Über Musik und Kritik edited by Rudolf Stephan
Music criticism is itself a performance, and could therefore be criticized as such, in the same style. “Old X's writing was flat, as usual”; “Young Y's witticisms showed signs of insufficient rehearsals”; “Poor Z did his best despite a manifest paucity of thematic material”; and so on. But the regression (and the recriminations) would be endless. Besides, there's quite enough criticizing going on already. The very word has come to mean in ordinary parlance an activity that is not only useless but irritating. So why does anyone bother with it?
This profound mystery was among those discussed at the 1970 “Music and Criticism” conference of the Darmstadt institute for new music and music education. Four lectures together make a 60-page brochure or magazine which seems to have fired Schott's, though it will hardly hit much of a sales target.
Its cover is very red, and its range is very sociological. It notes for example that music critics have their personal pronouncements promulgated in countless copies, while their victims are virtually voiceless. So ought not critics to last only a limited time in power, like presidents, or at least be selected by competitive examination, like bureaucrats? A special seminar grappled with these convoluted problems; the resulting Laocoon-like posture is described in a laconic note by Erhard Karkoschka.
Ernst Waeltner offers what is rightly called a sketch about problems of critical approach. It aims to provoke; and it is, in a sense, very successful. It certainly prompts questions, such as the question of why it was thought worth publishing in this form. Its first substantive paragraph for example takes six lines to make the same trivial point four times.
The longest item is a selection made and explicated by Reinhold Brinkmann from an unpublished manuscript by Hanns Eisler, whose prose is scored for trumpets, ff. The workers must do this; composers must do that. The cumulative mustiness is oppressive; and so are the actual doctrines. We must have male choruses; marching songs are also imperative; also sprach Eisler. But Horst Wessel's made the most sound. The theories are as helpless intellectually as they were politically. Opera is for rich people; Schoenberg's style is very complex; this is the general level of insight and comment. There are ominous hints about the further publication of this Nachlass; but it is surely too nachlässig.
The best item is a suave and stylish address by Carl Dahlhaus which reads as well as it must have sounded. He illustrates the social nexus of criticism by drawing attention to its shift from works to performances, much as markets mutate from goods to packaging. His thesis is neatly related to Hanns Eisler, whose work is taken as a paradigm case of paradox. The sociological approach is baffled by the relationship between modem art and modern politics. What has the revolution in music to do with the music of revolution? Perhaps there is some deep unifying principle; perhaps global conflict will one day be resolved, at a gong-stroke, by a mystic ensemble of the avant garde and the Red Guard. Meanwhile, if anyone could persuade us that the true function of music criticism is the evaluation of compositions on social grounds it will be Carl Dahlhaus, whose valuable essay in this expensive booklet not only glitters but is (at current prices) literally worth its weight in gold.
The Musical Times, Oct. 1972 (p 979) © the estate of eric sams