Delian Society Manifesto Graphic

I. Origin, Purpose, and Membership

The Delian Society, conceived by American composer Joseph Dillon Ford, was founded on 23 January 2004. From the outset, it was envisioned as an international community of composers, performers, scholars, technical specialists, and amateurs dedicated to the revitalization of the great tonal traditions in art music. The Society takes its name from Delos, birthplace of Apollo, whose mythic image as the god of music, light, and prophecy remains one of the most powerful and enduring symbols of creative expression.1

By June of 2009, the Society had grown to approximately one hundred thirty members representing dozens of nations on six continents.

The Delian Society is committed to egalitarianism and diversity, and enthusiastically invites the participation of others around the world who share its fundamental principles, values, and objectives. Membership is open to all, regardless of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, handicap, religion, national origin, political affiliation, or marital status.

 

II. The Tonal Music Renascence

History and Mythopoeia

Throughout much of the twentieth century, the creation of new tonal art music was discouraged if not roundly condemned by modernist ideologues and members of the so-called avant-garde. Untold thousands of influential composers, critics, theorists, and educators, persuaded that tonality was irredeemably obsolete, established an artistic orthodoxy that in its own way was as doctrinaire as any that had come before.

As a consequence of modernist animadversion and militant self-advocacy, the educational opportunities and professional development of innumerable tonal composers were severely hampered. Promising careers were aborted or thwarted, and art music itself, whose production and performance came largely under the control of academicians and institutions antagonistic to tonal forms and styles, took on an increasingly experimental, esoteric, and elitist character.

As modernist propagandists attempted to reshape history, they envisioned a future in which the atonal polyrhythmic music they cultivated and aggressively promoted would be as enthusiastically received by concert audiences as the tonal repertoire of previous centuries. However, nearly a hundred years after the atonal finale of Schönberg's second string quartet (1908)—and after decades of relentless advocacy for dodecaphonic and serial composition—their efforts in this connection have largely failed. Except for a handful of works that are given an occasional hearing, atonal music is most familiar to audiences today in the form of movie music intended to underscore scenes of tension, terror, and trauma, and continues to alienate far more concertgoers than it attracts.2

In the deceptive name of progress, many a modernist critic and academician overlooked the fact that music is one of the artes liberales—a liberal art befitting free citizens. In a free society, the individual artist should be at liberty to use whatever forms and styles, traditional or emergent, seem most appropriate for what s/he has to communicate, without fear of unjust criticism, censorship, or repression. It is the artist's responsibility, in turn, to communicate in a manner that does not to infringe on the rights and freedoms of others, with the understanding that the truth of what is expressed—not the specific manner or mode of expression—is of paramount importance. In music that truth is as much a matter of the heart as it is of the mind, and precisely because it is not amenable to facile verbal or mathematical description often eludes intellectual analysis.

For all their pretensions of liberality, the more adamant proponents of modernism and their avant-garde actually undermined freedom of expression and cultural diversity by seeking to subdue those voices which, in deference to the traditional values of beauty and intelligibility, refused to conform to their "progressive" agenda. Even as they put the public to flight and strove to topple the vast edifice of tonality—one of humanity's most inspired and enduring creations—they set about erecting an Ivory Tower of Babel from whose dizzying heights each would proclaim in a language uniquely his own that history—and Musica herself—were dead.3

Although many of their number can yet be heard clamoring among the ruins of a century rocked by perpetual cultural tumult, as the dust settles it is abundantly clear that tonality, though battered, still stands. As the legions of the avant-garde retreat, composers feel free once more to return to the long neglected precincts of Apollo—the first of the Delians—for inspiration and renewal.

But all is not yet well. The retrenchment of modernistic extremes notwithstanding, critics still cling to the notion that time and hence human culture must follow a "progressive" course that leads ever away from the past towards a future so radically new and different from everything we now know that we can scarcely arrive there soon enough. Like the vengeful maenads who, rejected by Orpheus, drowned out his magically becalming music with their cacophonous screams so that they might tear him limb from limb, those opposed to tonal music continue to rail against it with a sound and fury that resist any appeal to reason. But let them not forget that his tale, so fraught with tragedy, ends on a note of exquisite irony. Having lost his beloved Euridice for defying the gods and daring to look back as he led her from the Underworld, having then suffered the bloody attack of the bacchae rather than betray her memory, his severed head floated downstream to the sea where gentle waves bore it to a shrine of Apollo on Lesbos. There it wondrously began to speak anew, as he who had braved the horrors of hell to retrieve the past received his father's greatest gift—the ability to perceive the future—and thus transcended the illusory barriers of time itself.

