I HAD A DREAM
Prof. Massimiliano Messieri / San Marino / – composer, Ensemble San Marino, Bologna Conservatory
When I was 13, I had a dream: music got back to be music, not labelled or divided into genres like pop, rock, folk, classical, new, electronic, experimental, minimal, serial or algorithmic... Just Music. In some respects, this dream came true; destiny is mocking and it often seems to be in a Dantean circle of hell: classical music (especially the one of today) is dying!
The audience is disappearing because it is more and more affected and tied up to the medias. But this is all our fault: the reason is that is because we composers didn't take our heads out of the sand and we didn't notice that the society has changed.
Thinking that a composer should be justified just because he CREATES music, is a serious mistake, because if they once were engaged in the social life, working as organizers or as interpreters, nowadays they do nothing but feeling pity for themselves without lifting a finger to change their status quo. Recently, a meeting called "Musica Arte Scienza - Nuove espressività nel futuro" (Music Art Science - New Expressivenesses in the future) was held in Bologna (Italy). It was attended by some directors of Italian Contemporary Music Festivals who are all musicians (composers, interpreters and musicologists), and it aimed to take stock of the situation and to have a debate on future plans.They all had fantastic cultural programs, musical and scientifical, but both with only one big problem: the audience. Should we be surprised of this situation? Not at all! The fact proves the rule: today's classical music in Italy is dying and the yesterday's one is following it.
The polish musicologist Marciej Negrey, during our meeting in November 2010, said to me rightly : the new music doesn't exist. It is all classical music, all new music, there is no difference between the classical music written by Mozart and the one written by a today's composer: both of them, in different historical periods, were considered new because they were written by living authors. Well, so where's the problem? Why is the audience so different (in a matter of numbers, too) between today's classical music and the yesterday's one? Maybe we forgot to think about what is really music? Music is an artistic international language. Being a language, it has its own grammar, its own syntax and some thoughts connected to it. So, if grammar and syntax are comprehensible, are thoughts those elements that do not communicate anymore? Probably this is the point of our problem: today's music does not succeed in communicating with the audience! Have you ever noticed that the stalls are occupied, most of the times, by musicians, music journalists, by aspiring musicians and by relatives of the interpreters?
For which reason are we, composers, but other musicians too, if not accompanied by "our fellows", most of the times alone? It is the common psychosis, wrong but persistent, that we are weird, that we have an apparently different life, and for that reason we are admired but kept at a distance. But why? We have to analyze another time our part, because we know what has happened, which are the causes that produced this break with the audience and which opened the road towards the blind alley.
From Anton Webern’s Variations op. 30 (1940) on, unlike Adorno used to think, we composers have gone in the opposite direction of what music is and what is means: why writing cancelling the “I”, the ego? Why has a mathematical process, an abstract scheme, become music?
John Cage had probably hinted that the process of the cancellation of the creative I, produced a calculation which was identical to a casual draw of “I Ching”, an apparently casual combination. Reading or listening to “MUSIC OF CHANGES” for piano by John Cage (1951) and to “STRUCTURES” Book I by Pierre Boulez for two pianos (1951/52), we can see how these two scores are similar even if the compositive process is totally different (listening). Surely, the Masters didn’t look at the future, at what their affirmation could have produced: a total break with the social agreement between the musician and the audience. In the following years, the compositive act was focused on the mathematical calculation, to the detriment of what was sound and the analytical method was put before the meaning of music: everyone (musicians or not) was able to write “music” of which they had a minimal grammatical knowledge. But these “scores” weren’t music, but just notes and a succession of intervals which was not relevant to the sound. Music is a child of its time, but were the composers conscious of the social and historical period they lived in? In the 1980s and 1990s, writing a C chord or just an octave was a tabu: they were more dissonant than the dissonance itself and if they were produced by the code, the compositive calculation was wrong.
A dictatorial, absolute state was in these “masters” minds and words like “harmony” or “melody” (called also “sequence”) were just creative elements to be used carefully.
