CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE RIGHT
Bronze Age Pervert
An observation from Nietzsche I always loved, regarding artists—they are advised to stay away from trying to render their sensuality in direct or explicit way, whether in music or painting or anything such. He says, for an artsy type, “their sensuality begins where the People’s ends”: it doesn’t translate. And so to a popular taste (and the sexual instinct is always “popular” on a basic level) the artist’s sensuality appears otherworldly, ethereal, “elvish.” The best examples are in those fin de siecle composers who didn’t take Nietzsche’s advice despite both being his disciples, either because they didn’t know about it or because they couldn’t help themselves: Debussy and Scriabin. Both tried to render eroticism and sensuality in music most directly, but neither succeeded. You can hear this failure for example in Debussy Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune; it’s great music, but not because it inspires or reminds of eroticism of lust, though that was the intention. At most it renders languor and loss in a haze of dreamy feeling, which at best precede certain erotic states. But the feeling of sexual stimulation, there is none—to its benefit maybe. In Scriabin’s music this same “failure” is even more explicit. He tried many times to go for the sensual feeling openly, for example in his Poem of Ecstasy. But what he achieves is again to render the feeling of a dreamy languor and then, insofar as there is ecstasy, it’s that of the otherworldly mystic in a fit of religious divine rage. It feels, like the end of his fourth piano sonata, or the insane piece Towards the Flame, like an alien wrote it bringing alien fire and mad passion for a new and alien god—not like anything sexual; and that is good. None of Scriabin’s music feels sensual in the popular sense, even though maybe a third to a half of it was composed as accompaniment to masturbation. I encourage you to his various so-called “languid dances.” And it all came from the inspiration of a philandering man amorous of women and affairs, as many artsy types often are. But even so it translates as a highly spiritualized sensuality, even too precious. The stodgy English musical traditionalists of the early 20th Century, representing a culture some say less vulgar than our own and maybe less vulgar than myself, did feel, however, a crude and dangerous eroticism in Scriabin’s art and were outraged and shocked by it. Their denunciations sound very funny now: banned from the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the 1930’s as “evil music” and denounced by one meddlesome parvenu Gerald Abraham as “erotic and egotistic to the point of mania.” Whether these Church Lady denunciations were indeed motivated by a sensibility more sensitive than mine—I don’t myself see the crude eroticism in his music—or whether they were politically motivated because they felt something rather different...maybe a kinship between Scriabin’s mystical ecstaticism and the then awakening of the European peoples to a new political vision...who knows?! But it made me think to ask the question, what is the relationship between the right and classical music.
CAN THERE BE MARXIST MUSIC?
What could be “left wing” music? If by this is meant music of the Reds, such as the Bolshevik battle hymn The Red Army is the Strongest, this is a nothing answer. This is militarist exciting music, and could be the music of any militant state or organization, or any revolutionary group. It’s actually indistinguishable from the militant music of the SA or the Fascists or anthems lik Cara al Sol, the hymn of the Falange, or for that matter English or American military songs like the Battle Hymn of the Republic, of which the Red Army Choir has one of the best recorded versions. It has nothing to do with the left wing spiritually. Beethoven is also music of the French Revolution. But for all of Beethoven’s supposed later anger at Napoleon’s coronation as Emperor, it’s obvious that his music is glorification not so much of the egalitarian program of the French Revolution, but of its redeemer in Napoleon. It is the setting for the greatness of life and vision of a classical man of violence and energy who appeared in the middle of a mediocre democratic age like an out of place surprising comet, and who overcame it. It’s not and it can’t be the music of Jacobin egalitarianism and moralfaggotry. Young people often love this spirit and these musics but only because they love revolution and violence; they don’t love or don’t even know what left wing revolution is actually supposed to bring. That would mean the music of the Marxist End State, or a music in anticipation of it. In the Marxist End State that covers the globe there can’t be music like “Red Army is the Strongest,” or like Shostakovich wartime symphonies, or anything else of this kind. War, struggle and all necessity has ended. If there could be a classical or in other words—a refined and higher spiritual music that evokes this, it would be one of the end of all struggle, all passion, all suffering, all intense necessity. But Marx’s End State feels like hell on Earth, the domain of total boredom. To use his own dystopian words, after all that struggle and blood what is left is to paint in the morning and fish in the evening. But is possible to imagine that for someone who desires this end of all tensions, longings and hierarchies of the spirit...there could be a refined reflection of all this in a kind of pleasant music, pleasant in its own way. It would have to be a music where the self or soul feels like it disintegrates into a pleasant indifference. I’m not sure this is possible. You can try listening even to white noise on headphones, but white noise is true and natural power and after some time a great chimp madness takes hold of you.
