Robert R. Reilly is too familiar, clever, incorrect, and ironic to attract mass attention. He is a specialist on foreign policy and is often pigeonholed as such. But his true expertise is music, and he has much to tell us about this most systematic of the arts. He wrote a wonderful book a decade ago that has been mostly unread, but deserves a serious revival. It is called Surprised by Beauty and is available from Amazon…

Even a cultural illiterate like your author can hear that music took a radical turn for the worse in the early 20th century. The change affected both popular and classical music, but the highbrow arts led the way and are the source of the problem. Its origins go deeper still, to the 19th century roots of nihilism under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche, who questioned all Western order, value, and beauty. Nietzsche’s adherent in music was the incredibly influential Arnold Schoenberg, the dominant intellectual force in 20th century music. He composed originally to reconcile Brahms and Wagner, and was praised by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. By 1910 Schoenberg wrote his Theory of Harmony, which remains to this day one of the most influential music theory books ever written, developing a large and influential school of artists who helped spread his radical views.