For Roger Scruton the western classical tradition reigns supreme over modern music. But other harmonies are availableby Ivan Hewett / August 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
There are many ways to write a philosophy of music—but two in particular stand out. One way is to approach music with the curious ear of the ethnomusicologist open to all the varieties of music around the world. This critic sees them as embedded in specific forms of life—and only really comprehensible when viewed within them—and so is careful not to treat any musical culture as a yardstick against which to measure the others.
The other way, now seriously out of fashion, is to regard western forms of music, especially the classical tradition, as central to what music is, or ought to be, or could be. The problem with this approach is that other forms of music are inevitably found wanting when compared with these majestic works. All that matters, for this kind of critic, is the inner state of the solitary listener, communing with a long-dead composer genius.
It will come as no surprise to learn that Roger Scruton’s new book Music as an Art falls into the latter category. Scruton is a doughty defender of western classical music, a stance which is of a piece with his doughty defence of conservative values in general. His rage against musical modernism is very like his rage against architectural modernism. It’s rooted in his belief that evolution is always better than revolution, and that the wisdom of ages is better than the fashion of the moment. For Scruton it is our task to conserve the culture bequeathed to us and pass it on to the next generations. We owe a debt to the dead as much as to the unborn.
Music occupies a special place in Scruton’s life. It is the art to which he feels closest, and the one to which he has a practical connection. He’s an accomplished keyboard player, who often plays the organ at his local church in Wiltshire. He is the composer of an opera as well as other pieces. And he has written more about music than any other art form. This new book comes 20 years after his vastly impressive and erudite Aesthetics of Music, and nine years after his follow-up volume Understanding Music.
This new volume of essays amplifies the themes of…