Dr. Kwasniewski's Taxonomy and Seven Theses on Music
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    Well, it's a series of opinion statements with no support or evidence other than, "I mean, for real - just think about it for a minute. Gosh!"

    That being said: I'm pretty sure that I personally agree with every assertion he is making.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Surely you can't be serious, LJ? And STOP calling me "Shirley!" Bada Boom.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,307
    I don't see why I couldn't be.

    There's a lot of caveats and exceptions and clarification needed to make it into a self-consistent piece of rhetoric. But from a general principles ("things I might say at a cocktail party"), yeah- I agree with where he's coming from.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,804
    Well, the first thesis is deeply dubious, appealing as it may be to musicians. The fifth thesis relies on the first, and is therefore built on sand.

    The second thesis doesn't say much useful. It doesn't merit being a thesis.

    The third thesis has to contend with Handel and Haydn, who were German-speaking contemporaries (there was no "Germany" at that point in time). (I'd give the laurel to Bach, but the other two are in his league. Not all hierarchies are monarchies. I'd go for aristocratic oligarchies, as with the Most Serene Republic of St Mark.) So, third thesis needs work to be more useful.

    The fourth thesis appeals to those of us familiar with the Western tradition, but would be reasonably contested. It's far from self-evident.

    The last two theses are merely tendentious.

    Next.

    (Charles, I did want to honor your implied request with a mild fisking to attract Outrage for interest.)
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Thanks, KLS. We all owe a debt to Molly Yard, don't we?
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,804
    Well, that's a blast from the past, but I am not quite sure why you invoked her here, except for a surrealist touch.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    ... the music of Byrd, Bach, Beethoven, Bruckner, or Brahms (just to stick with B’s) is infinitely more beautiful, skillful, and rewarding, not to mention perfective of the spiritual soul ...
    Dagnabit, there goes any chance for Bingen, Busnois, Browne, Binchois, Buxtehude, Billings, Busoni, or Berlioz!
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,288
    CHG... you are too immersed in that CPDL!

    (i don't like beethoven and have never listened to much brahms)

    Bach is in a level all by himself.
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  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    Well, I did leave out Boccherini, Bruch, Bairstow, and Babbitt.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,288
    I really do like Boccherini. You don't mean Milton Babbitt, do you?!
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    Uncle Miltie, that's the one!!

    Think purple.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    What got me, Chuck, was the omission of Bartok. My Lord, his music = tour de force.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,288
    Here was Dr. K's assessment of that 'genre'.

    "A corollary: periods of cultural stagnation and retrogression, intellectual morbidity, and spiritual anguish produce two kinds of music: ugly nonsense and the rebellion of searching souls."
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I don't accept Bartok being relegated to "that" period. The Concerto for Orchestra alone would land him in the genius category.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    Good grief, Charlie, I'm getting old ... I LOVE Bartok!!! The Concerto for Orchestra AND the string quartets ... monumental.
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,288
    melo:

    ...was referring to Babbitt, not Bartok.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    This all started from the old "renegade's" Three B's: Buxtehude, Busoni, and Berlioz.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Chuck, you forgot "...Brown!"
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    Nah ... there is only (John) Browne for me ... of the Eton Choirbook.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    francis, I considered that, it was just that my thoughts got sandwiched. Babbit, Stockhausen, Dallipiccola.....feh.
    Not to mention if I ever run into Philip Glass, I'm going to play a V9b5#11 over and over on the nearest instrument I can find. Double feh.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    No, Chuck (now I'm Peppermint Patty), I meant "Good grief, Charlie BROWN!"
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  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,288
    another great B, Banchieri

    LOVE this one...
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,288
    melo... I have been playing some Glass lately... I actually downloaded a bunch of his scores and studied them. His level of musical theory and voice leading is that of a first grader (well, maybe not that high), but his use of textures (polytextures in particular) are interesting and hypnotic. Yes?

