Bernstein’s posthumous victory

Last Saturday morning they chose the best recorded version of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. In the course of this, the guest chooser, Edward Seckerson, read out this excerpt from a poem that Bernstein sent to the New York Times:

For hours on end, I brooded and mused
On materiae musicae, used and abused;
On aspects of unconventionality,
Over the death in our time of tonality, …
Pieces for nattering, clucking sopranos
With squadrons of vibraphones, fleets of pianos
Played with forearms, the fists and the palms
— And then I came up with the Chichester Psalms.
These psalms are a simple and modest affair,
Tonal and tuneful and somewhat square,
Certain to sicken a stout John Cager
With its tonics and triads in E-flat major,
But there it stands — the result of my pondering,
Two long months of avant-garde wandering —
My youngest child, old-fashioned and sweet.
And he stands on his own two tonal feet.

Backstory to this here.

When Bernstein wrote the Chichester Psalms, and this poetic description of how he created the Chichester Psalms, the self-styled musical “avant garde”, inspired by the theoretical musings and compositions of Arnold Schoenberg and his comrades in the “Second Viennese School”, was fast approaching its decline and replacement by more appealing sorts of music. As the change in the dominant atmosphere at the BBC, Radio 3 in particular, illustrates.

There are many reasons for this transformation. Classical music, although still very popular, no longer has the effortless cultural clout that it had then. Then, classical music was an eternal fact, and the only questions were things like: Where is classical music (which was typically then referred to as “music”) going? Where should it go? Now, classical music jobs are as appealing as ever and students are being cranked out by the colleges as never before. But now that the core repertoire is all recorded, pretty much, performers now make their livings by performing to live audiences, and post-Schoenbergery may be enough to sell some records around the world, but it won’t fill a particular hall in a particular place, unless they make it part of the price of the ticket by surrounding it with popular favourites. Which only turns indifference into active hatred.

If you like Schoenberg and his post-WW2 imitators and followers, then I’m very happy for you. But if you do, you are in a minority within a minority. Since the time when Bernstein wrote as he did above, tunefulness and melodiousness and rhythm has come back into the classical world with a bang. (Well, often more like a tinkle.) Christians have refused to stop writing their stuff, and though fewer now believe in such Christian messages, they (we) still love the sounds that they can inspire.

On Radio 3, you are now far more likely to hear old jazz classics, or famous French chansons or South American tangos, than you are to be subjected to 12-tone dissonance. Successful music contains at least some melody, some harmony, some rhythm, and some novelty. When they first arrived, the atonalists at least sounded different, but by the end of their brief moment, they weren’t even doing novelty, because it all sounded alike, and all equally off-putting.

Oddly enough, some of the “avant garde” music of those days has kept its appeal, to a few. But that’s typically because some of it deviated from the theoretical template, and actually smuggled in melody, harmony, rhythm, and novelty of the sort that wasn’t just novel in being so very horrible to listen to. One of the most obnoxiously bullying prophets of all this stuff, Pierre Boulez, often wrote music which broke his own rules, by sounding more like post-Debussy and post-Ravel rather than post-Schoenberg. Boulez used to announce that recent composers he disapproved of were not “important”, as if lots of people just liking these guys was an irrelevance. Well, Sibelius and Shostakovich, and now Adams and Glass and Ligeti, are embedded into the classical canon, put there by the audiences and the orchestral musicians, who loved them from the get-go, and institutions like BBC Radio 3 had to either go along with that or fold their tents.

LATER: And as I forgot to mention, the late Lenny’s own first recording of his Chichester Psalms was the one that Edward Seckerson said is still his favourite. 30 mins 20 secs in for that part of the programme.

Perry de Havilland on those Covid demonstrations

Well, I managed to do a posting that I had merely hoped to do for Samizdata, about the Covid demo in London the weekend before last, linking back here to all the photos of it that I stuck up here.

Here. and there, I added some rather rambling verbiage about how I had mixed feelings about such demos. Do they work? What do they achieve? That kind of thing.

And I really liked Perry de Havilland’s comment on my Samizdata piece in response:

Demonstrations are much misunderstood; particularly ones like this (& this was a huge demonstration).

They are not going to change state policy directly because that just isn’t how things work, they are mostly about deisolating activists, they are about demonstrating to the demonstrators that they are not crazy (even if some of them are as is the case in any group of disparate people).