The analytic method placed before the creation of the score produces a perfect composition! Exactly, but this is not music. The result of this modus operandi has created streams of paper written with the grammatic of music but without being real music. Those scores transmitted nothing but the incapacity of being a musician, or the frustrating convinction of being just artisans of music, but not artists. During the 1960s and the 1970s, another current was showing that the cancellation of the creative "I" was something wrong: the controlled Alea. The "play-scores" created with this compositive system gave the possibility to the interpreter to be composer himself, so he could follow his own music taste even if he was guided by the score's author. If we read or listen to "IN C" (1964) by Terry Riley or "SERENATA PER UN SATELLITE" (Serenade for a satellite, 1969) by Bruno Maderna, we realize that the musical thought of the author appears but he does not know exactly the final result of the score, but some sounds' aspects that it produces (listening).
These assertions at the beginning may be hard to understand, unpleasant and provocative but if we analize the history of music of the last sixty years, we realize that they are not wrong. The composers were the authors of the present status quo: the audience is lowering because the scores gradually stopped to communicate. The society has changed: even if it has become more and more evolved in a matter of technology, men's feeling and emotions didn't change. Love and hatred, joy and sadness, sweetness and harshness, passion and indifference are not just words or agogics: they are means of interpretation that the composer inserts in his score not because of praxis but to indicate the executive expressiveness.
The questions "What does it mean?" or "What does it want to communicate to the audience?" springs out of the moment when the score denies every agogics in its structure: the meaning "Adagio cantabile", today not used anymore, was replaced with "Con dolcezza" maybe because the writing doesn't transmit this sweetness? How can the interpreter and then the listener understand the thought of the composer if the way of writing goes on in an obstinate way (or better, insane), in an anti-expressive algorithmic calculation?
The disgregation between musician and listener has happened during this period, when the composer forgot the reason why he was writing music: he went on with his insane creativity, regardless of the "collateral effects" and the gradual disappearance of the audience. The listener has been conforming, addressing the pleasure of the listening towards new horizons that fulfilled his emotions. A new character was born from this disgregation: the discography (the music market) and its commercialization through the media (radio and television). Music has retroceded to its elementary stage, expressing in a superficial way the emotions sought by the audience. The audience has been absorbed by the market and by television shows and it was subjected to its primitive emotions, ignoring that music we listen to everyday, was just a harmony written centuries ago with another melody. (listening: Mina "Passion flower"/ Ludwig van Beethoven "Fur Elise"/ Phil Collins "A groovy kind of love"/ Muzio Clementi: from the "Sonatina Op.36 n.5 in G Major, Rondo")
The attention towards the emotions and the feelings of the audience has become the most important parameter sought by producers of pop and rock music and by the music to promote. This action has more and more marginalized the classical music from the means of massive communications, the music has been put aside.
Someone who is very close to me, of who I hold in high esteem, has confirmed what I just said: listening to contemporary classical music is very difficult for her because she can't understand its meaning, despite she is a very cultivated person and loves classical music (in particular the one of Mozart) and she defines herself a woman inside a world of numbers. This difficulty doesn't exist because of the non-will or the rejection to the listening because it is different from the classical rules, but because of the objective complexity of today's classical music. It's clear that the scores composed today are more complex than the ones written centuries ago, just like writing a score based on a numerical code or on a algorithm is simplier that composing a nice melody without aping or changing a pre-existent one. It has been demonstrated that the prosecution of the writing in an algorithmical way can lead first of all to the cancellation of the composer (like my friend and composer Nicola Baroni said during his musical research) and then of the music, because there are already some softwares able to transform the movement of our cells into numerical data (VID - VIsual Institute of Developmental Sciences, Laboratory of the National Institute of Biostructures and Biosystems, INBB, of Prof. Carlo Ventura). This data can be transformed into sounds, so music, following this barren process. It has not been demonstrated yet, but it could be, that taking the composition to a more human aspect (without lapsing into banality), less mathematical and more expressive, close to the human emotions, setting free from the last 60 years of experimentation, may restore the written music and reapproach the listener. And maybe my childish dream, ingenuous of its simplicity, can still be realized.
(translated by Martina Berardi)