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WOID XVIII-23. Museumwatch: Like flies to poop on a hot summer day.

[reprinted from WOID: a journal of visual language]

Remember that haunting chorus in Beethoven's Fidelio? The prisoners, allowed a few minutes of sunlight in the courtyard, murmur their sombre praises of the distant sun, that is, of Freedom, that is (this being Beethoven), of Music. It seems a little sentimental, now: Beethoven had taken up wholesale the Romantic idea (fostered earlier by Friedrich Schiller), that "it is through Beauty that we attain to Freedom."

But then, who am I to argue with Daniel Barenboim when it comes to music? The great Israeli pianist and pretty-darn-good conductor had planned to bring a small group of international musicians to play in a Roman Catholic church in Gaza.  The concert, he said, "as we all know, would bring so much joy to people who live there in great difficulty."

I guess we do all know: the orchestra was stopped at the border with Gaza. The one Palestinian musician was told he needed additional permission to enter. After waiting seven hours, the orchestra as a group decided to cancel the concert in solidarity with their colleague.

As I said, I never quite believed that stuff about Music and the Realm of Beauty. On the other hand (as Voltaire said of God), I’m glad that others do. Schiller, like Beethoven and Goethe, was a great Untouchable among all Germans in the 20th century, including the Nazis. Try as they might (and they tried mighty hard, for instance turning him into the "comrade in arms of der Führer") there was something in Schiller that the Nazis couldn’t swallow, and couldn’t touch. When all else failed; when every means of protest or rebellion was impossible, the Germans might still go to the theater and applaud those lines of Schiller that spoke of Freedom as the sun’s own rays. Theodor Adorno, who watched all this from a first row seat, thought that this was the triumph of Art: that the very complexity of its expression was a slap in the face to those who would reduce all human beings to: "You’re either for us, or against us." By being neither for nor against, Art stood for those whose politics stood far above the for-or-against of politicians.

That is Barenboim’s triumph, and Beethoven’s – I told you Barenboim’s a great interpreter. Not that the Palestinians in Gaza would have attained their Freedom through music, but that the butterfly-stompers were shown up for who they are. Music won’t set you free, but it will drag those who hate all freedom into the terrible glare of the sun.

- Paul Werner
author, Museum Inc: Inside the Global Art World

Originally posted to Paul Werner on Tue Dec 18, 2007 at 02:02 PM PST.

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