THE SILENCE OF “INNOCENTS” - REFLECTIONS ON THE CONTEMPORARY CONDITION OF NEW MUSIC IN ITALY

Prof.Massimiliano Messieri /Italy / - composer

The current situation is a result of the ending of the social contact among musicians and between musicians and the public. This breaking-off took place mainly because of two elements of the same importance: cultural decline and analytic writing. It is quite easy to guess which germ generated these two anti-music viruses. It is ambition, i.e. desire to stand out, appear, and be remembered in history, without disappearing frustrated in forgetfulness. It is important to clarify that both elements belong to the “species” of musicians, who are today labeled as composers, acousmatic composers, performers, or improvisers. The separation of musicians and public dates from the late eighteen hundreds, when musicians became musicologists. They considered themselves fathers of objective beauty and gave birth to a “style academy”. Later on, musicians divided themselves into two groups: the interpreters and the composers. The former was an exegete of music, the latter a creator.

It is necessary to understand the reason of musicians’ decline in detail. It is also important to realize why they became slaves of ambition, even though they were artists, therefore intellectuals. History has taught us that musicians have always been their own entrepreneurs. Both composers and performers have tried to sell their music talent in order to survive. In this period, the commissioners – and therefore public – were curious to hear the “New Music” of the time, and were glad to introduce it in their theatres and salons. Music spread more and more at every concert and had a direct relationship with the audience, which expressed its opinion, sometimes quite violently. This is why composers paid attention to their musical and theatre work, carefully choosing every fellow worker, from entrepreneurs to singers, and from orchestra leaders to soloists. Sometimes there was no need for a soloist, because the composer was a soloist himself. Before the role of the entrepreneur was created, composers contacted soloists, singers and orchestra leaders themselves. With the advent of entrepreneurs, the composers started delegating tasks, so that commissioners would be satisfied and promote other musical works. This new role involuntarily created distance between composers and interpreters. Composers didn’t realize that their purely intellectual approach to music made them lose their grip on reality. At the same time performers were put in the spotlight by entrepreneurs who aimed to increase their income. As a result, they gained importance in the world of music and voluntarily forgot about being simply performers.

The evolution of musical language took place around 1925 (A. Schönberg “Suite op. 25 for piano”) in a very radical way. Tonal harmony (atonal and pantonal) was substituted by dodecaphony, in which the reference points of tension and stretching become ratios, or interludes, between one note and the other. This change caused the first irreversible split between authors (i.e. composers) and the public. Little by little, a separation also occurred between authors and performers. The will to become the best executants of all distanced performers from contemporary music until they created a historic repertoire. Similarly, the will to become leading figures urged composers to find their own style. They wanted their style to be recognizable and objectively beautiful, and therefore used mathematical canons. Musical language distanced itself more and more, and in a short time, from the additive system, which had developed between the seventeenth and the nineteenth century. In less than seventy years, this forced evolution literally tore the social contract among composers, performers and public. Little by little, authors found themselves in front of an audience mostly formed by colleagues. In the meantime, nearly every interpreter and consequently the public forgot about contemporary music. During this period, the term ”classical music” was used to define any piece of music, which was listenable according to standards; furthermore, performers (soloists and orchestra leaders) were considered the only true musicians. In the last thirty years of the past century, newspapers (with the exception of the specialized ones) didn’t mention G. Petrassi, L. Berio, S. Sciarrino, A. Corghi or J. Cage, G. Ligeti, P. Boulez, K. Stockhausen (to mention a few). On the contrary, by the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century newspapers reported the premieres by G. Verdi, G. Puccini, V. Bellini, O. Respighi, and so on. The only information about classical music (unlike that about commercial music – pop, rock, disco, rap, and so on – which were, and still are embarrassing, because they deal with gossip and advertising rather than music) concerned the staging of Mozart’s Idomeneo, conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti at La Scala theatre in Milan, or the uncut recording of Beethoven’s nine symphonies conducted by Maestro Claudio Abbado with Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra for the Deutsche Grammophon record company.

During the twenty first century technological development gave birth to a phenomenon both odd and dangerous: virtual listening. The invention of phonographs and their gradual development into Compact Discs, streaming audio and most recently, into YouTube, has created an extremely critical “virtual public”, which guarantees the survival of classical and contemporary classical music. The truth is that virtual listening is slowly killing classical music and “new music”, because both have always survived and spread thanks to concerts and the diffusion of published scores. Today, classical music concerts are diminishing and Italian publishing houses have stopped publishing contemporary scores. They buy only the editions and rent them at very high prices to musicians who want to play them. As a result, fewer people study and produce contemporary music scores. This kind of globalised listening has its effects on musicians themselves as well. The desire to be seen and listened to on the web, something that any amateur can do, has produced the fear of being unheard, slowly suffocating the art of music. For this reason it is important to listen to some examples of music, in order to grasp how serious the problem is (Tracks 1 to 7, Tracklist).

In summary, does it still make sense to be considered Italian, French, German, Japanese, or American musicians, after globalization and post-avant-garde divulgation on the web?! Are national cultures still distinguishable?! (Tracks 8 to 11, Tracklist). If we continue being silent, are we sure these new entrepreneurs won’t destroy us?!

Massimiliano Messieri

 

Tracklist

Track 1: Cat playing the piano (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=az8VAhCMGyI)

Track 2: Child who plays the piano (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gyj41jmQ0zU)

Track 3: Luciano Berio “Sequenza IV” (1966) for solo piano (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJqRvP6SU9c)

Track 4: MortonFeldman “Piano” (1977) for solo piano (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4d-Ts9KeZo)

Track 5: John Cage “A room” (1943) for solo piano (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6anZTClbRw4&feature=related)

Track 6: Wikingo piano music improvisation on Stevens “A is for Allah” (2011) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yR_kV9l40Ro)

Track 7: Giovanni Allevi “L’orologio degli dei” (2007) for solo piano (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_721aAuMlg)

Track 8: Philip Glass “Etude N.2” for solo piano (1994/95) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EWSwXrOCKU)

Track 9: ArvoPärt “Variations for the Healing of Arinushka” (1977) for solo piano (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zrD9JiA_i4&feature=related)

Track 10: GyörgyLigeti “Etude N.6 - Autumn in Warsaw” (1985) for solo piano (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Pcm1sJ8V4o&feature=related)

Track 11: Giacinto Scelsi “Piano Sonata N.3 – II. Con dolcezza” (1939) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpMHMq3N-LI&feature=related)

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