Composer Steven Stucky



Keeping the Faith

by Steven Stucky

Los Angeles Philharmonic Green Umbrella program, January 1996

Isn't a concert of abstract, contemporary music irrelevant these days? What good does it do? Just look around you at the world we live in. How does new music help solve America's racial tensions? How does it improve the lives of the disadvantaged? How does it protect the defenseless, the children? How does it stop war, end hunger, ease despair? On Martin Luther King Day, these are fair questions.

I would answer: Music can do none of those things. It is poorly equipped to express the external, material, political world, and it is powerless to change it. Even the best "political" compositions, such as Mozart's Marriage of Figaro or Beethoven's Ninth Symphony or Berio's O King, exercise their power over us in the inner, spiritual world, not in the external, tangible one.

I agree with Lutoslawski: "I always say that the visible world—the world in which we live—expresses itself quite well without [the composer's] help. ... I think, on the contrary, that there is an ideal world in our imagination, in our dreams, in our wishes, and in our notions, and I think that the creative artist has—in a way—access to that ideal world. ... The authentic creative artist spends several hours a day in that world. His duty is to give access to that world to those who have no access."

And I agree with Michael Tippett. In his essay "Poets in a Barren Age," he asks, "If [composers] are honoured, are the products of their imagination of any real value to the society which honours them? Or are we, particularly at this present point in history, deluding ourselves that this may be so?" He answers his own question: "Deep within me, I know that part of the artist's job is to renew our sense of the comely and the beautiful. To create a dream. Every human being has this need to dream. ... Whether society has felt music valuable or needful I have gone on writing because I must. And I know that my true function within a society which embraces all of us, is to continue an age-old tradition, fundamental to our civilzation, which goes back into pre-history and will go forward into the unknown future. This tradition is to create images from the depths of the imagination and to give them form ... For it is only through images that the inner world communicates at all. ... Images of vigour for a decadent period, images of calm for one too violent. Images of reconciliation for worlds torn by division. And in an age of mediocrity and shattered dreams, images of abounding, generous, exuberant beauty."

Tonight, then, we honor Dr. King, that great dreamer, in the best way we can, by entering once again that inner world of the imagination, by keeping our faith in the power to dream.

(480 words)

© Steven Stucky

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