    I often wonder how he became so, well, 'admired'... simple... he just hypnotized everyone into it!
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Oo, oo, ooh,
    We ALL forgot..............................
    Berlioz and does eat oats and little lambs eat Ivy.
    Nevermind, I didn't scroll up far enough to see Chuck called Hector out.
    francis, Glass is hypnotic if hypnotic = pseudo science. Brian Eno kicks Glass derriere.
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  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,145
    Don't confuse an old man, Charlie ... my wife's name is Patty!!!
  • kenstb
    Posts: 358
    I am hoping that Dr. Kwasniewski isn't serious about his theses. They require that we first accept his assertions about music and history, with which I greatly disagree in part.

    Thesis one is not entirely true. It omits prose, poetry, comedy and a multitude of arts which turn a mirror on the face of each generation.

    Thesis two may depend upon which local tradition one is speaking of. It also neglects the results of the folk music inspired melodies of several great composers throughout history.

    Thesis threv is plainly not true. Some of J.S. Bach's greatest work was NOT even enjoyed in the initial years after his death. If not for Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in the 19th century, it is possible that the St. Matthew Passion would never have become as widely celebrated as it is now. In addition, he is overly restrictive in the use of the word "contemporary". Much of what he claims is purely a matter of taste.  

    Thesis four is simply untrue. This is just his opinion (which he has a right to) but it ignores the fact that there is great music produced all over the world. The perspective is just myopic IMHO.

    Thesis five is absolutely wrong. The twentieth century gave birth to Jazz in all its variations and Calypso and that's if we confine our examination to the western hemisphere.

    As to Thesis six, I am very skeptical of anything that attempts to posit an absolute answer to a question of taste.

    As to Thesis seven, again this is a matter of taste. The music of Byrd, Bach, Buckner or Brahms are more beautiful, skillful, and rewarding to HIM. He ignores the real possibility that a significant number of people may find the music of Henry Purcell or Dieterich Buxtehude or Edward Kennedy Ellington, Miroslav Ladislav Vitouš or Josef Erich Zawinul more rewarding to their sensibilities. I respectfully disagree with the good doctor.
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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    X posted from CCW earlier today:

    I'm sorry, Peter, but I cannot buy, in part or whole, your theses for a host of reasons. I know you firmly believe these are universal and comprehensive maxims that would benefit every single soul on the planet in this life. But, the foundational principles of many of your propositions are objectively flawed, and therefore cannot be accepted as "true" in any intellectual sense of the word.
    Just some bullet points:
    * #1, It's an "if...then" proposition inwhich the first sentence is spot on; the second (or then) is patently unmeasureable.
    *#2, Authentic and "natural" are positives, but not opposites of technology, nor is technology intrinsically incapable of projecting beauty.
    #3, A heirarchy, like your theses, is a foundation, then scaffold, then construct. But before all of those, a heirarchy is a concept superimposed over the concrete. There's nothing "wrong" about saying Bach is head and shoulders above Handel, Telemann or Vivaldi, but it doesn't account for Buxtehude before him, or Mendelssohn after him. Using your logic, only Chopin would occupy any relative worth among the class "Polish composers." Well, I think the 17th century Psalter of Oskar Gomolka in Polish, albeit with idiomatic Slavic influences, is a remarkable and viable contribution to the body of beautiful sacred music. Must we choose either/or, or can we have both/and? Why/why not?
    #4-Not even "going there." I'm not being PC, but the declaration is almost insidious.
    #5-Your own prejudices are showing, you list every Scandinavian/Baltic composer of thought for the 20/21st century, and only cite Cage to represent the decadence of post-serialism. To me the omission of many composers of the likes from Stravinsky to Copland to Crumb to Corigliano to Adams and even some film score composers betrays a full accounting for contemporary works. I suppose Ives wouldn't even make your list.
    #6- I reject the idea that the question "Who is your favorite composer" must be answered with a qualification and justification. In a way, the notion of favorite is even at odds with your thesis #2.
    #7-You forgot a very important "B," in my opinion; Bartok. And as this post isn't specifically confined to sacred composition, that doesn't add up for me. And if you say "Byrd," I jokingly thought to myself, which one? The monumental jazz alto sax genius, Charlie Parker (Bird), the great classical/jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd, the seminal American rock band, or William?
    I really think you have only offered this from a purely subjective POV, and left far too many huge loose ends as "missing or killed in action" on the fields of musicology and history.