Good music is as such a reflection of the inner being of the world and of existence itself and will therefore always in some way act as a recall and an enticement to the intensity of existence. “Without music life would be a mistake”—yes; music is the genius of the species made sensible and concrete. Which is why in the end there can’t be an antilife, antibiological, or same thing, purely left wing or communist music. As long as music is good, it excites to something beyond mere life. It can never be the program to an ideology of mere life.
MUSIC AND THE REACTIONARY
Music as a program to a religious or philosophical doctrine has been successfully done many times and is the rule historically when it comes to “classical music,” or music refined into a high art with a tradition of craft passed on from one generation to the next and refined into forms that please consistently. As a rule such musical tradition develops around religious or political centers of patronage and cultivation. These seek to have the unity of their vision of life expressed in various arts and literary productions. Culture is “unity of artistic style in all the expressions of the life of a people.” Classical music in seeking to preserve this or that particular tradition is almost by definition “right wing.” But this view of “right wing” is to be rejected because it is too broad a definition of the right. Shintoism for example may be “right wing” by this definition but that doesn’t as such make it aligned with other “right wing” phenomena like Hindu- Brahman nationalism or Zionism. I like to ask American conservatives who praise Zionism as “right wing”: “but what is it to you? By that definition so is Shintoism.” Guenon as well as many other religious traditionalists are misleading many that all traditions are equivalent in being Tradition as opposed to modern materialism. But traditions are interesting most of all when their differences from each other are considered. Each has a different vision of man, of his ends and his life and of what is great and good, and mostly these are incompatible with each other. Each favors different passions and habits so each ends up breeding over time a different type of man, with different tastes. A closely related fact is that tradition doesn’t experience itself always or just as “tradition,” as veneration for the ancestral and what has been passed down, although they do all have this in common; there is also veneration for the content and vital truth of what is claimed, which is something modern Traditionalists often forget as much as modern leftist or liberal, and many American conservative Intellectuals forget that cultures are held together primarily by ties of mutual loyalty, common habits, blood and respect for ancestors. Both elements are necessary.
So in a sense all types of “classical music” are “right wing.” But this is not so useful to say, first of all because defining “right wing” simply as faithfulness to some particular tradition is too vague; but most of all because nearly no one today lives fully and passionately and with true belief within such a tradition. We live in a time when almost all traditions have been run over by something traditionalists denounce as modernism or modernity. Whether this can be reversed or should be are different questions, but the first step on this matter must be—uncompromising honesty with oneself at least, that no in fact, you weren’t raised with genuine belief and practice in a tradition in the way almost all men were some centuries ago. Maybe in some corner of Bhutan, or among tribesmen of Yanomami, but even there...observe tribesmen where “traditional styles” and ways of life are preserved and even there, as long as they’ve actually heard of modern life, there’s something deliberate and artificial about it that wasn’t true for their grandfathers who didn’t know about us. “We won’t join this strange new world, its risks are too great, let’s cleave to our ways instead”—but that very act of reflection of seeing our ways as something separate from the way, of at least having that doubt...and all modern men have very strong doubt on this whatever they may say; that’s something their ancestors didn’t know. The innocence of “traditional life” is lost for now. The modern world, whatever it may be, is in practice a kind of apocalypse: an “uncovering” or exposure because it tears away the protective local shadow under which particular traditions protected and cultivated this or that type of man and life. Some say it is science and reason dispelling the salutary enchantments under which man developed locally; others say it’s a false homogenizing materialism that does away with truth and the divine as it shows itself to man historically in multiple places according to their own abilities, characters, and destinies. I’d say it comes down to popularized or mass-propagated Socratic skepticism—what Nietzsche called Alexandrian