14 April 2009

Heart-from-Brain Musical Separability

But first

Holy Weeks Jaya has known. If you think any of these sound too goofy to be true, you live too sheltered an ecclesiastical existence. Jaya & I have worked together many a time and oft, so I can vouch for more than one of these, but decorum forbids me to identify specific incidents . . . .

I’m the last person in the world to make suggestions which might result in an ascension of Naxos’s price-point; and this is mostly a bit funny, anyway—and Babbitt is renowned (in part) for a quirky sense of humor. And it’s a bit quirky and humorous (almost) that there is a disc of Babbitt available at Naxos (though, to be fair, that is one Babbitt disc as against, what, ten Philip Glass discs?)

Nor is this any liner-note booklet proper, but only the insert catalogue of the American Classics Series. But the judicious glance of an editorial eye might have preserved Babbitt’s Christian name intact, instead of being misinterpreted by a scanner (one suspects) as Mikon.

(Could be a Greek name, I suppose.)

[ click on the image: you know you want to ]

(A quick check at arkivmusic.com shows 16 Naxos releases which include music of Glass.)

Assuming that a composer is at least entitled to like his themes (even though it may not be his duty to publish only what he himself likes), I dare say that I have shown here only melodies, themes, and sections from my works which I deemed to be good if not beautiful. Some of them were produced with ease; others required hard labor. Some are relatively simple; others are complicated. But one cannot pretend that the complicated ones required hard work or that the simple ones were always easily produced. Also, one cannot pretend that it makes any difference whether the examples derive from a spontaneous emotion or from a cerebral effort.

Unfortunately, there is no record that classic masters made much ado about the greater or lesser efforts needed for different tasks. Perhaps they wrote everything with the same ease, or, as one might suspect in the case of Beethoven, with the same great effort, as Beethoven’s sketch books prove.

But one thing seems clear: whether its final aspect is that of simplicity or of complexity, whether it was composed swiftly and easily or required hard work and much time, the finished work gives no indication of whether the emotional or cerebral constituents have been determinant.

It is necessary to remember that frequently the elaboration of unaccompanied themes and melodies in the examples I have shown required from three to seven sketches, while some of the contrapuntal sections were composed in a very short time.

It seems to me that I have anticipated the solution to this problem in the very beginning of this essay with the quotation from Balzac: “The heart must be within the domain of the head.”

It is not the heart alone which creates all that is beautiful, emotional, pathetic, affectionate, and charming; nor is it the brain alone which is able to produce the well-constructed, the soundly organized, the logical, and the complicated. First, everything of supreme value in art must show heart as well as brain. Second, the real creative genius has no difficulty in controlling his feelings mentally; nor must the brain produce only the dry and unappealing while concentrating on correctness and logic.

But one might become suspicious of the sincerity of works which incessantly exhibit their heart; which demand our pity; which invite us to dream with them of a vague and undefined beauty and of unfounded, baseless emotions; which exaggerate because of the absence of reliable yardsticks; whose simplicity is want, meagerness and dryness; whose sweetness is artificial and whose appeal attains only to the surface of the superficial. Such works only demonstrate the complete absence of a brain and show that this sentimentality has its origin in a very poor heart.

—Schoenberg, from Heart and Brain
in Music

1 comment:

J.Z. Herrenberg said...

Poor Babbitt! But - excellent Schoenberg quotation.