My rejoinder to Mr. Goldman’s response below:
Aficionados of music who do not know much about music, but know what moves them, are at the mercy of the professionals, who know how to move them. “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” at peril to your soul: even beautiful music can be used for evil as well as good. The problem, of course, is just what Sir Thomas Beecham observed: “People don’t like music. They just like the way it sounds.” I am the first to admit that Bruckner’s music sounds glorious. But just how is it put together?
The greatest analyst of tonal music (and the one whose theory quite properly dominates the university curriculum in the US) was Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935), a Bruckner student who respected the man but found grave flaws in the music. His evaluation (republished in Heinrich Schenker als Essayist und Kritiker. Gesammelte Aufsatze, Rezensionen und Kleinere Berichte aus den Jahren 1891-1901, ed. Hellmut Federhofer, Studien und Materialien zur Musikwissenschaft, 5 [Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1990], 197-205), finds that the music really doesn’t hold together: his musical phrases lack necessary connections to identify beginnings, middles, and endings. Brahms’ contempt for Bruckner’s music is well known (and this had nothing to do with professional jealousy: Brahms had signed Joachim’s manifesto against the “New German Music” long before Bruckner came on the scene).
— David P. Goldman
In all humility, while I admit to being out of my league from the standpoint of professional musicological debate, I believe, as an architect and philosopher, there is something highly elitist, if not Gnostic, about the view that only professionals have the ability to perceive the beauty or ascertain the truth of things, when it is often the professionals who are responsible for creating the academic dichotomy between head and heart that posits a schizophrenic split between experience and reality: their heads so often in the clouds they cannot see the truth or beauty directly in front of their nose, or in this case ears. Admittedly the public is often at the mercy of the “professional” in a certain sense, but history has not shown this to be unequivocally, let alone predominantly, a good thing. A simple survey of modern art, architecture, and music would likely find an overwhelming majority of its proponents among the academic elite compared with the general public, the “simpletons” who recognize the closed circle of Gnostic intelligentsia for what it itself cannot recognize itself to be. “Adults” know so much about so many things, yet unlike children they fail to see the wonder that is in front of them every second of every day, having fit the world into neat and tidy categories and boxes when being refuses to be so encapsulated, and truth so truncated.
That being said, I do not oppose grand theories categorically, only those that won’t admit of possible exception or incompleteness. Music is not simply about “what moves us”, and I do not think mine nor David Hart’s love of Bruckner is as perjoratively subjective as you condescendingly suggest. What we have discovered is that the motivic and structural nature of Bruckner’s symphonies is not cut and dried, but that his symphonies do exhibit musical motivation and structure and teleology, and at an extended scale. As an amateur musician, I am aware of Schenker’s tonal music theory (or theory of musical artwork), more from a historical/criticism standpoint, but not in a highly specialized way. A quick survey of literature out there, which I took the occasion to read over the past few evenings, also shows several instances in which professional academic musicians and theoreticians attempt to rehabilitate Bruckner’s symphonies as disparaged by Schenker (from what I could find, his 5th, 8th, and 9th), even in some cases using Schenker’s own highly narrow methodology which was supposed to be the reason for which Bruckner was cast into the outer circle of musical hell. Perhaps this reveals a deeper underlying prejudice to Schenker’s anti-Bruckner rhetoric than his theories themselves admit of. And what of those musicians/theorists contemporary with Schenker who espoused his views yet found room to love Bruckner (I speak generically because I’ve forgotten their names off the top of my head)?
Again, as I am not a professional musician, you [Mr. Goldman] would be better at wading through and discerning whether or not such rehabilitation has merit to it or meets with success, but the point stands that even professional musicians and theoreticians disagree on these matters, even from a Schenkerian perspective….all of which points to the need for the general ear test, to put down pen and paper and score and simply listen to whether or not Bruckner’s music “holds together”, to allow for intuitive knowledge and experience that may not fit the system. It is similar to the story of the famous artist who commented that Michelangelo was a horrible painter, though one can hardly agree when looking at the Sistine Chapel. And quite like Michelangelo, who no one knew quite what to do with because he didn’t fit into a certain style or mold– because his figures weren’t “natural”, because his painting technique was deemed deficient, because his architecture seemed awkward by certain standards, yet his work was absolutely beautiful– so Bruckner seems to me, and many others.
As David Hart mentioned, Bruckner’s music stretches the “boundaries of (tonal) music” as such, but perhaps such stretching is not so much a deformation as simply a stretching; perhaps it is precisely this stretching that makes way for what most Bruckner enthusiasts recognize and which you brought up in your previous post – the musical entry of eternity into time, the sacred into the profane.
Looking forward to reading your coming article. This is obviously an inadequate treatment and discussion of things, but I would suggest that Roger Scruton’s books “Aesthetics of Music” and “Understanding Music” add ample food for thought in these matters, as they are sympathetic to tonal theory but are willing to point out the deficiencies in Schenker’s (and others’) theories.