Friday, December 14, 2007

What's next?

Once upon a time composers were artisans, servants like any other. Composing was part of musicianship; all composers performed and most performers composed. Then Beethoven came along and suddenly composers were Artists. Beethoven went deaf and was forced to retire as a performer, and thus was born the Great Composer, the mystic sage who came down from on high bearing the Score, which the musicians then dutifully followed.

This was the end of the Classical style, and the beginning of Classical Music - the canon, the tradition, the myth of the unbroken line inexorably moving forward through history: Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg, Webern, Stockhausen... at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries Mahler codified the rituals of concert-giving and going, and the Classical Concert became a quasi-religious ceremony. The composer was a Shaman, exalted and separate.

Stockhausen is dead, and with him dies the Great Composer. We no longer believe the march of that history. Our history is messier, less sure. It seems to me that the music of the future will most likely be collaborative; the roles of composer and performer will merge again, we will all become composers, all performers. There are plenty of talented composers writing fine music (and even more untalented ones writing bad music - and who may judge which is which?), but there are no more Great Composers, and there may never be.

We shouldn't mourn this. This is simply the way things are. Creativity is being democratised, and there is no longer a place for the shaman. Music is not a god to be worshipped. It's not a product to be passively consumed. It is an activity to be participated in, a means for people to come together. There will be new music, and some of it will grow from his ideas, but Stockhausen is part of another time. What's next? We shall find out.

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