Demonstrations are a building process. Demonstrations in this case are particularly effective at highlighting assorted lies about this particular disease. After all, get hundreds of thousands unmasked unvaccinated people shouting for a few hours face to face, there is going to be an observable spike in deaths each time, right? Right? 🤣

Some demonstrations against the lockdown got hammered by the police earlier on … why? Because they were small enough to get hammered by the police to try and discourage other demonstrations. In this demonstration, the police were so vastly outnumbered, by a march that refused to even tell the police where it was going to march (by design), there was never any chance it could be stopped with truncheons. And the demonstration’s organisation was connected yet dispersed, utterly protean: a couple organisers were arrested before the march to try and derail it, and expecting that, others on various platforms seamlessly took over.

What THAT demonstrates to the marchers is that resistance is not futile, they are not alone. In fact, they are legion. It was an anti-lockdown march but it was also an anti-media march, giving lie to the idea that utterly dominating the media dominates public opinion (as if Brexit had not already proven the falsity of that in the internet age). How many times do crap opinion polls have to get it wrong for demonstrable things (such as election & referendum outcomes) for you to stop believing them when things are less demonstrable?

If you don’t ‘get it; then who cares; you are most likely not the target audience. But these marches are not a pointless hissy fit like some marches, these particular marches are literal in-your-face defiance of instructions by the state intending to protect you from “the inevitable consequences of a terrible disease spreading amongst crowds”. These marches are an absolute refusal to obey & a demonstration that the state relies on your willing even if grudging compliance, because there is a tipping point beyond which they do not have enough people with truncheons to force your compliance. That is what demonstrations like this are for & it is working just fine.

Perry and I have since talked further about this, and it is clear, from his and other comments, that libertarianism, as I merely speculated hopefully, really is spreading amongst those demonstrators. In general, says Perry, a lot of people are going to be radicalised by Covid, more precisely: by the response to Covid. This will take time, as the economic damage done by this response makes itself felt and as the facts start emerging in greater detail, both the scientific facts and the policy making facts. Of course, nothing like all of this radicalising will be in a libertarian direction, but a lot of it will.

And I had completely ignored the crucial point that this one was a demonstration in favour of the right to demonstrate, and in defiance of the claim that demonstrations would spread The Plague.

Perry and I also agreed that if it had been a real Plague – dead bodies in the street, double digit percentage deaths and so on – our attitude would have been very different. This is an argument about the mishandling of medical data, not just a libertarian “hissy fit”, to quote his phrase.

Although, I rather suspect that for many, “hissy fit” is simply a demonstration they don’t agree with. Which was why I mentioned those pro-Remain demos in what I wrote at Samizdata. I disagreed with those demos, yet they were clearly demos, and they clearly will have consequences, even if not those that the demonstrators will be fully satisfied with, of just the sort that Perry described.

Perry also mentioned how getting to know this lady had informed his thinking on these matters. He zeroed in on this sentiment, that I also mentioned in that earlier posting:

Being a dissident wasn’t about overthrowing the regime; it was merely about staying sane.

In other words demos say, if only to the demonstrators, but typically also to many sympathetic but timid onlookers: You are not the only ones thinking like this.

“This video makes me feel like CRT is a cult …”

CRT, as referred to in this posting, and in this tweet, stands for Critical Race Theory. I say that because I very much like the idea that at least some of my readers here have no notion of what “CRT” stands for. After all I do not bang on here very much about such things, having other preoccupations nowadays, here anyway.

However, this snatch of video strikes me a truly remarkable:

(“CRT” also causes me to remember a libertarian collaborator from my earlier late twentieth century life, Christopher Ronald Tame. Chris would have detested what CRT means now.)

I doubt that “Cardinal Pritchard” is really a cardinal, and if he’s not then I don’t know what else he is besides a (Not The) Babylon Bee writer, but this is what the Cardinal says about this bit of video.

In all seriousness though, this is one of the strangest things I’ve seen in a while. And I’m willing to bet that only like four people in that entire group found the experience “a little weird.” Cuz it seems like most of them are super into it.

If this feels like a “cult”, then I say that, in the days of my youth when I was an unwilling participant in it, Church of England congregations sounded to me just like this also. I suppose a religion is a cult that has achieved social respectability, by stabilising into a part of the social furniture and by becoming less pushy and obnoxious, and people no longer want to complain about it by calling it a cult.

But cult, religion, whatever. This is very clearly a religion-like event.

