind. Is the human mind to be dismissed from music?
Or can it be so brought together with a machine that the two form an acceptable
union on a higher plane?
The results so far do not seem to justify such high hopes. The pedigree of
electronic instruments may not be inferior to that of traditional ones, but
the difference is that in former times new sounds were invented for a clear
and definite purpose, while electronic sounds caught music unawares; only
after the event have attempts been made to find a use for them. Purely electronic
music does not convey the impression of an art which knows what it wants.
If at one time the idea was conceived (and is still canvassed) that people
could assemble in a concert-hall and listen to the howling, whispering and
coughing noises of an anonymous contraption-which is too expensive to find
its way into private homes-this only shows how greatly the distance between
man and machine can be underestimated.
Igor Stravinsky, always curious about and receptive to every innovation,
rejects electronic music. 'It is boring,' he once said. 'Harmonics on the
double-bass are more interesting than all electronic sounds.' He admires
Boulez, but after hearing 'Poèsie pour pouvoir' at Donaueschingen
he shrugged his shoulders and said, 'Il s'est perdu.'
Electronic music per se has not found its proper purpose. But there can be
no reasonable objection to combining it with traditional instruments in order
to achieve a new sonority and colour. The 'ondes Martenot' in Messiaen's
Turangalila are no less legitimate than the trombones in Don Giovanni.
'We need a new definition of music,' said one of the theorists. If only there
was an old one! Over the centuries many vague things have been written about
music but no one has ever arrived at a definition. How could it be attempted
today, when even its fundamental properties have become uncertain and art
and artisanship have become almost indistinguishable? Are we not too easily
inclined to take for art something achieved with great cleverness and hard
labour but without the divine spark which alone lifts human achievement beyond
If an art such as music (and the visual arts) undergoes a profound change,
we are easily inclined to philosophize and to look, as Ernest Ansermet has
done, for the way back to God, who has created everything and has left it
to its fate. No doubt God exists in music too-in every kind of music, sacred
or profane, serious or popular. Music is not only physical but also metaphysical
and the younger generation may feel more acutely the superhuman elements
of creation. However, there is little comfort to be gained from seeking God
in music when the human intellect has taken possession of it so violently.
What use can it be to try and find what Ansermet called the 'rassemblance
de Dieu' in music when it has become almost impossible to find it in a universe
which we have certainly not created ourselves? Whatever we touch, wherever
we turn, we meet only the image of man.
Romanticism, which still lingers with us, thought of music as a magical spirit
which enters human life like a fairy unaware of the sorrow of experience,
free from the burden of learning, the child of primeval nature, an echo of
a long-lost past.
But new music is no errant child of a carefree muse. It does not float, into
life, but is born with great labour. We must free ourselves from all these
complicated and profound theories and take a hard look at the works of new
music themselves in order to measure the change which has taken place before
When discussing Schoenberg's music I mentioned the old notions which have
to be abandoned when we deal with pure twelve-note music. Still more of these
old notions have to be forgotten when listening to music which goes beyond
New music, in its many varieties, is not beautiful. It does not want to be
beautiful. Beauty in any accepted sense is outside its nature, and therefore
outside its capabilities. This is not criticism or reproach but a simple
statement of fact. The physicist Heisenberg, who many years ago received
a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work in nuclear physics, once said that
a perfect mathematical formula was beautiful in an aesthetic sense. In the
same way a piece of ingenious serial construction may be equally beautiful
as long as it is not corrupted by transposition into actual sound, for the
sound which obscures the built-in ingenuities instead of revealing them is
never beautiful, even in the most far-fetched sense. Webern himself may have
had this in mind when, in later years, he became quite indifferent to the
performance of his works.
However, beauty as such has no standard or permanence. The attitude towards
it is one of the visible signs of the mood of an age. In 1535 Duke Henry
of Saxony had the decorations on his artillery pieces designed by Lucas Cranach,
the best artist he could find. Two hundred and fifty years later, on 5 October
1786, Goethe noted in his Italian diary, 'The era of beauty is over. Our
time knows only hard necessity.' Yet in I786 Goethe, like any wealthy man
of his time, wore an embroidered waistcoat and lace cuffs and shoes with
silver buckles, and may have carried a walking-stick with a handle of Dresden
porcelain, none of which was necessary; in 1786 all quality furniture was
carefully carved and inlaid, the facades and ceilings of houses were covered
with stucco ornaments, hundreds of everyday articles which now fetch high
prices in the antique trade were made by artisans who were more than half
artists; in 1786 Mozart's Figaro was first performed. But Goethe, looking
at the palaces in Venice, felt the decline from real beauty to mere prettiness.