scientific civilization. For better or worse, when it spreads as it does now with modern technology, wealth or its promise, and ideologies, it really does tear down beautiful and salutary local “umbrellas” under which different tribes of men have been able to cultivate themselves. But it doesn’t replace them with a genuinely human or natural culture built in the light of science; its very presuppositions, its false understanding of man as a creature of reason, are anti-artistic and anti-cultural. It can be a spiritual edifice for a society of human multiplication, but not cultivation or culture. This is the problem. It’s at this point that the reaction against this uncovering and exposure-left-barren takes a more or less typical form and can be brought under a less vague concept of “the right.” The reactionary wants to reestablish tradition and even though these traditions differ from each other in what they want, many reactionaries have more or less the same wounds. So their methods and orientations are often very similar. Sayid Qutb and Mohammad Iqbal of Muslim Brotherhood and Pakistan foundation respectively are similar to each other not just because they’re broadly Muslim but because they’re reactionaries against modernity...so they are also similar to Shinto reactionaries and in certain arguments also to Joseph de Maistre and Donoso Cortes Christian reactionaries and to many others. In the non-European reactions to modernity, it is added also the humiliation that modernity was introduced by foreigners, which twists the knife in the wound, and gives the reactionary ideology often a character of extreme rancor.
In the arts, however, it’s hard to think of a purely reactionary artist who was successful. Here you have to distinguish between an artist’s political views, which may be purely reactionary and not entirely relevant, and his actual art—which, if good, is very rarely purely reactionary. Even the most self-consciously reactionary good art has to engage with modernity. In speech and politics purely reactionary walking back like a crab is more possible to; in the arts if the final product works and pleases a good taste, it can’t hide behind speech, concepts, or the other lies of reason and human self-deception. It has to engage the senses and provide a direct intuitive understanding to perception, which either absorbs you or it doesn’t. And so here roleplay and pretense comes off as contrived and quaint, or “cringe” even. “No one is free to walk backwards like a crab”: yes but you can pretend to, and this is harder if you try to make good art.
Attempting to reproduce the feelings of the court of Louis XIV and continue the—forget the style!—just the vision of life of Couperin, as if the last hundred or two hundred years hasn’t happened, would be a wonderful act of defiance but ultimately it could only work as some very cruel parody.
I have many bad memories of driving through the desolation of the northeast United States and looking out the window at this mud-colored bleak world, abandoned by everything beautiful, with just senseless jumble of dilapidated almost-Soviet shingled shacks and grim utilitarian shops, and disjointed architecture built according to no plan; or worse, with a thin rape of agricultural production spread widely across the land...and of trying to listen to Couperin with this gray apocalypse out the window. I always had to turn off such music. It’s an insult to the music and to yourself. It’s worse in other parts of America—imagine looking out now on obese lardmother with mystery meat kid sweating at bus stop. And you listen Rameau while you see this...I encourage you do this; listen to his “Cyclops” while you look this. You will only wish for total nuclear wipeout; I mean the contrast is so severe. I am exaggerating. There were scenes of desolation and poverty in Couperin day too, maybe even worse than now. But the music would feel inappropriate as a program even to the greatest opulence of today. “It doesn’t fit.” It’s like trying to wear powdered wig; I know such things are titillating for many men now who call themselves reactionaries. They have other motivations. But at its worst the “reactionary mind” is just this vulgar pretense, in the middle of our total desolation, that you can just carry on going through the motions and that merely aping the past and its forms is going to revive it. At its worst and most vulgar, the “reactionary” relationship to classical music is a symphony hall, itself a contrivance now, serving as a meeting place for families of Orthodox Jews to take their daughters for “cultural enrichment experience.” It has driven me to a rage to think that this is what a great musical heritage has been reduced to, and I walked out of music hall cursing it and feeling worse than if I had gone to porn jackoff booth. Beethoven and Couperin didn’t write for this...for a museum experience and to be “cultural enrichment.”
