Antonin Dvorák, jazz en Gustav Mahler

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Na aanleiding van opmerkings deur ‘n musikus het Dan Roodt na Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904) se Negende of Nuwe Wêreld-Simfonie (1893) verwys (“Die Afrikaner as postmoderne vreemdeling,” Praag, 20 08.2013). Ek het sekerlik nie beswaar om kultureel breedweg met die Weste, veral Europa in sy historiese essensie, geassosieer te word nie. Ek is wél onvergenoegd met afrikanisering. Anders as met klassieke musiek vind ek geen aanklank by bv jazz nie.

Koos Human definieer klassieke musiek as “formele, ‘ernstige’ musiek wat ‘n sekere blywende waarde het en gekomponeer is deur iemand wat grondig teoreties onderleg is” (Die A tot Z van Klassieke Musiek, 1993, p 112-113). Dít is myns insiens kenmerkend van eerder Europese as Amerikaanse musiek. Jazz, daarenteen, word gedefinieer as “(Dans)musiek van Neger-Amerikaanse herkoms met gesinkopeerde ritmiek” (HAT, 2005, p 486). “Jazz: important type of popular music featuring solo virtuosic improvisation. It developed in the southern USA at the turn of the 20th century. Initially music for dancing, often with a vocalist, it had its roots in African-American and other popular music, especially ragtime” (Collins World Encyclopedia, 2003, p 481-482).

Breedweg kan ‘n mens sê dat klassieke musiek wesenlik Westerse en veral Europese musiek is wat deur melodie gekenmerk word. Jazz, daarenteen, is wesenlik swart of Afrika-musiek wat deur ritme gekenmerk word. Daar is myns insiens ‘n kulturele kloof tussen hierdie twee soorte musiek. My persepsie is ook dat swart musiek en musikante glad te geredelik hoog deur blankes aangeslaan word en dat politieke korrektheid hier ongetwyfeld ‘n rol speel.

Wayne Muller skryf: “Miskien begin ons deesdae al hoe minder die oë rek wanneer musiek van verskillende style en tradisies in ‘n mengelmoes saamgeflans word. Konserte van ernstige kunsmusiek kry soms teen die einde ‘n ligter trant met dalk ‘n tikkie jazz of tradisionele Afrika-liedjies” (Die Burger, 6 deser, p 9). Politiek speel hierin ‘n rol. Wat tradisioneel apart was, word saamgedwing en geïntegeer, dus multi-kultureel, divers en inklusief gemaak.

Met die genoemde Dvorák-simfonie moet daar ideologies omsigtig te werk gegaan word. Hierdie Tsjeg het van 1892 tot 1895 in Amerika deurgebring. Die probleem is dat hy nie duidelik tussen die aard, bv gehalte, van Tsjeggiese volksmusiek, wat hom sterk beïnvloed het, en dié van Amerikaanse swartes en Indiane onderskei het nie. Dvorák was van mening dat die heil en toekoms van Amerikaanse musiek by hierdie nie-wittes se inheemse musiek lê. Die spore van hierdie manie kan in sy Negende Simfonie gehoor word.

Wanneer die Amerikaners duur ondernemings soos ruimtereise aanpak, word dit nie vry van ideologie en propaganda gedoen nie. Dit is waarom Neil Armstrong tydens sy epiese vlug na en uitstappie op die maan in 1969 opdrag gehad het om ‘n opname van Dvorák se Nuwe Wêreld-Simfonie te speel. Die simfonietitel was vir die Amerikaanse owerheid aantreklik. Ook het dit die Amerikaners min geskeel dat dit ‘n Tsjeg se komposisie is. Vir hulle was dit eerder belangrik dat dit, soos Russel Botman dit sou stel, “inklusiewe” musiek was; dus dat wit en swart Amerikaners daarmee kon assosieer. Wesenlik was hierdie gebaar dus nog ‘n offer aan die hedendaagse god van politieke korrektheid.

‘n Verskynsel wat in die musiekwêreld opval, is die Amerikaners se onvermoë om ernstige, substansiële, klassieke musiek te skryf wat vergelykbaar met bv Europese, insluitende Russiese, klassieke musiek is. Hier laat ek buite rekening die talle Europese komponiste wat bv veral weens die Tweede Wêreldoorlog na die VSA uitgewyk het. Sommige van hulle het hulle goeie werk daar in hulle tradisionele idioom voortgesit, bv Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), maar ander, bv Erich Korngold (1897-1957), het ‘n vervlakkende koers ingeslaan en rolprentmusiek gekomponeer.

Pleks van hierop voort te borduur, volstaan ek met aanhalings uit twee bronne. My eerste bron, dié van Weaver, is ter sake as ons tipiese Amerikaanse (bv swart) musiek tot jazz reduseer. Dit kan aan onder meer politieke korrektheid toegeskryf word dat die Gautengse radiostasie Classic Fm 102.7 en veral die Kaapse Fine Music Radio 101.3 naas klassieke musiek ook jazz uitsaai. Maar daar is musici soos Simon Rattle (wat met ‘n Amerikaanse swarte getroud was) en Leonard Bernstein wat sonder beswaar albei soorte musiek absorbeer; iets wat ek nie met jazz kan doen nie. My tweede bron, dié van Mahler, toon aan in watter mate Dvorák hom oor die aardverskil tussen Europese volksmusiek en die musiek van Amerikaanse swartes misgis het.

