From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious

From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious

by Seth Brodsky

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What happened to musical modernism? When did it end? Did it end? In this unorthodox Lacanian account of European New Music, Seth Brodsky focuses on the unlikely year 1989, when New Music hardly takes center stage. Instead one finds Rostropovich playing Bach at Checkpoint Charlie; or Bernstein changing “Joy” to “Freedom” in Beethoven’s Ninth; or David Hasselhoff lip-synching “Looking for Freedom” to thousands on New Year’s Eve. But if such spectacles claim to master their historical moment, New Music unconsciously takes the role of analyst. In so doing, it restages earlier scenes of modernism. As world politics witnesses a turning away from the possibility of revolution, musical modernism revolves in place, performing century-old tasks of losing, failing, and beginning again, in preparation for a revolution to come.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520279360
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 01/24/2017
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Seth Brodsky is Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities at the University of Chicago.

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From 1989, or European Music and the Modernist Unconscious

By Seth Brodsky


Copyright © 2017 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-96650-5



Sehr innig zu spielen


1. Phantasiestück. David Hasselhoff has ants in his pants. It's late evening on December 31, 1989, in Berlin, and the interviewer can't quite get his attention. He's too busy whooping and hollering Hallo! at the massive crowds to his left, then his right, then behind him. He squirms, grins, giggles like a teenager who has seriously underestimated the scope of a prank he's just pulled off. He catches the camera's gaze, purses his lips, and silently mouths "Unbelievable!"; he bugs out his eyes and flares his nostrils. Still mugging for the camera, he points to the throngs behind him and drops his jaw in self-conscious awe. The interviewer finally locks him down: "David, why did you want to come exactly here to the Brandenburg Gate?" Hasselhoff suddenly modulates into wistful-rugged voice-over mode: "One year ago we did 'Looking for Freedom,' and it was a dream." He is referring to his hit single, which squatted in the number one spot of Germany's pop charts for eight weeks in late spring of that year.

And now David Hasselhoff is here to sing it "live." The music is switched on, and begins to pipe through the frigid speakers. He tightens his piano-patterned silk scarf, reaches into his leather jacket, and pulls on something. The jacket begins to sparkle in randomly distributed clumps of triangle-shaped lights. Hasselhoff starts belting out the famously diminutive first verse, voguing iconic Elvisian poses for each half clause: "One morning in June some twenty years ago, / I was born a rich man's son. / I had everything that money could buy, / but freedom, I had none." As the crane-platform he is standing in commences its ascent, lifting him some hundred feet in the air, Hasselhoff sings the chorus. An anodyne American-export alloy of mid-1980s country and demo-button synth is fleshed out with a generic backup gospel chorus. Even on the heavily compressed web clips of the event, one can hear the many thousands of voices below — on the freezing ground, on either side of the crumbling Wall, swaying on the Wall itself — automatically erupt in unison. Hasselhoff, despite his antics, seems to find himself surprisingly moved, his quivering "live" voice breaking up behind the prerecorded vocal track. "Everyone was singing my song," he remembers, "and I was singing, crying and freezing all at once. As the great chorus rose up in the night sky above the Brandenburg Gate, you didn't have to be German to find it emotional." He leans over the platform's edge and pumps his fist high in the air, and a large firecracker soars inches over his downturned head; moments later, another breaks apart against his stomach. As a composition, the song is pap, oxymoronic pure kitsch. But as an event, it is undeniably uncanny: a collective celebration, but also a kind of strange Brechtian "teaching piece" whose words demand not simply to be heard, but to be repeated, installed directly into the crowd's mouths, its souls following suit:

I've been looking for freedom, I've been looking so long.
I've been looking for freedom, still the search goes on.
I've been looking for freedom, since I left my hometown.
I've been looking for freedom, still it can't be found.

