February 13, 2016


How Bad Philosophy Destroyed Good Music (Roger Scruton, 2/02/16, Imaginative Conservative)

Released from its old institutional and social foundations, our music has either floated into the modernist stratosphere, where only ideas can breathe, or remained attached to the earth by the repetitious mechanisms of pop.

At the serious end of the repertoire, therefore, ideas have taken over. It is not music that we hear in the world of Stockhausen but philosophy--second-rate philosophy to be sure, but philosophy all the same. And the same is true of other art forms that are cut loose from their cultural and religious foundations. The architecture of Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus and Mies van der Rohe is an architecture of ideas, and when the futility of the ideas became apparent they were replaced by other ideas, equally alien to architecture as an aesthetic discipline, but nevertheless impeccably philosophical. The gadget architecture of Zaha Hadid and Morphosis does not issue from a trained visual imagination, or a real love of composition: it issues from doodles on a computer in response to ideas. There is a philosophy behind this stuff, and if ordinary people protest that it doesn't look right, that it doesn't fit in, or that it is offensive to all natural standards of visual harmony, they will be answered with fragments of that philosophy, in which abstract concepts extinguish the demands of visual taste. These buildings, they will be told, provide a pioneering use of space, are breaking new ground in built form, are an exciting challenge to orthodoxies, resonate with modern life. But just why those properties are virtues, and just how they make themselves known in the result, are questions that receive no answer.

Just the same kind of botched philosophy has dominated the modern classical repertoire. Very few composers have philosophical gifts, and fewer still attempt to justify their music in philosophical terms--the great exception being Wagner, who, despite his vast literary output, always allowed his instinctive musicianship to prevail when it conflicted with his philosophical theories. But it is precisely the absence of philosophical reflection that has led to the invasion of the musical arena by half-baked ideas. Without the firm foundations provided by a live culture of music-making, philosophy is the only guide that we have; and when good philosophy is absent, bad philosophy steps in to the gap.

Posted by at February 13, 2016 9:46 AM