Music’s spiritual, intellectual and social dimension

Constantinos Floros, a prominent musicologist and professor at the University of Hamburg, was in Athens recently, participating in an international congress organized by Musicology magazine and the Lilian Voudouris Music Library. He was also present at the launch of the Greek edition of his book «Man, Love and Music» (Nefeli Editions). A prominent scholar on Brahms, Mahler and Ligeti, Floros has another two titles awaiting publication, a monograph of Bruckner as well as a book on the history of 20th century music. Born in Thessaloniki in 1930, Floros studied philosophy, musicology, psychology, art history and conducting in Vienna. He worked on Byzantine music and has decoded old Byzantine and Slavic notations. He recently spoke to Kathimerini. What is contemporary musicology’s aim? To come to terms with the fact that music is not just a game of sound but that it has a broad mental, spiritual and social dimension. Thirty years ago, musicology was similar to that period’s music, targeting exclusively a few specialists. The study was only concerned with the works’ structure. There were historical reasons behind this, yet I find it devastating, as it alienated it from its core subject, which is music, the art of the soul, the art of feeling. Whatever music we come up with, we are expressing human nature. I believe that the future of musicology lies in interdisciplinary research, including philosophy, art and psychology. This view may sound like a belated defense of worn-out humanism. I find this sort of criticism harsh. Humanism is constantly violated these days, so I don’t think that anyone can claim that it’s outdated. What will we put in its place? Social justice can only be achieved through humanism. I’m very interested in the international political situation. Following the events of 9/11, I couldn’t work for six months. I felt that sciences like musicology were useless. How can music intervene? Obviously, art cannot prevent violence but it has to be present, to play a role in consciousness. Intellectuals ought to use their power – to protest, to go against injustice. There is political music, featuring prominent works that protest against violence and war. Art should not be inward-looking; it should serve certain purposes. It should be moving – upsetting even – and enable us to find ourselves. Music is not just about bringing joy to our ears. Mozart is not elevator or subway music. Romanticism – which abandoned certain musical values in order to reach a larger audience – was the only truly «popular» movement in classical music. There was a certain level of musical education in the 19th century. A middle-class man, though not a musician himself, listened to music and understood the works. He also understood the language used by the composers and the musical language’s symbolism. Music was linked to literature, religious and political beliefs. It was not as isolated as «musical avant-garde» in the 20th century. When music is designed as an experimental structure for a small group of people, it cannot expect to be widely recognized. I believe that contemporary music should be incorporated into contemporary cultural life and express today’s concerns – it should not be too abstract. Is minimalism a reconciliation between heavy and light music, aimed at communicating with a broader public? It’s an effort. Some minimalists, however, use very simple language and repeat things, resulting in a loss of interest. Repetition, of course, is a very important element in musical composition. Philip Glass’s music, for instance, is attractive, remaining in the ear, but when you listen to it for more than three-quarters of an hour… Members of the musical avant-garde made a point of avoiding repetition. Yet some composers, such as Gyorgy Ligeti for example, recognized the problem and started using repetitive themes again during the 1980s. Mahler used to say that communication between the composer and the listener is based on a common acceptance of certain musical motifs as an expression of a specific intellectual content. Can we still talk about such international symbols in the era of globalization? It’s a huge problem. In the 1970s, composer Karl Heinz Stockhausen believed in a kind of global music, featuring various world music elements, in order for Europeans to look into the souls of the Indians and vice versa. But these are really difficult matters. Today, however, composers have broadened their horizons – many of them know the music of the East very well – resulting in a new kind of musical cultural approach. I believe that in the end a composer maintains his own national identity. We have not yet reached the stage where globalization will be the reality. A contemporary crisis Before the 19th century, music was patronized by aristocrats and rulers. In the 19th century this was taken over by the middle class. Today’s middle class has been weakened financially and does not consider music as a part of its cultural heritage. So who can support the arts? Sponsors, patrons of the arts, rich people who want to help and the recording companies, of course. Nothing would happen otherwise. Forty years ago, Hamburg’s city radio was deeply involved in supporting new music, commissioning a number of works by young composers. They realized, however, that the wider public was not following these shows and had to reduce them substantially. The general trend now is the popularization of all cultural aspects. Does serious music hold an important place in the Western world’s cultural profile? The real issue is how broad musical education is. Do people understand music? Do they listen to it? Where does education stand? There is an intellectual crisis. The young, especially, don’t know where they are going. They don’t read anymore. There are no more ideals. In Germany, after WWII, there was a huge will in the people to rebuild their country, that’s how the so-called «Germany miracle» happened. Today there is no precise direction. There is no more communism, while religious faith has also been dealt a heavy blow. On the one hand there is atheism, while on the other, many people feel that life ought to have a meaning and so they look for it within themselves, in minimalism, in musical recollection. In a certain way, we are looking at a new religious consciousness that has nothing to do with the church or dogma.