You must understand I didn’t start listening to such musics until I was maybe thirteen or so, and then it wasn’t because I wanted a “historical experience” or to feel traditional, but because this music, which I began to listen to by chance, the music of the classical tradition spoke to my deepest longings for another world, a transfigured world. I had one or two friends who I discussed such musics with in great detail and with eagerness, and unlike me they became musicians. Now they either play for such audiences as I just said, or as a luxury “guest chef” type gig in the houses of the very rich, but in all cases this is not really what I had in mind or hoped for when I was discussing this music with them. This music like all high art has no home anywhere today because it’s never there as a setting, program, or spur to the great feelings and great pressures under which it was created. It’s now just a sad ornament to an unworthy existence. The incongruity between the greatness of feeling in these composers and the tawdry bleakness of modern life turns Couperin or Beethoven, when set to any modern life scene, as —well, the only “setting” I can imagine here, the only resolution, is the total destruction of this mistake. The total violent erasure of this entire so-called modern world of teeming, purposeless insect life: that is the meaning of Beethoven when set to any scene of now. A redemption through orgy of destruction. This is the only type of “reaction” that I can imagine and that wouldn’t be a complete joke museum reenactment or historical roleplay.
I don’t mean to insult all reactionaries, some are good people, they’re not all Hasids or Chinese taking their daughter to education symphony hall hour. I rather like Donoso Cortes and Franco, and would prefer that kind of government greatly to whatever exists now; they would at least not censor me and my friends. And in the arts, there are genuinely great reactionary authors and composers, for example Tolkien and Rachmaninoff. That’s probably what reactionary art looks like at its best. Rachmaninoff continued not just the style, but stubbornly stuck to reproducing the feel of the world he had loved around 1900-1910, and lost completely in 1917. If you want to hear and feel not just the court of the Tsar, but of the international European aristocracy of around that time, you can see it in Rachmaninoff. This appears most clearly in his second sonata, which is just very high class lounge music, or in the Etude-Tableau opus 39 number 5, a flight dream of fin de siecle glamorous decadence remembered and exalted to otherworldliness by a man in exile from it. It was real and vital in him even after 1917 because it was animated by a nostalgia for something he had known and loved, and remembered dearly as something lost. A similar nostalgia and sense of loss I am told is throughout Tolkien’s books. But even he engaged with modern styles and feels in his later music, and so did a reactionary author like Tolkien. And in any case, the European aristocracy around 1900 was already modern and changed by modernity, and this is reflected in his music from the beginning. It’s the reason his music is an appropriate setting to the decades later Old Hollywood and in fact to almost any half-glamorous scene in Western modern life up until around the time suits stopped being worn as universal style in polite society.
CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE RIGHT IN THE EYES OF THE LYING PRESS
The mention of roleplaying and affectation brings to mind the political and social uses of classical music, which unfortunately is something that accompanies and often perverts all the high arts. This is especially true now when they really no longer exist as anything but preservative traditions and historical reenactments, and are therefore separated from their natural dwelling. The natural dwelling of any high art is an audience with high taste, which feels a genuine need for them. Genuine connoisseurs are few, where before they were many; so now the arts have become something else. Much has been made of how visual art is used as a status marker, as an investment to store wealth, as a form of money laundering, and as an edifice on which are built the careers of many academics and critics, most of them onanists. What it lacks now in number that it had before are genuine lovers. Classical music can be used in a similar way. Some like it or pretend to like it for bad reasons. For example: modernity is vulgar and democratic and frankly low-class, whereas European traditional society is aristocratic and high class. Classical music was the music of the aristocracy and then the haute bourgeoisie (not the “upper middle class” of today who are paupers by comparison both in wealth and in education or taste). And so in some cases there is the motivation of status signaling, “I’m not one of the rubes so I listen to Mozarts”: this motivation exists even among the left and liberals. And it’s very frequent among minorities looking to assimilate to or appropriate the symbols of a civilization that no longer exists in order, again, to signal status and high class branding. This is a bad motivation, but it is “reactionary” in a vulgar sense. At a somewhat higher level there is the youth who senses that modern music is or tries to be erotic. This is actually a misunderstanding of modern pop music on the part of certain types of reactionaries and conservatives; it’s not true, as Allan Bloom alleges, that rock music is about stimulating eroticism—it’s just not felt this way by the listeners. When he adds in the Closing of the American Mind that youth only like Ravel’s Bolero among classical musics for the same reasons, he’s shooting off target. That’s just not the feeling Ravel’s piece inspires, its rhythms notwithstanding. Aside from certain forms of hip hop, which in some cases is just retarded black locker room music, there are very few forms of modern pop music that succeed or even try to inspire erotic feelings in the listener (and this doesn’t even describe most of hip hop as it exists now). But a certain kind of conservative again thinks modern pop music is about this; for example the kind who wears a bow tie and who imagines himself a reviver of the Stuart monarchy and the empire of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and many such things; or Evelyn Waugh pretend scotch and cigar parties in Washington DC. Often sexually confused or repressed—the left is unfortunately correct about certain rightist types—they lean to classical music because they wrongly feel it is “less erotic” or less connected to a “hypersexualized” modernity. The “stuffed shirt” associations of this musics appeals to them. This is a somewhat higher motivation than the Chinese immigrant’s status hunger, but it’s still a deformed reason to “like” classical music. In all these cases it’s a form of social and political signaling. If it starts this way and moves beyond that to an appreciation of the content itself this can be good though; and there are cases where even political signaling can be good, for example when convenience stores use classical music on radio megaphone to make a certain element not loiter outside in the parking lot.
