by Vijay Prozak
4 January 2005
To love classical music is to take an active interest in who conducts your material, because not all conductors are equal. Any time the question of Beethoven arises, for example, I'm one of the first to ask who everyone's favorite conductor is, not because I imagine there's some way to compare dick size via conductor preference, but from a desire to find more of the hidden secrets of classical music. It makes a radical difference who interprets the music of any composer, almost more than the orchestra and certainly more than the type of production - I'll take a $7 Naxos CD of some unknown Eastern European or South American conductor any day because this label finds unknowns with a passion for understanding the works of the greats.
When researching the work of Herbert von Karajan, who to me is clearly one of the top three conductors of Beethoven, I found some ugly controversy: hate had reared its gruesome head, spewing forth in all of the impotence and revengeful gnashing of teeth that one might expect. One thing I've learned about hate -- which is an emotional reaction and not a thoughtful approach -- is that it can never come without cuteness. The cuteness comes in the form of forgetting certain details, characterizing people as dogma itself independent of all context or particulars thus prone to knee-jerk absolutist rabid interpretations in all cases, using insults, cute spellings, or other cheap advertising to try to prove your point. The slander against von Karajan is still at fever pitch.
"I'd never listen to him, even if he was the best; he was a Nazi, and for me, that's unforgivable," said one poster - but this comment was echoed by many, many more in very similar language. It was acknowledged, of course, that good art came from communist Russia, but it appears to be that these people believe the same could not happen in a Nazi state. Others give him his credit, but mention he's a Nazi, and then say that they don't believe any good art could come from a totalitarian movement, etc. These are relatively straightforward, as slandering von Karajan goes; the worst of them try to attack his historical record. Here's the story from their side.
In the 1930s, when the Nazi party took power, one of the first things they did - so the story goes, according to these people - was to remove Jews from positions of power and influence, including in the symphonies. Apparently, there were quite a few, disproportionate to their number (and explaining their small statistical presence in agriculture, the military, construction, and the like), and as the story goes, when they were removed, opportunity was seen and people like Herbert von Karajan took it, getting positions they otherwise would not have had an opportunity to seize. Usually, these people stop short of saying "Unfair!" but it's all but there, and clearly implied. This is how they see the universe.
Of course, I'm from a different time, one where in a degenerate culture Britney Spears sells more than Beethoven, and the people picked to lead symphonies are usually mediocre to poor, with the rare exceptions of intelligence cases (Christoph Eschenbach, Hans Graf) who manage to also play the political game and have the right opinions, meet the right people, go to the right clubs and parties, etc. For this reason, I've seen the other side of the coin, which is that if today we took these mediocre directors and players and put them out of work, there'd be an opportunity for the type of people I see on Naxos recordings - young, talented, and from places far enough from the technological-industrial centers of the world that no one expects talent there. ("No one" is defined in the Western media sense, meaning the same people who profit from those technological-industrial centers - it would be ethnocentricism, if there were any culture or a consistent ethnicity behind it.)
In my opinion, the classic road of anti-semitism and racism is a dead end, because as it portrays itself, it is incorrect. There were those who said there would never be a Jewish conductor who could handle the duties of conducting; that is not so. There were those who predicted there'd never be a black CEO, or a Mexican Secretary of Labor. And so on. Classic bigotry and prejudice relies on saying "these Other people are of inferior ability and thus should not be included," and it infuriates me because at its heart is the same appeal to commerce and crowd-pleasing that has made our society a mess in the first place, and it was that mess that invited all sorts of parasites from within and without to begin feasting. Classic, golden oldies-style racism and anti-semitism was what kept these Jewish conductors and musicians out of the orchestra, and it was based on the error that they couldn't do it.
It was proven wrong. Pianists like Glenn Gould, and conductors like Otto Klemperer, both thoroughly Jewish in every way, are two of the many examples of Jews who could learn classical music and perform it well. Itzhak Perlman would be another example. There is nothing technically wrong with their playing, and although they seem to be praised disproportionately to their accomplishments, clearly they belong in the camp of those who can do what is necessary. It was the response to this kind of bigotry that had a country divided, in that half wished to exclude Jews - most thinking, "because they are inferior," which as we've seen is error - and the rest wanting to include them, thinking that bigotry is inferior. This division caused an overcompensation to the point that the Berlin symphonies were soon stuffed with Jews, who as every ethnic group does, were promoting each other over all other comers. Nothing out of the ordinary there, and nothing inferior about Jews.
