Ellopos Blog

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Music and politics – thinking about Barenboim

According to a review published in the Observer by Peter Conrad, and republished by Guardian, concerning Barenboim’s effort to use music in order to promote friendship, “the snarled and lethal political mess remains and Barenboim’s reflections on the enterprise reveal that it was never more than a noble folly. … Does music actually have the power to sponsor brotherhood, as Beethoven claimed in the boisterous finale of his ninth symphony? … Beyond expressing pious hopes about Utopia, Barenboim has little progress to report.”

When he thinks about Barenboim’s efforts, Conrad is even “reminded of Michael Jackson’s crusade to save the world by cuddling children”! The reviewer does not elaborate on this; obviously, to him only idiots would be unable to understand the parallelism. I am such an idiot, but I’m not interested in discovering the common ground between Barenboim’s “noble folly” and Michael Jackson’s “cuddling”. The only thing that I understand from this, is that Conrad suffers from some kind of “hate” against Barenboim, and I’m sorry that Guardian’s and Observer’s readers have to suffer such nonsense. But, again, I’m not interested in motives, nor in the level of Guardian; there are better ways to use our thinking, e.g. noticing the question “Does music actually have the power to sponsor brotherhood”? And: if Barenboim’s attempts so far have not enjoyed any success, can we use this as a proof that music is unable to help friendship grow?

Barenboim does not live in outer space; he knows that music by itself can not do much (read for example Barenboim’s lectures on the Nature and Power of Music). It all depends on our ways to approach music; then, in all cases, all depends to us, not in an external method. We can say that Barenboim failed, if we are ready to say the same for Christ’s incarnation or for Plato’s laws. Yet, would our world, perhaps, be even worse without Christ or Plato? Would, perhaps, the relationship between Jews and Palestinians be even worse, if they stopped playing music together? In such a case we can not speak about a failure. The fact that the world is not wholly transformed, should not make us blind to the other fact, that some people have indeed changed for the better.

Europeans live on the same continent for centuries and they share all they have in music, philosophy, arts and literature – yet, they were able to fight each other all the time, arriving even to the complete madness of the 2nd World War. Of course music by itself can not do much. When we use our freedom to become better (i.e. independently of any method, miraculously), only then music and all creativity gains for us a different value and becomes able to help.

What is music, if not an image of our soul? Good music belongs to a self we abandoned, when we are inferior to it; it points to a future in case we decide to remember ourselves again; it gives us self-knowledge when we have returned to ourselves. An image can not do much, when the prototype itself is broken – but can there be a valuable prototype, without overflowing, flowering, creating, showing its gratitude and fullness of life in the splendor of its images?

It doesn’t seem probable that Barenboim believes there is a secret power in music, able to transform everything magically. He just uses our images hoping that sometime we may return to ourselves and remember who these images belong to.

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