McCloskey summarised by Scheidel

I have recently been reading Escape From Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity by Walter Scheidel. Scheidel himself summarises the arguments in this book in this piece.

Better yet, Scheidel also provides (pp.489-490) a very short summary of Deidre McCloskey’s very long trilogy about how the bourgeoisie ignited the Industrial Revolution:

Deirdre McCloskey has advanced a bold thesis that places values at the center of modernization and the Great Escape. In her telling, “liberal ideas caused the innovation” necessary to sustain this process. By 1700, talk and thought about the middle class began to change. As “general opinion shifted in favor of the bourgeoisie, and especially in favor of its marketing and innovating commerce and investment in human capital expanded as a consequence of this shift, rather than precipitating it. This led to a sweeping “Bourgeois Revaluation” embodied in a new rhetoric that protected the pursuit of business: whereas aristocratic-inflected discourse had previously stigmatized it as a vulgar pursuit, it now garnered acceptance and even admiration. This new mode of thinking permitted the bourgeoisie to join the ruling class and to infuse and enrich it with innovative and competitive traits. In the final analysis, the idea of liberty and dignity for ordinary people was the principal driving force behind this change.

According to McCloskey, this process unfolded in a series of steps. The Reformation together with the growth of commerce, the fragmentation of Europe, and the freedom of their cities enabled the Dutch bourgeoisie to enjoy freedom and dignity. Over time, Dutch influence that encouraged emulation of their practices regarding trading, banking, and public debt converged with the spread of printing and English liberties in similarly liberating and dignifying the British bourgeoisie, whose efforts subsequently unleashed modern economic growth.

Thus, “the Four Rs” – reading, reformation, revolt (in the Netherlands), and revolution (in England in 1688) culminated in late seventeenth-century England in the fifth and ultimately decisive “R,”the revaluation of the bourgeoisie, an “R-caused, egalitarian reappraisal of ordinary people.” Democratic church governance introduced by the Reformation emboldened the populace, and northern Protestantism encouraged literacy. McCloskey regards political fragmentation as vital to these processes: these forms of improvement worked better on a small scale. But political ideas, and ideas more generally, took the lead: “rhetorical change was necessary, and maybe sufficient.” She consequently documents at great length the emergence of a pro-bourgeois rhetoric in Britain during the eighteenth century.

As one who has struggled to plough through all of McCloskey’s three books, I am very grateful to Seidel.

I have dipped extensively into the McCloskey trilogy, and my guess is that if I joined up all my dippings, so to speak, I would conclude that these books are long on illustrated assertion but short on actual arguments to the effect that what is asserted is right rather than just asserted. As it happens, I share McCloskey’s admiration for the bourgeois virtues and I think she is right to believe in their transformative importance in British and global economic history. But if I didn’t already agree, I don’t believe that these books would do enough to convince me of much besides how strongly McCloskey believes what she believes. And what I actually believe also, but for other reasons.

Diabolical Davies

I’ve just been catching up with my Facebook lurking, and therefore have only just come across this:

I started listening and didn’t stop until it did. And I learned a lot.

I really like how Davies writes, and am particularly looking forward to reading his book about the history of the horse, which I trust is still happening.

On how the English revolutionary ideology of improvement took its time

During a recent conversation that Patrick Crozier and I recorded (although as always Patrick did all the button-pushing and editing), about how the Industrial Revolution came about, Patrick asked a question that I didn’t answer at the time but which I think I can now answer, at least in broad brush strokes.

My thesis was and is that the Industrial Revolution was and is the English Revolution. It was an ideological event, sparked by mass literacy, just as the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions were. (See all my Emmanuel Todd postings.) Patrick pointed out that, unlike those three very political revolutions, the English Revolution, if that’s what it was, sure took its time to mutate into the Industrial Revolution. The political bit of the English Revolution happened in the seventeenth century, but the big impact of the industrial bit of the English Revolution didn’t achieve lift-off until late in the eighteenth century.

At the time, I just said yes, hm, I’ll have to think about that. But now I have, and I think the answer is not that difficult to supply.

The three very political revolutions were successful, not in the sense they accomplished much that was good, but in the lesser sense that they did at least achieve political dominance, after which they did their best to improve things but ended up doing mostly their worst. They were all very destructive in their impact. And this all happened very quickly. Destruction and catastrophe doesn’t take very long to happen.

