01/30/2013 02:21 pm ET Updated Apr 01, 2013

The Anachronism of the Top 100 in Classical Music

The majority of the classical music scene provides top 100 compositions in the style most accepted by the classical music audience today, and that style can be defined as "contemporary interpretation" or, more precisely, as the grotesque imitation of the romantic approach. There are exceptions, of course, but they are rare and slowly becoming extinct.

Today's grotesque imitation of the Romantic idea emerges from a remnant of the belief that there is progress in the arts and humanity at large. A distant and distorted memory of how it felt when genuine feelings and beautiful dreams were guiding light into creation and when a desire for knowledge and tradition was necessary to bring new ideas into the light; when the chariot of high art was driven by two animals: truth and beauty.

Arguably regrettably that ideology seems anachronistic in the 21st century. Time told: The tragedy of the 20th century, the dreadful schemes and the horrible nightmares they produced, impacted so deeply on the European artistic soul that there was no recovery, but rather a post-traumatic, a shell-shocked split into:

a) the probably necessary and inevitable process of melting that experience into composition, resulting in the destruction of our millennia-old musical systems, and

b) the probably necessary and inevitable process of regression to and imitation of the older musical systems, from a time before the modern world, before the betrayal of civilization; from when the world still made sense to the artist.

Two paths were opened: innovation to destruction and tradition to stagnation. We tried one, witnessed the Great World War, and ran for the second. And that's where we are now, careening on the ocean of superficial imitation and whimsical nonsense towards the edge of the musical world. Both paths originated from the Romantic Idea and lead to the tormented soul of Frankenstein's Monster.

Probable cause for the first: The pursuit of a new musical language was conducted with the same rigor as the attempted absolute order of the systems that produced the aforementioned disasters.

"The worst enemy of life, freedom and the common decencies is total anarchy; their second worst enemy is total efficiency." -- Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963)

Probable cause for the second: The belief that Art, enthymemically analogous to Science, has to be constantly replaced with a better, a more accurate, the contemporary one, and will eventually lead to salvation. The world-changing Gesamtkunstwerk -- triggered enlightenment -- is a hyper-Romantic idea. The inevitable regression to a state of innocence followed, to just before the tragedy of the 20th century, back to the Newtonian and Cartesian world, before the seemingly irreconcilable concepts of Darwin, Freud, Gödel, Spengler, Einstein, Heisenberg, Wittgenstein and many others entered the awareness of society, before the Great World War and all its monstrous progenitors and ugly offspring ... back to Romanticism, and eventually into continuous imitation and variation without the possibility of innovation. We have been imitating for only a few generations, but the mutations of the contemporary classical music scene are rather nails in coffins, echoing further with each reiteration of the unanswered question, than the serious and inspired continuation of the great cultural traditions of western civilization. Generations of imitation will result in deterioration; no evolution will lead to extinction. We can't believe in the precepts of the romantic idea anymore, alas we hold on to its ghost. Our old paradigms of "everything can be solved with science and rationality and 'everything will have meaning through art and religion" are romantic in nature: they failed.

But Romanticism didn't fail -- we did. We overdid it. We spilled the babe with the bath water. The container of high art changed through the ages of western civilization, but the content remained until we replaced it with a kenotaph. Evolution is not improvement, only adaptation. We are still the inheritors of that grand tradition and we have responsibilities when we attempt to think of art today and into the future. What did we put on the Voyager interstellar space probe (NASA, 1977) before it was catapulted it by the gravity of Saturn into free space? A time capsule. Information about our world and the best of human creation: Art. Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. Would we do the same on Voyager II in 2077? I sure hope so!

What is an interpretation? The conscious continuation and evolution of tradition. What is a "contemporary interpretation"? What is currently our artistic tradition? What fertile ground do we offer for the flowers of music and art to blossom? How to overcome the anachronism of Art in the modern world?

We are Humans first; let's not forget our humanity and its best creations. Why not keep the good of tradition and permit oblivion to the bad only, to serve the better New without sacrificing the excellent Old, to assist the creation of art that speaks to the souls and minds of the citizens of the 22nd century? Past Post-Contemporary Meta-Romanticism. Time will tell.

"Beneath thick crust are the fires of new thoughts which must modify or destroy the old." -- Jacques Barzun (1907-2012)

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