11.0. Conclusions (with the ‘benefit of the doubt’)108
108"The benefit [grace] of the doubt" is a concept by Augustine of Hippo (354-430).
Let us start with a subjective (but also professional) understanding of the degree of artistic intentions. This implies both taking into account the degree of acceptance from part of the audience and reflecting upon why that audience is always so passionate. Right after I will state what I consider to be my aesthetic point of view.
In my opinion, for many reasons, the Cirque du Soleil possesses a trump card with respect to other kinds of shows. Nonetheless, the last product I talked about — a non-documentary movie that mixes filmic fiction to original performances by the Cirque — drastically diminished my enthusiasm for the Canadian group and, consequently, the artistic potentiality I initially saw in it. Of course, it is just one out of many shows produced by the Cirque du Soleil. However, being the last one so far and considering the ambiguity that characterizes it, I cannot feel confident enough about the future.
As the reader has been able to deduce from some intemperance of mine that escaped a more rigorous self-control, the first place of the worst — or, if you prefer, the last of the best — is taken by André Rieu and his orchestra. In fact, musically speaking, Rieu exhibits a combination of bad taste and unparalleled cynicism that closely matches what the audience is expecting. "Good for them…" I would say just not to disseminate zizzania109 where harmony rules. However, the fact that someone exploits the others' ignorance for his/her own benefit deserves at least to be revealed. As they say in Naples: "Accà nisciun'è fesso."110 Unfortunately, Rieu's cynicism has many forerunners. E.g.: see a 1947 US film (Night Song, dir. John Cromwell) starring the famous pianist Arthur Rubinstein and the likewise famous conductor Eugene Ormandy (the former from Poland and the latter from Hungary, both born at the end of the XIX century and deceased at the beginning of the 1980s). In this film they are engaged in playing an excerpt from a C-minor piano concerto by the fictitious Dan Evans (interpreted by Dana Andrews), but actually composed by the author of the music track: Leith Stevens.111 The screenplay is plenty of ridiculous situations that were very frequent in the British cinema of the times, e.g.: during the premiere, the composer of the concerto instead of paying attention to what he wrote, has a flashback of his sentimental affairs).112 Then the pianist plays a very modest piece in the style or Sergej Rachmaninov (Сергей Рахманинов). At the end of the piece the pianist stands up and bows. But… wasn't it a concert? And, since when does the audience applaud at the end of the first movement?113
109 The word 'zizzania' [discord] comes from the Greek zixánion and the late-Latin zizania. It refers to the poisonous darnel or cockle (Lolium temulentum), an infesting and toxic weed. According to the Holy Scriptures Jesus Christ metaphorically used that plant in one of his parables (see Gospel of Matthew, 13, 24-30). There should be no need to explain the modern use of the word but, just as an example, if 'C', while talking to 'A', says that 'B' speaks ill of him (but it is not true) and then 'C' says the same thing about 'A' to 'B', well, we say that 'C' 'disseminates poison darnel'. Hence, Jago will never die.
110 In Neapolitan dialect. Literally: 'Here no one is stupid'. It is generally used as a warning to those who try to pass as true what cannot be true.
111 The film producers intended to repeat the extraordinary success obtained in 1944 by Laura (also interpreted by Dana Andrews) with the unforgettable song of the same name composed by David Raksin (Philadelphia, 1912 — Van Nuys, California, 2004), one of the most remarkable film music composers of the third Hollywood generation.
112 This is a typical solution used to forcedly relate the composer's feeling with his own music. In the specific case it was also used to interrupt the monotony of an 8-minutes concert scene. On the British tendency to conjugate in the same film anti-Nazi propaganda, sentimental stories and music/artistic making of one of the two protagonists see: Sergio Miceli, Film Music, 327-334.
113 This is a frequent situation in cinema and is typical of many Italian films of the Fascist era. See, for example, Lo squadrone bianco (dir. Augusto Genina, music Antonio Veretti, 1938). In this case the victim is Antonio Vivaldi. For other details see Sergio Miceli, Film Music, 266 ff.