We of the Delian Society do not repudiate the myths, legends, and folklore of the world's many peoples and cultures. Rather, we embrace the rich and varied artistic traditions that have arisen in connection with them, and openly affirm and celebrate the presence of the past even as we look to the future. We hold that the "progress" promised by specious novelty is nothing more than a fallacy bruited about the marketplace that some have vainly labored to spread to the concert hall, and passionately acknowledge the fundamental truth that great art is timeless.

 

Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Continuity of Tonal Art Music

It is clear that many of the most outstanding composers of the twentieth century did not literally practice what modernist critics, theorists, and academics preached, and were instead profoundly influenced by the past. Some, like Béla Bartók (1881–1945), Paul Hindemith (1895–1963), Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975), and Benjamin Britten (1913–1976), retained essentially tonal idioms. Others, like Jan Sibelius (1865–1957), Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936), and Samuel Barber (1910–81) were rarely far from their romantic roots.

Indeed, the very attempt to evade the past only served to affirm and eventually to magnify its presence, as artists in the second half of the century increasingly engaged the very thing they had been enjoined to shun. However, this post-modern reengagement with a past that had so long been anathematized resulted in a great many works in which traditional tonal elements are introduced in self-consciously jocular, ironic, sardonic, contradictory, paradoxical, or parodistic contexts.

This is abundantly evident in the polystylistic manner of Alfred Schnittke (1934–98) and the archly eclectic romanticism of David Del Tredici (b. 1937), but is foreshadowed in the work of a number of early modern composers, including Erik Satie (1866–1925), Charles Ives (1874–1954), Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), and Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953). These postmodern tendencies continue today, as many tonal composers feel impelled—if not compelled—to approach tonality in an indirect or manifestly circuitous manner, perhaps as a consequence of the residual "anxiety of influence" that so haunted the twentieth-century psyche.

A different current in the same post-modern stream can be identified in the work of another group of tonal composers, the so-called minimalists: Terry Riley (b. 1935), Steve Reich (b. 1936), Philip Glass (b. 1937), and John Adams (b. 1947). Much of their music is distinguished by the mantra-like repetition of short melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic elements that may continue to maximal lengths.

Asian philosophical, religious, and musical traditions inform the music of Riley, Glass, and their elder contemporaries, Alan Hovhaness (1911–2000) and Lou Harrison (1917–2003). As was the case with John Cage (1912–2002), the work of these composers acquired an aura of novelty because of their ability to successfully assimilate the influences of traditional non-Western cultures.

A related phenomenon appears in the music of Olivier Messiaen (1908–92), Sofia Gubaidulina (b. 1931), Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), and John Tavener (b. 1944), whose highly diverse approaches to tonality seem to coalesce around a spiritual core shaped to a greater or lesser degree by Christian mysticism.

The incorporation of elements from preexisting tonal works is pronounced in the compositions of Karlheinz Stockhausen (b. 1928) and several of his contemporaries, including George Rochberg (b. 1918), Lukas Foss (b. 1922), and Hans Werner Henze (b. 1926).

Although the creative legacy of these composers attests to the continuity and variety of tonal musical traditions in the twentieth century, their successes in no way diminish the formidable obstacles and failures met by the many who refused, often more transparently, to yield to prevailing modernist trends. As the achievements of the latter have been largely ignored or dismissed by the "progressive" arts establishment, their history and music await rediscovery by a generation of performers and scholars more receptive to the timeless aesthetic values for whose advocacy the Delian Society was created.