However, von Karajan was a better conductor of Beethoven, and was somehow passed over. Why? In an effort to level the playing field, those who made decisions about who conducted boiled down their selection criteria to two things: who can play the music, and who can be politically popular enough to advance the careers of the selectors (it's a hilarious sign of social decay when supervisors pick subordinates for the political ambition of the supervisors as selected by a random crowd of people who have nothing in common but having bought tickets).
I think nothing pisses me off more than bigotry. It reminds me of the exclusive little cliques people had in high school, where if you didn't buy the right clothing, know the right TV shows and bands, and so on, you were inferior. Not just excluded, but you were a fuckup, in their eyes. You were garbage, stupid, a nerd, never to succeed, obviously a mistake. That's bigotry of another form, and the kids at Columbine recognized this too late when a couple kids inspired in part by Hitler took on these bigots and shot them in the face. Bigotry can be multicultural, bigotry can be liberal, and bigotry can be very normal; one doesn't have to be a group of blonde, hip, wealthy people to be bigots, and in fact most bigots aren't blonde, wealthy or hip. They come in all shapes and sizes.
In Nietzsche I find a cohort in my quest to crush bigoted anti-Semitism. I've known a lot of Jewish people I enjoy, even love. Bigots wouldn't tolerate that. I don't share a lot of values with them, but unlike bigots, I don't expect that all cultures should share the same values and pronounce some values "inferior" and others the normal, accepted, de facto way of life. As a result, I don't have much love for the anti-Semitic bigots who once preached that Jews were "inferior," but I also don't have much love for bigotry itself, thus I'm not bigoted against the bigots: I can see how they might want to do things that way, and while I don't share those values, and will work against them, I'm not going to pass moral judgment on bigots as "inferior." What a twisted maze this is, eh? No mainstream columnist is going to attempt to navigate this labyrinth of logic, but much as computer chips are infinite catacombs of digital switches, philosophy loves complexity when it serves accurate articulation. And in this article, whether it is widely read or not (approved by the crowd, e.g. wearing the right clothes, bands, etc), will attempt accuracy, which is something I feel bigots and anti-Semitic bigots don't have.
Herbert von Karajan, for example, faced bigotry and overcame it. He wasn't popular, in part because he had a vision of what classical music should be, recognizing its romantic nature and its Faustian spirit, and he didn't bow to what was popular at the time. He didn't cultivate an audience by pandering to them; he told them what was right, and as a result, wasn't promoted much. Some would call this "Social Darwinism" and consider him inferior, but to my mind, he was in fact a superior conductor of Beethoven. Not only this, but people seem to forget that his story isn't one-sided; while he joined the Nazi party, which was at the time in Germany about like it is to say "I'm a Democrat" today in America, e.g. another political choice among a few examples each with their own extremes, he also married a Jewish woman, Anita Gutterman, in 1942. Further, he came from a Greek-Macedonian family who had moved to Germany long ago and adopted its customs, language, and behavior; he was integrated and considered himself a German, while giving a nod to his ancient heritage. Is that bigotry?
Still, many refuse to play von Karajan's recordings, or those of Wilhelm Furtwängler, from the same period, because they joined the Nazi party. These same people, and others, refuse to believe that any good art could have come from the Nazi period. They also deny Nazis today, and for all time, as only bigots, morons, racists: inferior. To my mind, two wrongs don't make a right, and responding to anti-Semitism with anti-antisemitism is just as broken, as you're still assuming that the crowd is right, what is popular is good, and what sticks out and is different is inferior.
Fascism's defenders say that it is, like the Black Panther movement or Aztlan movement, an assertion of cultural independence and preservation of their tribe - in academic terms, it is an ethnocultural nurturing. This is true, and definitely for the Nazis. Under them, classical music thrived, and was more passionate and more accurate than it had been before, when popularity ruled the airwaves and scholarship and artistry were nearly forgotten. How can this be reconciled with the insane bigotry that says Jews are "inferior"? Here's how: anti-Semitism is a misinterpretation of ethnic-cultural preservation. It gets sidetracked from "let's preserve our culture" to "let's exclude the inferiors (as a means of preserving our culture)."
Klemperer wasn't inferior. He was able to proficiently conduct Beethoven. Gould can play the most difficult pieces in classical music. Also not inferior. However, also not correct in their interpretations, which are abysmal. Klemperor murders Beethoven. He takes a passionate, spirited, complex form of music and streamlines it into a single emotive mode in which there are moments of aggression or sadness, but basically, it is designed to please the ears and maintain a bittersweet constancy; it's schmaltz. More people than can be counted have concluded Beethoven was crap and never wanted to listen to it again because they've heard a conductor like Klemperer. To their ears, and to mine, he's a very complex take on Britney Spears, and he murders the music of Beethoven by turning it into schmaltz.
However, that's my own cultural take on it; Jewish culture values different things. It's not as Faustian as Germanic culture (and people of Germanic ethnicity) and is somewhat offended by what it sees as uneven, dangerous emotions in Beethoven, thus to a Jewish mind, the best thing to do with Beethoven is to convert it into something safe and Jewish, namely schmaltzy, even-tempered, ear-pleasing and continuous music. All the notes are right; all the technical details are perfect; what doesn't make sense, to a German, is the Jewish interpretation of Beethoven, because it takes something of Germanic culture and re-orders it as something of Jewish culture. This destroys what the work originally had. Inferior? No, but it's in the wrong place: the symphony of Jerusalem should sound like Klemperer, but the Berlin Philharmonic? Please, no - diversity means we allow Germans to be Germans, and Jews, Jews. Anything else is bigotry.
The low road to cultural independence is to try to prove those who aren't of your culture are "inferior." To me, this is an unworkable strategy and delusional psychology, in that it creates one standard worldwide and forces everyone into it, thus derives its power from the approval of the crowd, which Herbert von Karajan did not do and thus provided us with one of the few workable interpretations of Beethoven in a modern time. He didn't try to use an external method, popularity, to make up for the content of his work; instead, he focused on the content, did it correctly for a Germanic interpretation of a German composer, and thrust it onto the world with a "this is the right way to do this, take it or leave it" attitude. I find that more appealing that spending time worrying about what is not right, and then trying to convince the unwashed, unthinking, undifferentiated crowd that it is "inferior."
Jews are not alone in having broken cultural interpretations of Beethoven. That gent Harnoncourt does a few pieces well, and then has some truly atrocious interpretations that reflect a passive, castrated, skirt-holding worldview. I've thrown those out, or rather hauled them down to half-price books with the Klemperer and Gould and Bernstein recordings I have, because all of those gentlemen have failed to interpret a German composer in the context of the German spirit, and thus have made a kind of ultra-complex Britney Spears that will turn any thinking person away from that music; most, not having much time, will thus associate Beethoven with the conductor's interpretation and conclude it, too, is a failure. How depressing! Better to throw them out.
Similarly, I've thrown out all of the bigoted propaganda I found in any form, including my copies of Noam Chomsky's work, various neo-Nazi tracts, and the writings of Francis Fukuyama. All of them have a one-size-fits-all approach to the world, and want to make me and everyone else conform to it. I think this is passive, and cowardly. My view instead is that I assert my right to have a preference for my culture, and I pick traditional Indo-European culture, and in that ethnocultural unit, there's a right way and a wrong way to do things. There's a right way to interpret philosophy, which hovers somewhere on the Nietzsche-Schopenhauer-Heidegger axis, and a right way to interpret literature so that it upholds our culture values. There's a right way to interpret music, so that Beethoven does not become schmaltz but preserves the full Faustian, Romantic, passionate and terrifying spirit of confronting reality - in the Germanic view. And finally, there's a right way to interpret ethnicity, which is to exclude all people who are not of Germanic ethnic and cultural heritage. You must have both; one alone ("I'm German and I like to smoke methamphetamine, vote Democratic, and have sex with many women at once") doesn't qualify. You must be both German in cultural outlook, and thus behavior, and in ethnicity, or heritage. Is this bigotry? On the contrary, it's bigotry to reject this view.