Amid all this spectacle, Hasselhoff comes off not only as a master of ceremonies, a hybrid DJ and descending angel, but also, strangely enough, as a humble participant. He is spectacularly elevated, but equally subjected, thrown down below, rendered a slack-jawed manon-the-street tourist. "All I could think," he reminisces in his autobiography, was:

What an honor to be part of history. When I was lowered to the ground I grabbed a bottle of schnapps and took several swigs. Then I started chopping chunks out of the wall with a hammer and putting the pieces in my pockets. I took them home and gave them to the Baywatch crew on a little plaque saying "A little piece of freedom." When I got back to the hotel, the tape was still running in the VCR. I pressed "rewind" and "play" and there it was — I had that whole unforgettable night on tape.

* * *

2. Phantasiestück. November 11, 1989. Philippe Rochot, Antenne 2's special envoy to Berlin, is standing on a walkway above Checkpoint Charlie, conversing with the anchor back in Paris. A slice of Wall behind him is smothered in graffiti, some of it very recently revised: a large Mickey Mouse clothed in the colors of the German flag stands like a tour guide next to the words "Wilkommen in Ost-Berlin." Rochot seems flustered; his tone is electrified, he is improvising. An unexpected scene is unfolding behind and below him: the legendary Russian cellist and exile Mstislav Rostropovich appears to be setting up for a performance of some kind. Someone is helping him with a chair while he, his back to the camera, unlatches his instrument case. He has just arrived in Berlin from Paris, on a plane owned by his close friend, the French captain of industry and food tycoon, Antoine Riboud. "It was a simple need," Rostropovich told a 1999 interviewer in Fidelio, the organ of Lyndon LaRouche's Schiller Institute. "I had to do it. And by myself, for sure. Because, this Wall was a symbol of my life, or my 'two' lives."

The amplitude and affect of this mise-en-scène is an inversion of Hasselhoff's performance: a small semicircular crowd has swaddled Rostropovich into an intimate ad hoc amphitheater less than fifteen feet wide. "Rostropovich's 'theater,'" as two commentators put it shortly after the performance, can be seen as "situational — above all, personal. He deliver[s] no shrill monologue, his music accompanie[s] no raucous stage show calling for more political upheaval." But it is a liberation scene nonetheless: an un-crossable border is crossed, a no-man's-land becomes a stage on which to monologue the individual's inalienable right to free speech, free song. Even for the fool: this spectacle is, among other things, a "mad scene," la finta pazza. Slava is Quixote vindicated. As the man begins to play — an act captured on hundreds of television channels, re-narrated in countless histories of the events of 1989, and in countless obituaries for the musician himself — an incandescent silence settles on the scene. One hears only the clicking camera shutters competing with the reedy-raspy tones of the unamplified, slightly out of tune, remarkably vulnerable cello.

Rostropovich plays Johann Sebastian Bach: in this French news clip, it is the saraband from the third cello Suite, BWV 1009; in another clip he is playing the iconic prelude to the first Suite. In Joel Brouwer's poem "Rostropovich at Checkpoint Charlie, November 11, 1989," it is the tumultuous, breathless prelude to the fifth Suite:

The maestro sits
in the shadow of the Wall, lifts his cello from its case, then
lunges, stabs the bow across the strings,

and instantly the street is possessed: Bach's Suite #5.
The chords circle low, wary as a flock of crows, then vault
into melody, retreat, begin again: threnody, aubade,

threnody, aubade, like a man who wakes up
on the morning he's longed for and finds he can think of nothing
but the night just ended and the night to come.

One may not agree with Richard Taruskin's appraisal of the performance — "the only time I ever hated the Bach Suites" — but it's hard to deny that the tone is "frightfully turgid, tempo glacial," and the entire affair feels a bit ponderous ("[Rostropovich's] jaw was jutting, his mouth was working furiously, his forehead was beaded"). He plays the suites more or less as he has played them in recitals, which is to say, as if no historical performance movement ever happened. The thick round tone wobbling with vibrato, the frequent portamenti suppressing any virtual polyphony — the general cadence reveals little trace of dance, each weighted tone instead betraying an emphatic you. are. here. But then, the scene itself has little truck with History, still less with historicism. If its moment is historic, its frame, for Rostropovich, is unmediated and eternal. When the interviewer in Fidelio asked Rostropovich why he chose to play Bach, the cellist responded with the language of sacerdotal servitude:

We interpreters are the servants of the composers; we must be very modest and ought never to present ourselves — our ego — in the front lines; rather, the idea of the composer, which, on the contrary, is divinely inspired, should be presented. ... In order to render [Bach's] music, I had to give up my "Russian personality"; because a composer as great as Bach actually needs hardly any "rendering" to come into being. It "suffices" to perform it as he wrote it. And that is true for all great composers.

