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The Grand Manner

The culture war takes many forms—or, perhaps, we should say that the war has many fronts, and that the musical conflicts arising from this war are significant ones.  Thus, we are convinced, when we approach a car that delivers a pounding reverb of bass, that the driver is not only cultivating a hearing loss that will solve one of his problems but committing an act of aggression and making a political statement by asserting such aural ugliness in public.

Ugliness has been a principle of modern art for quite some while.  There was a time when ugliness, or at least the affectation of novelty, was regarded as an attack on civilization, as, for example, at the premiere of Le sacre du printemps in the Paris of 1913.  Nowadays, we may have to consider the possibility that beauty might also be a weapon, or a threat, to established order.  Not long ago, I read about the manager of a mall in California who eliminated an infestation of hostile teenagers by piping in some classical music.  The mall rats fled like rats.  A few days later, I was rather astounded to emerge from my vehicle at a strip mall, only to hear in those bleak, unlovely, but at least empty environs the sound of the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54.  I figured someone had read the same news item I had—and, by the way, nice composition, that: It goes just great outdoors on the concrete...

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