From a popular cretin’s or journalist’s point of view, what I just described is “the relationship between the right and classical music.” It explains the political and social signaling as well on the left when they force, for example as this week, a four hundred pound mocha manatee type to play Madison’s crystal flute at some Camacho Idiocracy music obesity mega-event; the intention being to profane (as they see it) one of the symbols of the oppressive white order. Or, on the other hand, when journalists get the airs over the “problematic” phenomenon of young white men who lift weights, listen to classical music and possibly harbor retrograde or fascist racist tendencies. In all these cases it’s a question of the political use of art, but only of its outward symbol status as maybe a gang sign. I had to address something this obvious; but here I’m concerned only with the inner significance of the music and how it actually affects the spirit of those who genuinely listen and like, and of what it inspires in them.
WHY CLASSICAL MUSIC DOESN’T EXIST NOW
The difference between classical music and popular is in ability of classical to access a wider range of emotions, including ones that don’t have precise names; or some exist in shades not quite captured by word language. A popular song can be good, especially in the melody just as good as any classical composition. But because of relative lack of accumulated skill modern music can mostly affect you only in one-note way. At the opposite end you have the pinnacle of classical music, the symphony form, which can be a world into itself and tell the story of life, nature and man in its vicissitudes and many changes, and make you feel many different and contradictory things in many varying shades. The melody part of music is the pure work of genius and inspiration; consistent ability to find good and striking melodies is really something of the blood and can’t be learned. Others can find a good melody very rarely by luck only. So ability to find good melodies isn’t dependent on a tradition or learned skill, and can be found just as much among popular as among classical music historically.
Musical genius can exist today and I hear there is “popular” music composed now that is equal to any great classical piece both in the inspiration of its melody and even in the refinement of how this is orchestrated and developed. But it’s by necessity very rare for two reasons. First the young musical genius finds himself alone and having to start almost from scratch; he is not introduced to a wide variety of forms, learned “tricks,” and traditions of composition through mentorship which could give him a way to develop his skills in a sophisticated way. Even a cook with great taste and native skill would be lost and at great disadvantage without the accumulated knowledge and skills of a great culinary tradition. The second reason is the very one such a tradition of mentorship and skill refinement and memory no longer exists: it’s no longer needed. There isn’t a class of people of taste such as the European aristocracy, who have the emotional and cultural sophistication to need this music or any other high art for that matter. Accordingly classical music exists only as a museum taste to preserve a dead tradition for many of the reasons listed above, mostly having to do with affectation; occasionally you will find people who genuinely love it and need it, but not enough to create a demand, market or patronage structure for new art to be created. Audiences who attend classical concerts today don’t need it and don’t want new music. A musician trained in that tradition would in the best case become like John Williams if he wants to compose something new. Others are advised to compose in the popular style, where acclaim and appreciation of some kind can still be found for the innovation of genius as opposed just to preservation. But as the people are peasants with crude tastes, the best music won’t necessarily find its proper audience or be rewarded, not with enough consistency to lead to the existence of a high art tradition or something with consistent production standards; and so, being without the support of a tradition of composition, even the greatest genius will be able to hit on something good only occasionally now.