    Charles
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  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,884
    “from Perotin to Pärt”
    I would have hoped everyone realizes music began with Leonin and ended with Ligeti.
    ..periods of cultural stagnation...produce two kinds of music:ugly nonsense and the rebellion of searching souls. Think of twentieth century pop music versus the always earnest and often sublime music of such composers as Pärt, Górecki, Tavener, Vasks, Rautavaara.
    One can detect the traces of some kind of agenda here...
    ...in our times of leisure and recreation we would be foolish not to prefer, as a general rule, music that is more beautiful, skillful, and rewarding, within the confines of its period and purpose.
    These important qualifications keep him from dismissing as fools those who spend more work hours polishing the Mass of Creation than the Art of the Fugue.
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  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Richard (how are things in W.Contra Costa?)-
    Perhaps you have a better bead on what Dr. K believes worthy of preferential use of leisure, recreation and time than I. Using your purple example, I can't imagine any reason a true musician would turn his back, mind and heart on Ligeti's "Atmospheres" or "Threnody" as of no value, or even in his words, ugly. But I digress.
    Given the choice to experience one of the two opportunities, say to hear Jessye Norman grace the environs of Notre Dame with her whole being, or to take in Marty Haugen at some NPM showcase in a hotel ballroom, that's a no brainer.
    But does Peter account for the aesthetic differences that may exist in other musical domains? I've taken in the greatest jazz singer alive on the planet now (IMO) Kurt Elling of Chicago a number of times, and there is a quantum universe of difference between the beauty, skill and reward of Elling's talent and that of say Michael Bublet or even the great Harry Connick Jr. This dynamic cannot be confined only to Western-evolved classical (what is that, exactly?) or studied forms and traditions.
    Before the ascendancy (sp?) of some of his 20th century paragons, some might remember the American debut of the Bulgarian State Radio Women's Choir, with the aboriginal, pushed and forcible vocal quality attended by impeccable intonation and rhythms idiomatic to the Balkans (seconds as consonance, compound meters and chordal clusters) choral/folk traditions. And a hop-skip further west, what about the Corsican chant tradition for Dr. K?
    Well, that's enough for today and tonight. These other very legitimate musics only further the appreciation we should then have for our European choral and compositional traditions. But I also sense the essay's agenda excludes all that as unnecessary and likely harmful to the "right" development of the soul.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 1,884
    Hi Charles,
    We're fine. Ash Wednesday's Allegri recruited a new chorister and a returnee, and tonight we rehearsed the ferocious bits of Victoria's St John Passion and Melchoir Franck's wonderfully bellicose ''Heb' dich weg von mir, Satan!'' for this Sunday, perhaps a bit more in Francis' line than the usual 'sacred silence' of Lent.
    I might have mentioned before that I'm a Drupad fan as well as a longtime amateur of Javanese gamelan (a tradition with Mass settings!) so Kwasniewski's thesis 4 is a no-starter as far as I'm concerned. His ''Kyrie'' is a long way from Rautavaara but fairly passable stylo antico. Hassler's counterpoint is objectively better, for my taste. ;-)
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    While I do agree that we should avoid what is "cheap, shallow, frivolous, or ugly," the notion of what causes a work of music to be described as such is completely a matter of opinion. Not to say that there aren't certain types of music, or even certain individual works that are more appropriate for one scenario over another: that is a completely different topic from what Dr. Kwasniewski was discussing, but simply that I may describe a certain work by a certain composer as "shallow" (especially in our modern times with pop music), but some may see a deeper meaning within it. Does this mean that the one who saw the deeper meaning (or even implied it through their own experiences, which would naturally influence their interpretation) is incorrect in their assessment? I would venture to say no, they are not incorrect: there is no correct response, as this is not a matter of facts. Even the notion of appropriateness can be subjective.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,084
    Keep in mind his degree is in Philosophy. Philosophers thrive on endless disputation. That doesn't mean his points are invalid, but his article seemed to me a case of, "what if" and thinking out loud.
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,804
    Ah, the academic mind. I share the inductive leanings of the Anglosphere. I recall with fondness a classic English joke about the deductive habits of the French mind: "Zat may wuhrk in practisse, but noht in theeoree!"
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • rich_enough
    Posts: 763
    the notion of what causes a work of music to be described as such [cheap, shallow, frivolous, or ugly] is completely a matter of opinion.