I have immense respect for Bach; he is one of the best examples, that art comes from God. As with a priest, it is not necessary that the Word of God be interpreted; rather, that God speak directly to man through the priest.

* * *

3. Phantasiestück. The fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth, just after the return of the Schreckensfanfare. Now it is Christmas Day, 1989, and Leonard Bernstein is conducting the work in Berlin's Königliches Schauspielhaus, the former home of the Berliner Sinfonie-Orchester, the Philharmoniker's East German rival. Bernstein and the German musician-impresario Justus Frantz have spared no expense to globalize — still with a frisson of trespasserly transgression — the spectacle. The orchestra alone includes players from Munich, Dresden, Leningrad, Paris, London, and New York. The choruses come from West and East Berlin, including the Dresden Philharmonie's Children's Choir. All these voices now rush into the no-man's-land like air into vacuum, harmonizing on the famous lines "All men will become brothers" and "Be embraced, millions / This kiss to the entire world!" As the bass-baritone Jan-Hendrik Rootering begins to sing his plea for new tones, the young girls in the chorus behind him stare straight ahead, steeling themselves in the knowledge that they are being broadcast to the hundreds standing in the Breitscheidplatz (in the West) and the Platz der Akademie (in the East), and to a televised audience of thousands in thirty-six other nations.

Bernstein brings down his left fist on the word freudenvollere (more joyful), and the orchestra hammers out an A-major chord. With noticeable boost in boom, Rootering proclaims — not Freude, but Freiheit. Freiheit, ricochets the men's choir behind him, and off Rootering goes, singing a version of Friedrich Schiller's poem that appears never to have existed:

Freedom, beautiful spark of the gods, daughter of Elysium,
Intoxicated with your fire, heavenly one, we enter your shrine.
Your magic power reunites what strict custom has divided;
All men become brothers where your gentle wing rests.

Perhaps not never: though Bernstein feels plenty "authorized by the power of the moment" in replacing all instances of Freude in Schiller's text with Freiheit, he does reference the old theory, dating back to an 1849 article by Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, in which "a planned paean to freedom by Schiller fell prey to the censor and had to be turned into 'An die Freude' to avoid recriminations." But Bernstein concedes that the theory is probably false, and, in a Falstaffian spirit of se non è vero, è ben trovato, he barrels ahead:

But legend or not, I feel this is a heaven-sent moment to sing "Freiheit" wherever the score indicates the word "Freude." If ever there was a historic time to take an academic risk in the name of human joy, this is it, and I am sure we have Beethoven's blessing.

This "academic risk" takes some chutzpah; the famous Schiller statue by Reinhold Begas stands in Gendarmenmarkt Square directly outside the hall, even as the poet's verses are being rewritten within. But with the exception of a single newspaper review, the move is not received as cynical. It is instead understood as the culmination in a series of gifted Beethovens, following Daniel Barenboim's November 12 Berliner Philharmoniker performance of Beethoven's First Piano Concerto and Seventh Symphony (a "gift" specifically to the East Germans), and, nary a week later, Yehudi Menuhin's all-Beethoven concert (a benefit for the "reconstruction of the historical city center of Berlin"). Here, in classical music's arguably most mythic self-staging of the late twentieth century, the polis is given the gift of once again dancing around "the freedom tree of the Revolution." Or, rather, they are given the semblance, the spectacle, which is enough. And it is the spectacle itself which designates the stage, which calls the shots, which allocates parts for everyone — the conductor, the singers, the instrumentalists, the critics, the media, the spectators and listeners. Everyone plays their part.



In common parlance, fantasy is what you get up to when the surveying mind and surveying society are both looking the other way. Fantasy is supremely asocial. Doubly licentious, it creates a world of pleasure without obligation to what is either permissible or possible, outside the realm of fantasy, to do.