Die eerste bron is Richard Weaver (1910-1963) se Ideas have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948/1984, 190p):

“Jazz … seems the clearest of all signs of our age’s deep-seated predilection for barbarism … Jazz was born in the dives of New Orleans, where the word appears first to have signified an elementary animal function. It was initially a music of primitivism; and we have the word of one of its defenders [Robert Goffin] that ‘jazz has no need for intelligence, it needs only feeling.’ But jazz did not remain primitive; something in the Negro’s spontaneous manifestation of feeling linked up with Western man’s declining faith in the value of culture. That same writer admits that ‘if one examines the fields of activity which have been reserved for art, one perceives that the creative work of our ancestors was under the impulse of a harmonious equilibrium between reason and sentiment.’ Jazz, by formally repudiating restraint by intellect, and by expressing contempt and hostility toward our traditional society and mores, has destroyed this equilibrium. That destruction is a triumph of grotesque, even hysterical, emotion over propriety and reasonableness” (p 85).

“It is understandable, therefore, that jazz should have a great appeal to civilization’s fifth column, to the barbarians within the gates. These people found it a useful instrument for the further obliteration of distinctions and the discrediting of all that bears the mark of restraint” (p 85-86).

“The driving impulse behind jazz is best grasped through its syncopation … what it indicates spiritually is a restlessness, a desire to get on, to realise without going through the aesthetic ritual. Forward to the climax, it seems to say; let us dispense with the labor of earning effects. Do we not read in this another form of contempt for labor? Is it not again the modern fatuity of insisting upon the reward without the effort? Form and ritual are outmoded piety, and work is a sacrifice. The primitive and the bored sophisticate are alike impatient for titillation” (p 86).

“Jazz has been compared to ‘an indecent story syncopated and counterpointed.’ There can be no question that, like journalism in literature, it has helped to destroy the concept of obscenity” (p 86-87).

“In view of such considerations it comes as no surprise to hear a statement that jazz is the music of equality and that it has made important contributions to the fight for freedom … it is only natural that the chief devotees of jazz should be the primitive, the young, and those persons, fairly numerous, it would seem, who take pleasure in the thought of bringing down our civilization. The fact that the subjects of jazz, in so far as it may be said to have subjects, are grossly sexual or farcical – subjects of love without aesthetic distance and subjects of comedy without law of proportion – shows how the soul of modern man craves orgiastic disorder. And it is admitted that what man expresses in music dear to him he will most certainly express in his social practices” (p 87).

Die tweede bron is Norman Lebrecht se Mahler Remembered (London: Faber and Faber, 1987, 322p). In 1910 in New York City het die komponis en dirigent Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) hom soos volg uitgespreek in ‘n onderhoud met die tydskrif The Etude:

“It seems to me that the popular music of America is not American at all, but rather that kind of music which the African Negro transplanted to American soil has chosen to adopt. It must be remembered that the music of the African savage, be he Zulu, Hottentot, Kafir or Abyssinian, rises but a trifle above the rhythmic basis. When these people, the ancestors of the present American Negroes, made their compulsory voyages from the jungles of the Dark Continent to the New World it should be remembered that they were in most cases savages pure and simple” (p 292).

“While I have the very greatest respect for the accomplishments of a few who have risen above their surroundings to high places and to distinguished attainments, I cannot subscribe myself to the doctrine that all men are born equal, as it is inconceivable to me. It is not reasonable to expect that a race could arise from a savage condition to a high ethnological state in a century or two. It took Northern Europe nearly one thousand years to fight its way from barbarism to civilization. That the Negroes in America have accomplished so much is truly amazing. In their music they doubtless copied and varied the models of the white people to whose households they were attached. Their love for song and their sense of rhythm assisted them in this. But to expect that they would evolve a new, distinct and original folk-song is preposterous. They are great imitators, I am told, but that is no reason why the American composer should imitate their distorted copies of European folk-songs. The syncopations introduced in Negro songs under the name of ‘ragtime’ are not original, but may be found in the folk-songs of Hungary and other European nations. Syncopation as a part of national folk-songs existed in Europe before the first Negroes were transported from Africa” (p 292).

“Just why the American composer should feel that he is doing something peculiarly American when he employs Negro folk-songs is difficult to tell. Hungarian composers are prone to employ gypsy themes, and the music of Hungary has become marked in this way so that it has become gypsy music and not Hungarian music. Surely American music based upon the crude themes of the red-skinned aborigines, or upon the appropriated European type of folk-song which the African Americans have produced, is not any more representative of the great American people of today than are these swarthy citizens of the New World representative of all Americans” (p 292-293).

“So long as young Americans have to content themselves with the kind of trashy popular songs which are ground out by the thousand every year and howled mercilessly in the music halls of the country, just so long will America be forced to wait for its great master in music” (p 293).

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