Sunday, November 11, 2012

Charles Gounod on Composers and Society

The society of artists is dying on its feet. . . . Each member pivots around his neighbor. There is no progress toward an avowed purpose, toward a clearly perceived end. . . . This anarchy is a sad spectacle; time will put an end to it, but when will that time come? I think it will be when the masses develop a tendency of some kind to opinions of their own. . . . The public accepts an infinite number of productions, varied and even opposed to their points of view; and they enjoy the very contradictions. They split their affection and their sympathies, and necessarily divide the effectiveness of their stimulus to such a degree that they no longer even give an impetus to artists. . . . It seems to me that the principle of evil lies in this absence of a universal need. I believe, in a word, that the artist's growth stems from all the power and all the moral, intellectual, and religious energy of the epoch to which he belongs, and that society expresses itself through him in proportion to the vitality and activity it transmits to him.
This is part of a letter that Gounod wrote to a friend in 1847 when he was living in a Carmelite monastery. [Translated by Mina Curtiss and published on page 29 of her 1958 book, Bizet and His World. I find the contradictions very interesting, and I find it particularly interesting to think about what Gounod says in relation to life in the 21st century.]

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