The sense of beauty, once so strong and sure, began to decline.
Three-quarters of a century later it was in full retreat. Palaces were built
in the style of mediaeval castles, town houses in the manner of Palladio.
Victorian and Edwardian crafts have recently found their collectors and admirers,
but they are second-hand products of a time which had to borrow from the
past. Many new things came into use which did not fit into the old aesthetic
ideal not only railways, telephones and gas lights. We have only to look
at the fashions of the Second Empire to recognize the 'crisis of beauty'
which, after the First World War, all but exterminated the craftsman. Our
technological era has lost the nostalgia which disturbed the last decades
of the nineteenth century; we have resolutely turned away from the old ideals.
What would Goethe say if he could see the new blocks of steel and glass where
people today live in infinitely greater comfort and healthier conditions
than their forefathers did under their stuccoed ceilings and with their carved
chairs and elaborate doors?
We should not regret the departure of beauty from our life and our art. It
never was a sign of better people-but was it perhaps the privilege of better
times? 'Few periods are receptive to the pure beauty of form,' wrote one
of the great historians of the nineteenth century. 'Only the happiest times
can produce it.' There can be no serious argument about the happiness of
our time, a time of unfulfilled expectations3 irresistible though somewhat
aimless temptations and uncertain anxieties. This may sound a little
melodramatic: but why are we sending artificial satellites into space, why
are men to travel perilously to the moon and beyond? For military purposes?
For quicker communication so that we of this hemisphere can see and hear
at any moment what they are doing in the Antipodes? Or out of sheer curiosity
and boredom with our own shrunken planet? And why are we building and perfecting
atom bombs at fantastic cost, while piously professing that we would never
use them? There is some sinister humour in the ceaseless exhortations to
help the starving half of mankind while we spend fabulous amounts of money
on seemingly useless projects. But more and more scientists and technicians
are wanted, more brains to replace brains. This is a strange world of exploding
population and diminishing 'Lebensraum', of man possessing everything except
himself. It is not that happy time when man could measure his world and take
a reassuring reading of his own position. For the arts it is an unfriendly
climate, and beauty cannot thrive where there is no time to enjoy it. Should
the arts be blamed? Should music?
Indeed music, which is the true expression of our age, must distrust the
dream-world of quieter times and must of necessity become scientific-or
pseudo-scientific-and intellectual, a delusive image of pure spirituality,
purer even than mathematics, which at least is wedded to a purpose. But intellect
is unalterably human. If it takes possession of the most divine, most heavenly
art everything divine and heavenly must disappear. This complicated, calculated
music of our time knows no emotion, it cannot weep and-worse still-it cannot
laugh. In its structures there is no breath of life, only the grimace of
human intellect. Rossini's 'Fac me cruce custodiri' was too beautiful and
too thoughtless to be pious. New sacred music-which exists-is too unbeautiful
and too intellectual to approach the mystery of belief Here the predominance
of 'how' over 'what' explains itself. For 'what' has no intellectual quality,
and therefore disappears or breaks down under the weight of the intellectual
Is this not a truly dramatic change? In two centuries music learnt to penetrate
deep into the human soul, and within a few decades it has lost all interest
in it and therefore all the power it once had. For the younger generation
intellectual play has an inexhaustible fascination. Passion can be assuaged
but thinking cannot rest. This new music knows no satisfaction, no finality,
no accomplishment. It must try and try again, only to arrive at the same
uncertain result, whether it be laid down in detail or half improvised. Not
only is the similarity between the works of different composers striking,
but the works of the same composer resemble one another much more closely
than did the works of Beethoven from the same period of his life. If Schoenberg's
music lost, involuntarily, tempo, dynamics and rhythm while still clinging
to- expression, the step beyond, indicated by Webern and accomplished by
his successors, has lost expression too. Complete objectivity is the aim,
and this finds only one single object of veneration in the whole of creation:
the thinking, human intellect. Here is the imbalance within the art and we
shall have to face its consequences.
I cannot help looking with some compassion at the composers of this highly
intellectual new music. Our day and age allows little enjoyment of life.
How could music and its composers enjoy it? So much is withheld from them
that was once so generously bestowed on the creative genius-the delight in
creating, the satisfaction of achievement. Intellect knows no individuality.
Where intellect reigns, everything personal and individual vanishes from
the art of music, disappears in this much vaunted objectivity. One may call
that impersonal uniformity the style of new music, but this style is no longer
the former community of phrases and turns but the uniformity of the spirit.
The effort of finding an adequate musical formula for that spirit is great,
greater than at any time we know, perhaps for many too great.