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This book takes the form of a polemic, a tirade against avant-garde music, modernist music, atonal music, etc. Borstlap himself is a composer of ‘new traditional classical music’ (his violin concerto has won prizes) but this piece of writing resembles musique concrète in its evocation of axe-grinding. A more balanced discussion of the different merits of the various types of music being written this century would have been more attractive and possibly more persuasive. What happened to pluralism? Polemics can become tedious, especially when as extended as this one (about 130 pages).

Page 61 brings this: ‘Is it possible, is it conceivable, that so many seemingly intelligent, educated people spend their entire professional lives on a nonsensical subject – sound art as music …?’On page 80 Borstlap claims: ‘As we have seen, atonal music is not music but sonic art.’ Actually, readers who do not agree with this opinion – dogmatically maintained throughout the book – will not ‘have seen’ at all. Borstlap proposes his term ‘sonic art’ as early as the introduction. What one calls an art form or an art movement matters little, but why be so intolerant? It seems that behind the author’s hectoring is deep annoyance at the Dutch government for what he sees as indiscriminate funding.

One of Borstlap’s main contentions is that music which is not organised on the ‘gravity force of tonality’ is ‘not music at all’. Then there is this: ‘The break with the past not only destroyed a living tradition...’ (p 83). We know that the younger, iconoclastic Boulez urged the destruction of musical traditions, but fortunately this is impossible. No music from the past has ever been destroyed. Finally, as an example of Borstlap’s gratuitously offensive manner – ‘[Magnus Lindberg] developed into something like an almost musical Boulez.’

This tiresome book’s crude bigotry, circular arguments, faulty reasoning and question-begging make it undeserving of recommendation, but also there are too many typos and the index is very unreliable, with dozens of entries being one page out.

PHILIP BORG-WHEELER Read the full review on Agora Classica


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