The Music of the Beast: a Historicist Portrait

Note by The Saker: when I first read this paper I was, frankly, baffled.  In my past I had studied musical theory (including dodecaphonism) and political science (including Marxism), but it never crossed my mind to combine these two.  This essay does exactly that and while I do find this combination rather strange, I also find it very original and interesting.  I hope that you will enjoy it too!
The Saker

The Music of the Beast: a historicist portrait

by Francis P. Ubertelli, D.M.A. for The Saker Blog

In 1516, in Thomas More’s socio-political satire Utopia, all forms of government constitute a “conspiracy of the rich,”[1] who, claiming the right to the administrative supervision of public management, are only interested in their own privilege. Henry VIII agreed with it during his break with the papacy through the Act of Supremacy of 1534,[2] an insane stroke of pride for Anne Boleyn’s heart. Then the Church belonged to him.

Any conspiracy is born of a context in favor of a cause. In this, it is a political statement. What can one say of the Apostles in the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, in which none of them called anything they possessed their own? Was it a gesture recalling a certain Platonic collectivism? [3] Rather, it was self-denial for the sake of another’s good, “charity,” the best definition freedom has ever known, which triumphed. However, if the master one seeks to serve is man — a woman, in the case of Henry VIII — why would the greatness received at conception, the Image of God, demean itself in such a way whereas it insatiably cherishes a natural appetite for the endlessness of the hereafter? According to Church tradition on morals, it is God therefore whom man rejects in order to embrace a false freedom (necessarily), a freedom as far as possible from the One whom “it cannot even be conceived not to exist.” [4]

In 1848, also in England, Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto and noted that the society of his time, Manchester and South Lancashire of the 1830–40s, through criticism of capitalism, was but “the history of class struggles.” [5] In the Manifesto, the bourgeoisie brought on the industrial revolution, overwhelmed the instruments of production, created enormous cities, world markets, and the proletarian working-class, useful as long as “the laborer lives merely to increase capital.” [6] Such abuse — the deterioration of the proletarian condition in the face of the growth of capitalism — urges the author to put the blame on the bourgeoisie, guilty of all troubles, to single it out as incapable of ruling society. Thus, he recommends the abolition of private property and the right of inheritance for the sake of the centralization of credit in the hands of the State, on top of free public schooling for children, in order to glorify the only Welfare State, the new conspiracy. The war cry for the liberation of the proletariat, following the passing of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, [7] became the spearhead against the “social murder” [8] perpetrated by the bourgeoisie; another conspiracy.

This desire for freedom in the face of industrial (and bourgeois?) tyranny was naturally justified, but it lit the fire of trade unionism as a means of collective management of the material entities of production, while atheistic Communism, its political arm, was nothing else than another fight against Western civilization in its desire to “uproot the foundations of civil society at large.” [9]

The historical events of this article are determined by the ideas that these events put forward, and not by cogitation of social interactions, as if one were to define the narrative of the Third Republic by the Dreyfus affair. Thus, they oppose the historic materialism of the conception of history that a certain Marx and Engels had indeed proposed in 1845.

This atheistic Communism, with its anarcho-unionist ideas, was nothing but a “false messianic idea, a pseudo-ideal of justice, equality and fraternity,” [10] because it considered human society through the lens of a material form evolving toward a universe without a specific working class and above all, without God, the God of the Apostles from the book of Acts, since Communism promotes uniformity between spirit and matter, soul and body, a universe in favor of humanity’s “progress” (evolutionist materialism calling Darwin to the rescue). The new society had to be freed from God’s dogma, it was proclaimed, because God is unbearable. God is man, yes, God ought to be man! The Christian God has to die.

In 1882, Nietzsche, having tried to steer humanity from faith to will (the nihilist force against Marx’s destructive force), having conceived art as the fusion of Apollonian and Dionysiac artistic impulses, concluded in the cosmic statement “God is dead,” [11] sealing, from that point forward, the advent of a man descended from a new humanity, the Übermensch, a physical metaphor that succeeded the Lutheran and Protestant reality of America, the new Communist El Dorado after Russia. But America would be neo-Marxist, although much later (or would it?).

Music, in its representation of social values and change that it embodies in man, reacted to these upheavals and organized itself around the Schoenberg phenomenon, later financed by the new CIA from the Truman era. [12] It subsequently broke up into multiple academic ivory towers that followed diverse esthetic and political philosophical trends. It tamed a vast post-war public to be unknowingly in favor of Communist ideas, believing that the relinquishment of classic harmony served the ambitions of an expressivity that was finally new, the Übermensch, but again, without being perfectly aware of it. In the meantime, the over-emphasis on twelve-tone music was regretted, [13] but it was too late, as the Avant-garde virus had won over both hearts and morals.