    How do you know this?
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  • ChoirpartsChoirparts
    Posts: 143
    Perhaps we might acknowledge a small bit of musical graditude to Guido Monaco (Guido the Monk).
    To find out who he is... start at 15:20

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0u2T4boK2FE
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 647
    I liked one part of it:
    Please contribute $5 per month.
    I may just imitate that on my blog.

    And: yes, the best of Bach better than any contemporary including Handel. But not all Bach's music is great.

    Also, the statement about 'authentic folk music' sounds like something from someone foreign to it. I live in the midst of 'authentic folk music' and most of it (not all) is terrible, the music and the performance. So is most popular music, most church music, and most contemporary music (but not, I hope, all).

    Also, extrapolating from a music to a culture is pretty weak: Bach's time: the horrible days of the 30 years war and its aftermath; Mozart's time: decline of the Habsburgs, the difficult inclusion of Hungary, etc.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,084
    Handel was a master of choral writing, and I believe he outdid Bach. Handel wrote some works for English organs which were not as developed as German instruments. Consequently, we think Bach's organ works were better, and they were well-suited to the instruments at his disposal. What's all this better stuff, anyway. Composers write in their own time and place, using what is available to them. That doesn't make them better or worse than any other composer working in different conditions and with different instruments.
    Thanked by 2Liam kenstb
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 647
    CharlesW, try a little logic test: imagine you are a composer. One day you write something. Later you write something that you are sure is better than what you wrote before. Later you look at music that someone else wrote, and you are sure it is better than what you wrote. Artists in any field are better or worse than others. As are salespeople, and scientists, and crooks. And, as you say, Handel wrote 'better' for chorus than Bach did, in terms of effective sound production by the singers; but the music Bach made is still 'better' than the music Handel made, in the opinion of many, many people including me.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    I live in the midst of 'authentic folk music' and most of it (not all) is terrible, the music and the performance.

    mr copper, I could've probably asked for clarification about your Bach declaration and the church music as well, but upon what criteria are we supposed to take your word that this "authentic folk music" is, in fact, terrible?
    It seems you're just repeating the same fundamental omission of Dr. Kwasniewski.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,084
    Bach wasn't valued so highly in his own time, when many considered his music barely listenable. A couple of hundred years later, opinions changed about his works. I think there is something a bit fickle with judgments of quality. Who knows what musicians (sometimes the most fickle of all) will think of any composer's work in another two hundred years. Some contemporary composers not so well thought of today may get a kinder audience some years from now. Some now highly regarded may fall out of favor. There is no way to predict such things. All could be singing the praises of Copper in 2200. ;-)
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    Over at CCW, someone replied to my comment (also found above, enumerated)

    #1 Why is it not possible to measure the quality of music?

    #2 I'm fairly sure the author had in mind specifically the fake, politically motivated "folk revival" of the 1950's-70's. See: http://www.firstthings.com/web...