Such a lack of personal and musical dignity does not involve only the past, it concerns also several contemporary musicians: the already mentioned Three Tenors (José Carreras, Plácido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti) and Andrea Bocelli, alone or in duo with Sarah Brightman, Eros Ramazzotti, Céline Dion, Luciano Pavarotti, Barbra Streisand, Zucchero Fornaciari, etc. (Bocelli is another case of a musician whose repertoire ranges from, alas, opera to entertainment music). But there are even worse cases of dubious musicians such as the ‘pianist’ Giovanni Allevi who even got to play film music and make the headlines on promotional posters. After all, from a musically ‘consensus-cratic’ and ignorant regime as the one we have in Italy, what else could one expect?
Thinking back to the hypotheses and the doubts concerning the evaluation of the phenomena I discussed in the first part of the present work, only two of them never made me waver: on the one hand Rieu's orchestra and, on the opposite hand two masterworks of theater and film musicals: West Side Story and Man of La Mancha. With regard to the other categories analyzed in this essay I never thought in terms of a potential 'artistry' (otherwise bad judgments would have prevailed), but I rather looked at differentiation. Here is an example: I do not believe that military parades and tattoos can strive to be good shows from the artistic point of view, and I will never forget that at the only tattoo I attended in Basel (I think it was 2008) a middle-aged man sitting behind me mumbled many times "diese Soldaten sind wahre Künstler!"114 Therefore, the diverse evaluation given to two similar genres originates in the need for differentiating them. Otherwise, if I had followed my instinct to give military parades the least grade, what should I have done with tattoos that, in my mind, deserve even less respect and attention?
114 "These soldiers are true artists!" [EN].
Different observations can be made with regard to film music concerts. One could challenge Umberto Eco's line of tought (see notes 51-52) by saying that the example he cites obviously suited what he meant to prove. In fact, the Warsaw Concerto (not a real concerto, but just an excerpt from an imagined piano concerto) just pretends to be what actually it is not: a real concerto. Therefore, a public performance of it would not make a lot of sense. But the real question is: what to say about a concert dedicated to Rota who was known for being a composer who did not make discriminations between concert and applied music? And if it were a concert with music by Maurice Jaubert, the first European film music specialist, who was able to mix popular and academic music? And if it were a concert devoted to Bernard Herrmann's music for Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) and Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)? Thus, besides big names like those mentioned above, we will help music also by attending concerts with works by composers who might not be well known by large audiences, but who are very esteemed in the restricted circle of film music specialists thanks to their engagement in improving even the most modest and least paid cinema and television job.
So far I just listed a series of rhetoric questions without manifesting another very important point. In fact, one could wonder how these less known composers, whom I willingly did not mention yet, write, and what is their style and technique. There are not many of them and they mostly work in Europe — or better, anywhere but the US. Since the stylistic aspect is of paramount importance, the reader might remember that in chapt. 4, while speaking about Darmstadt, I mentioned the Neue Musik as the culprit, to some extent, for the audience's disaffection toward academic music. At that time the 'Darmstadt School' considered many important composers as 'traitors'. Despite the out-and-out cultural terrorism, I sympathized with the terrorist and I could not miss a concert with music by Pierre Boulez or Karlheinz Stockhausen. I was not moved by conformism, but by the need to understand, maybe because I relied upon a Christian adage — pronounced by an agnostic and attributed to Paul of Tarsus115 — according to which 'one should believe in order to understand' and not the opposite.
115 Paul the Apostle (c. AD 5-c. AD 67).
I spent a lot of time on the music composed by the followers of Darmstadt and many years later, despite my belief and understanding of the basics of that music, I realized that I did not enjoy it so much after all because it sounded like it came mainly from the brain. I was instead increasingly attracted by Benjamin Britten, Hans Werner Henze, Goffredo Petrassi and, above all, Dmitrij Šostakovič's (Дмитрий Шостакович) chamber music. A little bit later, I also realized that the New Music did not damage the large audience too much, but rather the audience composed of music lovers, who are mostly conservative. Many of them would consider a big achievement to have listened to a whole symphony by Anton Bruckner or a string quartet by Ludwig van Beethoven without getting bored. Meanwhile, the large audience would find solace in the arms of André Rieu or, if moved by a pretended spiritualism, in the likewise wide arms of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Half way through the large audiences and the conservative music lovers, there is, though, a third audience that I have already defined as demi-cultivé and that feels comfortable while listening to Williams' Imperial March or Morricone's Estasi dell'oro. There would be nothing to worry about, except for the fact that part of that audience, for lack of something more satisfying and enduring, speaks about Williams, Morricone, Zimmer, Shore and many others with the same words a specialist would use for Brahms, Beethoven and J. S. Bach (just to stay within the three German 'Bs').
