An email today told me of the banning of some of the music of Tchaikovsky in a certain place.
Looking on the internet shows no sympathy for this. On the contrary:- the decision is ridiculed and called out as being “not the way” and hardly appropriate.
I am not going to be positive about any facet of this argument. However, I will write this: That it is high time that the myth – and conveniently facile use of the phrase – that music somehow constitutes some kind of “universal language”, is put down humanely and rationally, and laid to rest.
The now-misappropriated phrase originated in the written work of the eighteenth century French aesthetician and music man Michel-Paul Guy de Chabanon 1730-1792. No doubt he was possessed of insight, but his idea, written in 1785 that “There is but one music in all of Europe…this universal language of our continent” was written in response to “a cosmopolitan time, in which national differences were minimised in comparison with the common humanity of man” (Donald Jay Grout).
In his “History of Western Music”, Grout goes on to outline (at that time) the abundance of “foreign rulers in Europe” – such as German Kings in England, Sweden and Poland; the Spanish in Naples; the French in Tuscany; a German Princess in Russia; German composers at Paris; and Italian composers and singers in Germany, Spain, England, Russia and France.
Quantz writes in 1752 in Berlin that the “ideal musical style is one that is made up of the best features of music of all nations”. It is all there to read on page 449.
Having myself been unhappily, thoughtlessly and incorrectly schooled on this idea of music as a “universal language”, and seeing that there is nothing in music that – under discussion – does not arouse contrary opinion, passion, and argument, it is time to say that although before the era of mass communications, that some music may well have communicated with people of many national backgrounds, this is seemingly no longer the case.
Musical snobbery abounds still. Indeed, one might have thought that the advice that Middleton gave to Leppard had been forgotten, given that it was no dismissal.
No. The phrase is no longer correct, if it ever really was. Music is neither a “universal language” nor is it an “international language”.
The promotion of this lazy and unstimulating cliche is as useless as it is inaccurate.
Since the time that music has become almost overwhelmingly diversified, each composer and each composing performer has created esoterically.
And as general agreement on even first principles is to be found less and less, then why do people cling on to a convenient and outdated concept from an historical period that is seen to be having a weaker influence as the years go forward?
Of course, the real answer is education. The best answer is Real Education. Few know what that is now; fewer still know how to inculcate that; and hardly anybody wants it when offered it anyway.
But where to go and what to do?
And who cares anyway, as long as the music is faster and louder and less comprehensible than it used to be, we only entertain entertainment…(and of course, the music described as “my music”).