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Music and Transfiguration

The Power of Art

I recently had a rather interesting conversation with a friend of mine. She is currently going through law school and has a keen interest in politics. We each also share an interest for the other's respective fields; me for politics and she for the arts. Our conversation centered around basically the current state of affairs in the world and, regardless of which side of the political fence you sit on, the eminent disasters the world is speeding towards. My friend, unfortunately, has a rather pessimistic view of the coming decades. This is a view I don't share with her and which I brought out in our conversation.

It is my belief that if human society is to have a brighter future, it is the arts that will create it and music will be at the center of it. Ayn Rand once said that art is the "barometer of a society," that art exposes, not the slogans and catchphrases, but the actual philosophical premises of a society. If this is true, then it is only art that has the power to change them as well. Politics and rhetoric may shape the events of the world, but art shapes people's minds and hearts. Rhetoric can inspire, but art lets us, for even the briefest moment, to actually experience what could be. Think of the masterpieces of classical music: Bach's Mass in B minor, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, or Mozart's operas. Think of the world that had to exist to allow, first, for the creation of artists of that stature. The reason there has been no Bach, or Mozart, or Beethoven in the past century is simple: we live in a society that does not allow for the creation of that caliber of artist. Romanticism was the greatest loss of World War I. Next, think of the kind of world those works of art imply: a rational world; a world of principles; a world of benevolence, not fear; a world of promise, not suffering.

If music, as well as all the arts, have this power, then it is a force greater than any orator or any political figure. Art alone has the power to change the world. Everything else follows behind it. And, if the world is to be changed for the better, then it will take artists to lead the way. However, it is my belief that it will take the kind of artist that we have never seen in person, but have only heard about in stories. It will take a Bach, a Beethoven, a Mozart, to be the catalyst for a brighter future.

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I support the general sentiment, but I'm not sure I agree with the particulars.  Yes, the 20th century was horrendous, with two world wars and holocausts, but the world in which Bach lived was also rather miserable.  Think of the constant hunger, diseases, early death (think of Bach's children, for example).  And Germany, a patchwork of fiefdoms, with petty lords running each and one of them.  And they couldn't even appreciate his genius: during his life Bach wasn't considered a great composer!  There's clearly something else within the society that at certain points creates bursts of creativity: the painters in tiny Florence at the end of the 15th century or in Paris starting around 1870 and going on for the next 50 year, composers in Central Europe in the first half of the 19th, and on.  I certainly don't have a good explanation, and the ones I've read were unconvincing.  Maybe somebody will come up with a good idea...

Submitted by legato on Tue, 07/20/2010 - 10:43. Report abuse

I think we can agree that the 20th century for the most part was a time of destruction. You hope that music and art may heal that? Now, why didn't music PREVENT the disaster? There was excellent music at the turn of the century 1800 -> 1900. It was also widely known and appreciated, unlike today when the music we love has become an outcast that very few people know. It is absent from the mass media. So how can it influence people? And even if you played Bach on TV round the clock, what would come of it? The masses out there would simply switch to another channel or turn off their TV. Face it, Bach's music was not created in a democratic age for the masses, but for european nobility. Common people will never come to appreciate Das Wohltemperierte Klavier. If you forcefeed them high culture they will revolt. If you want my hypothesis in a nutshell: The 20th century became such a hell because subhuman forces rose to power, devoid of noble character and unable to appreciate art. But it didn't start with the 20th c, it started with the french revolution if not earlier. Maybe it started with Cromwell in England and the founding of the Bank of England in 1695. Money became the new power that toppled nobility of blood and character. That means violent greed and power lust held back by nothing. Why didn't decent people stop it? To find the answer to that you only need to look yourself in the mirror: They thought the change was for the better. You too happen to believe in one of the demagogues whose message is that this change was good. So your forces work to continue the destruction until there is no way back.

Submitted by mustermeister on Tue, 05/24/2011 - 08:52. Report abuse

How do we know of the wars music did stop? What about the Christmas Truce? Besides all of that we all do things to check the trials of today. A newspaper is an example. Also listening to music makes us better people and that's important, isn't it? As humans we are capable of wonderful and horrible things because we all do them both.

Submitted by AnnaLin9 on Wed, 05/02/2012 - 09:36. Report abuse