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April 26 – what’s wrong with beauty?

It is a much nicer day today. Still cool, but the sun is out and the scent of spring is in the air. Even if there is still very little green to be seen (tree leaves are a week or two away), everything is so much more beautiful under a blue sky.

I am a sucker for beauty. I appreciate art that shows the ugliness (or perhaps better, the contrasts) of life, but the paintings, sculptures, novels, films, poems and music that cling to me, and to which I cling, are full of beauty. Often melancholic, even sad beauty. You know, the heartbreaking kind.

[Raphael’s sketch of a boy]

The funny thing is that as an art consumer I have no problems with this, but as an artist I sometimes feel the need to apologize for my beauty-yearning. Why?

Especially when I came on to the music scene in the 80s, anything that reminded traditional beauty was looked upon as a bit iffy. Modernism was deep, interesting and uncompromising, everything else shallow, uninteresting and even morally dubious.

You would not believe how radical and liberating it was when Arvo Pärt with his tintinnabuli style appeared on the scene. I could not believe my ears – can someone really write music like this? (How dare he? / But this is so beautiful!)

The classical music world has changed a lot since then, but something of the thinking lingers on. Don’t get me wrong, I advocate stylistic polyphony and think we need modernism in that palette. But I don’t believe any style is aesthetically, let alone morally superior as such. Still, sometimes I feel guilty for liking the music I like.

But it is not just that I like a certain sort of music, there are deeper considerations at hand. Here we come to the sad beauty that I mentioned earlier. A German author called Stefan Moster wrote in a novel of his: only sad music can console.

At first, I didn’t quite get the idea. Why would sad music comfort me? I believe the idea is that I feel less alone in my grief / sorrow / loss – someone else has been through the same. It doesn’t take away the sorrow, but it makes it more tolerable. And for someone who feels the innate sadness of life as much as I do, I can do with consolation anytime.

Another consideration: doesn’t sad beautiful music remind the way we speek to babies (and pets)? Softly, gently, emotionally – and, surprisingly – in a melancholy tone. If I am right, sad music reminds the very first voices we have heard. At least on the level of prosody, it is our original mother’s tongue. No wonder it consoles and comforts.

Don’t worry, my concerts aren’t just one slow, sad song after the other. I love to have a polyphony of styles and emotions. But melancholy beauty, that is where my soul is. And maybe there is nothing wrong with that.

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