2012/07/31

Is Christian renewal even possible?

Until the churches admit to their role as brutal oppressors they will never regain its moral power, let alone the respect of free-thinking people. But this would demand more than just a superhuman institutional backflip – it would demand that believers take on board the Jungian perspective that the Christian trinity is actually a quaternity – and that the concept of a devil is an integral part of the Christian world-view. It is, I believe, only when humans take responsibility for their own evil that things can change.

So long as institutional Christianity remains in denial about this, &/or the sexual abuse it has fostered – & it has such a colossal investment in its world-view & heritage it’s hard to see how this could ever occur – I don’t see how any renewal is possible. And that entirely leaves aside post-Darwinian issues! The outworking of this perspective is visible in the devastation the Jud├Žo-Xtian civilisation has wrought on the entire planet. (Whether that accounts for the China’s effects is another question.)

It may be integral to human nature that we are all conditioned to see only the conscious /willed aspects of our thought-forms not the unconscious or involuntary results? Yet it remains a paradox that the spirit of Christ, not institutional Christianity, has inspired some of the noblest philanthropy and art, not to mention the evolution of science & healing, so both are part of the whole picture.

To me, individuals like Giles Foster represents the best hope that the lumpen dough of the church/es can be leavened by the spirit of free thought, and recaptured from the timidity of placeholders like Rowan Williams & the rampant bigots who seek to perpetuate their predecessors oppression by the nauseating focus on gender issues.

This of course leads to the question: what does it mean to call oneself a Christian at all? I don’t think it req uires one to say that one is not a Buddhist or adherent of any another faith tradition. They are all metaphors for expressing the human condition & embodying a wisdom tradition, which has to be learnt & then discarded in order to discover the mystical core of existence. To me, it matters not a whit what label people apply to themselves (or others) the real issue is: are they true to the highest ethical & spiritual perceptions of which humans are capable. I am conscious that my introduction to these issues came throu the Christian tradition, within which I have met some of the finest people I know, and thus it’s convenient to wear that badge, but ultimately it is just a badge. The issue of who anyone is independent of the words they use to delineate themselves.

To the degree that I am an heir to the Christian tradition I too acknowledge my own complicity in the brutality of my tradition’s history: however expressing coherently that, let alone seeing such thoughts infiltrate the mainstream, is altogether another matter. My perception is that unless institutional Xty can come to own this process collectively - which it can only do throu the advocacy of committed visionaries like Fraser or Huddleston or Teilhard de Chardin - it is destined to an ossified irrelevance. But then I do not see the church as custodian of the spirit of Christ.

2012/07/15

To a biographer of Karl Amadeus Hartmann

I read your thesis with interest. There was a concert of Hartmann’s music on BBCr3 last year, as a result of the evangelism of a newly appointed conductor whose name I can't remember. I listened to a bit of it, because it had been trailed with something of his story, but the music didn’t make a tremendously memorable impression on me. Before that he had merely been a name to conjure with - like Berio’s reference to ‘… and afterward Mayakovsky’s name hanging in the air' in Sinfonia - like the anti-Nazi painter landscape painter who was reduced to painting on scraps of paper & hiding them.
    I especially sympathise with his plight because I watched a tv doc about Orff - who was so clearly a loathsome human-being that even those who had loved him struggled to find anything agreeable to say.
    Hearing Hartmann’s music, yet it not really impacting on me, made me think how there is a window within which a composer’s music needs to be heard if it is to bind itself to listeners’ expectation. Suk is another example of a superb composer whose time can never come I fear - indeed I only know of him throu Bjelohlavec’s advocacy during his recent tenure at the BBCSO.
    There is a v interesting question about the degree to which a composer uses ‘ready-made idioms’ - ie those that are relational to the musical language of the composer’s age - and those who pioneer their own language. The former only really fare well if they are first heard within the era where composer's style of chimes with that of the musical public. If, for whatever reason they do succeed in establishing their 'voice', like Shostakovich or Britten, then they are assured of a place at least in history, even if not in the enduring love of a fickle public taste.
    Exceptions however are those like Janacek or Ives, who were little heard in their lifetimes, but whose radical language was seen as a career opportunity by certain performers. Indeed the way in which Janacek’s music has travelled from the eccentric margins to the centre of the operatic stage during my lifetime is one of the most inspiring stories. It all seems to depend on the ‘undiscovered’ music in question having an ‘edge’ which sits at an acute angle to the psyche of the succeeding generation/s.

As a composer who grew up in the 60s when the 'Darmstadt orthodoxy’ ruled, I didn’t even bother applying for music college, because there seemed to be only unthinking conservatism & unthinking modernism to choose from. As a result I have certainly felt very much like an un-person on the musical scene, despite having held posts at the RCM & BBC – indeed Messiaen was very much sneered at as an un-person at the Conservatoire in his lifetime – to the degree that I decided in 1991 to abandon any attempt at trying to create a relationship between my own ears & those of the musical world. This led me to bury myself in the countryside, where I have become a successful local piano teacher – http://uk.youtube.com/MaxwellsPupils & http://colourmuse.com – & work instead on expressing  what my ears hear. Tho I am happy to write ‘ready made music’ for my pupils to enjoy developing their skils, in the wider world the result has largely been incomprehension towards what I think are my most significant choral works: a set of 3 Canticles which remain unperformed. http://msteer.co.uk/vide/4ndexvscores.htm
    This week I'm recording two song sets (a live performance of parts is at http://vimeo.com/savile) but the open questions of who is actually interested & why I might actually be doing it are uppermost in my mind? (I always have the example of Ives sending 50 printed copies of 50 of his songs to 50 leading singers on his 50th birthday, & receiving not one single reply!) I long ago accepted the idea that the only listener that matters is ‘the cosmic ear’ of Kabir’s poem who alone hears the unstruck drum. But like anyone on the earth, & not in some celestial vacuum, composers necessarily require the collaboration of performers who, in my experience, are rarely interested in straying far from the profitable mainstream. So there is always a tension there.
    Thus, in terms of the argument I frame above, from a contemporary perspective I could be said to have ‘missed the bus’; yet from my own perspective I feel that I am actually creating ‘a new bus’ which encodes my spiritual realities. And to the degree that I feel myself like some Merlin who encodes a sword in a stone that some unknown Arthur must crack in order to meet some future need. Fanciful? Well, I waste noone’s time but my own.

But for me the issue is even more poignant, because our composer-dauter, Serafina Steer, is home this weekend & last night played us her long-awaited fifth album of original songs, which is a quantum leap beyond anything she has achieved before, both in production & self-expression. It has been produced by a major leag figure & as a result has taken all year to reach the point of a production master, and won't now be released until February 2013 as the label don’t want it to disappear without trace in the pre-Christmas rush. Such a long gestation is immensely difficult for her as she writes in a style which might loosely be generalised as art-pop – and of course within this world ‘currency’ is all. Altho Sefa's creative depth transcends the superficial she is at the stage in her life she is supremely dependent on tides which noone can control. And naturally as a parent I am concerned for her, but doubly so knowing something of the unpredictable way tides operate.

So Hartmann’s misfortune in being caught twice on the wrong side of history is one I can relate to. He seems to have dealt with it as well as anyone could; and is luckily to have found such a coherent advocate as yourself.