The twelve-tone music puts Marxist ideas into sound

In 1908, the composer Arnold Schoenberg wrote the fourth movement of his second string quartet, the first twelve-tone music ever written. Such a work, because of the author’s prodigious writing technique and renown, stirred up a flood of questions and a lot of discomfort. For some, it was as if a flabbergasted audience was suddenly forced to pay serious attention to an infant banging on a piano keyboard and applaud; for others, it was a perfectly incomprehensible genius that nevertheless had to be heard.

The ideas and philosophical principles behind the work — unless the historical evidence is false — come from a Communist conception of humanity (Marx) and from a syntactical war against meaning, against the “signifier,” i.e., against everything that carries meaning (an anticipated Derrida). Since the members of the proletariat do not know private property, they will erase all sense of belonging so the working class itself will vanish. [14] Individualism will dissolve for the sake of the collective (distinctions will no longer exist; no individuality will be allowed). For music, the chromatic scale’s twelve semitones (the semitones inside a scale) will become equivalent, without any differences between them, without any affiliation to any individual chord at all, without any harmonic functional prevalence. Unprecedented!

A popular key to this concept was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, A Space Odyssey in 1968. Kubrick fabricated hallucinogenic images with fanatical, mechanistic precision, consistently deploying György Ligeti’s music as planetary commentaries on “elemental states of undifferentiation (a primordial void),”[15] in order to put some of Nietzsche’s cosmic ideas on screen, doing justice, at that time, to the turmoil within the Catholic Church during the Second Vatican Council. He gave birth to a new Nietzschean Messiah with an ambiguous message of distorted hope, a dystopian allegiance to the machines and the New World Order to come. This appeared to be the best use of twelve-tone music: fear, unknown, horror, morbid fascination, the chant of the damned.

Sonic iconoclasm

Music is a collection of frequencies that sympathize in relation to one another; it creates movements in the soul. Since the Renaissance, once Gregorian chant had reached its peak, music began to focus more and more around the dominant-tonic tonal center of attraction (dominant chords are naturally attracted by the tonic, where they find their rest), up until the widespread predominance of classic harmony in the 18th century, which itself lasted around two hundred years. This historically informed prevalence stopped with Schoenberg in 1908. There was then a cryptic metamorphosis of tonal harmony toward atonal harmony. This progressive effort lasted 63 years, culminating in Boulez’s inflammatory declaration that the primacy of the dominant-tonic tonal center of attraction had lost its influence in the hands of composers who now wished to rebuild music, a new music “freed from the tyranny of classic tonality.” [16]

The twelve pitches of the scale suddenly became equal, with no differences between them. Through an algebraized syntactic structure, each pitch ceased to be compatible with the developmental forces of classic harmony’s center of attraction before dissolving into an anonymous collective. Only motion, colors and dynamics guaranteed some measure of understanding.

The semitone would fill the proletarian’s field of view; the other semitones, erected in identical, imperceptible structures, would be totally inaccessible to the average ear. The most macabre conspiracy that has ever existed will always be the one in which the twelve-tone reality is raised to the rank of learned music. It is the Iron Curtain between classic beauty and the abstraction of aesthetic ugliness, the Christian heritage and its hypnotic destruction.

John Cage et Pierre Boulez

The security of twelve-tone music is the determinism and predictability of its constitutive material. Whereas tonal music follows the quest of melody, micro-melody, leitmotif, aria, harmonic variation or the accompanying harmony, twelve-tone music embraces an ideology of disorder where classic beauty is seen as a discordant opinion, an anachronism.

In 1952, Cage laid the Dadaist foundations of music without musicians, referring back to the destruction of man by man (music by the codified absence of performers and notated sound), the same diabolical nihilism of Auschwitz-Birkenau ten years earlier. Nineteen years later, Boulez would declare that all the art of the past must be destroyed, “cutting the umbilical cord connecting the public to the past.” [17] There will never be any artistic conventions built around silence unless music is made of something other than sound. Likewise, there will never be any social conventions built around man unless society is made of something other than man. The annihilation of Western music precedes the annihilation of Western civilization. It is the second-last conspiracy.

