Results 1 to 4 of 4

Thread: The Political Implications of Abstraction and Modernism

  1. #1
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    15,994
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    139

    Default The Political Implications of Abstraction and Modernism

    In the late 1930's, many distinguished composers arrived in America from war-torn Europe, to escape the censorship and suppression of their art. This large influx of composers is what established serialism in America.

    Ernst Krenek, one of those disenfranchised composers, said that one reason he was attracted to serialism was that it seemed antithetical to Nazism, and became an expression of his protest.

    It is well known that totalitarian governments hate and suppress serialism and 'modern' abstract art. That's because abstraction (Schoenberg was an Expressionist) reflects the inner experience of the artist, and thus does not reflect the outward reality of whatever social, political, and ideological environment it springs from, except in cases where it is sarcastic and critical of such milieus, as with George Grosz' cartoon-like art.

    Thus, abstraction itself is in inherent opposition to outward powers which might try to control it. It is the expression of the individual, in the absence of any ideological purpose. It is inherently apolitical, in that it celebrates the individual.

    Serialism arose in contrast to tonality, which had been the official language of music for centuries, representing through its notation and scores the aspirations and concerns of an elite ruling class, evolving out of Church power, then kings, royalty and an emerging bourgeois class. Haydn and Mozart wrote their divertissiments for the amusement of royal families who funded them. The music embodies the progressive and elitist aims of this ruling class, and tonality was the sensual, resonant language which was used to convey this.

    As Nationalism began to reach its peak in the nineteenth century, with Wagner, Strauss, Brahms, and others, Arnold Schoenberg yearned to be a part of this, and moved to Vienna, where he struggled to become a part of the great Viennese tradition in music. As Mahler before him found out, this was not to be; this was an elitist, exclusionary club which was almost impossible to gain membership in, despite the great works which arose out of this attempt: Mahler's symphonies, his Song of the Earth, Schoenberg's Pelleas and Transfigured Night, and his Gurrelieder.

    Although many here might disagree, I feel that Schoenberg adopted his 12-tone system out of more than reasons arising out of musical concerns; meaning the chromaticism which had emerged, and which had resulted in an unstable and insecure musical syntax, on the verge of developing itself into chromatic chaos, an environment which he sought to bring order to. He also said at one time that he wanted serialism to 'reassert German musical hegemony,' which is ironic, as he was forced to leave Germany as World War II broke out.

    No, I think Schoenberg had seen what happened to Mahler, and grew somewhat bitter; and he retreated into Expressionism and his 12-tone method, which served his individual artistic vision, and only paid lip-service, by continued use of familiar forms like waltzes and traditional forms, to the Germanic tradition which had molded him. Go with what you know.

    This withdrawal into the 'abstraction' of serial music allowed Schoenberg to create a music which supported and expressed no outward ideology or nationalistic tradition, but only the inner experience of its creator. Serialism became its own ideology.

    The repercussions of WWII resonated well into the 1950s, when a new generation emerged and expanded on the methods and aesthetic of Schoenberg and Webern. The bombast of nationalism had almost destroyed Europe, and these new composers were disillusioned with all such notions of nationalism and state power; and the spectre of the hydrogen bomb still loomed. Thus serialism was the perfect vehicle; it had no traditional baggage of nationalism and was subject to no ideology other than its own.

    Thus, although Schoenberg and the serial composers who followed acted out of artist concerns, with no overt political considerations or motivations other than general post WWII trauma, their retreat into the inner realm of abstraction, and into a receding, hermetic world of self-generating forms free of tradition, had political implications all the same, because of the inherent inner, individualistic nature of abstraction freed from tradition and nationalism.

  2. Likes ptr, science, Blake liked this post
  3. #2
    Senior Member Xaltotun's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Location
    Helsinki, Finland
    Posts
    1,722
    Post Thanks / Like

    Default

    Thought provoking verses again, MR! Some thoughts:

    When we think of German culture, we must begin with a cultural area that had no common ruler for a long time. The culture was less homogenous, less controlled by a single power than some other European countries. With this I don't mean that individual German states were not controlled, just that there was no single power governing them all. But what was common for them was Lutheranism. A doctrine emphasizing individual interpretation, solitary study and reading in general. I think this shows how far back the German tradition of "controlled revolution", of individual evaluation comes from. My point is that when we speak of "German tradition", it seems to me that self-renewal by escaping into the unknown, the self, the sphere of private thought is already a part of the tradition. Come French Revolution, what were the Germans doing? Writing radical philosophy that had as far-reaching implications. In music, after Beethoven (who sort of embodied the French Revolution) the Germans have been doing pretty much nothing except trying to progress by escaping the structures of existing music. I think that this is the tradition that Schoenberg wanted to belong to. The tradition of revolution that is still a tradition because it acknowledges the preceding forms and develops organically from them... but now I must stop before I start to babble about Hegel again. My point is that it seems to me that Schoenberg the conservative and Schoenberg the rebel are actually the same person, not even "two faces of the same coin".

    My other point is that abstraction and expression of the individual do not seem inherently apolitical to me. They seem to lead directly to Democracy, Liberalism and Capitalism, all of which are very much political schools of thought. Or, if they lead straight to Anarchism... it's just as political.

    Still, a great essay, again! I like how your style of writing makes bold statements to produce a reaction that leads to fruitful discussion (that's not Trolling, or course; there's a great difference!).
    Wäre das Faktum wahr, – wäre der außerordentliche Fall wirklich eingetreten, daß die politische Gesetzgebung der Vernunft übertragen, der Mensch als Selbstzweck respektiert und behandelt, das Gesetz auf den Thron erhoben, und wahre Freiheit zur Grundlage des Staatsgebäudes gemacht worden, so wollte ich auf ewig von den Musen Abschied nehmen, und dem herrlichsten aller Kunstwerke, der Monarchie der Vernunft, alle meine Thätigkeit widmen.

  4. Likes ptr, millionrainbows liked this post
  5. #3
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    15,994
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    139

    Default

    Thanks for your carefully considered statements, and I will give this thought.

    Religious introspection is also an appeal to a higher authority, just as nationalism is.

    I see abstraction and art as 'humanistic' in nature, differing from the introspection of religion, in that it is based on an 'internal hierarchy' based solely on the individual. It is not 'outwardly connected' in a social sense, as religion is. In this sense, it is the 'primal spirituality' which exists before all social structuring.

    By the way, I really appreciate your kind words, and your view that I am not merely a troll, as some here are wont to think. It's nice to be 'believed in.'
    Last edited by millionrainbows; Jun-21-2014 at 17:14.

  6. Likes Xaltotun liked this post
  7. #4
    Banned
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    15,994
    Post Thanks / Like
    Blog Entries
    139

    Default

    I'm moving to Helsinki!!

  8. Likes Vaneyes, Xaltotun liked this post

Similar Threads

  1. Would Beethoven Like Romanticism or Modernism more?
    By neoshredder in forum Classical Music Discussion
    Replies: 75
    Last Post: May-15-2017, 04:16
  2. Mozart vs. Modernism
    By neoshredder in forum Classical Music Discussion
    Replies: 244
    Last Post: Jul-23-2013, 19:07
  3. Second Favorite Era for those that like Modernism the Most
    By neoshredder in forum Classical Music Discussion Polls
    Replies: 12
    Last Post: Dec-09-2012, 00:16
  4. Reasonable critiques of Modernism
    By Sid James in forum Community Forum
    Replies: 31
    Last Post: Aug-26-2012, 08:13
  5. Modernism in music?
    By Del Hudson in forum Classical Music Discussion
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: Aug-15-2006, 10:53

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •