samedi 30 octobre 2021



Benjamin Britten directing Elgar

     A basic principle of the theory of preference and of rational decision theory is that our preferences ought to be transitive: if you prefer A to B, and B to C, then you ought to prefer A to C. But psychologists have often remarked that this principle is violated in real life. The most obvious case is that of aesthetic preferences, and especially in the realm of musical works, and an important factor is time. Thus I used to prefer Monteverdi to Haendel, and Haendel to Purcell, but I finally found myself preferring Purcell to Monteverdi. Or I used to prefer Verdi to Bellini and Bellini to Puccini, but finally ended up preferring Puccini to Verdi. I also discovered that my musical preferences went by couples -   Weber rather than Bellini, Mozart rather than Haydn, Chopin rather than Berlioz, Verdi rather than Wagner, Beethoven rather than Schubert, Mahler rather than Bruckner, Schoenberg rather than Webern, Debussy rather than Ravel, Grieg rather than Delius, Elgar rather than Britten. But  not only my preferences changed over time, but that I realized that it was impossible to order these preferences in a random way: for instance to prefer Weber to Grieg by comparing Weber to Delius, or to prefer Mahler to Monteverdi through a preference of Mahler to Purcell. Indeed it makes no musical sense to say: “I prefer Bellini to Debussy” or “I prefer Ravel to Monteverdi”. Not any more than saying “I prefer Poussin to Juan Gris” or “I prefer Mondrian to Dürer”, or even “I prefer olives to Roquefort”, or “I prefer cigars to pasta”.  This does not make sense because one has to compare things which are comparable, e.g pasta and pizza, beef and poultry, or Zanzibar and Madagascar. Indeed some people say “I prefer Dubaï to Firenze” or “I prefer Stockholm to Zanzibar” or even “I prefer Homer to Hegel” but it makes no sense. The things compared must be similar and there must be a principle of comparison. Otherwise we end up with the principle of kitsch art and today’s “playing lists”, where everything can go with everything: the Beatles with Fauré, the Rolling Stones with Brahms. Why not Poussin with Frank Lloyd Wright or (horresco referens) Goethe with Barbara Cartland. But how can we be sure that we make the right comparisons? Didn’t we have Bob Dylan with Thomas Tranströmer for the Nobel Prize (for me, horresco referens)?  Did not Marilyn Monroe marry Arthur Miller? We are pretty sure that Mahler goes with Bruckner and that Mozart goes with Haydn, but can we really be sure that Ravel goes with Fauré? The “strange bedfellows” phenomenon is ubiquitous. In the case of musical works, the styles, the atmosphere, the historical periods an most of all the musical influences are all important, and one has to compare composer in function of their “worlds”, “styles” and “times”, however vague these categories can be. But does absolute and definitive ranking make sense? Perhaps there are winners in all categories, such as Bach. I discovered that my early musical tastes changed: I loved Monteverdi, but today prefer Purcell, I hated (mostly because I had read Nietzsche) Wagner but now find him very good, I used to find Mahler sublime, but now I find him kitsch, and put at the pinnacle Bruckner. I used to like Elgar, but Britten pleases me more now. I preferred Debussy to Ravel, and now the reverse. Have my tastes changed? Or is it that my musical education has improved? What must have changed are my principles of comparison. I came to understand better what it means, e.g to compare Wagner and Bruckner, Bruckner to Mahler. I learnt better about musical traditions. Probably my tastes have been shaped by concerts, where a performer plays music from composers of the same “family”. But in most cases, the choices in programs are rather contingent upon the tastes of the performers, the difficulty of the pieces they deal with, and the tastes of the public, which also change, as well as the styles performances. I possess about fifteen recorded versions of the Well-Tempered clavier and there are huge differences.  In spite of all these vagaries, I still believe that there must be some good ordering: the greatest musicians should come first in some objective realm, and my tastes should reflect this hierarchy. My efforts, as piecemeal and unsuccessful at making progress in appreciating music, must at some point meet objective standards. Sometimes indeed I am baffled. For instance I have never really understood or liked, I confess, Boulez, even though he has a great reputation as a composer (a better one as a director, actually).


 (trouvé dans un hommage à Göran Blomqvist)