Monday, September 29, 2003

Playing the Part

I have recently discovered the music of Arvo Part. I mean only by that a strictly personal discovery, because his music is well enough known. One good thing about age is that the boundaries that you built up as a kid lose their meaning, so that you become able to contrast apples and pears, and do not feel that one type of music must be a different kind of experience to another.

So for me, the aching space of Part is something akin to the glowering sullen ferocity of the Baroque music I've always loved. Yes, yes, okay, it's not very educated of me to love the Albinoni, the Pachelbel, the easy-to-listen to bits of Bach (I hope you're feeling the wink). Where the Baroque can be full, though, Part is empty, his work an austere vastness. I adore that - you have to reach into it to make it beautiful. You cannot stand outside it. If you do, it's not there enough. It makes you a partner (no pun intended).

It is even a cousin, albeit a distant one, to the parched figures of Joy Division (particularly the still centres of Unknown Pleasures, maybe the last third of Decades). This whole idea got me thinking. You'd think Kraftwerk were closest to the modern classical music, their repeated motifs, their mechanical quality something akin to the serial composers. But I don't think they are. Their arch commentary on the modern world somehow excludes the listener. It is full. You cannot interpose yourself to complete Kraftwerk, the way you can with Joy Division. It doesn't feel like it was written for you.

To cap the brilliance of his music, he also gets across, in the following quote, the belief that I share that each artist has a limit to their art, no matter how great the bound:
Perhaps there will come a moment, even for the greatest artist, when he will no longer want to or have to make art. And perhaps at that very moment we will value his creation even more--because in this instant he will have transcended his work.

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