Fascist Music

Daniel drdq at m5.sprynet.com
Sun Dec 13 18:16:13 PST 1998

Well, Doug, as a classical musician I can only think of popular music as, by definition, "folkish." That is to say, a natural expression and manifestation of the innate and uncultivated musicality of human beings, only minimally concerned with aesthetic or spiritual matters.

The reason that all the superficial trappings of power, such as loudness, monumentality, etc., are associated with fascism is precisely because they are used by fascism as basic tools of control, indoctrination, disempowerment, repression. I didn't see the post of the other day in which you spoke about "sublimity", and so I don't know what you were referring to specifically. It is certainly true that both loudness and the monumental can otherwise contribute to an expression of the sublime. But, as employed by the fascist, they have nothing to do with the sublime. They have instead to do with loudness and the monumental, which pose as excuses for themselves - an absurdity, of course, but one which is essential to the fascist cause that acknowledges only that might makes right.

Now, you asked what is specifically fascist about these elements. I once participated in a discussion of what is fascism with a "Marxist." That discussion lasted for several years - easy enough considering that it was my father. I was defending Bertram Gross' viewpoint on fascism in America, against the more orthodox view that would like to reserve the term for Hitler and Franco, and a few select others. One of the most important things I learned from that discussion was that two intelligent people don't necessarily agree about what fascism may and may not be.

Does the term have an objective meaning? Up to a point, I wouldn't deny that it has. Yet, it's important, I think, not to put TOO fine a point on it. What is the value of owning a word, as if that were possible? I called these musical elements fascist because fascism is associated with them as a carpenter is associated with a hammer. No black and white distinction was intended here. Should I be boring and point out that communism also was fond of the loud and the monumental? I needn't be so restrictive. Regarding that other element - exploitation of the "folkish" - even socialism in America induced a kind of glorification of folk art. Think only of Copland's Appalachian Spring. "'Tis a blessing to be simple. . ."

On the other hand, one has to know when a mere toying with folkishness turns deadly, as in Orf's Carmina Burana. The Copland is not fascist. The Orf is. How can such a distinction be made? I could retreat to a position of expertise, and say that as a musician it has been my life long fate (and duty) to listen for the spiritual content in musical sound. After a time, certain things become rather clear and unmistakable. But I would rather put the matter more on the level of common sense. Add up enough of the ingredients of fascism, and one may actually arrive at fascism. This has practical implications in the political sphere. Who knows but that even a communist clique can make the transition in this way: we will have to conclude as much if China, for example, were to expand the private sector to such a degree that the ruling party elite begin to represent only a class of owners, and do so with the kind of "iron boot" that we associate with fascism? (Pace, Henry: I realize that I have no informed judgment on the actual course of change in China, which is why your posts have been so interesting and enlightening to me. I use the example of China only in an abstract way, in order to make a point.)

Alec, you asked: "But by your criteria, why isn't John Adams' music fascist, because it's not loud enough? What about serialism: couldn't one argue it's a structural "iron boot"?"

I don't know enough of Adams' music. Do you think it is fascist? The little bit I've heard of "Nixon in China" certainly seems to invite the label, but I find it especially easy to say that since I found the music to be intensely annoying and bereft of grace and beauty. In a curious way, all minimalism in art may be as fascist as the monumentalism I was referring to in my post. We would then be talking about the place of conjunction of yin and yang: the place of transformation into opposites. I've only really listened to Adams' Violin Concerto, which I don't think is minimalist, nor fascist. But, I am probably wrong. For there is no doubt that it is through and through American. Here again, I am probably confused by matters of personal taste. I quite liked the Violin Concerto, and so wouldn't like to think of it as fascist. What would that say about me? I have to be "brutally" honest when it comes to recognizing fascism in all its secret little hiding places.

As for your question on serial music, Alec, I'm not sure if you are implying your own answer. For my part, the answer is an emphatic negative. No, serial music (12-tone music) is not in any way an expression of the fascist craving for "order" - especially, arbitrarily imposed order as the product of the individual will and its need to dominate. There is nothing in the least bit arbitrary about serial music.

As it happens, I am a composer of serial music, and so I carry a heavy brief for its place in our tradition. Serial music is a natural unfolding of that tradition, and as such a reflection of the evolution of the human spirit. As our consciousness expands, we perceive ever more dimensions in this universe. The composer is no less a researcher into these many dimensions, than the physicist who opens our eyes to the multiple realms of time/space and a hundred other invisible dimensions besides.

The many harmonic dimensions of polyphonic music have been only gradually and painstakingly perceived by successive generations of composers. Serial music is nothing new in this respect. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that serial music can express the permanent transcendence of the human being - or, just as easily, the subjugation of all that is in us yearning to breathe free. For the former, we have Schoenberg, for the latter, say, Stockhausen. In any case, serialism is a technical term. It pertains to matters of technique. Technique can be put to any purpose. Of course, fascism, per se, will never use serialism on purpose. Hardly anybody can understand it. It would be very counterproductive. But, far be it from me to give musical advice to the fascists.


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