    #3 I don't think the point was that we must always listen to the very top of the hierarchy to the exclusion of all else, just that such a hierarchy does exist. Why do you have "wrong" in scare quotes? Is there no right and wrong in your world?

    #4 This is a bit impolitic, yes, but is it false? Why do you suppose so many Chinese and Koreans choose to study Western classical music? Can you stop worrying about hurting peoples' feeling for a second and just think about whether the statement is objectively true or false? It's possible to say simply that the Western musical tradition is more highly developed than in the East (which, undoubtedly, has its own cultural achievements and is in general just as aesthetically sophisticated), without saying that European people are better than Asian people. Really, assuming you are white, you are probably more sensitive to the feelings of non-Europeans than actual non-Europeans are.

    #5 I think it was fairly clear that the author was not attempting to produce a full list of all worthy 20th c. composers. You could of course add people like Messiaen and Ligeti. He specifically mentioned *pop* music. By "pop" do you think he means Copland? Or does he more likely have in mind things like rock and rap, and the attendant hedonism?

    #7 Loose ends and omissions, yes, but is the *overall point* wrong?


    My reply to the above:

    I'll assume, despite some rhetoric in #4, that you're not intending to be confrontational. 1. Music is not a science, or merely an exercize of the intellect. De gustibus is, like it or not, an indeterminate value. 2. You may be sure of that. I know Peter personally, and I'm not sure that's what he meant at all. 3. "A" (not a scare quotation) heirarchy "may" exist, but that doesn't (via #1) justify or legitimize the notion of "The Heirarchy" for all of humanity and its individuals, which is what I believe was Peter's thrust. The insinuation of whether "right and wrong" are in my life's ethos is offensive and beneath a response. 4. Don't put words in my mouth, particularly when I took pains to say my refutation was not about being PC. And you're dreadfully in error by declaring that Western musical tradition is inherently finer and acknowledged to be superior to Eastern (and many other) global traditions. Flat wrong, as in flat earth. 5. The pop idioms are clearly outside of the realm of his theses. But again you've assumed that we're all on the same page as Peter. But because he was fairly specific in earlier theses, and by only referring to Cage as the harbinger of total doom and decadence of the 20th c., not only did he not clarify the worthiness of others, but he pretty much denied the post-modern revival represented by other "B's" besides Bartok, Barber comes to mind. Peter doesn't need to list exceptions to all his rules, but he ought to qualify wholesale declarations 7.IMHO, it's not about right or wrong, it's about useful in advancing cultural expressions that contribute positively, in all ways moral, noble and just to benefit of God's people. When strictures become more important in art that "orthodoxy" becomes an idol unto itself, iconoclasm will result.
  • melofluentmelofluent
    Posts: 4,160
    And the beat goes on-

    From the same poster-
    Alright, just #4. Why is it so abhorrent to suggest that European Christians have advanced music beyond other cultures? What other "global traditions," aside from Sinaic East Asia, are you even talking about? Who even comes close? Are you seriously talking about putting Bach next to aboriginal didgeridoo? Get real.

    (name of poster), it is difficult to maintain a respectful dialogue with the confrontational innuendo you have again inserted. Please remember the guidelines Mr. Ostrowski has instituted for commentary before personalizing and projecting indignation upon others' intentions. *The classic raga tradition of India, central Asia . *The classic gamelan tradition of the Oceanic peoples, ie. Javanese . *The classic modal and multi-metered traditions of the Balkans. *The pre-colonial chant traditions of Hawaiian tribal peoples. Off the top of my head. Blessings upon your heart.
  • ClergetKubiszClergetKubisz
    Posts: 1,895
    Here's how I know its completely opinion: name something you think is cheap or ugly and tell me why.
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 10,084
    And is that cheapness and ugliness innate, or acquired? Inquiring minds want to know. ;-)
  • mrcoppermrcopper
    Posts: 647
    Melofluent:
    you're just repeating the same fundamental omission of Dr. Kwasniewski
    , sorry, I have not yet received your $5 a month, so I can't really take your comment seriously. But, from high authority, I'll share this anyway:

