In the world of serious music, the word "new" has long had an esoteric ring. The new music, as we know since the time of Arnold Schönberg, has existed in a self-made ghetto full of intellectuals. Artificially kept alive by its appeal to experts, by government cash injections and isolated festivals, it has always been too weak to survive by its own power.
But change is in the air. I think that we are already entering a new musical era. While an older generation continues to dominate cultural life, in the younger generation of artists and composers I recognise a gradual change of attitude, expressed in the desire for more emotionality, naturalness, simplicity and understanding.
Music will recover its charisma, monumentality, mastery and power. It will again send light into the depth of human heart, delighting or tormenting its audience, bringing them to laughter or tears.
The new musical epoch, I believe, will begin officially in the next 10 to 30 years, perhaps sparked by an economic or environmental crisis, or a social-cultural revolution as in the past. Music will recover its charisma, monumentality, mastery and power. It will again send light into the depth of human heart, delighting or tormenting its audience, bringing them to laughter or tears. Winning back its reputation, music will once again influence people's opinions, moral ideas and social life.
Do you smile at this dream of mine? So do I, and yet I am convinced that this necessary cultural change is on the way. This conviction is my artistic capital, shapes my individuality and drives me on. Every social and cultural change begins with a dream, although the outcome is never simply utopian.
The power of music
Probably every one of us has experienced how music is able to work on our feelings, our mood and our body; how emotions, longings and dreams can be awakened. Music is even able to talk to the core of our soul, make problems insignificant and find a natural opening to our real being. It reveals something about our self and illustrates feelings that might remain unknown without these sounds.
Pythagoras was one of the first in Western history to try to get to the bottom of the physical, mental and emotional effects of music. Even at that time music was used for healing purposes. For anxieties, depression and sadness Pythagoras prescribed specific instruments and melodies. Later, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Bruckner, Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Bartok and many others, wrote music that touches and moves us, and can even have a healing and exalting effect on us.
But where do we experience this in the musical avant-garde of the 20th century? Which feelings and pictures do we associate with the works of Arnold Schönberg, Pierre Boulez, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Luigi Nono, Mauricio Kagel, Hans Werner Henze, Brian Ferneyhough or Helmut Lachenmann? Does it exalt our souls, bring moments of joy or give us power? For 99 per cent of the classical audience, probably not.
Art and its moral responsibility
If music touches the individual as I have suggested, then it can influence his moral and social way of thinking, his philosophy of life and spirituality. The fact that art is able to influence the human soul means that the artist also bears a great responsibility. How does the new music, and the new art-scene in general, deal with this responsibility? Since the musical avant-garde is also connected very closely to the avant-garde of the fine arts, two representative examples from the visual arts in Austria will answer the question:
• For the Year of Mozart in 2006 Markus Lüpertz created in Salzburg his "Homage to Mozart", a three-metre high statue of the great composer depicted as a dark, mutilated, female figure with one arm and a broken breast. Cost: a massive €360.000. Whatever philosophical and psychological message the artist wanted to communicate, ultimately this figure stands for pessimism, disease, fear and brutality — typical preoccupations of the avant-garde.
• Hermann Nitsch is notorious for his blood-pictures (using blood from animals) and "Orgien Mysterien Theatre" (theatre of orgies and mysteries). These, he asserts, should help the human to find himself, to feel his reality. In fact, his art has mainly destructive and dreadful associations. Last year he was awarded the biggest art prize in Austria.
When I compare the avant-garde music and fine art of the 20th century to the brightness, monumentality and efficacy of works of former art epochs (from antique to impressionism), I realise that modern art hardly influences and touches the people in a constructive way. Destructive themes like war, and negative emotions like fear, rage, depression form the main topics while positive virtues like love, friendship, joy and peace are hardly touched upon. If you need these things, say the avant-garde, you have old art or pop-art.
It is natural, perhaps, that new arts and new music often concentrate on problems. The trouble is that they seem to miss the point and only criticise, never offer solutions, and even make matters worse. They seldom offer guidance and consolation, never solutions or real visions. Pessimism is predominant and optimism is smiled at.
Problems of new music
Another problem is the intellectualism of new music as exemplified by Schönberg, Boulez, Stockhausen, Holliger and others. The complexity of its sounds and structures is accessible only to a small elite, while the majority of listeners turn away from this music disheartened.
The new music scene does not search for reasons for this near century-old dilemma in itself, but in the recipients or consumers. They are judged to be stupid and blind, and it is up to them to get used to it. I believe this ingrained attitude is completely out of date.
