City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Naïve Melody vs. In A Sentimental Mood

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I read two unrelated pieces in quick succession last week. The first was the accompanying essay to the great reissue of pianist Keith Jarrett’s 1983 New York sessions with Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, entitled ‘The Art of Metamorphosis’ by Peter Rüedi. The second an interview with Cecil Balmond, deputy chairman of Arup, in the equally excellent recent edition of architecture journal 306090, concerning models in all their various guises.

I was intrigued by the following coincidence of thoughts. I’ll just quote both, a bit out of context:

"But Jarrett was not thinking in terms of historical retrenchment, whether towards Bill Evans or even toward the founding fathers of the Great American Songbook. He was searching for a ‘sentimental’ approach to the past, both jazz’s and his own. But he meant the term in Schiller’s sense, not as mawkishness, but as something akin to a renewal or revitalisation of the old from the distance of another time and community. To Jarrett, the standards formed a sort of common tribal language. If these three men couldn’t remember them, he felt, the language itself would fall into oblivion, like the language of bebop, only a fraction of whose potential had been exploited before it was buried beneath an avalanche of comparatively limited commonplace phrases. To live is to remain in memory." [‘The Art of Metamorphosis’ by Peter Rüedi, in Setting Standards: New York Sessions]

"That’s an interesting idea 18th or 19th century concept by Friedrich Schiller. The naïve versus the sentimental is what is important. Those who try very hard for a particular thing, force themselves into it, and forcing it to work, is sentimental. In the naïve something else breaks through. Primitive art we call naïve, which doesn’t mean that it’s simplistic. True genius, like a Bach, or a Shakespeare, is naïve. Though the works are the ultimate in construction, they’re naïve, because they come straight through to you, and enter into you. You take a Shakespeare play, and it’s there (pointing at his chest); it speaks to you directly. Whereas if you take a play by Marlowe, or someone else who is not such a great talent, what you recognise is that the author is working to make it work; you are conscious of layers of trying buried in the work; the work stays here (pointing to the head). It’s a kind of extreme argument, but it’s interesting." [Cecil Balmond, interviewed by Eric Ellingsen, in 306090]

Balmond, who’s perhaps a little harsh on Marlowe there, goes on to talk specifically about the patterns and structures of jazz, as an analogy with pattern, structure and rules within architecture – it’s a fascinating interview – but I enjoyed this other unwitting overlap with Mr. Jarrett et al, and that poised halfway between the two passages is the sense that to be naïve or sentimental, after Schiller, could both still have some specific value and purpose.


2 responses to “Naïve Melody vs. In A Sentimental Mood”

  1. lauren Avatar

    don’t you just love it when you read stuff and everything just feeds off the same ‘stem’. i’m looking forward to digging into more schiller and that 306090 article ‘cos the overlap between musical/sound structures and the architectural/infrastructural rhythm is so exciting. a reminder how much we humans are creatures of habit and order.


  2. doc holliday Avatar

    What do you mean by naive music?


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