Mozart, Jazz, and Confederate Statues

Last Friday evening, Lang Music hosted a curious combination of musical performances. The program, featuring the Chamber Orchestra First Editions and the Rittenhouse Jazz Quartet, began with Mozart’s always pleasant A Major Piano Concerto, with Swarthmore’s deservedly beloved Andrew Hauze as pianist. Breaking from Mozart’s refined joviality was the playful “Journey into Jazz” by Gunther Schuller, for which the seemingly arbitrarily chosen former congressman Barney Frank raspily narrated between brief displays of virtuosity on trumpet.

Following was a new composition, which met its premier in this performance. “Shattered Stones” by the young percussionist Gabriel Globus-Hoenich. Upon reading that our composer was a percussionist, a friend of mine jokingly remarked, “who gave a drummer paper and something to write with?” On a purely superficial level, my friend’s feigned perplexity would be unjustified. That is to say, the work was a fun piece of jazz. In fact, I would have been happy to sit back and ride that smooth tide of groove, had I not read the piece’s description. Forsooth, it concerned Charlottesville!

Attribute this to insidious influence of social Marxism or whatever you will, but the implicit dictum “no art is apolitical” sometimes forces political messages onto artwork with little regard for the compatibility between the two. At least, that’s the impression I got from this perfectly innocuous rendition of jazz. As a result, pardon me if my interpretation is as contrived as the piece’s title seemed to me. Perhaps the smooth playing and upbeat tempo marked an optimistic consideration of the Charlottesville conflicts, anticipating triumph for the lively movement against the despicable defenders of Confederate monuments. I can no less suppress the objection, however, that a musical composition about the Charlottesville events and their wake ought to be more dissonant.

The movement that has recently swept the South is motivated no less by genuine concern for a public representation of darker stages of American history, than it is by iconoclastic raving. What ought to have taken expression in civil debates concerning removal and replacement of monuments has devolved to defacement of statues depicting Catholic Saints and even a peace monument. One must beware to draw false equivalence between the white nationalism of Charlottesville marchers and their counter-marchers, and it was admirable that Globus-Hoenich dedicated his work to the victims of white supremacist attacks. But it is similarly fallacious to pretend that mob mentality does not pour into that kettle of discontent, which boils over in rage that spills violently into the indiscriminate ransacking of all things related to Civil War History and beyond. Summarily, a jazzy march to triumph does not seem to characterize the vehement struggle of this movement.

Quite appropriately, the program ended with Mozart’s twenty-ninth Symphony in A Major. If anything, the sympathetic striving of this composition could much better stand for the events Charlottesville and beyond. If only our present strife could resolve as gracefully as Herr Mozart’s melodies.

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