The Austrian poet Ingeborg Bachmann said: "The music that one can not get used to, will be forgotten." But if one really got used to new music, it would age very quickly, because it does not speak to the feelings and so passes humanity by. Beethoven´s music does not age, remaining ever young, because this music sensitively and timelessly reflects our life and dreams.
There are very few artists today who say: "Your life was not always easy, you had to fight and suffer, but look, friend, nothing has been senseless, and everything has a greater purpose." Artists of past epochs have achieved this, why not nowadays? Do they not want to, or are they unable to? It is always easier to complain and destroy instead of praising and creating.
Human beings are longing for release, for inner peace, for truth. That is why they escape to the esoteric as well as to pop-art. Why the serious contemporary arts, in particular, should not try to meet these natural human needs is puzzling and, anyway, something we should not just accept.
My own life has not always taken a happy course. Because it is part of life, sometimes I had to suffer. But suffering and fear does not dominate my life. I feel more love than hate, more joy than despair and more peace than quarrelsomeness. That is why the main art trends have nothing to do with me. What I want to know is: Does this art tell something about your life? Does it speak to the core of your soul?
It is a question of giving oneself to the others. If art is a mirror image of its creator, a work of art shouldn't primarily be an occupational therapy for the artist, it should serve its recipient. Art has a serving function.
I am not the only one to have voiced such criticisms. Among people interested in art and culture my words even represent the opinion of the silent majority. Over the past few years it has become clear that ideas are rapidly changing. The barking dogs — representatives of the self-made avant-garde — are already a minority, although with the support of the state and the old art establishment they still rule the neighbourhood. But not for much longer.
Only a decade ago the avant-garde still called composers such as Schnittke, Penderecki, Pärt and Gorecki traitors, but today you can't always tell who represents the avant-garde, and who does not. The new music scene is increasingly open for different opinions, and accepts tonal sounds without immediately judging it negative. Some years ago this was unthinkable.
During a workshop in Salzburg on March 20 this year I had a discussion with Helmut Lachenmann, a leading representative of new music, about some of the topics in this report. Even Lachenmann, in many points representing a completely different view than mine, welcomes this opening up of the new music scene.
On one side are those — especially the younger generation like Matthias Pintscher, Jörg Widmann, Olga Neuwirth and Chaya Czernowin — who try to solve the main weakness: lack of emotionality. In spite of many interesting sounds in their music, I still miss the element of narration, an understandable development and a natural time structure. It still seems to be fragmentary and disjointed.
On the other side there is an increasing interest in the opinion of composers who think differently about the unsatisfied needs of the audience. The demand for intelligibility, communication, positive emotions, nearness to life and naturalness has become more and more evident. Wolfgang Andreas Schultz writes: "Music must win back its organic flow, find contact with the body, the breath and emotions, and build up a temporal development."
How could this look in practice? Here are the names of some composers, who in my opinion illustrate to some degree the new art epoch:
• George Crumb (b. 1929, USA): Vox Balaenae für Flöte, Cello, Klavier & Live-Elektronik is a work with modern and atonal sounds but whose music still has a pleasant effect because of the understandable development and positive emotions.
• Györgi Ligeti (1923-2006, Austrian born in Hungary): Not always accepted as an avantgardist. Atmosphères, one of his major compositions, keeps a logical development of sound, despite its coldness and reserve.
• Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998, Russia): For my present, personal development, Schnittke is the main composer of the 20th century, along with Bartok and Shostakovich. His music reflects power, drama and emotionality.
• Peteris Vasks (b. 1946, Latvia): Despite some very tonal music his language is modern. It is new music.
Perhaps these and some other composers can help us arrive at a really new, enlightened art epoch: a utopia in which art finds its way back to the depths of the human soul, thus influencing humanism in a constructive and powerful way.
My view of the future is, admittedly, not very definite. But we have to dream. From an apparently insignificant thought a whole world can be born. Whoever will be the founders of this new artistic age, they will first have to turn their attention to positive feelings and face their moral responsibility. Then this art, which is sought after by so many people, will come of its own accord.
According to Ludwig van Beethoven, the job of an artist is to send light into the depth of the human heart. Dear artists, let's start to do it again. The world needs us.
Stephan Maria Karl, 28, was born in Salzburg, Austria, where he once trained as an elementary school teacher. Since 2002 he has been studying composition and musical theory at the Mozarteum University in Salzburg.
* This is an edited version of a paper given at the conference Mimesis, Truth and Fiction, the third is a series on Poetics and Christianity held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome, in March. The complete papers will be published in Mimesi, vertia, fiction: Ripensare l'arte. Sulla scia di Aristotle, Edusc, Roma 2008.