 

III. Aesthetic Principles

It is not the intention of the Delian Society to disparage non-tonal music, to define "new tonal music" in any narrowly restrictive sense, or to make injudicious comparisons between these two broad categories. However, unlike modernism, which at its most extreme represented a conscious attempt to break with the past and elevate novelty to the status of a cult fetish, the Delian aesthetic does not begin with the assumption that new is better or even that "new" is actually new.4

 

The Physical Basis of a Timeless Aesthetic

We invoke in our support the science of physics and several of its most eminent exponents. Late in his career, Albert Einstein, whose theories of relativity demolished the common belief that time is the same for everybody everywhere, would declare "The distinction between past, present, and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one."5 The distinguished physicist Frank Tipler corroborates "the fact that all fundamental physical theories advanced in the past three centuries—Newtonian mechanics, general relativity, quantum mechanics, string field theory—have insisted that there is no fundamental distinction between past, present, and future."6 Julian Barbour puts the matter even more plainly: "I believe in a timeless universe for the childlike reason that time cannot be seen—the emperor has no clothes."7

If these statements are correct, then the chief argument on which modernism rests is purely fallacious: progress and innovation are no more than happy fictions in a universe that is essentially timeless. Indeed, this is precisely the conclusion reached by great thinkers for millennia:

What Sir Francis Bacon averred at the beginning of the seventeenth century in his essay, "Of Vicissitude of Things," was variously reprised by Emerson in the nineteenth century and by Jorge Luis Borges in the twentieth:

These views, as we have seen, are consistent with current scientific theory:

The "implicate order" of the late physicist David Bohm bears comparison with Julian Barbour's "Platonia":

Physicist Paul Davies cautions,

Relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and string theory have radically challenged such conventional notions about time, and no music aesthetic that flouts scientific theory can be deemed credible. Modernist critics, however, blindly continue to consign what they identify as "derivative" music to the dustbins of oblivion, and remain doggedly attached to an imaginary present in which their favorite composers somehow manage to divorce themselves from the baleful influences of the past and create unexampled masterpieces out of nothing at all.

Those with some knowledge of science might venture to argue that the second law of thermodynamics trumps all "timeless" physical theories, however mainstream they may be. "A glass which falls to the ground and shatters into a hundred pieces does not mysteriously reassemble itself," they might object, "so time does exist and moves ineluctably forward." They are in error, however, because the laws of physics do not distinguish between backward and forward motion in time. The case might just as easily be made that the falling glass is moving backward in time, since there is "nothing to stop us taking the positive axis [of time] to lie in the opposite direction."14

What is more, if the second law is construed in such a way that "the arrow of time" flies strictly from the past to the future, it hardly provides a stable foundation on which to build a viable theory of creativity. Indeed, if such a formulation of the second law were applied to artistic activity as it is to other physical processes, it would mean that human culture is faced with inevitable entropy and decline. We might even be persuaded to interpret the disintegration of tonality and increasing complexity of music in the early twentieth century as evidence of decay—not of "progress" in any affirmative sense:

What rightly alarms us about such an interpretation is how easily the second law might be misconstrued in support of neo-fascist ideology, whose adherents, like their Nazi predecessors, are inclined to dismiss contemporary art as "degenerate."

How then, might it be possible to reconcile past and present, tradition and revolution, without running afoul of science or subverting fundamental ethical principles? Once more, a timeless aesthetic, in which there is no attempt to discriminate between past, present, and future, seems both logical and necessary. But in order to understand more fully the implications of such an aesthetic, it is necessary to examine the very basis on which human perception of time rests—memory.

 

The Psychological Basis of a Timeless Aesthetic

If we take memory to be a record of the past, we also must believe that record was made when the past still existed. A photograph could not have been made without some real object to be photographed; a tape recording could not have be made without some actual sound source to be recorded; and a memory could not have been formed without some person, place, or thing that could be registered by the brain. But here we encounter a formidable paradox: if memory came into being when what it recorded still existed, memory itself must be a part of that very past which somehow has managed to continue existing in the present. Indeed, the objects around us in the so-called "objective" world also seem to have existed before the present and continue to exist much as they were.

We thus discover, like Jorge Luis Borges (see above), that there is no neat line of demarcation between past and present, and it is clearly a mistake to impose one arbitrarily. If we cannot distinguish with any precision between past and present, then we cannot distinguish with any precision between "old" and "new," and time, as we thought we knew it, disintegrates.

It might be argued, "personal computers did not exist when I was a child, so they are evidence that change and innovation are real." This is the same as saying, "I have no memory of personal computers in my childhood, therefore no such thing existed back then." With some reflection, however, we would have to concede that every part of every personal computer that exists now also existed in what we think of as the past. Einstein demonstrated that mass (matter) is equivalent to energy, and since the first law of thermodynamics tells us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, then matter cannot be created or destroyed either. The fundamental material reality of yesterday is the fundamental material reality of today.

