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Beauties & Beasts: Fantastic Dualisms which Seem to Continue to Permeate the Classical Musical and Music Education (Under-)World(s)

1 September 2017

Myth is perhaps at least as significant as fact in many fields of human endeavour – indeed, arguably any concept that reason can offer too strong an exclusive mechanism for resolving human challenges may itself be one of the greatest contemporary myths of all! Where some fields today might be horrified by such a proposition, the worlds of creative, performing and visual arts, themselves being essentially mythical worlds, ought to enjoy the potential truth of myth, given art’s propensity to thrive on its ‘telling of tales.’

At the core of such tales is the ’Kingdom’ of aesthetics, at the heart of which (in the centre of its labyrinth?) lies the concept of beauty. There is an easy risk of the search for beauty becoming a quest for one half of dualism (the alternative being ugliness) whereas, as in the Beauty and Beast myth, the ’truth’ of beauty (indeed some of the deepest beauties) may lie beneath a less immediately inviting surface…

This presentation looks at some long-term mythical apparent dualisms which continue to resonate in the contemporary world. Rather as in ‘Beauty and the Beast’,the proposal here is that we need to embrace the myths (rather than rejecting them) in order to transcend them towards more interesting truths. As in the symposium’s abstract, this presentation, therefore, evolves from the proposition that deeper engagement with music and art might indeed “mirror back to us our understanding of reality” so that our ’window(s) to the distant past might open “a reflection on our current life experiences.”

Structured as a personal account responding to the above proposition, this presentation takes as its starting point Mozart’s Fantasy in C Minor K475. Our journey will explore such mythical dualisms as order and chaos, beauty and ugliness, past and present, diatonicism and chromaticism, while also exploring some of the mythical dimensions associated with the composer himself (as well as of course in connection with his popular nemesis, Beethoven). How do we educate in a contemporary Southeast Asian context so that such myths and their equivalences might be translated, valued and transcended into a possibly ever-richer understanding of contemporary reality.

The presentation builds on recent work and discussion with my close colleague, the Australian musician Stephen Emmerson, exploring more daring and reflective ways in which contemporary classical performers might engage with masterpieces of previous generations so as to offer them fresh resonance, particularly to new audiences.

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