For this reason I am here concerned only with the classical music tradition and its relationship to the right. The “states of soul” accessible by modern and popular music are too narrow or too inconsistent to be considered for now. But even in addressing what is now a dead tradition I hope to show to anyone interested the possibility of a rebirth of music as a high art. Such an art will only develop when there is an audience who needs and wants it, and which is big and secure enough. There is no reason why certain modern popular forms couldn’t at that point be refined anew into a high art. Some elements of the classical tradition itself will no doubt be incorporated, but for example, as far as the instruments go, there would be no need to limit a new music to the instruments of the classical tradition. These were changed and added over time anyway; it would be only out of historical affectation that one excludes for example certain electronic instruments and other musical technologies. Actually these are to be welcomed because they give the individual composer greater independence. A half-autist very much concerned and absorbed with musical notes and sound will find the process of musical production with modern electronic instruments, computer, and visual representations alone in a studio much more congenial to his nature than anything from the past. But the important question is what ultimately is the spiritual purpose of music as a high art, and what does it mean in the life and education of an audience able and ready to receive it.
CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE RIGHT
The difference between the reactionary and the new or Nietzschean or radical right in politics is mirrored in the difference between “classical music” understood as right wing in the reactionary sense I tried to describe above, and then in a quite different sense. In politics the difference is clear to state in theory although in practice the two wings of the right are never so discrete: on one hand there is the throne and altar conservative, who seeks to preserve the ancien regime of Europe in some form. On the other hand there are the various rightist factions who mostly come with Nietzsche and after, who are secular or atheist, and who embrace modernism and technological progress. These usually have an orientation based around the State or around race and biology, or both; in the modern world after the failures or rather the military defeat and suppression of Fascism and associated movements, there’s also the interesting possibility of a radical right based around biologism that is not however connected to any State or statist project, especially in a time when large states might fail because of decreasing lack of human capital. But anyway: in reality there are again many hybrid cases of the “two sides of the right” and in practice there is cooperation more frequently than there is conflict, because both share the communist left and to some lesser extent also the liberal mainstream as enemies. As to the ultimate foundations of each of these rightist sides or factions or flavors, this is a big topic worthy of a big book—but it’s fair to say that to qualify as right wing, both must reject egalitarianism. Whether they reject egalitarianism in favor of the traditional hierarchies of an old order, or whether they seek to create a new order based on a natural hierarchy such as that of biology or race, they have rejection of egalitarianism in common. But this ultimately translates into rejection of mere life, or the “human being as a walking stomach” idea of mankind, which is shared by both liberal capitalism and communism, and which explains their frequent historical alliances against European man.
In music it’s easy to point to Wagner as the template for composer that is “radical right wing” both in form and in spirit. Like any man of the radical right he saw the old order was failing and insufficient. Just as a disciple of Nietzsche might see that the foundation of the old hierarchie is withering, both spiritually and intellectually, while these are materially unable to hold back the forcefulness of the mob and of the left; and then see however in the new discoveries of Schopenhauer and Darwin, in the remembrance of biology and in general in the progress of science an opportunity to refound anew a project of mankind to reach beyond itself. Or in other words to found new hierarchies and orders based now, not on salutary lies, but on the true rank of values as found in nature. In same way Wagner sought a new kind of music, that would give birth to new gods and itself serve as the program for a new human life and a new political state that exists as a work of art.
