TMI Seminar – James MacMillan – The Musical Search for the Sacred in Modernity

Posted on March 9, 2010

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James MacMillan, a composer and conductor, recently gave a paper at the TMI in our speaker series ‘Conscience, Values and Belief in Public Life’:

Modernity in music is a multi-faceted and complex phenomenon. The much-used word ‘modernism’ is also a catch-all definition which leaves questions still hanging in the air. It is a word, like ‘socialism’ or ‘spirituality’, that can easily be hijacked by partisan voices who then claim ownership of it and thereafter imbue it with their own narrow, specific, pointed, sectarian and self-justifying aura. It has to be said that a particular kind of modernism, specific to certain places, times, ideologies and forceful personalities, has been sublimated into a paradigmatic position in our own time. A European modernism, with its roots in the 2nd Viennese School and developed by a small group of post-war composers in certain towns and cities on mainland Europe, has been given a special place in  official understandings of the development of modern music. A message has gone out that composers, and indeed the musical public, should regard this sanctioned path as, not just the way forward, but the way things are and ought to be. State broadcasters, many sharing the aesthetical and political perspective of the composers themselves and their followers, give the oxygen of life, publicity and dissemination to this view of the musical present and future.

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