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Thread: Should a Composer be judged on their politics or solely on their music?

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    Default Should a Composer be judged on their politics or solely on their music?

    Should we judge a composer on his/her politics and for that private life? Wagner was an anti-semetic which I believe is an historical and Mozart pro-Freemasonary. This is just to name two excellently talented composers of their time. But both, Wagner more-so, are judged on their political stance. I support neither of their views but enjoy their music.

    However, there are times when their politics cloud my enjoyment, should we allow this to happen? After all, if they were just womanisers we would more than likely smile and take little notice or if to discover they were gay, again we would smile and say that was their business and does nothing to how we feel about the excellent works they did in their life times.

    Again, I say I only mention Wagner, who is controversial politically and Mozart who much less so as examples but I am sure that there are others.

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    Senior Member Art Rock's Avatar
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    For me, it is all about the music, not about the personality.
    I treat my music like I treat my pets. It’s something to own, care about and curate with attention to detail. From a blog by hjr.

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    Why do all of these have to be posed as "yes/no" questions? There's no way the real life situation is going to be so simplistic that it has to come down entirely one way or the other.

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    I agree with Art Rock. While I care deeply about anti-semitism, I don't care about Wagner's anti-semitism. I loathe murder, but when I listen to Gesualdo, I don't care that he was a murderer. Wagner's music can deeply affect me now, but his anti-semitism is a thing of the past and has no effect on me.

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    Senior Member realdealblues's Avatar
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    We've been down this road before, but...

    I like music based entirely on how it "sounds" and makes me feel, nothing else.

    I could care less what kind of person they were. If Satan or Judas or Hitler or Charles Manson wrote Bruckner's 7th Symphony I would still think it's a beautiful work with beautiful melodies and that's all that matters to me when it comes to the music.
    Last edited by realdealblues; Aug-27-2013 at 17:43.

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    Senior Member Ondine's Avatar
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    The gossiping around the life of a composer is of little interest for me. What I value is the way he has composed an oeuvre and why it sounds as it sounds.
    'Small is Beautiful...'
    Leopold Kohr
    ------
    English isn't my mother language... please be patient.

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    I agree with Art Rock. While I care deeply about anti-semitism, I don't care about Wagner's anti-semitism. I loathe murder, but when I listen to Gesualdo, I don't care that he was a murderer. Wagner's music can deeply affect me now, but his anti-semitism is a thing of the past and has no effect on me.
    Sums up my own view completely.
    There may come a time when Youtube won't let us do this...

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    As a rule, the more I know and understand about a composer or any other historical figure (or think I do!), the less I tend to judge him or her. In any case, only when there are overt political ideas that or integral to a work of art--sexist remarks in an opera libretto, for example--am I likely to be put off it altogether. I attended a performance of Strauss's Intermezzo some time ago and I was far from the only one to be appalled!

    On the subject of Gesualdo, I'm intrigued by suggestions that his guilt over his murders actually affects the style of his work:

    The evidence that Gesualdo was tortured by guilt for the remainder of his life is considerable, and he may have given expression to it in his music. One of the most obvious characteristics of his music is the extravagant text setting of words representing extremes of emotion: "love", "pain", "death", "ecstasy", "agony" and other similar words occur frequently in his madrigal texts, most of which he probably wrote himself. While this type of word-painting is common among madrigalists of the late 16th century, it reached an extreme development in Gesualdo's music.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlo_Gesualdo

    I don't doubt that this interpretation is controversial, however.

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    Senior Member aleazk's Avatar
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    It's really necessary another thread on this?. The topic has been exhausted to death already in the several Wagner-Nazis threads...

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    Senior Member EricABQ's Avatar
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    For me, the answer is always "it depends."

    Let's say composer X has some abhorrent views and was very open about expressing them. But, let's also say that this composer is long since dead. If I listen to his work, is his abhorrent cause being supported by me listening to him? No, not in any meaningful way (so long as his works were not about his objectionable beliefs.)

    But, what if the composer was alive and would benefit financially from me purchasing his music, and my purchases would therefore in some small way support him? In that case, it becomes more difficult to separate the man from his views.

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    Senior Member Eschbeg's Avatar
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    My view is that if the politics can plausibly* be argued to be symbolized by the music, then one is justified in judging the politics alongside the music. That Stravinsky was a quasi-fascist has little relevance for me when I listen to the Divertimento, since there is no substantive connection between the two that I can see. However, Stravinsky's politics have quite a lot of relevance for me when I listen to the Symphony of Psalms, since I do see connections between the second movement's fugal writing and the ideological symbolism Stravinsky explicitly associated with fugues in his writings and essays of the 1930s.

    (*Yes, what counts as plausible is subjective, as is everything else about the interpretation of music.)

    In other words, I agree with Mahlerian that it's not a simple black-or-white issue. It's naive to think everything a composer does is a reflection of his or her beliefs, just as it's naive to think nothing a composer does is a reflection of his or her beliefs.

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    Quote Originally Posted by aleazk View Post
    It's really necessary another thread on this?. The topic has been exhausted to death already in the several Wagner-Nazis threads...
    It doesn't have to be exactly the same and about Wagner/Hitler. Really a thread is what you make it.

    And my angle on this thread is that art which is purely guided and structured through outside ideological theories is likely to lack the kind of individual life and energy which I want. It could seem limited and lacking in more universal appeal. Most artists I suspect realise that and so that kind of art isn't seen too often.

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    The music should be judged on the music.

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    Quote Originally Posted by starry View Post
    It doesn't have to be exactly the same and about Wagner/Hitler
    Of course not. But we have already discussed this topic in an abstract sense in the Wagner/Hitler threads, since it's the obvious abstract discussion behind the Wagner/Hitler issue...

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    Senior Member Cheyenne's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by realdealblues View Post
    I could care less what kind of person they were. If Satan or Judas or Hitler or Charles Manson wrote Bruckner's 7th Symphony I would still think it's a beautiful work with beautiful melodies and that's all that matters to me when it comes to the music.
    Satan would only write atonal music, of course.

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