No, No, Guillaume Was a Composer

“The arts, as they develop, grow further apart. Once, song, poetry, and dance were all parts of a single dromenon. Each has become what it now is by separation from the others, and this has involved great losses and great gains.” (C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism)

This observation has really molded my views deeply and I think it is more applicable to music than Lewis could have imagined. You could, for instance, paint all of music since 1600 as a futile attempt to recreate the dromenon and all the central forms as essentially a fusion of at least two out of the three: the Romantic opera is music and poetry, the Romantic ballet is music and dance, and the symphony, the ideal Classical achievement of pure music, is music attempting to be the other two without really needing them. But I digress.)

So, then, I was surprised, charmed, and not surprised when I opened René Girard’s The Scapegoat and the first words were, “Guillaume de Machaut was a French poet of the mid-fourteenth century.”

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Beethoven Begat Jacob and Esau

Wagner and Brahms, that is.

“In German-speaking lands, the dispute polarized around Brahms and Wagner and around the dichotomies between absolute and program music, between tradition and innovation, and between classical genres and forms and news ones. What is clear in retrospect is that partisans on both sides shared the common goals of linking themselves to Beethoven, appealing to audiences familiar with the classical masterworks, and securing a place for their own music in the increasingly crowded permanent repertoire. All such music became known as classical music because it was written for similar performing forces as works represented in the classical repertoire and was intended to be performed alongside them.” (Burkholder, Grout, and Palisca, A History of Western Music)

Fascinating that Brahms looks at Beethoven and sees pure, “absolute” music, music for its own sake. Wagner looks at Beethoven and sees drama, Gesamtkunstwerk, music (as Tom Wolfe might say) with a text at its center. Ralph Vaughan Williams expresses that whole period’s expectancy for a new Beethoven to unite the two schools here.