Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Hindemith on atonal music

To be sure, [atonal composers] do not, contrary to their conviction, eliminate tonality; they rather avail themselves of the same trick as those sickeningly wonderful merry-go-rounds on fair grounds and in amusement parks, in which the pleasure-seeking visitor is tossed around simultaneously in circles and up and down and sideways in such fashion that even the innocent onlooker feels his insides turned into a pretzel-shaped distortion. The idea is, of course, to disturb the customer's feeling of gravitational attraction by combining at any given moment so many different forms of attraction that his sense of location cannot adjust itself fast enough.
So-called atonal music, music which pretends to work without acknowledging the relationships of harmonies to tonics, acts just the same as those devilish gadgets; harmonies both in vertical and in horizontal form are arranged so that the tonics to which they refer change too rapidly. Thus we cannot adjust ourselves, cannot satisfy our desire for gravitational orientation. Again spatial dizziness is the result, this time in the sublimated realm of spatial images in our mind. I personally do not see why we should use music to produce the effect of seasickness, which can be provided more convincingly by our amusement industry. Future ages will probably never understand why music ever went into competition with so powerful an adversary.
Paul Hindemith, excerpt from A Composer's World, quoted in Henry Pleasants, The Agony of Modern Music. I really like Hindemith, and because he's a much livelier writer than Pleasants (burn!), even in translation (double burn!), reading his comments was a breath of fresh air. He's wrong too, of course, but he's charming about it.


Heather said...

Sadly Rutter has beat Hindemith in a race to impress the masses (visit my blog for further explanation...)

Heather said...

(the Impromptus one)

SadOatcakes said...

This is irrelevant to your post, but nonetheless meant for your delectation and delight:


I find the latter interesting for two reasons, the first being how the idea of "fascinating organ crawl" makes me giggle a little. The second is that the last church mentioned is just down the street from my house (well, two streets, but close enough). They've actually just finished a rather large organ project; I understand it sounds rather better than cited in the article above.

SadOatcakes said...

PS: I don't think it posted the entirety of the last link. It is as follows, split in half:

von-karajan said...

I really admire Hindemith and his music. Now I want to find his works on theory: "Composer's world" and "Unterweisung im Tonsatz". They should be very interesting. Maybe, you have on of them?

Osbert Parsley said...

I've read A Composer's World but not The Craft of Musical Composition. Certainly the former is well worth your time - a lot of interesting stuff on the philosophy of music from the Greeks to the present day. I don't own a copy myself, I'm afraid, but most good music libraries should have one.