19A038 Music by Jim Davies, 9/17/2019    


Having recently loaded up to YouTube a set of TV programs I produced in the early 1990s, I've been taking a little time to watch them again after all this time, and some of them are pretty good (in my wholly unbiased opinion.) Have you seen them? Take a look; go to my Liberty Banquet and click the pic of the first of the Hors D'oevres, called The Freedom Alternative. My hope is that they will form a useful outreach tool; that someone on YT looking for videos on "freedom" will encounter them and discover something new. If you agree, pass the word around.

Two of them (Episodes #21 and 24) relate to music. The first of those features as guest Donald Wood, who was teaching piano and favors mostly classical music, while the guest interviewed on the second is Jason Szostek who wrote and tried to market new, leading-edge compositions. In each case, we discussed the ways in which government impacted this aspect of culture.

Is that a subject which deserves much attention in such a blog as this? - I think so, even though the level of interference, measured in money terms, is rather mild. A couple of reasons are: (1) music in some form affects the senses of nearly everyone, nearly all the time; whether it's on the TV or in the elevator or at the concert; if not as their prime focus of attention, then as a background influence. Between the jungle music of punk rock and the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel's Messiah, there's a difference, and it helps make us what we are. Then (2) music alone shall be / never to die. That is, music is a language transcending language barriers and time periods; humans relate to it at once without translation and continue to do so one century after another. We can enjoy "A Newe Northern Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves" as much today as they could when it was first published in 1580; and if the lyrics are lost on a listener unable to speak English, he can still take pleasure in the tune.

So if archists are changing the musical heritage in our culture, we need to know.

They are. It is their nature to control everything and everyone they can get their fangs on, and it's easy to dress up this particular flavor of control as "investing in the arts" as if "the arts" would not survive, or would not even have developed thus far, if stolen money were not thrown at them.

Donald began by reminding us that in Germany's Third Reich composers like Wagner were favored while such as Mahler were verboten; his beautiful symphonies didn't get performed. He was Jewish, so obviously his output was of no merit. Similar controls kept Soviet composers in line, and I well recall attending an amazing concert playing some works of Dmitri Shostakovitch, conducted by his son Maxim with piano played by his grandson Dmitri. The family had escaped the USSR as soon as they were able.

Today, Don told us, the same technique is used but more subtly; one bureau-rat in charge let it be known that "rock is not music" and so would get no subsidy. In a delightful phrase Don likened subsidies to "reverse shoplifting"; envision a shopkeeper running out into the street and calling a cop: "That man over there came into my store and bought nothing and didn't pay! Arrest him!"

Sales of concert tickets and recordings are perfectly well able to determine and show what styles of music are valuable to the public.

Jason had also sensed the dead hand of government influence, over the new pop music he was writing and trying to market. He said it was most evident when licensed outlets (eg radio stations) were encouraged to play only publications by firms already well established; hence big companies and bureau-rats worked together to suppress new offerings - which, of course, a free market is well able to accept or reject on its own.

That's pretty scary too. Innovation is a vital part of human progress. It is always discouraged by firms already well established who wish their profits to continue without challenge; that's fair enough. What's not fair is their alliance with the organization that can exercise unaccountable force, that we call the State. The ZGBlog A Must-Read Rothbard Book has more.

There is a view that deplores recent musical trends. Some of it is discordant, but the view holds that this both typifies and stimulates modern society as also discordant, cut from its cultural and moral roots. Whereas classical composers like Bach, Mozart and Beethoven reinforce a human sense of the triumph of good order at the end, some modernists like Schoenberg and Cage send notes (if any!) off in random directions to convey the feeling that life is a meaningless, random sequence of unconnected, un-caused events. That leads easily to the fiction that it needs a strong, wise governing class to keep it from disintegration.

So far, happily, the market for music has preferred the old style. In the coming ZGS, I don't expect that to change. Market chaos brings spontaneous order.



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