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The 'Beautiful' in Music Today Author(s): Helmut Lachenmann Source: Tempo, New Series, No. 135 (Dec., 1980), pp. 20-24 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/01/2015 16:01 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and
  The 'Beautiful' in Music TodayAuthor(s): Helmut LachenmannSource: Tempo, New Series, No. 135 (Dec., 1980), pp. 20-24Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/01/2015 16:01 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at  .  . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact  . Cambridge University Press  is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Tempo. This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:01:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  TH BEAUTIFUL N MUSIC TOD Y Helmut Lachenmann IN 1948, Pierre Boulez ended one of his articles thus: 'I have a horror of dealing in words with what is so prettily called the aesthetic problem. Besides, I don't want to make this article any longer; I prefer to turn back to my MS paper.' That attitude was to become characteristic of young avant-garde composers in the I95o's. A new world of sonic and temporal experience had been sighted from the standpoint of Webern's serial technique-a world centred on the organization of sound-material. Amid the bustle of striking camp and heading for the new Promised Land, the question of Beauty was not merely out of place; it was downright suspect. For it involved those criteria and taboos, value judge- ments and ideals, on whose ruins everyone was then standing. And yet-as Boulez's pronouncement show-a belief in the possibility of proceeding (yet again ) from neutral 'sound-values' involved a secret dialectic with the aesthetic considerations that had ostensibly been excluded from the discussion. The avant-garde was at that time encountering resistance on every side, and not least from proponents of a demand for Beauty that had seemingly been be- trayed. This particular form of resistance was so embedded in the complex alliance of (for the most part), conservative ideologies that it was not singled out for attention by the avant-garde composers, who were wrapped up in their own problems and discoveries. Others, upon whom the responsibility should have fallen, were still coming to terms with the Second Viennese School, and evaluat- ing it aesthetically. Having been delayed by the Nazi period, such evaluation was urgently needed in order to clarify the distinction between humanity's legitimate and profoundly rooted demand for art as the experience of Beauty, and its false satisfaction and alienation in the form of art 'fodder' manufacturered by the bourgeoisie and preserved in a society of repressed contradictions.* * 'Contradictions' (Widerspriiche) efers to, but is not restricted to, the Marxian theory of the contradictions of capitalism: see Christopher Caudwell's Further Studies in a Dying Culture ( 9 4I) and especially his essay 'Beauty and Bourgeois Aesthetics'. In 1977 Lachenmann composed Salut fur Caudwell, a major work for two guitars. (Eds.) This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:01:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  THE 'BEAUTIFUL' IN MUSIC TODAY While there was on the one hand a clear recognition of the new need to defend, in connection with the Viennese School, the betrayed concept of Beauty- and here of course I am thinking of Adorno and his pupils-on the other there was a hesitancy about investigating what was happening in the framework of new deveolpments. Wherever such investigation was attempted, the short-circuiting was widespread, and misunderstandings and misjudgements proliferated. Adorno's article 'On the Aging of New Music' proves true and prophetic today, though it obviously was unjust to those in the line of fire at the time. So the concept of Beauty, dismissed as suspect by the avant-garde, was kept alive by society. Or kept society alive ? Anyway, it lived on, not only as a general criterion for identification, but also in its customary and socially accepted form as reified categories. These facilitated the process of identification by offering a shield against the reality that could no longer be mastered. The shield was an apparently intact language: tonality and its expressive means. Blind to all that, the avant-garde failed society and reality. The opening-up of new dimensions of sound ('parameters' was the magic word), with its implicit denial of the Beautiful reified as the Comfortable and Familiar, was wholly com- patible with aesthetic considerations. But in time it led to complacent manner- ism-to musical thinking that was blindly technical and empiricist. As a mani- festiation of the power of musical invention in the free-and-easy realm of well- nourished bourgeois fantasy, the material, in all its richness and fascination, afforded immediate contact with initiates and with open-minded bystanders. The old temptation was irresistible: expectations of the Beautiful-as something theoretically neglected and unconquered yet socially as intact and effective as ever provided well-worn tonal habits are tricked out with elements that are more exotically attractive-began to influence avant-garde musical thinking, which had once been so strict. This was noted not with vigilance or even suspicion, but rather with amusement and sympathy. Meanwhile the works of Ligeti, Penderecki and also Kagel were being under- stood and welcomed as an expression of a new-found freedom in the avant-garde's thinking and