A preachy, vaguely Marxist, and mostly familiar essay (from Britain) on the ethnocentricity and authoritarianism of Western...

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MUSIC-SOCIETY-EDUCATION

A preachy, vaguely Marxist, and mostly familiar essay (from Britain) on the ethnocentricity and authoritarianism of Western music--the way it has been written, listened to, and taught. Echoing everyone from Curt Sachs to Yehudi Menuhin, Small begins with a comparison between post-Renaissance European music (bound by harmonic rules, uninvolved with real life, rhythmically ""impoverished"") and the old musical cultures of Bali and Africa (communal, socially useful, rhythmically complex, open to all sorts of sounds). This dichotomy is quickly reinforced by a superficial, cross-referencing look at Europe's scientific world-view--which also devalues immediate experience with ""the elevation of the intellect and the exultation [sic] of abstract logic."" And then Small turns to sporadic 20th-century rebellions against Western music's doomed, straltjacketed ethos: Debussy's liberation of European music ""from sequential logic""; Stravinsky's ritual impassivity (the Requiem Canticles have ""more to tell of life, death, and eternity than all the emotional fireworks of the Berlioz and Verdi Requiems""); Webern's unstressed, un-ordered sounds, which are like ""members of a truly just society"" (Small conveniently omits mention of Webern's Nazism); Stockhausen, Berio, Nono (who, though avant-garde, ""present little direct challenge to the concert tradition""); and such more genuinely revolutionary figures as Messiaen, Ives, and Harry Partch. (There's also a nod to rock music, with an embarrassingly naive glimpse of a rock festival: ""I have never seen so many beautiful young people. . . . For a brief moment in western society, music became. . . the centre of a communal ritual. . . . "") The inevitable conclusion? That ""a true regeneration of western music. . . can come only when we can restore the power of creation to each individual in our society."" And so Small concludes with an admittedly recycled (""I am only restating what was said over thirty years ago by Herbert Read"") credo on education: anti-standardization, anti-virtuosity, pro-""nature"". . .with pupils ""no longer objects of our instruction, but active agents whose researches are the curriculum, whose experience is the syllabus."" Old ideas, available elsewhere--without Small's fatuous distortions (as when, idiotically, he points to Tchaikowsky as a prototype of ""uninvolved"" Western man because he was supposedly in a good mood while writing the PathÉtique) and sanctimonious stridency.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1981

ISBN: 0819563072

Page Count: -

Publisher: Riverrun Press (175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010)

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1981