Imagine There’s No Countries . . .

Considering the Possibility and Practice of Global Citizenship

Archive for March 3rd, 2009

Cosmopolitanism in Music

Posted by dgreening on March 3, 2009

Once again, the BBC comes up with something really interesting.  The 2006 edition of the Reith lecture series in Berlin, presented by Daniel Barenboim, discusses the part music plays in everyday life.  In his third lecture, Barenboim illustrates a musical equivalent to current global issues and cosmopolitanism.  He asks the question of whether we should want a variety of orchestras from different countries, all naturally adept at playing their native music, or orchestras that all have the same sound, all able to play many pieces by different composers from a multitude of countries equally well.  The present world doesn’t have accepted standards like the ancient world did, and in democratic societies, people see only the rights that come with democracy; very rarely do they also acknowledge the responsibilities.  Essentially this culminates in people making judgements without having to take responsibility for those judgements.  In the context of music, Barenboim worries that people do not have a point of view about classical music, and this will result in it slowly dying out, becuase, as he points out, there is no point in music if one does not have an opinion about it.

However, the most interesting idea came up when Barenboim talked about a piece by Wagner which is well known for the fact that it doesn’t resolve a chord progression, leaving a tense silence before continuing on.  This propagated questions concerning how we define progress, and whether people are afraid of that tension, that moment where no progress is being made and silence prevails.  Our definition of progress works well enough for technology and GDP, but less so for the development as human beings as a whole, and also  one’s own personal development.  Music, then, could also be a starting place for how we define progress.

Finally, the question of music as an esperanto came up.  Music is indeed incredibly accessible to almost all people around the world, but, like language, has so many differing forms it seems inconceivable to think of one single type of music for everyone.  This is a problem for many facets of culture, and demonstrates how far away from a cosmopolitan world we are.  Music is probably is a widely understood form of communication, and to think that even this is in no way close to becoming part of a common world culture, illustrates how very far we still have to go.


Posted in cosmopolitanism | 6 Comments »