By saying all this, though, I left the European film music composers' subject hanging. Piersanti, Desplat, Piovani (to a certain extent), Nyman, Crivelli and others are the true representatives of a music composed for film but easily performable in a concert venue without feeling the presence of what I called the 'stone guest', that is, the image. This occurs because often (but not always) the concert music of these authors does not sound very different from what they compose for the screen. Such an observation can explain, for example, the beauty and the profundity of such a composition as the Requiem marino — "for all the migrants who could not touch land" — (Piersanti, 2010).
Surely, a certain snobbish attitude expressed by Umberto Eco does not help in reestablishing the right sense of proportions while feeling admiration for a beautiful passage composed by Carlo Rustichelli or Piero Piccioni. I will report here what follows the previous quote from Eco in Chapt. 4.0:
But when the composer is a talented one, a work whose structural necessities prevent it from being kitsch may be created, and may become a proper medium product that allows more complicated musical universes to be pleasantly divulged: an example is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue whose original solutions and the freshness with which it unexpectedly resuscitates American folkloric materials cannot go unnoticed. However, when this composition that is rightly listened to as a relaxing and honest stimulus to rest and dream, is performed in a large concert hall, by a conductor in tailcoat and for an audience used to traditional symphonic venues, the result is kitsch because the piece yields reactions that are not proportionate to its intentions and possibilities. The piece is decoded with a code that is different from the original one [ET].116
116 Umberto Eco, Apocalittici e integrati, 130-31.
This is a good way to mix theses that are hard to challenge with others that, by keeping it tempered because of the prestige of who expressed them, I would define very sophisticated, even elitist or worse. Not even a musician who dedicated his whole life to the best of the best in music, admirably conducted and played, and never underestimated the education of the youngsters — I am obviously speaking about Leonard Bernstein — would have claimed such a drastic and slightly ethnocentric opinion (I am referring to Eco saying "the freshness with which it unexpectedly resuscitates American folkloric materials"). Gershwin as a composer of "proper medium products"? To be listened to "as a relaxing and honest stimulus to rest and dream"? I just hope that Eco changed his mind about some opinions he had fifty years ago,117 otherwise we should think of him as someone who has dedicated the last fifty years to appreciate Die Kunst der Fuge BWV 1080, which many people consider the very best of Western musical art; and we should imagine him devoted to the intransigent circle of the Neue Musik with which he was affiliated because of his friendship with Luciano Berio and not necessarily because of his direct interest.118
117 In the forward to the fourth edition published ten years after the first (1965), Eco wrote two and a half pages that I cannot summarize here but in which he considered "certain observations as rather old and possibly naïve" (id., 5-7. However, he was not referring to the excerpt I quoted above). He was also admitting that a bibliographical updating was necessary as many things changed since the first edition. Notice that this forward was written in 1974, that is, forty years ago. The weekly magazine Doppiozero published a series of texts edited by Gianfranco Marrone to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apocalittici e integrati. Doppiozero is a cultural association that since February 2011 runs an online website devoted to cultural critique. More than seven hundred writers, cultural journalists, scholars, designers and sociologists participate in this ecosystem that summons famous intellectuals, young authors and well-known scholars (http://www.doppiozero.com/materiali/apocalittici-e-integrati/uno-splendido-cinquantenne — last accessed 12/21/2014).