Analogous to how radical right wingers are often viewed with suspicion by the reactionary right, Wagner was abhorred by the old guard in music. For a funny example see Arthur Rubinstein’s autobiography where he complains about his reactionary piano teacher. He complains about this teacher’s antisemitism and grouchy behavior, but his peculiarities were most marked in his opinions on music, with which he tried to tyrannize his student: music was to have stopped with Brahms. Playing a few bars of Wagner on the piano was enough to make a musical reactionary throw a fit, and this was a common joke in musical circles at the time. Something changes with Wagner, there is a big break: Nietzsche says that whereas before all music strove to follow the form of the dance, for Wagner it was to seek the sensation of floating in an ocean. The stylistic break is only the vehicle to the spiritual and programmatic break: there is a revolution in Wagner’s spiritual program. Previous great classical music is understandable on the basis of generally conventional political and moral programs. Mozart and Haydn reflect courtly taste still, and in them the feeling of Enlightenment ideology of balance and reason...this is all compatible with Christian feeling and program. Beethoven’s revolutionary fervor and exaltation of Napoleon as the great man doesn’t seem to explicitly call for a civilizational break; the nationalist Romantic composers celebrate national feeling and style—Grieg instantly feels Scandinavian even to someone who doesn’t know who the composer is—but while all this is interesting and in many cases new and always beautiful, it doesn’t intend or reflect a break in
In Wagner there are by contrast birth pangs of entirely new gods, and in men like Siegfried, a totally new morality and vision of life, previously unknown in the Christian world, or at least submerged and suppressed since antiquity. There is with all this the effort to create a “total work of art” that goes beyond the symphony and becomes an entirely immersive experience combining theater, music and staging that goes beyond traditional opera and involves the audience essentially in the recreation of a participative Dionysian passion play. It is on one hand music meant to break in spirit with civilization as it had existed and meant to birth an entirely new civilization and new gods; and on the other hand it is a music that was to be a total work of art that in style unifies different arts and in essence absorbs the audience entirely as something more than an ironic spectator. These two related aspects of the new art were taken to their natural conclusion by Scriabin, a disciple both of Wagner and of Nietzsche. His last unfinished work, Mysterium—he died on Easter Day as he had been born on Christmas Day—was to be performed on several mountaintops in the Himalayas, and to mix music, colored lightings, speech, whispers, smell, many other thing. Its performance was intended to cause the end of this world and age, which I have no doubt it would have. More even than Wagner he attempted, explicitly in his intentions, to call forth new beings and gods to be born and to enter our world. Thus the fourth sonata, where he says the vision was a faraway blue star that got closer and closer to him one night until he was engulfed in an ocean of ecstatic blue light; or the fifth sonata, a Poem of Ecstasy which he claims was his complete apprehension of an other-dimensional being, and which is dedicated with this poem:
I call you to life, hidden desires!
You, who have sunk into the dark depths
of the creative spirit, you fearful ones.
You germs of life, to you I bring boldness!
It was to be the birth of a new god and a new world. An accompanying political-moral event of foundation you can see in the venture of Gabriele D’Annunzio in Fiume in 1919. D’Annunzio formed his spirit and mind during this same time as Scriabin was writing this music. Also a disciple of the prophet Nietzsche, D’Annunzio after having proclaimed himself Duce, announced music as the central governing and spiritual principle of his new state. It was to be a Wagnerian opera set into action on a grand scale, an entire state organized as a Wagnerian Dionysian rite, as an organic work of art and theater. It was a true vitalist state. The unity of art and politics.
The people would be mobilized into an artful whole and the primary means would be a new music, a post-Wagnerian magnificent music through which the state is organized in an ecstatic frenzy. The entire pageantry of later Fascism and Nazism is inherited from D’Annunzio’s efforts in Fiume...this is well known. But you don’t need to buy into the full political program of either Mussolini or Hitler to appreciate the perfect aesthetics of their creations. However much else Mussolini and Hitler may have dumbed down D’Annunzio’s attempt (or been forced to by necessity and the capacities of the people), they preserved the aesthetic project beautifully and almost flawlessly. Hugo Boss, Porsche and Chanel worked for the Nazis and Dali was an admirer of Franco; I hear even now there are lingering sympathies in the fashion world and that founders of Dolce & Gabbana were involved in some controversies. The left doesn’t like this, but Fascism and Nazism were entrancing for artists, nurtured many, and continues to. As such Hitler’s state and Mussolini’s would be the only modern states that Plato would approve of—it’s no accident that Mussolini himself is one of the most important readers of Plato in the 20th Century. The attempt to bring music and art back to the forefront of the education of a people and the foundation of a culture and of political life, the need for its inculcation prior to any reason or rationalization to effect a spiritual awakening...music and pageantry as the foundation of a people’s habits and of the national community itself—this attempt to resurrect antiquity in our time is shocking. It is a great experiment.
