Politics and Music: A Reaction to Andriessen

I recently acquired the score to Louis Andriessen’s De Staat, a great piece that I plan to spend many hours with in score and recording.  I have just started my exploration of this piece, and so naturally I began at the first pages.  In the Composer’s Note, Andriessen makes the case that music is inherently political–not in the abstract musical elements of pitch, duration, and rhythm, but in the arrangements of the materials, the instruments chosen, the influences on the composer, and the financial constraints.  I must say I completely agree; music becomes a political entity the instant it is conceived.  He goes on to refer to Plato’s The Republic as an illustration of his points, and concludes with “If only it were true that musical innovation could change the laws of the State!” (i.e. if only music could directly and inherently affect our political environment).  I’d like to jump off from this point.

Let’s imagine a universe where musical progress could affect “the State”.  What would this mean?  The possibilities seem endless.  If music could influence our political environment, this is how I would imagine (and hope) it would be:

Ideally, I’d prefer a universe where our musical differences could be source of political strength–where everyone’s voice gets listened to carefully, where the rigors of analysis in music have direct ramifications politically.  What if minimalism could show the importance of each pulse–each person–in our society, but also suggest a unity of the pulses/people to create a system that is unified, strong, and coherent as a whole?  (What if In C or De Staat made us a more united world?)  And what if spectralism could help us focus on the essence of our political system, and help us identify our basic political sounds and form clear goals to move our societies forward?  And if we have blues music inflecting and bending tuning systems, wouldn’t it be great if we could accept inflections in our laws and accept our personal differences as a source of variety, and not argue about petty problems?  What if Harry Partch’s invented instruments were a harbinger for political innovation?  And what if Mozart showed us that the pursuit of perfection and clarity is real and alive, and worth fighting for?  Folk music would show that even those that aren’t political heavy hitters can make a huge difference.

On a more specific level, what if we looked at singers in an opera or oboes in an orchestra as players of roles that are individualized, but sum up to more than their arithmetic addition?  Would contrapuntal lines in a Palestrina mass show our parts that we can play–beautiful, intricate, and meaningful roles?  Would the use of technology in music help us to not fear political innovation?

Lastly, would the roles of the audience, performer, and composer give us new perspectives on our political viewpoints?  Would we be more willing to walk in other people’s shoes as these roles blur more and more (as is the trend nowadays)?

I think that this ideal universe, where music has a direct impact on politics, would give me hope for a better and more harmonious society.

What do you think?  What would be your ideal interaction between music and politics?

Thanks for hearing me out,


One thought on “Politics and Music: A Reaction to Andriessen

  1. Pingback: Political, or non-political? What role(s) does your music play? | Composer's Toolbox

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