Tuesday, October 07, 2008


The great economic crisis initiated by the crash of 1929 coincided with an aesthetic retreat from the musical ultra-modernism of the early century. While economics was far from the only cause of that compositional hunkering-down — in part, it was also a typical stylistic counter-movement at a generational juncture — the conservatism was a broad movement, shared, in many aspects, by very different economic/political cultures.

Without suggesting a repeat in music history, perhaps it would be useful to consider how, if the present global economic crisis widens, a similar mechanism might come to affect composition in our time. I take considerable comfort in the capacity of contemporary media to sustain a plurality of musical repertoires, styles, and concerns, and note that the same media have made possible an historically unprecedented privatization of the music-making and listening experiences, but nonetheless it is important to recognize that enormous social upheaval does have potential to strongly influence, if not control, the channels and means through which music is made public, shared, and sold.

Can we anticipate new waves of nationalistic and patriotic music? new music connected to revitalized labor movements? neo-socialist or neo-capitalist realism? neo-neo-classicism? Music has the capacity to be at once of the time, in advance of times to come, and very much behind the times. (I just listened to a broadcast of recent Stockhausen, whose music remained curiously locked into step with a vision of the future that dated somewhere around 1958), a situation that troubles me not at all. If, however, circumstances external to music are to force musical production and distribution into one direction or another, then concern is real and urgent.


Anonymous said...

I won't try to predict but don't think we can regress too far cause few little have much idea what happened before 1950 anyway. It might be safe to guess ( i love putting my foot in mouth this way!) that technological advances might reach fewer than before. Music though might be one of the arts that usher in a completely new trend for humanity though. Regardless it is an opportunity for us, and I say we give it a try!

Anonymous said...

I would have thought WWI the greater influence on the confusion in music post-Mahler. It was also the conventional wisdom at one point that the Depression actually was good for popular culture - people went to movies and listened to music to forget their circumstances.

I would be a bit more optimistic. The tools to make, distribute and promote new music have never been more accessible for the musician. Downloading and listening to music files could become a popular activity in a society with no spare cash.