    "you can never be pleased with another man's work, for there is no man who resembles you, nor one to equal you" (source, internet; claiming to be quote from Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,288
    Mr copper

    What about the work of JC and his apostles?
  • dad29
    Posts: 1,732
    It occurs, given that a philosopher wrote the theses, that he may be attempting to apply Aristotelian "truth" claims to music. If we agree that truth=beauty=goodness (Ari's thought), then there is a hierarchy in music.

    The challenge is to draw the lines. Not hard on the margins--that is, "Bach (e.g.) is best" and "grunge (e.g.) is worst." It's the middle which is a bit more difficult.

    At the same time, Prof. K. argues that those cultures possessed of the truth, specifically Judaeo-Christian ones, are those which can best represent that truth through art. TA would at least partially agree; it was he who postulated that sin darkens the mind. That's not to say that non-J-C cultures are 'sinful,' but if they do not possess the truth, they have an obstacle to overcome on their way to beauty.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,288
    At the same time, Prof. K. argues that those cultures possessed of the truth, specifically Judaeo-Christian ones, are those which can best represent that truth through art. TA would at least partially agree; it was he who postulated that sin darkens the mind. That's not to say that non-J-C cultures are 'sinful,' but if they do not possess the truth, they have an obstacle to overcome on their way to beauty.


    This is excellent.
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • As the Johnny-come-lately to this conversation, I've greatly enjoyed reading what folks have had to say about the theses, which were, indeed, crafted to be short and provocative, as befits the genre (well, Luther's were more numerous and lengthier, but they still had laconic force against the backdrop of decadent scholasticism).

    I definitely agree with dad29, as well as with the commentator quoted in bold print by melofluent, even if I would not necessarily express myself in quite the same words.

    I also agree that it is easier to see the obvious ends of the spectrum or hierarchy than it is to sort out a ranking in between, and I, for one, don't think it's necessary to do that. Is Beethoven greater than Bartok? Undoubtedly; but Bartok was a genius too, and worthy of time and effort. Is Bartok greater than Babbitt? Absolutely -- there's not even a competition there. What about certain styles of popular music? They are as inferior to the great composers (of our age and of every age) as the crude singing style of a rock star is to the sublime vocalizations of an operatic singer, the apogee of human vocal development. I'm not a relativist or a subjectivist about truth claims any more than I am about the objective reality of human nature and the natural law, and I think that anyone who is consistent will see that, however much leeway is allowed for taste, nevertheless the beautiful, like its companions, the good and the true, is not merely subjective, but is based on objective criteria that already point us towards the divine.

    There's one little clarification worth making: I have a large collection of music scores and recordings and enjoy the work of many, many composers (including a number of the "minor" ones listed above). Obviously if I thought that only Bach's or Mozart's music had worth, I wouldn't lift a pen to attempt to compose my own music. But when I do write a piece, as unworthy as I am of this great tradition, I nevertheless strive to say something in continuity with it, inspired by it, and almost as an offering to it as well as to God and His people. And I see that to be true of the mentality of most of the great composers -- they know themselves to be within a tradition and they defer to it and trust it, even while they innovate. The loss of a profound sense of belonging, imitation, and gratitude is a kind of mortal sin in fine art, and I think it has much to do with the rampant relativism of judgment that surfaces the moment anyone dares to suggest that there is something in the music of (say) J. S. Bach that transcends time and establishes a measure of the greatness of music.
  • donr
    Posts: 940
    Speaking of your music Dr. Kwasniewski, I really like your Tantum Ergo II found here. It is very beautiful.
    Unfortunately we will not be doing it this year, but I have ordered your "Sacred Choral Works" and will review for the next opportunity.
    Thanked by 1ProfKwasniewski