But the English Revolution stalled politically. The political bit of it ended in a draw, with the old monarchical and aristocratic institutions changing quite radically, but not being destroyed. And so, having failed to make the big breakthrough in the manner of the French, Russian and Chinese ideological breakthroughs, the English Revolution turned its attention to peaceful progress. To “improvement”, to use the word the English ideologists themselves used.

And, improvement takes time. As the English eighteenth century unfolded, presided over by a rather contentious and corrupt mixture of aristocrats and well-connected capitalists, the ideologists of improvement started to achieve actual improvements, step by inventive step. They were creative rather than destructive, and creativity takes time. I say “started”, but in truth they merely somewhat accelerated a process of step-by-step invention and innovation that had already got under way.

And that’s my answer, for the time being. Destruction happens quickly, and the quicker it happens the more it “succeeds”. Creativity, aka actual improvement, takes far longer.

This ideology of improvement spread, way beyond England, first to America, and subsequently to the whole then Germany, and now everyone. And the world outside Britain and America realised they couldn’t beat the damn Anglos with only their own atavistic and destructive methods, adorned by mere political rhetoric. To hold their own against the Anglosphere, they realised that they would have to copy it. So, they did. And the English ideology of constant improvement now rules the world. We now all live, with ever greater ease and comfort and contentment, in that world.

The English Revolution is, on the whole, not understood by modern educated people. Insofar as the typical Educated Modern has a theory of how all this happened, it is that the English achieved their industrial revolution pretty much by accident. In other words it wasn’t a “revolution” at all, because there were no revolutionaries in the usual sense. Selfish go-getters achieved a mass economic breakthrough that was neither anticipated nor even wanted in each of their individual, selfish little plans. Adam Smith, basically. But the English Revolution, which was and is the global industrial revolution, was an ideological event as well as a merely economic event. Modern educated people cannot see this, because that would involve realising that here was a gang of starry-eyed ideologists and idealists and altruists, with a radical and ludicrously optimistic plan for transforming the lives of all humans everywhere for the better, making omelettes and breaking eggs with relentless single-mindedness. And their plan ended up being triumphantly, fabulously, world transformingly successful. Educated Moderns just don’t have a mental box in which to place events like this. Ideologists always fail, always cause havoc. Even most ideologists nowadays proclaim that their alleged creative miracles, in the radiant future that they proclaim, must be preceded by a phase of destructiveness, during which they destroy all the human barriers to their vision, and of course the rest of us assume that this is all that they will ever accomplish.

But the English Revolution was not like that. It was a Revolution, but a Revolution which only began by being destructive. That part of it failed, in that the political regime that it tried to overthrow was merely modified somewhat. So instead, the English Revolution turned its collective mind towards creativity, and in that it succeeded, beyond its wildest dreams.

To any commenters who want to say it, let me say it first. I know that I haven’t proved, or even really argued, the above proclamation. I have simply proclaimed it. But although I haven’t proved it, I am nevertheless right about all this.

Architectural modernism: Its triumph indoors and its battle out of doors

Today I was at the Royal Marsden, having a scan in a device that looked like this:

In other words it looked like a time travel portal in a rather bad movie. That photo’s a bit blurry, but they only allowed me one go at photoing it.

But that’s not my point here. What my point is is a hobby horse of mine, namely, well, … see the title above. The way that Architectural Modernism has totally triumphed indoors …:

…, whereas, out if doors, there’s still everything to play for:

That being my cropped version of an aerial photo of the same Marsden Royal whose insides are entirely tricked out in Modernist Vernacular. I found it hanging on a wall, somewhere inside the Marsden itself. And that’s right. The outside of the Royal Marsden is not Modernist Vernacular. Anything but. It is Victorian Ancient, just as it has always been. But the inside is now entirely tricked out in Modernist Vernacular.

And that illustrates a widely observable contrast in our world, and is why so many Ancientist facades are being held up with metal frames, while behind all that, Modernist interiors are being erected.

There are lots of reasons for this contrast, but the basic reason is that Architectural Modernism works extremely well indoors, but rather less well out of doors.

Actually, that first photo does have something to do with it, as I may or may not get around to explaining, in another posting.

Patrick and I finally did our Industrial Revolution podcast

In this posting here just over a week ago, I showed you all a pile of books, and said that if all went well I’d be recording a conversation with Patrick Crozier in which I’d speak about these books (plus the writings of Anton Howes). I had in mind how each writer provided a piece in the puzzle of how the Industrial Revolution came about, and that I was going to fit all these pieces together. Mass literacy, ideology, revolution, both political and industrial.