Phantasiestück: the term wasn't Robert Schumann's to begin with but E.T.A. Hoffmann's, and in all likelihood it didn't originally connote "pieces" in the musical sense but something more like "scenes," something to be staged, to behold and get caught up in. In Hoffmann's case, they were already transmedial scenes. Perhaps they start as images — say, Jacques Callot's engravings — but soon they end up airborne, ballooning into associative networks, word into scenario into literary form. The three spectacles of chapter 1 close the loop, creating a circuit of transfixity. Scenes of image becoming word becoming music, they are also initiated by music. Music, or perhaps just the idea of music, provides a kind of proscenium or screen, some consistent-resistant surface. Chargeable with limitless affective intensity, it props up a multimedia spectacle, eventually yielding an exhaustively documented and commented-upon event exploiting all that late twentieth-century technology has to offer. What kinds of "fantasy scenes" are these? Not, at first glance, ones sehr innig zu spielen (to be played very inwardly), as Schumann directs the pianist in the first of his Op. 12 Phantasiestücke. They are vulgar megaphonic parades next to the crepuscular privacies of "Des Abends," with its encrypted "Clara theme," its chafing inner voices and crossed, caressing thumbs, its 2/8 meter disguised as 3/8, et cetera. Here, in rejection of everything these Berlin scenes stand for, is a music of sublime nuance, a music that categorically rejects the world, "becomes lost to it," absorbed only in its own song.

Schumann's Phantasiestücke are relatively late, perfectly idiosyncratic additions to one of Western music's wobbliest but longest-standing genres, and in some ways there is little sense in speaking of a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century fantasy by Luis de Milán or William Lawes in the same breath as a nineteenth-century one by Schumann, or an eighteenth-century one by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, or twentieth-century fantasies by Ferruccio Busoni or Ralph Vaughan Williams. But if all these musics are so unlike one another in tone, technique, or "language," they are nonetheless shadowed at every historical turn by a common discursive logic that suggests family resemblances. There is, it's easy to see, a consistency between Milán's 1536 designation of the fantasy as springing "solely from the fantasy and skill of the author who created it" and Christopher Simpson's statement, in 1667, that a fantasizing composer "is tide to nothing but that he may adde, deminish, and alter at his pleasure ... wresteth and turneth as he list, making either much or little of it as shall seeme best in his own conceit." But this logic continues to rehearse itself in very different musics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when a musical fantasist "follows his whims completely without attempting to work out a specific plan"; or "depends too much on the caprice of his mood, on the peculiarity of his immediate frame of mind, to be able to aim at a particular end"; or "loses himself in a sea of modulations"; or "doesn't pay attention to what one plays [but rather] yield[s] oneself freely to exactly what one feels." As one might expect, these later descriptions differ from the earlier ones in their emphasis on feeling. But discursively speaking, feeling occupies the same structural role as, say, "pleasure" for Simpson, and even that unarticulated force driving Milán's fantasist to work "solely": it is what comes from the author alone. The logic rehearses itself yet again in Hoffmann's own account of his Fantasiestücke in Callot's Manier, in which Callot's work "really goes beyond the rules of painting; or rather his drawings are but reflexes of all the fantastic apparitions called up by the magic of his exuberant fantasy. ... Even the commonest subjects from everyday life ... appear in the glow of a certain romantic originality, so that one's thoughts are surrendered to fantasy, and engaged in the most amazing way."


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: "But supposing He does not come" 1

Part 1 Free

1 Drei Phantasiestücke (1) 29

2 Fantasy & Fantasy (1) 36

3 Drei Phantasiestücke (2) 63

4 Fantasy & Fantasy (2) 69

5 Drei Phantasiestücke (3) 88

Part 2 New

6 Freiheitsdreck (1) 101

7 Music & New Music (1) 108

8 Fantasy & Fantasy (3) 128

9 Freiheitsdreck (2) 134

10 Freiheitsdreck (3) 162

Part 3 Again

11 Repetition (1) 199

12 Repetition (2) 204

13 Repetition (3) 216

14 Repetition (4) 226

15 Music & New Music (2) 242

Notes 269

Index 333

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