Vulgarity is both modernity’s joy and its lethal weapon. Where violence fails to snuff out our civilisation, vulgarity succeeds.
Modernity ignores Dostoevsky’s wish (proffered in his Karamazovs): “Yes, man is broad, too broad indeed. I’d make him narrower.”
No, the broader the better, modernity screams. We’re all created equal, aren’t we? So we’re all equally capable of grasping the fine points of either man or God. And if some people don’t seem to be so capable, then it’s just a matter of access, the opening of paths.
How you provide broad access to the good things doesn’t matter, as long as it is broad. Of course the problem is that the door can be flung so wide-open that, as the masses stream in, the good things slip out. Only vulgarity remains.
By way of illustration, witness the Hungarian conductor Ivan Fischer. The maestro has come up with an insight that should be put into encyclopaedias under the entry VULGARITY, n.
Mr Fischer correctly diagnoses the life-threatening condition: classical orchestras are dying out. They must be saved at all costs, and the cost Mr Fischer proposes is – euthanasia.
In order to broaden their appeal, he suggests, classical orchestras should stop being so obtusely classical. Fine, the odd Beethoven symphony wouldn’t do any harm, but orchestras must also play jazz and contemporary music, and I don’t think he means James McMillan or even Schoenberg.
While jazz combines musical and cult appeals, the other genres Mr Fischer must have in mind eliminate the musical element altogether. Their audience is attracted by the odd cocktail of cult, hypnotic eroticism of a simian variety and applied pharmacology.
How can that be reconciled with the kind of music that appeals to the higher reaches of the human spirit and sense of beauty? Don’t ask me; ask Mr Fischer.
All I can tell you is that in a society proudly proclaiming vulgarity as its claim to grandeur, there’s no place for real music. That’s why it’s dying out, all life being squeezed out of it by the Zeitgeist.
And no one wishing to survive handsomely can buck the Zeitgeist; he can only submit to it. That’s what the music establishment has been doing for at least the past half a century. Rather than trying to elevate the public to its own level, it steadily lowers itself to the public’s.
In doing so, it caters to the broad masses for whom discrimination is a swear word. Hence the performance scene is dominated by musical nonentities, cut off from the culture of which music is the highest representation.
More and more, the concert scene is dominated by performers who rely on extra-musical appeal. We get stars like Yuja Wang who combines the musical sensibility of an average music-school pupil with quite an attractive body, which she bares almost entirely on the platform.
The public loves it. Job done. Except music dies a little every time the comely Yuja strikes a piano key.
At the other end of the spectrum, music dies a little more when someone like Yevgeny Kissin delivers his robotically competent performances, conveying the music’s form while ripping its soul out. The public no longer knows the difference.
As to orchestral performances, they’ve become social, rather than musical, events. Music plays second fiddle, as it were. If you doubt that, I suggest a comparative tasting test.
Choose any Beethoven symphony and listen to its recording by some of the great conductors of the past, such as Furtwängler (above all), Mengelberg, Klemperer et al. Then put on any performance of the same piece by any conductor playing today. You’ll instantly know what I mean – and if you don’t, well, perhaps this isn’t really your genre.
I dare say jazz played well is preferable to classical music played badly. But what does it have to do with symphony orchestras? I’m not suggesting that jazz should go back to its origin in the brothel, but surely we have enough dark, smoky clubs for jazzmen to strut their syncopations? And as to other ‘contemporary music’… well, don’t get me started on that.
Mr Fisher still hasn’t learned that lowering orchestras down to vulgar levels will eventually make music fall through the floor. And having symphony orchestras perform things like pop or rap will give music a mighty push on its way down.
If orchestras can only survive by killing music, they don’t deserve to survive. Only Karamazov’s advice can help music linger on, and reducing the number of orchestras would be a good start.
For example, London has five major orchestras that collectively deliver a performance practically every day. There aren’t enough Londoners who genuinely love and appreciate music to put that many bums on seats – the slack is being taken up by posers who think their social standing will improve if they’re seen at the Southbank.
If we had just one orchestra, two at most, performances would be fewer, getting tickets would take an effort, which should filter out those who don’t really belong in the hall. The remaining orchestras will then have a sporting chance of surviving.
Mr Fischer’s fees will be smaller, but that’s a worthy sacrifice for the sake of art, isn’t it, maestro? Apparently not. So go ahead, Mr Fischer, start booking rappers.
May I suggest Stromzy, the inspiration for Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury?
The Most Reverend Chap has admitted to being jittery about officiating the forthcoming royal wedding. However, he derives the requisite courage from Stromzy’s line: “I stay prayed up then I get the job done”.
Now this line, and especially the context in which it’s delivered, should appear in encyclopaedias under the rubric VULGARITY, n. See also HERESY and SATANISM.
Here’s the verse in question: “One time for the Lord// And one time for the cause// And one round of applause// One time for Fraser T Smith on the chords// I feel we got one// I stay prayed up then I get the job done// Yeah I’m Abigail’s yout, but I’m God’s son// But I’m up now, look at what God’s done// Now I rule tour, look at what God did// On the main stage runnin’ ‘round topless// I phone Flipz and I tell him that we got this// This is God’s plan, they can never stop this// Like wait…”
So it’s God’s plan that sends Mr Stromzy runnin’ ‘round topless all the way to the bank. That’s what he stays prayed up for. I’d suggest that, if there is a plan involved, it comes not from the Lord but from another Genesis personage.
I don’t know if the good Archbishop actually listens to this foul gibberish or only says he does to put more bums on pews. Nor do I know which is worse.
Any Christian must proselytise – that’s what Jesus demanded. That means carrying Christ to the uninitiated, who may then go to church looking for God but only finding rap din and female priestesses wearing slit clerical skirts (there’s actually a designer specialising in the kind of clerical garb that accentuates the female form).
Oh the good old days, when church figures and musicians knew they shouldn’t pander to vulgar tastes and pagan creeds – no matter what the short-term benefit.
Hence the Protestant Luther with his “Hier stehe ich, ich kann kein andres tun” (Here I stand; I can do no other). Hence also the Jesuit Matteo Ricci: “Simus, ut sumus, aut non simus” (We shall remain as we are or we shall not remain at all).
How about them for inspiration, Your Grace? Maestro? No, I suppose not. Rap is so much more inspiring, if in different ways.