Saturday, October 10, 2009

If it ain't Baroque . . .

Now, in contrast to Schoenberg, the atonal serialist, let's take a look at J.S. Bach. Bach was every bit the mathematician that Schoenberg was, and he used it to incredible effect. Bach took counterpoint and harmony to unprecedented heights, and his fugues were astonishing in their complexity.

Bach was a product of the Reformation. A Lutheran choirmaster, he signed his cantatas "SDG" at the bottom of the page. There is no question that he understood what it meant to write music to the glory of God. He took great joy in doing so. And he wrote works of intense beauty that greatly influenced the next two centuries of music. Without Bach, Mozart would not have been the artist that he was. Neither would Beethoven or any of the great composers who followed.

Bach intended to build on what had been given to him, and he did so in service to his King. The result was beauty.

Schoenberg intended to destroy what had come before him, and he did so to the glory of reason. The result was, well, ugly.

There's a couple of centuries between the two men. During those two centuries, artists kneaded the leaven of the Enlightenment into the dough of creativity. There was a process. It took time. But the next chance you get, go to a museum and compare the art from the Baroque period to that of the early- to mid- 20th century. There is an objective difference.

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