The Art of Shooting Your Bolt
Brilliant and controversial views of modern music by the celebrated musicologist and composer
Why is ‘old music’ so popular these days? What renders the Mahler cult so intolerable? And why has contemporary classical music ceased to appeal to the public? These are just a few of the questions the composer and critic Elmer Schönberger asks in his essay collection De kunst van het kruitverschieten.
The answers: the failure to acknowledge the vulgar elements in Mahler’s music helps to turn that music into an indigestible art religion; modern composers have become isolated because they play about with the musical rules to such an extent that their listeners have turned to more accessible forms of musical modernization, something they have found in the new practice of old music.
Elmer Schönberger here presents brilliant and controversial views of modern music in a laconic style. His provocative essays, sober and erudite, are marked by sudden twists and leaps of the imagination; yet they invariably get to the point of what, shorn of conformism, music is all about.
As original as Schönberger’s views are the various topics he deals with. De kunst van het kruitverschieten includes essays on remembering and forgetting melodies, and on how decisive the lyrics to a song really can be. In an essay on Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, Schönberger explains why the music discussed in that novel sounds different today from what it did half a century ago. And he describes the semi-scientific, semi-mystical motives that have turned modern composers, more so than any generation of musicians before them, into veritable number cabbalists.
Schönberger has the gift of writing about music in a personal way, of surprising the reader and at the same time being perfectly clear. He simply tells what happens when music is sounded and is thus able to provide a magisterial summary of its gist. Anyone who has read these essays will no longer listen to music in the same old way.