118 I suspect that, but I do not have any proof.
I do not think I am an apocalyptic, because a specialist would have never thought to dedicate so much attention to Les Misérables in media. However, I do not think I am an integrated either, and many observations I made should prove that. Nonetheless, I possess some features that belong to both categories. Unfortunately, I and many others who, I hope, share my characteristics are doomed to suffer 'vita natural durante'119 because we will be always a minority plagued with doubts. I will report another example from a working experience many years ago (end of the 1980s) at the Florence Conservatory "Luigi Cherubini." During a conference of mine on music and gesture, I proposed to have a quiz (in my audience there were at least two internationally known pianists). I asked the participants to listen to five versions of the same piece — the famous Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin — without naming the interpreters. One version was by the North-American pianist Joshua Rifkin who played on a Steinway grand piano, which was like to say: "Joplin is as classical as Chopin and therefore deserves to be equally treated." The second interpreter was Marco Fumo, an Italian specialist in ragtime who, unintentionally, played on a half-size piano (at least 175 cm., no brand known, but probably a Yamaha). That was like to say: "Joplin is just one of many…" The third pianist was Joplin himself recorded on a piano roll and transferred on LP. While listening to him one could think of the philological approach Nikolaus Harnoncourt applied since the 1960s when conducting Caudio Monteverdi, J. S. Bach and others. The fourth interpreter was Antonio Ballista, pianist a conductor devoted to contemporary music and some 'engaged' songwriters. He used a Rippen vertical piano that had been intentionally detuned, but maybe too much. He inserted also quite long (I would say wan) rests between phrases, maybe because he was more interested in reproducing the atmosphere of the Barrelhouses than interpreting Joplin. The last 'interpreter' was a Macintosh SE playing samples of a Bösendorfer 290. For the MIDI transcription I used a tempered scale based on a 442-Hz A but with each pitch randomly detuned between 5 and 10 cents. I also manipulated the rhythm with a lot of very short ritardandos and accelerandos in order to make it less regular. In other words, I used all the MIDI resources I had at hand to make the reproduction from the computer less perfect and more… human. I remember that it took me a long time to achieve my goal, but this is another story… With regard to what Eco wrote, it is Rifkin's interpretation that resulted the most interesting. Starting with the instrument he chose to play, his decision was a way to tell us that he considered Joplin as classical as Schubert or Schumann, as I said above. Now, if the Italian semiologist minimized the importance of Gershwin, we might conclude that he would have reserved a similar judgment for Joplin: a self-taught, musically semi-illiterate composer, able to write only one genre of music, the ragtime, played by ear in establishments with bad reputation. In the real world, Rifkin would have disagreed with Eco for finding Joplin as irremediably kitsch.
119 'During our lifetime' [EN].
For a musicologist who was not conditioned by a scale of values based on compositional complexity — a very important argument I have already touched in the Irish dance chapter — Rifkin's choice was and still is problematic but very respectable, as are all the interpretive decisions that challenge the status quo. In fact, they imply a precise aesthetic premise that, in its essence, is not so different from that adopted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt when opened the door to philological performances.120 In sum, Umberto Eco has said important things in many fields and some of them were fundamental for the education of my generation. However, he was neither a musician nor a musicologist.
120 I would like to remind that Harnoncourt acted as J .S. Bach in and conducted the music for Jean-Marie Straub's and Danièle Huillet's film Chronik del Anna Magdalena Bach (1967). This very important film was recently restored and can be found in original language with subtitles in a DVDs collection: disc 1 - Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach ; disc 2 - Sicilia! (1999) and Une visite au Louvre (2004), New Wave 009/Universal, VFD 39083/vFD 39083, U.K., n.d. Source: Archive S. M., Florence.
But let us go back to where we started: the Neue Musik. To prove why I cannot agree with it, one could think of many examples in music history. However, let us just mention the XVIII-century opera and some composers of the following century. Let us think of how Die Zauberflöte, a masterpiece, had been understood and appreciated beyond any class border. Let us think of the cry "Viva Verdi" in a XIX-century Italy that was longing for unity and close to the Risorgimento [the Resurgence] — the acronym VERDI stood for 'Vittorio Emanuele re d'Italia' [Victor Emanuel king of Italy] — that people would shout in the face of the Austrians). This and much more has been swept away by the Neue Musik. Of course, praise to Arnold Schönberg! Praise to Alban Berg! Praise to Anton Webern! But then?121
121Such a drastic judgment is not directed to some composers whose music, despite their closeness to serialism, possessed a substance unknown to their most radical Darmstadt colleagues. I am referring here, for example, to Hanns Eisler and Luigi Dallapiccola who never participated in the Ferienkurse. See Anonio Trudu, La "scuola" di Darmstadt. I Ferienkurse dal 1946 a oggi (Milan: Ricordi - Unicopli, 1992).
