Sunday, October 28, 2007

99. Music of the Great Tradition

No not THAT tradition.

If you're into classical music you've heard all about the "Great Tradition," starting I suppose with Bach and working its way up through Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Wagner, all the way to Mahler, Debussy, Stravinsky, Schoenberg and beyond. That's the European "high culture" Great Tradition and I have to admit, it's a pretty good one. But it can't compare with the Great Tradition I have in mind, the GREAT Great Tradition, starting at the year 000,001 in Africa, then heading east with the great migration out of Africa, circa 80,000 BC, all the way to SE Asia and Melanesia, then veering west to the Caucasus and paleolithic Europe, while at the same time continuing north along the east Asiatic coast to China, Japan, Siberia, and the Americas.

Many nineteenth and twentieth century folkorists had some inkling of an idea of what I'm talking about, conjuring up "old" traditions, mostly in Europe. But their idea of "old" was way too conservative, usually going back no farther than the Middle Ages or possibly "ancient" Greece and Rome. You call THAT "ancient"? Give me a break!

Meanwhile, a whole raft of academics with nothing better to do, decided to go the skeptic route, pooh-poohing all these nutty ideas about "old" traditions. After all, how did we know they were really old, maybe they were new, who could say? Isn't it true that the most natural thing in the world is change? And isn't the most "wonderful" thing about the human spirit its "creativity." (As though they knew anything about creativity - give me a BREAK.) But they were caught with egg on their face when the geneticists hit the fan -- and began working their way systematically through history with some really nifty tools the old academics never dreamed were possible. Many of these old farts still have no idea what hit them and how so many of their most cherished ideas are headed for the toilet. Don't disturb them, they are peacefully asleep in their dogmatic slumber.

As is now becoming apparent, at least to me (but what do I know?), the Great Tradition survived in a great many places, even Europe, for far longer than anyone could have imagined. Amazingly enough, we find traces of the Great Tradition all over Europe even well into the Twentieth Century. But only a very few really knew what to make of them, what they might mean or what they were saying. One of the most interesting, and least known, things about the Great Tradition was the influence it had on that other Great Tradition, the "high art" one and how it has left it's mark on so much of the music we currently regard as "classic" or even modern.

I'll be exploring this tradition in coming posts, so if you're ready for the ride, say tuned.

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