"Today a philosophy of music is possible only as a philosophy of new music."

"Music participates in what Clement Greenberg called the division of all art into kitsch and avant-garde, and kitsch — the dictatorship of profit over art — has long since subjugated the particular, socially reserved sphere of art. This is why reflections on the development of truth in aesthetic objectivity must be confined uniquely to the avant-garde, which is excluded from official culture. Today a philosophy of music is possible only as a philosophy of new music. What sustains is only what denounces official culture; the latter alone serves the promotion of that barbarism over which it waxes indignant. The cultured listeners almost seem to be the worst: those who promptly respond to Schoenberg's music with "I don't understand that" — a statement whose modesty rationalizes rage as connoisseurship." (Adorno, Philosophy of New Music, introduction)

"The piece dies a natural death. It dies of old age."

"I find that as the piece gets longer, there has to be less material. That the piece itself, strangely enough, cannot take it. It has nothing to do with my patience. I don't know, my patience, how far it goes, you know. And I don't think about what your patience would be. I don't know that. In other words, I don't have a kind of psychological situation. Let's put it this way. I don't have an anxiety that I've got to stop. But there's less going into it, so I think the piece dies a natural death. It dies of old age."

Morton Feldman (Selected Interviews and Lectures, 1964-1987)

Tatters of song: Beckett's "mirlitonnades"

Barry Schwabsky for the Brooklyn Rail: "Chronologically, Beckett’s poetry can be roughly dived into three phases: the thirties, when he produced 25 to 27 poems (the dating of a few is ambiguous); the postwar years (6 to 8 poems dated 1946-48), and then the 70s and 80s, when in a few spurts he produced some 50 poems, notably the 37 brief French poems he called “mirlitonnades”. A mirliton is a kazoo, so these are, rather than Wallace Stevens’s “Asides on the Oboe,” asides on a kazoo. Vers de mirliton is doggerel but this sequence is among Beckett’s best work as a poet. But the big transition came in the gap between the first two periods—that is, with the war. In a conversation with the writer Charles Juliet he spoke of a sudden revelation experienced in 1946 on a trip to Ireland: “Until that moment I used to think I could trust knowledge, that I needed to be intellectually equipped. Then everything collapsed.” It was then that he began writing without the gaudy surfaces that had armored his early poetry."

Scruton on sound and music and gesture

Roger Scruton: "The object of musical hearing is organised by metaphors of space and movement that correspond to no material realities. Music goes up and down, it leads and follows; it is dense, translucent, heavy, light; it encounters obstacles and crashes through them, and sometimes it comes to an end which is the end of everything. Those metaphors, and the order derived from them, are shared by all musical people. The order that we hear is an order that we – the musical public – hear, when we hear these sounds as music. And although there is, at any moment, an indefinite number of ways in which a melodic line or a chord sequence can continue without sounding wrong, the ideal in our tradition has been of an uninterrupted sense of necessity – each melodic and harmonic step following as though by logic from its predecessor, and yet with complete freedom. ... When we hear tones we are also hearing sounds; but we are hearing in those sounds movement, organisation and gravitational forces in a one-dimensional musical space. That is the fundamental musical experience, the experience that causes us to hear one note as moving on from another, answering another, attracted to or repelled by another. It is what enables us to hear tension and release, beginnings and endings, goals and starting points. It is at the root of the art of music as we have known it, since it is what gives music its fundamental nature as an art of motion, which grips us and takes us with it in a space of its own. We are moved by music because music moves."

The poem that foretold modernism

Mallarmé and modernism — "Consider its title. Bloch points out that Jamais (Never) is out of sequence for an ordinary French sentence, where it would conventionally follow the verb. What then motivates this terrible “Never,” with its abnormal, jarring priority? What is this extreme of negativity that cannot be gainsaid?" (The New Republic)

Tradition and the Individual Talent

First published in The Sacred Wood in 1921:

Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, “tradition” should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.

— T.S. Eliot