The “Chinese” virus and the Neo-Marxist West

Like constructed chaos, the current pandemic brought about a ban on working, forced isolation, fear, the unknown, debt, hunger; namely, the reduction of individualism to similitude … to an abandoned, unstructured sound in which the lack of context forms a supposedly understandable architecture. It is the music of the ruin of all rights, institutions, property and human society itself, a Cagean silence in which all the musicians have been brutally strangled and can no longer produce sound, whose corpses rot for months on an abandoned stage whispering the misophonic music of the burying beetles who quietly eat them.

Each individual is a semitone of no interest to the collective, although he remains closely watched. As soon as he stands out, he is obliterated. A fearsome paradox. It is the Beast singing the modern man’s new servitude, still unaware of the sensational liberties he has enjoyed since the Second World War which are now fading to the point of dissolution within a new collective under surveillance, the ultimate conspiracy.

Individuality is therefore necessary to battle collectivism, to contradict the Beast.

Francis Patrick Ubertelli is a Composer, teacher, writer. Studied in Rome and Toronto. Faith and Reason shaking hands.”

La Caponiera, April 2020
The Music of the Beast, a historicist portrait” copyright © 2020
by Francis Patrick Ubertelli, all rights reserved

  1. Artur Blaim, “A Conspiracy of the Rich: Dystopianizing the Real in More’s Utopia.” Utopian Studies Vol. 27 № 3 On the Commemoration of the Five Hundredth Anniversary of Thomas More’s Utopia—Part II (2016): 601. 
  2. Bernard Bourdin, La genèse théologico-politique de l’État moderne. Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 2004: 21. 
  3. In the Republic, Plato describes an ideal of wealth sharing, the Commonwealth, where there would be a community of proprieties, of meals and of women. The State would control education, marriage, births, citizens’ activity and distribution of goods. This ideal would respect the perfect equality of conditions and careers of every citizen of both sexes. Yet, Plato’s goal was individual well-being, not the State’s extension. In 1822, Charles Fourier, in his Traité de l’association domestique-agricole, would go as far as to propose a guaranteed minimum wage in connection with comfortable means of existence. 
  4. St. Anselm of Canterbury, Proslogium; Monologium: An Appendix In Behalf Of The Fool By Gaunilo; And Cur Deus Homo. Translated by Sidney N. Deane. Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903, reprinted 1926. 
  5. From the very first sentence of the first chapter, Bourgeois and Proletarians. 
  6. Chapter Two, Proletarians and Communists
  7. George R. Boyer, “Poor Relief, Informal Assistance, and Short Time during the Lancashire Cotton Famine.” Explorations in Economic History № 34 (1997): 56. 
  8. Expression of shock from Friedrich Engels in his book The Condition of the Working Class in England written in 1844. Translated by G. Badia and J. Frédéric (Paris: Éditions sociales, 1960): 101. The Communist ideology would not have been possible without him. 
  9. Pope Leo XIII, Encyclical Quod. Apostolici muneris, December 28, 1878 (Acta Leonis XIII, vol. I): 46, thus continuing Pope Pius IX’s condemnation in Qui pluribus where “such a doctrine would be a complete ruin of all rights, institutions, proprieties, and human society itself.” 
  10. Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Divini redemptoris, § 8, March 19, 1937. 
  11. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science. Book III, Aphorism 108, New Struggles. Translated by A. Vialatte (Paris: Gallimard, 1950): 152. Book V, Aphorism 343, We Fearless Ones, confirms that faith in the Christian God has been cut off from its plausibility. The “Death of God” means the death of the supersensible and the unilateral refusal of ideas on which existed the Christian civilization. The death of God is the condition for the freedom of man. Such a death marked the beginning of nihilism. The sign of the new man, the superman who will be in a position to establish new values replacing “the old,” is inseparable from the Death of God
  12. Amy Beal, “Negotiating Cultural Allies: American Music in Darmstadt, 1946–1956,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 53, № 1 (Spring 2000): 105–39. 
  13. Microfilm 1949, Records of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Section (MFAA) of the Reparations and Restitution Branch, OMGUS, 1945–1951 [RG 260, 43 rolls]. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC, 2008. 
  14. Philippe Chenaux, Humanisme intégral (1936) de Jacques Maritain (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2006): 44. 
  15. David W. Patterson, “Music, Structure and Metaphor in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,” American Music 22, № 3 (Autumn 2004): 449. Ligeti’s music consists of superposed atonal counterpoint. 
  16. Pierre Boulez and his inflammatory words, in Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Ed., Orientations. Écrits, Pierre Boulez. Translated by Martin Cooper (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986): 481. 
  17. In 1971, in Jean-Jacques Nattiez, Ed., Orientations. Écrits, Pierre Boulez, ibid. 
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