self-awareness. The new tolerance of tonal elements that had once been so strictly excluded seemed to be a useful corrective to the compositional frustration which had led to progressive withdrawal from the serial utopias. While glorifying this 'tolerance' as a product of 'avant-gardistic' boldness, the composer reached a point where he was exploiting those very aspects of culture which had srcinally been shunned. The veiled regression of the 6o's was followed by the open regression of the 70's. The freedom to be tonal turned out to be the freedom to live in leaky places; the tonal 'corrective' was revealed as a corruptive. So the journey into the kingdom of unheard-of perception was over. Except for Luigi Nono, leading composers of yesterday have exhausted their resources. Failing to sense the truth about their material-fixated thought, they now decorate the cultural scene as petrified monuments to their old achievements. Meanwhile the sly champions of veiled or open regression take up the discarded banner of the avant-garde and boldly parade it in circles. They are celebrating the come-back of the bourgeois concept of beauty in the same reactionary form it had at the end of World War II if not before: a form sickening to anyone who sees in art-or in beauty-more than just a masquerade. Today the avant-garde is brought low by that selfsame bourgeois domesticated concept of beauty that it so arrogantly assumed it could ignore on the grounds that it preferred 'to turn back to the MS paper'. For the 2I This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:01:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions  TEMPO concept had not been countered by a demand for beauty purged by reality, and thought-through in theoretical and practical terms. Today the call for beauty is more suspect than ever-whether the concept is a pluralism embracing all conceivable types of hedonism, or else a reactionary hangover after false hopes and promises, or just academicism of whatever sort. Its proponents betray themselves over and over again as they cry out for 'nature', for tonality, for something positive, 'constructive', for 'comprehensibility at last'-and respond with loyal quotations from Bruckner, Mahler and Ravel. It is high time the concept of beauty be rescued from the speculations of corrupt spirits, and the cheap pretensions of avant-garde hedonists, sonority-chefs, exotic- meditationists and nostalgia-merchants. Once integrated into an overall theory of aesthetics and composition, the concept is no longer suitable for the prophets of popularity, the apostles of nature and tonality, and the fetishists of academicism and tradition. The mission of art lies neither in fleeing from, nor in flirting with, the contradictions which mould the consciousness of our society, but in coming to grips with them and dialectically mastering them. Beauty-or, if we prefer, artistic pleasure-remains an arbitrary and coincidental private standard if we ignore the full potentiality Man has acquired in the course of his development as a species. We still live in the hope that Man is capable of doing right, which of course presupposes that he is able and willing to know himself and his reality. We still believe in a 'human potential'. What we call beauty is the sense-experience which makes this belief a certainty. It com- municates such belief not through a metaphysically orientated, irrational, ex- perience, but through one that is extremely this-worldly, down-to-earth. Man succeeds in expressing himself--which Schoenberg, with extraordinary cogency, described as the highest thing an artist must demand from himself. Expressing oneself means entering into relationship with one's surround- ings; it means confronting, as who one is and who one would like to be, the questions posed by society and the existing categories of communication, and coming to grips with the social value-concepts contained therein. It means, above all, offering as much resistance to the inherited categories of communica- tion as is demanded by the contradictions and unfreedoms embodied in them. It is this resistance which reminds Man of his capacity, and his duty, to determine himself and become conscious of his unfreedom. Expressing oneself therefore means eliciting a sense of social contradictions by rendering them transparent-in other words by reaffirming the human demand for freedom, the 'human potential'. A demand or beauty which avoids these consequences eans only liight, resignation, self- betrayal. In practice, the composer who is concerned to express himself is obliged to take account of the 'aesthetic apparatus'-that is, the sum total of categories of musical perception as they have evolved throughout history to the present day; of the 'instrumentarium' which comes with them; of the techniques of playing and of notation; and last but not least, of the relevant institutions and markets in our society. From the window display of a music shop to the complimentary tickets given to the town council's charlady for the concert of the visiting fisher- man's choir, from the Hohner mouth-organ to the pensionable officialdom of the Radio Symphony Orchestra with its many fiddles tuned to the same open fifths and its solitary bass clarinet, this 'aesthetic apparatus' embodies the ruling aesthet- ic needs and norms. It is no accident that they rule in this particular form, for the apparatus has 22 This content downloaded from on Wed, 21 Jan 2015 16:01:59 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
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