[Smt-talk] Criteria for Old and New

Michael Morse mwmorse at bell.net
Wed Mar 6 06:08:02 PST 2013

  I think there's a sort of logical issue here, annoying and sub-stratal, but unavoidable. To describe Schenker as a polemicist would be an understatement on the order of calling Mahatma Gandhi a politician. It is not merely that he wrote such apparently gratuitous bellicosities as "Rameau or Beethoven?," nor even that he himself viewed such shrill commentaries as of a piece with his theories, but the degree to which it is true or, again, unavoidable. 
  I am not saying that our appreciation, understanding, and indeed practical and intellectual applications of his ideas should be delimited by our contempt for his willful bigotry. But, as we have already heard from Chris Bonds, wasn't it, the will to system is no minor peccadillo in dealing with so formidable an intellect as Schenker--or Schoenberg, or Hegel, or Spengler, or Goethe. Bluntly speaking, if it is difficult to disentangle aesthetic biases--that's not quite the correct word, nor is "limitations"--from vehement theoretical disagreements, bizarre politics & theology, confusing musical dispositions (viz. the status of the subdominant, passing notes, and more) difficult to reconcile with our aural experience--well, that's in no small part because systematic thought like his cannot help but make such disentanglement difficult. And this is, to my mind, not so much a function of Schenker's direct intention, ie to snooker us into sharing his animadversions, but a function of systematic thinking altogether. A "schenkerianism," of his power and intensity, entirely purged of his vicious absurdities, is a chimera.
  At the risk of bringing Reader's Digest-level ethics to our table, I'd suggest that there is no single way to cut this Gordian knot, and each of us must find our own path (or paths) to dealing with it. Dismissing Schenker, or bashing him, is tempting, and easily enough justified by scores of imprudences, hyperboles, and worse. But is that the best, the most responsible course? An anecdote: the journalist Hans Meyer studied composition with Alban Berg during the 20s, and one day delivered himself of full-on blast against Wagner the monster: the revolting nationalist and con man, the hypocrite and shameless abuser of all and everyone, above all the revolting, indefensible anti-Semite. Berg listened to all this with surprising calm, then simply said: that's easy for you to say; you're not a musician..
MW MorseTrent UniversityOshawa, Peterborough 		 	   		  
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