Wednesday, March 16, 2016

ET: Almanac

There were long periods when art did not seek out the new but took pride in making repetition beautiful, reinforcing tradition, and ensuring the stability of a collective life; music and dance then existed only in the framework of social rites, of Masses and fairs. Then one day in the twelfth century, a church musician in Paris thought of taking the melody of the Gregorian chant, unchanged for centuries, and adding to it a voice in counterpoint. The basic melody stayed the same, immemorial, but the counterpoint voice was a new thing that gave access to other new things--to counterpoint with three, four, six voices, to polyphonic forms ever more complex and unexpected. Because they were no longer imitating what was done before, composers lost anonymity, and their names lit up like lanterns marking a path toward distant realms. Having taken flight, music became, for several centuries, the history of music.
All the European arts, each in its turn, took flight that way, transformed into their own history. That was the great miracle of Europe, not its art, but its art become history.
Alas, miracles do not endure for long. What takes flight shall one day come to earth. In anguish I imagine a time when art shall cease to seek out the never-said and will go docilely back into the service of the collective life that requires it to render repetition beautiful and help the individual merge, at peace and with joy, into the uniformity of being.
For the history of art is perishable. The babble of art is eternal.
- Milan Kundera: The Curtain

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