Boorstin’s Composing for Community

I am currently reading Daniel Boorstin’s The Creators, a most original perspective on arts history focusing on several “heroes of the imagination.” I’ve been reading it for a while, as I do, in phases. I recently picked it up again and I have just finished the chapter entitled “composing for community.” I thought I would share some quotes:

“The rise of the arts of music in the West would be a dual story—of the liberation from fear of instruments and also of the elaboration of vocal music.”

“The arts of instrument-created music changed the relation of performer to audience. Western drama had been born in the separation of ancient Greek spectators from the participants, and the ‘orchestra,’ once a dancing place for community ritual, became a site where some danced while others looked on. So, too, modern music climaxing in the symphony would separate the audience from music makers in a new way.”

“Just as the Gregorian chant enlisted music for the church, the symphony and its orchestra signaled the emergence of instrumental music as an art in its own right, becoming dependent not on prince or church but on a public of music lovers.”

“…the widely read books of Balzac and Dickens would remind Frenchmen and Englishmen of their special virtues and vices, and national literatures would create needs for the translingual arts. […] As literature became public, as authorship became a paying profession, as poets, novelists, historians, biographers, essayists, and artists reminded Europeans of their peculiar hopes and idiosyncrasies, people were alerted to their right to govern themselves. Another art was needed to affirm their community.”

“Mere political oratory seemed feeble against the power of the grand opera stage to inspire revolutionary ardor or patriotic awe. Now grand opera proclaimed the emerging modern nations. Two new nations, one of the North and the other of the South, each produced an opera composer laureate. Each consummated his own brilliant marriage of the arts—one Italian and Romantic, the other German and Teutonic. Born in the same year, each expressed his country’s new reach for national identity.”

“Wagner described the unified art work of the future. It will not be a mere mixture of the arts, not merely ‘reading a romance by Goethe in a picture gallery adorned with statues, during the performances of a Beethoven symphony,’ but a merging of all arts into a new form. Drama, till now drawn from romance and Greek drama, has been ‘an appeal to understanding, not to feeling.’ The future must ‘return from understanding to feeling.’”