There is also another question that has not been answered. How do those composers who work in cinema and television and do not accept the routine compose? Once a good deal of the Darmstadt School had been rejected, the only option left was to look for inspiration in other composers, and that is what happened. Here is then Stravinskij (Стравинский), here is Ravel, Britten, Šostakovič (Шостакович), Bartók, Janáčec and so forth. This has been the starting/arrival point for many who refused to comply with the alchemies of Darmstadt, so often forgetful of the listeners. That is how a lot of music worthy of being performed in a concert hall — whether or not with a tail coated conductor — has been composed and listened to as music tout court. Naturally, the presence of a big name behind a film music specialist provided a good incentive to search for one's own way. But there was a risk and there had been many bad examples. Let us say that a composer who wanted to play with the audience's ignorance, could just copy his forerunners. There you have Miklós Rózsa who, in Madame Bovary (Vincente Minnelli, 1949), shamelessly copied Ravel's La Valse; there you have also Jean Renoir's La bête humaine (1938) where the entrance of Joseph Kosma's music at the end of the first, famous sequence (it is still studied in cinema school), does not only break the magic of a memorable editing rhythm, but illustrates also a bad and inappropriate imitation of Čajkovskij (Чайковский). Besides the imitation, the piece required — but did not have — an amount of time to expose its ideas that was proportionate to the symphonic scale of its content. That was a serious, recurrent défaillance of Renoir's films.
Even a military parade might look like a show. If on the one hand it is used to address a hostile country, on the other hand must meet the favor of the audience. Hence, here is the need for some non-military devices aimed to seduce the public. Veterans and kids are the only ones who do not need to be seduced, whereas mature women and men, and adult boys and girls must be educated. One must sell them a product that has not much appeal: war (‘always’ a defensive was, ‘never’ an offensive one). In a region whose historical vicissitudes I am quite familiar with — I mean Europe — surges of patriotism became gusts of nationalism and then floods of interventionism, often with the help of the so-called artistic vanguards. All this led to the WWI — probably the worst carnage of modern history — and, ‘to a lesser extent’, to WWII. Based on the principle of defense vs. offence, and just to mention WWII, there have been wars and events connected to wars that historians judged as unavoidable: the alliance between the United Kingdom and France against the Italian-German-Japanese coalition, September 3, 1939, after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany; the Soviet Union’s entrance into the war against German and Italy after June 22, 1941; the United States against Japan after Pearl Harbor, December 8, 1941. Some conflicts, above all in the past, had an ideological motivation that the warring countries paid with millions of dead. That is where even the most moderate military parades come from: the need to celebrate the old victories by remembering their dead. Then, that some contemporary politicians shield themselves behind the victories and the casualties to revamp a presumed leadership is a question whose conclusions I leave to historians and political analysts. In this text I focus on the value of memories that each one brings within.
I put military parades and tattoos in the same group because they are the fruit of the same plant: militarism as a sort of show mixed sometimes with non-military elements (military parades) and militarism as a real show always mixed with non-military elements (tattoos). In both cases, but keeping their specificities, they are shows that will never be able to hope for achieving an artistic value. Thus, what is the need to discuss them? Because of the audience whose reactions are always of great interest to us, even without objective data to analyze. One could say, then, that the audience that attends or takes part in a parade (the latter case occurs in totalitarian regimes) does it for patriotic reasons, no matter if real or imposed. Tattoos’ happy audience is ironically very close to Rieu’s. No matter if the show includes an orchestra or a marching band, this kind of audience would accept anything for the pleasure of observing the precision of the performers or the silliest commonplaces. Consider also that, as I already explained with different words, Rieu frequently hosted a large number of Scottish bag-pipes in his shows as many can be found in every tattoo. For this and other reasons I will mention from time to time, a large audience that loves the ‘Johann Strauss’ Orchestra, crowds into a Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s concert or attends a tattoo is the most difficult to educate.
The artistic potential of a Broadway musical or, sometimes, of a musical film adapted from theater music is, from my point of view, an unquestionable and completely accepted fact. For different motives both West Side Story and Man of La Mancha are work of art of our times and they should be studied in school as well as we do with Shakespeare, Cervantes or Hugo. However, since the main goal of this text is Les Misérables in theater, cinema and media, after having observed the traversal influences concerning different expressive genres, I will go back to this specific point in the next parts of this work.