There will always be mixed cultures. I'm all for them - but not here. This country was founded by Indo-Europeans seeking to get away from the insanity of a Christianized Europe, and while the crowd-pleasing attitudes have taken over here, we're starting to see just how authoritarian and bigoted liberal democracy is, and people like me are taking steps away from it. We don't want to become bigots, because bigotry is an intellectual failure, but we don't want to be assimilated either - the Beethoven that works in Jerusalem doesn't work in Berlin. Among us, those who possess still the ancestral spirit of our tribe are asserting ourselves a new way: I prefer my own culture, and I realize that I need to exclude all other cultural influences to maintain it.
Not everyone agrees, of course. But as Herbert von Karajan saw with Beethoven, in the context of a certain culture, there's a right way and a wrong way. Those of us who prefer German culture are joining together and forming local communities where we can do things the right way for us. You wouldn't know if it you paid attention to the news-entertainment media, which is basically Britney Spears telling you what you should think of what actually happened that day, but more people of my tribe agree with me than not. This means that the tide has turned, and we're turning our backs on bigotry and bigoted anti-bigotry, and simply stepping up to assert ourselves. Not only that, but we're recognizing that most people don't know a damn thing, and thus that those who lead in our communities will have to take these steps even if they appear to be "unpopular," because popularity is a passive measurement of what a population needs, and reflects the loudest voices and the lowest common denominator. It's healthier to be heroic, like Herbert von Karajan, and to be unpopular but to assert what is necessary for a population - those who disagree with destroy our culture if they live among us, so they can quietly move elsewhere, such as California, and have a blast being different there. Not inferior, not superior. Different.
Of course, you can't say this in the media, and while it's clear that Jews own too much of it for their own good (this is why bigotry and "Holocausts" happen), the bigger problem is that the media panders to the same crowd, and like all crowds, it cannot tolerate any opinion which steps out of conformity, thus it favors only passive solutions like bigotry. Its bigotry is against any culture or health at all, since the weakest among the crowd will complain and thus threaten to divide the crowd if health is asserted as a positive value. What pleases the crowd is this: go ahead and do whatever you want, as none of it matters, and nothing is right or wrong anyway, except for this one exception, which is the question of what's "superior" and "inferior" in maintaining rule by the crowd. For this reason, the crowd hates any ethnic-cultural group that steps out and says, "There's no one way that will work for it all, so we want to do it our way, and we'll let history judge whether it works."
Even the most desperate and fearful know that the ultimate determination of success is time, and whether some idea can sustain itself and achieve greater heights over that time, or whether it is ground into the dust of meaninglessness. The crowd fears history, because deep down inside they realize as a crowd they have nothing to say, and in fact, couldn't handle any major cataclysm that might occur. Their only strength is their uniformity, and the only thing the crowd fears more than an independent thinker is the result of an independent thinker, which is that the consensus and thus conformity of the crowd is broken when some people favor the ideas of that independent thinker. This is why, throughout history, only a few voices have been needed to sway nations and even entire races: once the surface tension of the crowd is broken, the single will and resolve of the crowd shatters, and thus what the crowd ultimately fears comes to pass - some ideas are tested by nature and shown, over time, to be more enduring than others.
One of these ideas is German culture, and as a subset of it, German classical movement like Beethoven as interpreted by a clear-thinking conductor like Herbert von Karajan, Wilhelm Furtwängler or Christoph Eschenbach. Another idea is - well, you can't say this in the media, but classic Islamic culture is pretty cool too. It's not my bag, but of course, I'm a Germanic, not Persian, ethnocultural individual. Right or left, people are afraid to even admit al-Qaeda has a point. But if you read what al-Qaeda have said, it's basically thus: "We prefer our own culture and our own ethnicity, and thus, as cautioned by Plato and others, prefer not to open our cities to world commerce; we recognize that many of our people would prefer that you replace our culture with mini-malls and television and soft drinks, but as the responsible leaders, we resist it." They have united the bigots in the crowd against them for they, like Herbert von Karajan, think outside of the crowd, and thus threaten to break it up and defeat its bigotry.
Visit Mr. Prozak's page here.