If there is "no new thing upon the earth," then how do we account for apparent changes in form or appearance? One thing is certain: without memory, we would have no concept of change. The present depends on the past for its very identity. If it were impossible to remember how things "used to be" in comparison to the way they appear "now," there would be no sense of the passage of time. But as we have seen, memory itself is evidence that the past "persists" in the present. What "used to be" and "what is" enjoy a curious coexistence.

But the paradox is greater still. It we accept that light and sound travel at finite speeds, we must conclude that our perception of the world we see and hear around us always lags somewhat behind what is actually "out there." Even what we think of as the immediate present is actually the past! Perhaps the most dramatic example of this phenomenon occurs when we view the stars in the night sky: What we see is not actually what exists light years away, but only an image of the way things used to be in the distant past. And yet, that used to be is our present. Even our own sun, at a distance of just 93,000,000 miles, reaches us as an image that is more than eight minutes "old," although no one doubts that it is very much present.

It follows, then, that our perception of the passage of time results not from our being able to distinguish between present reality and past memory, but from our being able to discriminate between a "now-memory" and other memories arranged in an imaginary chronological sequence. Since all of these images of the past are resident in memory at once, however, none is actually more remote from "now" than any other.

We have begun to account for the illusion of becoming—maya, but if time is an illusion, it stands to reason that the very concept of light and sound "traveling" over time from one place to another is equally deceptive. Science itself has not resolved this paradox, although some have posited that such a resolution is, indeed, possible:

As we continue to ponder this enigma, we meanwhile acknowledge that Musica, though she playfully whiles away the hours, remains the steadfast and obedient child of Mnemosyne—Mother of the Muses. The fact remains that we must think of our notes and rests—hold them in memory—before we can record them on paper or perform them on instruments. Even the most extravagant improvisations are based on preexisting ideas, as every good jazz artist will attest.

Since there is no credible evidence that "new" memories are better than "old" ones, and both are abundantly present and accessible, composers should feel free to draw creatively from the entire storehouse of knowledge, both personal and collective. In this manner, we believe, they will discover that Music is the sound of Time's eternal dialog with itself.

—Joseph Dillon Ford, 17 April 2004

 

IV. Values and General Objectives

The members of the Delian Society are committed to the following:

 

V. Member Activities and Benefits

Membership in the Delian Society offers the possibility of a variety of activities and benefits, including the following:

The views expressed in this document, elsewhere on the Delian Society web pages, and by individual members of the Delian Society are not necessarily those of the Delian Society as a whole. Our membership is extremely diverse, as is to be expected of a body that does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, handicap, religion, national origin, political affiliation, or marital status.

 

Notes

1Among the many tonal musical compositions in which Apollo figures prominently are the Delphic hymns of the second century B.C.; the fourteenth-century motet, Febus mundo oriens - Lanista - Cornibus in the Ivrea Codex; Monteverdi's Orfeo (1607); Mozart's Apollo and Hyancinthus (1767); Stravinsky's Apollon musagètes, (1928), and Britten's Death in Venice (1973).

2Among the few atonal works which are performed with some regularity today are Alban Berg's violin concerto (1935), whose tone row is constructed in a tellingly "triadic" manner, and his operas Wozzeck (1922) and Lulu (1935).

3There is a long iconographic tradition of personifying music as one of the seven liberal arts. This practice undoubtedly stems from early representations of the Muses, sister goddesses who presided over the various arts.

4The first and last paragraphs of the "Futurist Manifesto," written by Luigi Russolo in 1913, clearly demonstrate the cult-like obsession with novelty exhibited by modernists:

The Futurist Manifesto

5Davies, About Time, 70.

6Tipler, xii.

7Barbour, 251. On p. 300, the author cites physicist John Bell, who concluded, "there is no need whatever to link successive configurations of the world into a continuous trajectory."

8Bacon, 183.

9Emerson, 244–45.

10Borges, 226–27.

11Barbour, 44.

12Sheldrake, 305–306. The passage quoted is by physicist David Bohm.

13Davies, Time Machine, 3.