With regard to Japanese percussionists I think that I have already exposed my perplexities. They are mostly due to the fact that those shows seem to be exclusively conceived for a local audience, unless they also include some Western elements. Therefore, they are made for an audience that is aware of the multiple extra-musical implications and, as such, is the opposite of Rieu's, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's and the tattoos' audiences. Said otherwise, I think that the taiko shows are the least exportable of all. This does not diminish their artistic potential, but being connected to a century-old Japanese tradition — and to an implicit religious component — I think that it is more honest to admit that I do not have enough tools in my hands to analyze this genre. Nonetheless, if my opinion is genuine — which I hope so — it is because of the many videos I saw and of the excerpt from Chuan Lu's recent film: it is as if time had stopped much earlier than Nanjing massacre (南京大屠杀) and, passing through that, its immobility reached our days. Finally, the ritual component of the taiko shows is beyond any possible evaluation and, as such, generated in me questions that I cannot answer yet.
An appraisal of Russian traditional music is not possible without the pervasive presence of the Red Army Choir and its many allusions to militarism. Actually they do not seem to come from the modern Russian Federation (Российская Федерация), but rather from the previous Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (Союз Советских Социалистических Республик, СССР), still alive, although latently, in the social substratum of this enormous country. Maybe this is how things go now: traditional music is strictly tied to the historical events of WW II and therefore has a clear patriotic connotation that consists of the memory and the nostalgia for those who are not within us any longer. Somehow, it is inevitable that many popular shows always include the Red Army Choir. If anything, what is ridiculous is the attempt of modernizing it. I am not referring directly to the laughable performances of the Italian songwriter Toto Cutugno who has nothing to share with traditional Russian music. I could dare, though, to make a comparison between a Russian military parade’s severity and compactness, and the sense of freedom perceived during a pop music concert. Both have already been discussed, but the latter prevents me from appreciating it better because of a disturbing mix of pink papier mâché tanks and rock performances. This is a pity, for Russian pop music with no militarist features could have hoped for a much better judgment. Perhaps this mix is inevitable and the two aspects cannot be severed.
The Irish dance deserves a much higher, but not full, consideration. It could have aimed to be a work of art if the Riverdance group did not base its choreography on Micheal Flatley's gascon122 attitude, but rather on Jean Butler's and Padraic Moyles' artistic choices. Of course, Flatley's skills cannot be questioned, but when someone else (i.e. Jean Butler) is not there to keep him under control, his erotic insinuations become too noticeable and may have an influence on the costume designer (i.e. by shortening the dancer's skirts). I do not want to sound like a moralist. This is not the point. After all, it is so easy to find shows everywhere with half- or completely naked women, if this is what one is searching for: he/she has plenty of choices. Instead, Jean Butler's and her dancers' attitude and clothes possessed a mix of sensuality and elegance that Flatley, probably, never understood and just endured for a couple of years. In fact, in the DVD Gold, based on a long interview to Flatley and on documents of the time in which he worked with Butler — N.B.: as a first ballerina and choreographer — there are four short videos. The first is taken from a Eurovision broadcasting from Dublin in 1994. The second is Reel Around the Sun from Riverdance, while the third is the finale from the same show. The fourth is the excerpt of an old interview in which both Butler and Flatley participated. In three out four videos Flatley cannot avoid showing Butler, but during the interview he is very careful not to mention her, nor does her name appear in the DVD's credits. In 1995, Flatley also released an interview in a TV studio where he claims for himself the whole creative process of Riverdance. Butler's quitting Riverdance and the premiere of Lord of Dance soon gave Flatley the opportunity to dance bare-chested or with a waistcoat always open to show his bare chest. In this edition of Lord of Dance, successfully performed in Australia and the United States, eight white spurts squirt in the air from the edge of the stage while the dancers bow to the audience. Where did we see them? Of course, in tattoos, in André Rieuand in a Russian mix (the one that starts with traditional music sung by the Red Army Choir and ends with a rock show — i.e., the show with the pink tank). Again in the DVD Gold Flatley show us Encore from Feet of Flames. The numerous multicolored spotlights that point everywhere and are synchronized with the music rhythm give the show a sense of totality that is enhanced by the chorus extended on four levels and composed of around one hundred dancers. Synchronous effects and different subdivision of the pulse across the four levels are definitely hypnotic and recall what I have already said with regard to the robot-effect and the repetition compulsion. This reminds me of at least another kind of hypnosis. Now, among many videos of Japanese percussionists, there are some in which the number of players is very close to that of some Flatley's shows; and, in fact, also the resulting hypnotic effect is very similar: think of one hundred perfectly synchronized percussionists marking main and secondary accents or waiting for their entrances. In Encore from Feet of Flames the main change concerns music. The distinction between rhythm and melody I made before is not of use anymore. In Budapest, through Flatley's memories, or in the DVD recorded in London, one can listen to film music throughout (sometime it is not even badly composed). For his return to the scene Flatley prepared a new edition of Lord of Dance. The cast is completely different and Flatley's modes are smoothed: he does not show his abs anymore and the make-up is less marked, but the dancers' costumes are more revealing than before. What strikes me most, in addition to the extremely varied light design, are the panels in the back of the stage where, as I already mentioned, drawings and photos of different subjects are projected. The Irish dance has become a multifaceted show whose forerunner can be found in the total theater theorized by Oskar Schlemmer within the Bauhaus movements (Weimer Republic, 1919-1933).123
