229 • Bling

The piano-art audiences cherish these days is in essence romantic. Baroque, classical, and to a large degree modern music, is approached and understood by the harmonic universe that culminated in the 19th and early 20th century and performed also essentially as romantic music. As the Romantic Era passed with the advent of Modernism, and the vision shattered by the tragedy of the 20th century, what remains today in the 21st century is a grotesque and ignorant mimicry of the romantic idea. We play on a 150 year old instrument and a majority of repertoire that is even older. Is that not a reason for concern?

Romanticism is not an obsolete development on the path to a better art form or more sophisticated society; it is rather a culmination and a quintessential expression of the best of European Civilization, the Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman-Celtic-Germanic spirit. And yet we are calling the great old pianists "the last Romantics". They were still performing in my youth and are all gone by now. So what do we have since then? Modern, non-romantic pianists? Sober, emotionally controlled, and textually faithful performers? Or Clones? Imitators? Impersonators? Glorified entertainers? Celebutantes? And do we like them? Do we prefer the new generation to Rubinstein and Horowitz or Richter and Gould? Do we understand the difference?

There are exceptions today of course, we still have Leon Fleisher, Martha Argerich, Grigory Sokolov, and others (thank god, but all born before 1952), but the way music management, press, and self promotion push the new as a worthy continuation of the old offends insight and intelligence. As humanist education is waning, it becomes ever more possible to sell Potemkin dayflies, and the motivations for doing so are transparent. A little rant once again.

"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory


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