Monday, January 23, 2012

Marion Bauer, Guest Blogger

Marion Bauer (1882-1955) is no longer alive, but her music (when I am not practicing it) lives in my head. The more I practice and rehearse her Viola Sonata, the more I admire her as a composer.

She was once an important force in New York musical circles as both a composer and a teacher of all musical subjects, before she was relegated to the margins of music history by luminaries like Virgil Thomson. In the 1980s he said that she was not any part of a modern movement, and that she should not be grouped with Boulanger or Copland, and that was that. He obviously didn't know that Bauer was Nadia Boulanger's first American student and that Copland's success in New York had a lot to do with Bauer's influence.

The following excerpt from the first pages (4-5) of her book, Twentieth Century Music: How it Developed--How to Listen to it, published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 1933 (and hailed as "the first important contribution to new music" by the New York Sun) has particular resonance for me.
Most listeners, regarding present-day music as harmful to the continuance of a traditional lineage, dismiss it as the work of fanatics. By avoiding the discomfort of exploring unknown territory, they do not retard progress but only their individual development. the race of the swift and the battle of the strong continue, but they are out of the running and blame modern conditions instead of their own intolerance and short-sightedness.

We have experienced unbelievable development in radio, aeronautics, architecture, painting, and scientific research. Why should we not expect music to follow in the footsteps of its fellow-arts and of invention? It is the usual story of the vision of the few, which is gradually tolerated, then generally accepted, and finally superseded by a new vision. the natural procedure is from the know to the unknown, and the right of way to the New is contested at every step. Opposition to innovation has made history.

We never profit by the experiences of the past. We do not seem to realize that we repeat what other ages have gone through, and never seem to understand the secrets the past would reveal. We are not inventors and innovators but merely pawns used by a force which is a composite of the accumulated needs, beliefs, desires, ambitions, inspirations, and inhibitions of each age. This gigantic force is the cause behind the ever-changing effects. Religion, politics, economics, social conditions, art, all act and react upon each other in response to this "spirit of the age," and in turn help to create it.

. . .

No matter how beautiful, how satisfactory, or how scientific the art of a period may be, we know that it encloses seeds of its fruition, and, at the same time, of its destruction. At the height of perfection, decay begins. The spirit of beauty caught in a net, subjected to a microscope, and preserved in alcohol becomes a museum specimen. Nor can art flourish in the strait-jacket of standardization. And so we see throughout the centuries three inevitable stages in every art epoch: youth, maturity, and decay. The fact that epochs overlap creates friction. The New is seldom welcome; it breeds alarm and distrust. In time it proves its right to a place in the sun, becomes overconfident and arrogant, and, finally, after a life or death struggle, is supplanted by an upstart, a usurper. And the cycle begins again!

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