122 French word for "boastful" [EN].
123 Oskar Schlemmer, Laszo Moholy-Nagy and Farkas Molnár, Il teatro del Bauhaus, It. trans. n.n. (Turin: Einaudi, 1975), originally IV volume in the Bauhausbücher collection (1925), founded by Walter Gropius and Laszo Maholy-Nagy; Oskar Schlemmer, Scritti sul teatro, It. trans. M. Bistolfi, introduction G. C. Argan (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1982); Various Authors, Teatro nella repubblica di Weimar, Catalogue of the exhibition (Rome, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, March-May 1978), It. trans. P. Chiarini (Rome: Officina, 1978); original German edition published by the Kustamt Kreuzberg (Berlin) and the Institut für Theaterwissenschaft of the Cologne University. Source: Archive S. M., Florence.
English edition: Oskar Schlemmer, Laszo Moholy-Nagy and Farkas Molnár, The Theater of Bauhaus, eds. Walter Gropius and Arthur W. Wensinger (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1996) [EN].
There are still two subjects that need to be discussed or better scrutinized: my aesthetic position and the audience's reactions, respectively. The latter has already been incidentally analyzed, but there are still several things to be added and this will be done in Part IV, exclusively dedicated to Les Misérables.
After all, a good deal of what I presented until now and some topics that I would like to speak about can be summarized with some words by Hanns Eisler, the German composer who died before being able to put into practice his socialist ideas about music in the new East Germany. Although Eisler talked about his ideas several times, it is in his interview with Hans Bunge where we find memorable statements. Just as an example:
[H. E.] It is this damned protean character of music that invites to stupidity.
Just turn on the radio at any time during the day and you will hear a bunch of stupidity that you [Hans Bunge] would detect even though you are not an expert.
There is, for example, a sort of pitiful joy of living, mostly at the waltz rhythm.
Or there is a kind of pseudo-military attitude that expresses itself at the march rhythm.
There is also a resounding grandiloquence […] and that comes from the so-called important symphonic works.
All this has not anymore a real function.
But, how to change it?
First of all, we should change the audience.
[H. B.] But, who or what is responsible for this if the listener is not able to understand?
[H. E.] Social conditions as a whole are obviously responsible.
It is not only the composer.
He is as conditioned as the listener.
What we need is a first-class music education.
Stupidity can be eradicated only through education.
For example, if we gave our four- or six-year-old children a correct musical education, we could hope that in about ten years a stupid composer would be ridiculed [ET].124
124 Hanns Eisler, Con Brecht, 61-62. Originally broadcasted by the DDR Radio and then by the Western-German WDR, the conversations with H. Bunge ended shortly before Eisler's death in 1962.
More than fifty years has passed and that situation does not seem to have improved, on the contrary… “Stupidity in music,” according to the few examples I mentioned in this text, apparently increased.
We have not understood yet how to concretize what Eisler so efficiently criticized in a country, the DDR (East Germany), where a plan for improving the music education was maybe possible. At what price, though? Almost everyone around the world happily and pleasantly welcomed the fall of the Berlin wall (November 1989) and the reunification of Germany (October 1990). The importance of the event does not allow comparisons or interferences with what I am discussing here, but I feel obliged to notice a geometrical growing of ‘stupidity in music’ and the beginning of a low standardization of art that involve both the Western and the Eastern world. The most US-friendly nations of the Far East — Japan and South Korea — took the worst of Western pop and rock music, whereas China has been about to for quite a long time. In any case, with respect to the audience, I feel extremely skeptical when I see the people who attend Rieu’s, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s and the tattoos’ shows.
