Sul sito del quotidiano inglese The Guardian è stato pubblicato un bell'articolo scritto da Brad Mehldau, il quale fa delle riflessioni sul sentimento e sulle emozioni personali che si riflettono sulla musica, prendendo in considerazione in particolare la musica di Igor Stravinsky.
"Music often seems to suggest an emotion or a state of being – we reach a consensus, for example, that one piece of music expresses carefree youth, while another expresses world-weary wisdom. But is music properly expressing anything? Here's Stravinsky on the subject in 1936, from his autobiography: "For I consider that music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all, whether a feeling, an attitude of mind, a psychological mood, a phenomenon of nature, etc … Expression has never been an inherent property of music … It is simply an additional attribute which, by tacit and inveterate agreement, we have lent it, thrust upon it, as a label, a convention – in short, an aspect unconsciously or by force of habit, we have come to confuse with its essential being."
Alas, Stravinsky does not tell us what music's "essential being" is, only that we have mistaken the property of expression with it. He seems to be repeating the gambit of thinkers from Plato onward – he tells us that what we observe is false, posits another realm that is more real, but gives us no concrete information about it. There is no information to give, after all – what is essential lies beyond our reach; we're stuck in our empirical shallowness. Essentialist tropes are everywhere in discussions about music, smugly short circuiting further inquiry, maintaining: "We cannot put in words what is essential about music."
It is probably more reasonable to say we cannot put in words what is essential about anything. Essence is a cipher, a phantom, and a perilous one at that – by the time Stravinsky was writing those words, essentialist ideas were being stapled on to notions of race and nation with horrific results. These kinds of tropes about music always persist, though, because music acts like language in its ability to represent things, yet its mode of expression, if Stravinsky will pardon us, is free of language. So we see it as the ideal form of communication – one that supersedes language. The irony and ultimately the weakness of this viewpoint is that our ability to posit this idealised communication is dependent on the very language that we wish to transcend. Language is simply feasting on itself, on its own poverty – it has revealed nothing about music.
Was Stravinsky merely perpetuating a kind of sophistry? For years, his statement confounded and bothered people who took it at face value, assuming that he meant music is not expressive, period. In 1962, he clarified what he meant – a little grumpily: "The over-publicised bit about expression (or non-expression) was simply a way of saying that music is supra-personal and super-real, and as such, beyond verbal meanings and verbal descriptions. It was aimed against the notion that a piece of music is in reality a transcendental idea 'expressed in terms of' music, with the reductio ad absurdum implication that exact sets of correlatives must exist between a composer's feelings and his notation. It was offhand and annoyingly incomplete, but even the stupider critics could have seen that it did not deny musical expressivity, but only the validity of a type of verbal statement about musical expressivity. I stand by the remark, incidentally, though today I would put it the other way around: music expresses itself......"
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