A post on the website Artlark, “Skandalkonzert: The Battle for Modernism,” describes a riot that had classical concertgoers in Vienna battling amongst themselves in the pits and with the musicians and the even the composers. Pieces by Schonberg, Weber and Mahler were featured, and Schoenberg himself conducted. Fisticuffs ensued. Punches were thrown.
After a lengthy description of the riot, its causes and its influence were assessed by the anonymous Artlark writer. Here is the summary passage:
All these accounts construct a picture of the continuous battles existing between Viennese society and its artistic circles. However, apart from inherent exaggerations, they also depict the vastness of the void between nineteenth-century mentality and the shocking, incomprehensive, modernist rhetoric at the beginning of the twentieth century. Even such artistically and literary inclined minds as Altenberg found it difficult to adjust to modernism in music. He said: “I understand nothing of this latest ‘modern music’, my brain-soul still hears, feels, understands only Richard Wagner, Hugo Wolf, Brahms, Dvořák, Grieg, Puccini, Richard Strauss!” (Pople). But no matter how lengthy the process of cultural and mental adjustment was, and how much ‘blood was shed’ during the process, the positive aspect of it is that the much criticised avant garde were eventually vindicated.
I beg to disagree. Modernism in music – no more than modernism in architecture – has never been “vindicated.” Rather, the “establishment” of western civilization lost its nerve and modernists were able to capture the summits of authority in such fields as art and architecture, where they have not yet been dislodged in spite of the harshness that has overtaken both fields. The result has been tragic, with so much beauty removed from the quality of life worldwide and replaced by bogus intellectualizing.
The proof, one might surmise, is that such a riot is unimaginable today. The Viennese treated art as a serious subject. Today, art and architecture have so blighted the landscape of the mind and the streetscape of the environment that few pay that much attention to the latest developments in conventional art or building. By conventional I mean art and building that is designed to “épater la bourgeoisie,” not traditional art or architecture, which people still prefer, when they can get it. Fortunately, in art and architecture (more the former than the latter) a reaction against experimenting on the sensibilities of the public has led to a revival of tradition. May that trend continue!