Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Lifting the Veil on Modern Culture! Some reflections in the wake of Sir John Tavener's passing

With the passing of Sir John Tavener there has been much coverage of his explanation of where he received inspiration from and how he was able to create beautiful music.  The fuel for his talent was he believed his religious faith – and words such as “inspiration” and “create” have particular resonance for those with religious faith.  It is also very interesting to note that Sir John Tavener’s work was both modern and popular – usually mutually-exclusive adjectives where classical music is concerned. 

Sir John’s spiritual background was rich – he began life as a Presbyterian, but spent time adhering to both Roman Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches.

Sir John  said:  “I think I’ve been very lucky all my life because the writing and the faith seem to go together.”

The point is of course that the late Sir John’s music was beautiful and we can all appreciate beauty.  It sometimes seems as though today’s artists and composers try to avoid beauty and distrust popularity.  There is a strange snobbishness against beauty – this blogger however is a simple soul and believes that the point of art, music and poetry is beauty.

It is the argument of this blog that Sir John achieved beauty, which led to a broader cross-section of popularity, because of his faith, which gave him a profound understanding of objective truth.  The danger for many modern artists is that they have gone down the dead end of subjectivity.  In fact they make a virtue of subjectivity!

Surely though, this is exactly what art should avoid – it should rather bring us closer to the truth if we are to share a common appreciation and all be inspired in response.  Subjectivity can sometimes risk becoming self-indulgent; following the truth is an act of selflessness.  Was it not subjectivity that the Old Testament prophet in part condemned when he spoke of each going their own way like lost sheep?

It is often commented that religion at least gave us great works of art.  Well, I would have thought that by definition religion leads to great art, because it leads us to truth and there is a true form of beauty that is not subjective (to paraphrase Keats).

Richard Wagner commented that the atheist cannot produce art.  Indeed, Sir John Tavener found his ability to compose greatly inhibited when he had a crisis of faith.  Speaking of this he said:  “When I became ill . . . I became conscious for the first time, the religious zeal I had before, I found had gone, but so had my ability to write music.  It was about three years without anything, I just wanted to lie in a darkened room.  And then the faith came back in a different way, with writing.”

The question that is begging is how can the atheist be inspired?  Well of course he can be inspired, even if he does not identify the source of inspiration.  It seems to the blogger that the trouble is that the artist will find his own subjective outlook gets in the way.  Much modern art seems indeed to regard subjectivity as conferring authenticity on creation.  Well we are all individuals and have something unique to say of course.  The danger is that once we start making an idol of our own talents and ideas then we become inaccessible to others and are no longer able to communicate beauty.  And that is not something to feel superior about!

What Sir John Tavener gave us were works of music that were a result of his own individual talent and personal outlook interacting with a shared concept of truth.  That is why he was able to achieve popularity with his modern music.  Surely to be authentic and popular is the aim of all creative people, because you thereby speak to many more people about the truth you wish to impart.

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