Well, last week, Patrick and I finally did manage to record this discussion, which was mostly a monologue by me with occasional queries from Patrick, and now you can listen to it, and read Patrick’s commentary and notes with more links, by going here.

The recording was a definite success in one way, which is that my voice functioned really well, better than I thought, about one month ago, that it ever would again.

The heart of my claim is that the Industrial Revolution had a lot more in common with the “other” revolutions, in places like France, Russia and China than is now usually supposed, in the following sense: The Industrial Revolution was also an ideological event. It happened because starry-eyed ideologists had a glorious plan for the betterment of mankind. Very long story very short: The plan worked, magnificently. But this is not a story which intelligent and educated people nowadays can compute. Revolution equals blood, chaos and a world that is the opposite of what the starry-eyed ideologists said it would be. What most educated people now seem to believe is that the Industrial Revolution happened by mistake, when selfish go-getters pursuing only the narrowest idea of their own selfish interests happened to have a huge but unintended collective consequence. I say that industrial improvement, even if not exactly the “revolution” that happened, was deliberate.

Between them, the writers I assembled and talked about explained all this, although it takes me to fit the various pieces of the story together, to tell it in full. Said he modestly.

And so on and forth, for over an hour. When this unbalanced “conversation” ended, I was disappointed, because of what I hadn’t managed to say. Basically I outlined a theory, but the way I told it, it was severely lacking in illustrative detail, as Patrick’s questions forced me to acknowledge. But listening again this afternoon, I was comforted by the fact that although that criticism stands, I did at least say some interesting things. I didn’t illustrate them, still less go any way towards proving them. But at least I said them, as best I could. Which is to say, I tried to.

LATER: I can’t make the comments system at Croziervision work, so I will have to put my embarrassing apology for saying that John Lilburne was executed here instead. I’m embarrassed. Sorry.

My problem was that I read all the books in the pile quite a while ago, remembered the broad outlines that I concluded from them and forgot most of the illustrative details and backup evidence. In this respect the delay doing this was unhelpful. I hope to be writing out, for Samizdata, the thesis I merely presented in this podcast and will then at least try to allude to rather more evidence than I did in this. But I promise nothing.

Dan Hannan in Australia

Two years ago, which explains the non-up-to-date political references to such things as Brexit, Dan Hannan did a talk in Australia. I found my way to this talk via the Hannan website, and watching this short interview of Hannan by Marc Sidwell (Sidwell is a friend of mine but I’d not clocked this interview until now), and then at the end of that being recommended to attend to this CIS hosted talk in Australia, done, as I say, a couple of years ago, which goes on for a lot longer:

Hannan didn’t talk about the then President Trump in his main speech (which lasts a bit under 40 minutes), but he did during the Q&A. And on the Trump matter, Hannan sat resolutely on the fence. He regarded Trump as “unfit for office”, because a liar about his fornication, his taxes, and just generally, and he welcomed the good liberalising things that Trump has done, but he denounced the public spending spree that Trump presided over and encouraged. He regards the kind of tribalism that is totally pro- or totally anti-Trump as the problem. Transcending tribalism being the whole secret of “western civilisation”.

I take the point about tribalism, but I wonder if Trump could have done his good stuff, both domestically and abroad, without all those character flaws of his. His boorish manner is all mixed up with the fact that he didn’t waste any time trying to suck up to his opponents, the way rival Republicans always tend to do in the vain search for their admiration. Trump was effective because “uncivilised”.

On the broader subject of “western civilisation”, Hannan can’t help attributing the success of what PJ O’Rourke called “that fine trend in human affairs” to his own Anglosphere tribe. The Anglosphere tribe is, he seems to be saying, the anti-tribal tribe.

And I think I agree.

The books I’ll be talking about this afternoon with Patrick Crozier

This afternoon, all being well, Patrick Crozier and I will finally get around to doing our podcast on the Industrial Revolution: Good Thing and here’s why it happened.

I will be making the running and Patrick will be heckling me, seeking clarification, etc.

Here are the books I intend to refer to:

I also intend referring to the recent writings of Anton Howes.

The reason we are able to do this is that my voice has got a lot better lately, thanks to the magic pills. I still cough a bit (so apologies in advance if that happens), but nowhere near the ghastliness of about three weeks ago.