While any state-based solutions to our present problems and direct mimicry of these just named examples is outdated for now, the kernel they carried, that of the reorganization of life on aesthetic and biological, rather than moral and commercial foundations is the most amazing innovation and resurrection of the ancient spirit of nature; and it is open to any number of uses and opportunities in the near future. Many for example have been confused about anonymous anime accounts on Internet social media sites. Some of these use anime avatars, and are interested in the magical aesthetics of various anime things and series...who are interested in catgirls and much such things. These enterprising accounts promote enthusiastically the aesthetics of the Third Reich and Hugo Boss and so on. It is a political program entirely based on the promotion of anime, of catgirls, and of the aesthetics of National Socialism. This is one of the most amazing uses of the Internet of our time, and very successful. It has amazed and confused many.
If you begin backward, if you start first with the music of Wagner and Scriabin, sense their intentions and spirit, and from there reconsider the classical music tradition from before, it starts to sound different. If you listen to Beethoven and Bach with what comes later in mind, then you see something hidden. You start to see that yes, the composition of polyphony and even much of Baroque music still was almost entirely within the Christian-Alexandrian synthesis that is known as “Western civilization.” But within German music in particular there is an undercurrent that is not of it, it is from somewhere else. It’s not always honestly and explicitly expressed, but it’s there in the bass harmonies of Beethoven and already of Bach, and often also in their thematic melodies that recall an uncanny, impulsive and brutal spirit that says again and again: here is nature, here is the brute surface of the rock face deep inside night forest...you’re in the wrong neighborhood, Alexandrian, you came to the wrong neighborhood Socrates you…
This is the deep insight of Nietzsche’s early book The Birth of Tragedy, which he never really repudiated. Western civilization since Socrates, also called Alexandrian scientific civilization, in synthesis with Christianity which is its popularized form, is striking, new and revolutionary because it was a first attempt to discover or posit a universal basis for man’s culture or cultivation. But the version of nature on which this attempt was launched was edited and false. It depended on a ruthless editing out of the pre-Platonic philosophy of nature and life. This earlier and less edited version of philosophy was in conversation with and drew sustenance from the Dionysiac rites of Greek culture, which perceived and honored the true sources of human nature. The Socratic-Alexandrian successor civilization by contrast falsely posited reason as the moral foundation of human life. “Reason” here refers not to science, or investigation, but to a false moral formula that edits out the truths about what it is that motivates and cultivates men, and replaces it with an inadequate insistence that conceptual education and moral piledriving can make them better. But this Alexandrian civilization of the cult of Reason and Moralism, all of which depended on an edited vision of human nature that excised the Dionysian and the Tragic, this was never able fully to tame the Teuton. The Teuton received the outer forms of this civilization, but as to its inner meaning, there is a reason that area of Europe is the source of so many heresies in the same way that Persia was for the Islamic world. It was unwilling really to take to the seed of Alexandrian civilization and reacted against it frequently.
The question of to what extent European man’s world-conquering success was because of this Alexandrian-Socratic-scientific civilization or in spite of it, this is interesting. This is all very interesting and big question; but for another time. It is indisputable though that the degradation of modernity, the multiplication of damaged life, and of its accompanying ideologies of revenge against higher forms, a revenge masked under doctrines of egalitarianism, human rights, or compassion, that all this is the evil late flower of just this Alexandrian-Socratic rationalist “scientific” civilization. And that the untamed, half-barbaric spirit of Dionysus, which is the same as of Wotan, survived as a rival undercurrent expressed most dangerously in German music...yes, even in the days of Bach already. German music never really was a part of traditional Socratic civilization, but something different, and something meant to destroy it and break its shackles on European man. It is for this reason Nietzsche and his followers had such high hopes that out of this music would emerge the foundations of a new world culture, this time based together with a new science of evolution on the tragic but grand truth about nature and man as opposed to a half-lying edit of this truth.
I hope this has been a fruitful introduction to what I see as the meaning of the classical music tradition and its potential reemergence. It could one day once again become a platform for the rebirth of the spirit of the real Greek antiquity and of nature in our time.
THIS PIECE IS AVAILABLE IN PRINT FORM IN VOLUME I ISSUE IV