These depressing reflections are hardly ones calculated to catapult my readers into the body of this book, hungry for musical joys. If I were my editor, I would chuck out this introduction and replace it with one short inspirational paragraph. But I am not my editor; and I can only hope that he will understand that these thoughts are precisely the background against which this book is conceived. No, I will not look around me at the busy but barren musical scenery an pack: myself off into hibernation until the buds appear. I will stay right here and loudly proclaim the infinite variety of music.
And right here, dear Reader (if you are still with me and have your wits about you), you will pull me up short. How can you contend (you will ask, I hope) that there is infinite variety, hence untold aspects of beauty, still to be revealed, if this change is qualitative? How do you reconcile the gulf with the hope? I have two answers, The first is simple, reverse logic: If I believed in the permanence of that gulf I would have to disbelieve in the validity of musical communication, of our psychic speech; and I would then no longer wish to live in this world. But I do want to continue living in this world, and therefore musical communication (warmth, understanding, revelation) must be valid. I wish there were a better word for communication; I mean by it the tenderness we feel when we recognize and share with another human being a deep, unnameable, elusive emotionial shape or shade. That is really what a composer is saying in his music: has this ever happened to you? Haven't you experienced this same tone, insight, shock, anxiety, release? And when you react to ("like") a piece of music, you are simply replying to the composer, yes.
My second answer is simpler still, although it may take a little longer to say it. The gulf is temporary; the change, though qualitative, is transitional. The critical moment through which we are living, extended though it may be into an era, cannot define music in terms of its future. It is a moment of waiting, of flux.
Having said that I believe this musical crisis to be transitory in nature, I must now say where the transition may be leading, and why. I think that the key is to be found in the nature of music itself. It is an art so distinct, so utterly different from all other arts, that we must be careful not to assign to it values and dynamics it does not have. This is the mistake so many people make who follow the arts as a whole and try to deduce generalizations about them. What works in other arts does not necessarily work in music. Let us, for the sake of argument, try for a generalization. What is the nature of this crisis in all the arts today? We are constantly hearing negative phrases: anti-art, anti-play, anti-novel, anti-hero, non-picture, non-poem. We hear that art has become, perforce, art-commentary; we fear that techniques have swaIlowed up what used to be known as content. All this is reputed to be lamentable, a poor show, a sad state. And yet look at how many works of art, conceived in something like these terms, prosper, attract a large following, and even succeed in moving us deeply. There must be something good in all this negativism.