my problem with Monsieur Berlioz

the great thing about being a graduate assistant is that it gives me the opportunity to really soak up all of the questions posed in a seminar without the burden and trappings of work and assignments. (and the money.)

i am here, presently, listening to an analysis of Jacques Barzun’s Berlioz (The Cambridge Companion to Berlioz, Berlioz as man and thinker), and wonder if i as a 21st century musician/musicologist can reconcile myself with Berlioz’s 19th century ideas about music and aesthetics. now, maybe, it would be naïve of me to try to do this, or some kind of logician’s folly but i think it’s worth investigating.

the post-Romantic world is an ugly one, full of doubt and mistrust, of music especially. no longer is there a belief that music (and the arts) can stand alone in this world and above the fray. Berlioz, even in the time of political revolution and upheaval, believed that no matter what one’s beliefs may be that a) they should not in any way contribute to one’s artistic agenda and b) that music rises above all terrestrial burdens. is this the Romantic aesthetic taking hold? was Berlioz alone in this?

from reading his memoirs, it seems that this sort of belief in the fortitude of music was pre-natal. but it would not be fair to exclude the influence of theories of the day. even though Berlioz and Wagner were complete opposites in regards to musical aesthetics, it is the world in which they lived that allowed such disparate yet connected views on the role of the arts in society.

from where i stand, Berlioz is the one who seems naïve. how dare he not be prescient enough to forsee the calamity awaiting in the coming century! in this i realize my own folly, expecting too much of the man. but i believe it was foolish to not see the dangers that lay hidden within such a dogma. and here’s where insight into Berlioz as man comes into play. Berlioz was a man stranded on the line between fiction and reality. From this place, it’s hard to see the dangers of artistic ecstasy. But it is possible that this is where music has remained from creation, somewhere between the grim nature of reality, where it can be manipulated, and fiction, where the greatest of possibilities lay dormant.

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