Flee the Chicken or Fight the Egg?

Stuff like this turns me off:

...[Native Hungarian András] Schiff has made a further contribution to Beethoven's legacy.

It turns me off not because I don’t agree, but because I find it hardly necessary—Beethoven doesn’t need any more help climbing over others on his way up the stairway to heaven (two points: Led Zeppelin reference). I think Gary Oldman did enough (one point: Immortal Beloved reference). Sorry if that’s a little harsh. But, then again, everyone’s heard me go off on the ineptitude of Beethoven’s fugues (and that’s not even my idea!). So deal with it.

However, I’m not here to poke fun at David Weininger of the Boston Globe for thinking highly of Schiff’s Beethoven lecture. It really does sound interesting. In fact, David paints Schiff as very articulate, thoughtful and insightful.

Schiff's descriptive language is fresh; his turns of phrase, delivered in a broad Hungarian accent, succinctly capture the contours of the music.

Fine. He’s a regular Miklós Zrínyi. (five points) Whatever.

It's just that this master of rhetoric is not immune to circuitous logic.

"I think all human beings need a sense of coming home," he says.

Bernard Holland? Is that you? (one point)

"This is something I very sadly miss in today's music. . . . Because there is no tonal system, to me it's like a foreign language.”

For an Hungarian who rarely had the opportunity to use vowels in your native tongue, you seem to speak English very well.

“And this [the tonal system] is a language I understand."

There are multiple ways of reading this, of course. Instead of listing the different possible interpretations, I’ll just ask some questions.

Is it because you understand, or are familiar with, the tonal system that the less familiar non-functional harmony* leaves you cold? Doesn’t a familiarity with another language help your appreciation of it? How well did you understand English before you learned to speak it? Is it really because we desire a sense of return (coming home) that precludes non-functional harmony’s effectiveness? Isn’t “coming home” an admission of departure?

Just saying, which came first, the chicken or the egg? The need for coming home or home? The appreciation of English or the learning of English? Non-functional harmony or the tonal system? Dialectic failure for the chicken and the egg...

Communication breakdown, it’s always the same! (Two points)


*Here, I use “non-functional harmony” instead of “atonality,” because non-functional harmony can be used to describe triadic harmony, non-triadic harmony and atonality, all of which stand in contrast to a “tonal system,” here taken to mean functional harmony.


Gustav said...

I think we should pool our money and send Mr. Schiff a gift copy of that infomerical language software Rosetta Stone for Atonal Music. Through six easy to follow cd-roms Mr. Schiff can learn to read and play Atonal Music within weeks! Their patented hands-on, no-frills approach to learning language will have Mr. Schiff playing Schoenberg and Stockhausen by the end of the first lesson! Never before has learning a new language been so easy.

Good luck moving into the 20th century, Mr. Schiff.

Aaron said...

Roffle at Gustav. Nice.

Sator Arepo said...

Volume 2: Learn Javanese Gamelan musical language!

Vol 3: Learn north Indian classical musical language!

Vol 4: Learn Hopi Indian [sic] musical language!

ad infinitum...