By looking carefully at when the camera frames a couple that lightheartedly dance to the rhythm of Rieu's orchestra, or someone who hand on heart stands up when "Fratelli d'Italia"125 is played, or also the tear drops of an old man while he is listening to one of Rieu's arrangements, well, any good intention to save all this would be, I think, as useless as an impossible mission. Even by observing with what enthusiasm the audience applauds to a tattoo, one would feel how hard it must be to suggest an alternative to that audience. If one, instead, would undertake a corrective mission with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's audience, he/she would be likely puzzled by the respectful conviction with which every spectator follows the absurd transcription for solo choir of a piece originally composed and intended for solo orchestra. It would be really hard both to make them listen to the original version and convince them of how inappropriate is the arrangement they are appreciating. In any case, that is the music they know and love. With that music they feel relieved, better, and they would never forgo it(…just remembering Proust). Besides this, there is another aspect to be considered: if one bashes someone a lot of people like, he/she can expect a more or less violent reaction, not from the person directly involved — he/she, usually, is not even aware of that criticism — but from his fans. The reasons of that reaction are all too obvious and with no consequences because, at worst, the offender will find on internet — often on a social network — the space to defend his/her idol with the appropriate style and modes. My fear rather concerns the educational standpoint from which my line of thoughts began.
125 Il canto degli italiani or the national anthem (lyrics Goffredo Mameli, music Michele Novaro, 1847).
The terribly sad motto that says “If it is for all it is not art, if it is art it is not for all”, besides the prestige of whom is told to have said it (Arnold Schönberg), seems to find a confirmation exactly in those cases I have been examining above. Later, I will get back to this thought which is certainly classist, snob, reactionary, produced by who belongs to an elite, fruit of a decadent bourgeoisie and of academism but, at the same time, so terribly true, especially nowadays.
Finally, for what concerns my aesthetic position — besides the temptation of accepting the easy alternative proposed at the end of the Foreword — I think it is rooted in the structuralism, with a remarkable anthropologic and cultural component (Claude Lévy-Strauss), and in the Gestaltpsychologie (Rudolph Arnheim and, even more so, Ernst Gombrich). I say this in retrospect, because at the time of my graduate studies I was unwittingly inducted into the Crocian Idealism126 which has been the philosophical base of many teachers after WWII. I realized that many years later and I rejected that philosophy as soon as possible. The alternative was the Marxist position that many embraced (more politically than aesthetically). The result was the birth of many 'monsters', half partially convinced Marxists and half completely unaware Crocians. The funny, not to say tragic, outcome is that many of us acted on the base of what Jesus Christ supposedly said in the Gospel of Matthew: "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."127
126 Benedetto Croce (1866-1952) never engaged in musical discussions, but his followers Luigi Ronga (1901-1983), Alfredo Parente (1905-1985) and, in a peculiar way, Massimo Mila (1910-1988) did. Since Mila was an anti-Fascist and a musicologist who, before anyone else, developed a non-superficial interest in film music as early as 1933, I feel that he deserves a particular respect.
127 Gospel of Matthew 6, 1-6. 16-18. I am obviously joking. The quote teaches about giving out alms unnoticeably thus avoiding hypocrisy.
Unlike what could happen, I guess, in the Anglo-Saxon universities where registering for a course meant making a potential statement and try to prove its strength, in Italy, most of the times, one would arrive at the university with no idea about his/her own aesthetic position and only the keenest and most motivated students would try to understand it on the way. Perhaps, this was also due to the fact that, with a few exceptions, the most influential professors in human studies were not in Italy but in the France, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States of America.
. . . to be continued . . .
About the author
Retired Full Professor of History and Aesthetic of Music, Conservatory "Luigi Cherubini", Florence.
Formerly Adjunct Professor of History of Filmmusic, Florence University and University of Rome "La Sapienza".
Formerly Co-professor of Film Music with Ennio Morricone at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena.
Formerly Professor of Film Music at CSC, Centro Sperimentale Cinematografia in Rome.
Co-professor of Film Music with Franco Piersanti at the Scuola Civica di Musica in Milan.
Member of Editorial Board of Music and the Moving Image, New York University and University of Illinois.
Member of Editorial Council of the Electronic scientific magazine Mediamusic (Медиамузыка).
Articles, essays and manuals translated into English, French, German and Spanish.