14Price, 17. See also p. 116 under "Conflicting Intuitions in Contemporary Physics," from which the following is excerpted:

As we have seen, the world around us is assymetric in time in some very striking ways. There are many processes, ranging in scale up to the expansion of the universe itself, which seem to occur with a particular temporal orientation. However, we have seen that since the nineteenth century, the dominant view in physics has been that these striking temporal asymmetries do not rest on the asymmetry in the laws of physics themselves. On the contrary, the laws seem essentially symmetric, in the sense that any interaction which they allow to occur with one temporal orientation is also allowed to occur with the opposite orientation (the laws showing no preference between the two). . . . To a very large extent, then, the laws of physics seem to be blind to the direction of time–they satisfy T-symmetry, as we may say.

15See, however, Prigogine and Stengers, 306, who take a different view:

The radical change in the outlook of modern science, the transition toward the temporal, the multiple, may be viewed as the reversal of the movement that brought Aristotle's heaven to earth. . . . We are discovering the primacy of time and change, from the level of elementary particles to cosmological models.

Both at the macroscopic and microscopic levels, the natural sciences have thus rid themselves of a conception of objective reality that implied that novelty and diversity had to be denied in the name of immutable universal laws.

16See Dictionary of Scientific Literacy, s.v. "Entropy" and "Thermodynamics, First and Second Laws of."

17Prigogine and Stengers, 310.

 

Sources

Bacon, Francis. "Of Vicissitude of Things." In The Essayes or Counsels Civill and Morall, with an introduction by Christopher Morley, 183–188. Norwalk: Easton Press, 1980.

Barbour, Julian. The End of Time: The Next Revolution in Physics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Borges, Jorge Luis. "A New Refutation of Time." In Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, edited by Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby, with a preface by André Maurois, 217–334. New York: New Directions, 1964.

Brennan, Richard B. Dictionary of Scientific Literacy, with a foreword by Richard P. Brennan. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1992.

Davies, Paul. About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

__________. How to Build a Time Machine. New York: Viking Penguin, 2001.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Quotation and Originality." In The Portable Emerson, selected and arranged with an introduction and notes by Mark van Doren, 284–303. New York: The Viking Press, 1965.

Price, Huw. Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time. New York: Oxford, 1997.

Prigogine, Ilya and and Isabelle Stengers. Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature. Foreword by Alvin Toffler. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.

Russolo, Luigi. The Art of Noises. Translated from the Italian with an introduction by Barclay Brown. Monographs in Musicology, no. 6. New York: Pendragon Press, 1986.

Sheldrake, Rupert. The Presence of the Past[:] Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Tipler, Frank J. The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead. New York: Doubleday, 1994.

 

Membership and Links

New members of the Delian Society are usually invited to join by existing members, but individuals are welcome to enroll without prior invitation. A simple statement of acceptance with the following information is the only formal requirement: the new member's full name, occupation(s), city and nation of residency, e-mail or mailing address, and web site URL (when applicable). New members are also asked to include a brief statement about their musical style(s); a concise description of their current musical activities and interests; a link to a short original composition or performance available online (when applicable); and additional URLs of interest (e.g., agents, publishers, and recording companies).

All are encouraged to subscribe to the Society's electronic mailing list in order to maximize the benefits of membership. (Mutually consenting members who wish to give and receive critiques are asked to do so through private correspondence and not directly in any of the Society's public forums.) If you have not already done so, you will need to establish a Yahoo account in order to participate. There is no cost for this service. (Please remember to keep a record of your user name and password in a readily accessible place.) The Delian Society home page can be reached by clicking the first link below:

The Delian Society

The Delian Society Roster

The Delian Society Honors

Ye New Music Fayre (2008)

The Delian Society Pantheon

The Delian Society Manifesto

The Delian Suite No. I (2005)

The Delian Suite No. 2 (2006)

The Delian Suite No. 3 (2007)

The Order of the Cynthian Palm

"The Colors of Peace" Movement

The Delian Society Resources Page

Nu Mu[sic!] Unlimited Festival 2006

Nu Mu[sic!] Unlimited Festival 2007

The Delian Society Composers' Scores

The Delian Society Cabinet of Seals and Medals

The Delian Society Keyboard Scores (free for Members)

 

The views expressed in this document, elsewhere on the Delian Society web pages, and by individual members of the Delian Society are not necessarily those of the Delian Society as a whole. Our membership is extremely diverse, as is to be expected of a body that does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, handicap, religion, national origin, political affiliation, or marital status.

 

delian@newmusicclassics.com


Last updated June 4, 2009
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