Saturday, March 5, 2016

Musical Explanation 3/5/16: Why Listen to Bruckner...

It's been a relatively dark week. On Tuesday, I pushed myself well past the limits of exhaustion to try to record a piece that's been ringing shapelessly in my head for five years, in the hopes that what I could put into sound was anything like what my ears heard. Against a painful ulcer that's simply crying to get me to return to a healthier diet and wreaking a bit of havoc on my vocal chords, I sang ten different voice parts and played twenty-two parts on my violin for eight hours. I recorded two-and-a-half minutes of what will probably be a six-to-seven minute piece. The last minute of what I recorded is very good, but getting there is rather as mediocre as most of what its ne'er-do-well creator has thus far done in music. What brought me back from severely frayed nerves and feelings of mediocrity was, as so many times before, the ecstasy of Bruckner.

Music lovers in my highly semitic family always warned me off of composers they deemed too Teutonic - Wagner is a bete noir of theirs that, to a much smaller extent, remains a bete noir with me. But to dislike Bruckner, as they do, is to miss one of music's chiefest joys. I can't help the fact that most Bruckner performances completely miss the beating heart of the music in an effort to make a fetish out of orchestral smoothness and the pseudoprofundity of slow tempos, but I can say that such an approach should be lethal to any music lover who seeks depth of expression rather than the appearance of it.

What makes Bruckner so unbelievably moving is not his religious conviction, but the absolute humility his conviction inspires in him. Schubert wrote songs and chamber music about affairs of the heart, Beethoven wrote symphonies and sonatas about affairs of the self, Mozart wrote operas and concertos about affairs, but Bruckner wrote his symphonies and motets about affairs of the soul. His music speaks of a simple, stoic, almost peasant-like, acceptance of the cosmic order which we more ego-minded modern souls cannot understand. When I hear his music, I hear a kinship with my grandparents, who came from the Polish countryside, and like Bruckner when he came to Vienna, were forced from their rural European abode into a modern, more epicurean, world which they were completely ill-equipped to understand.

The more superficial parts of my social life are (or at least were) chock full with a whirlwind of people who claim that they want to live lives more like the world from which my grandparents hailed, but haven't the foggiest idea of what it entails - pseudo-hippies and much too cheerful modern incarnations of the prophet, Jeremiah, who rail against modern life in precisely the kind of way which demonstrates how thoroughly addicted to modernity they are. I can't tell you how many people I know who claim without a second thought that we humans would all be better off if we spent more time in nature - as though going back into nature will rid us from the fears and anxieties of modern life. What they're describing is the exact opposite of nature, it's the version of nature you find on Hallmark postcards.

They may think that they're going back to something natural, but there is nothing less natural than standing in the middle of un-trampled upon nature without any fear that nature will not trample you. They're either unwilling or too stupid to understand that animal existence spent billions of years evolving to the point that nature finally doesn't rule us all with an iron fist.

No matter how far away civilization appears to take us from nature, we are all manifestations of nature, and nature's built a homing device in each of us that can make any of us act with completely natural brutality if someone stands in nature's way.  How can you possibly make sense of Donald Trump unless you perceive nature activating its homing device on a region of the world that's moved too far away from it? Donald Trump and his movement is the raging animal who tries to tear apart America's civilization from the inside. An animal doesn't know that he's destroying anything, and he doesn't care. Put a bull inside a house and the bull will destroy every piece of furniture and every decoration on the walls. All a bull sees of a human house is impediments to where he goes. Meanwhile, a country that shames any person who says anything to offend people (be this person a politician or celebrity or colleague or friend or family member), is the national equivalent of a china shop, and you don't need a bull to destroy a china shop, all it takes is one dog without a leash. It's almost inevitable that the same people who talk about the natural world as though it's simply a pleasant backdrop over which they can live their lives are the ones who want to suppress the human side of nature and make this gloriously ugly race of ours into something cleaner and less interesting.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about Bruckner...

Life would be easier if the attitude we carried with us from pre-modernity is one like Bruckner's, a stoicism and humility which reminds us that no matter what life gives, God and/or the universe will carry on indifferently to us, because one day we will return to them. The would-be Wagners who narcissistically use nature as a tool for their personal aggrandizement inevitably find that nature will never be satisfied with being a mere supporting player in our lives. Over and over again, it's the primitivists who tell us that the world would be a better place if we're lead back to nature, but nature necessarily demands civilization's breakdown.

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