What do you mean nice?

 It’s not nice you idiot! It’s art… – Bertolt Brecht


Artistic forms, styles and movements have a mortal inner life, like societies they evolve through time – they follow a hyperbolic evolutionary curve, reaching a peak of development, only to slowly fade as they are superseded by other diversions. For example Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (after John Gay) was an ‘occasional’ work claiming an anti-establishment leftist agenda that to tell the truth never convinced anybody at the time – on the other hand it has been correctly observed that the implications of its style and form have not been fully digested, even today.

The cynical tone of the songs and the cavalier disregard for highbrow/lowbrow distinctions permeating the work as a whole opened up a new approach to the theatre that proved problematic for subsequent generations. Few are prepared to admit that, in Berlin in 1928 at the Theatre am Schiffbauerdamm, ‘serious’ art music and opera died an inglorious death.

The political spasms of the twentieth century, together with the rise of the mass media, still obscure the passing of nineteenth century aesthetic categories, including the avant-garde and the seriously experimental – the radicalism of the Second Vienna School notwithstanding.

The Munich Opera House was destroyed in October 1943, prompting Richard Strauss to draft several bars of music ‘in mourning’. Listening to the final work, Metamorphosen, one senses not just the horror of those ‘dark days’ but also, in its tenuous echoes of Tristan and ‘Eroica’, a lamentation for the end of an entire phase of European musical sensibility.




A.C. Evans

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