As Guy Davenport is quite dead I don't have much reason to read the New Criterion anymore. Even so, I happened to catch a review of some new book on "Evolutionary Aesthetics" by John Derbyshire. Derbyshire is a British conservative curmudgeon who does most of his writing for the National Review. He is one of those conservatives, like Vox Day (no link-look him up-worst human being ever?) who likes to say OUTRAGEOUS and OFFENSIVE and CONTRARIAN things to get the ol' rile out of liberal pusses like me.
He also likes to imagine himself as very smart (as does Day). Thus its not a total surprise that the first sentence of his article, a long piece written in the top conservative arts magazine, is in fact, totally wrong:
"The modernist composer Anton Webern predicted that mailmen on their rounds would one day whistle his atonal non-melodies."
Actually, it was Schoenberg who said that; it is one of the more famous quotes from a modernist composer. And as for "non-melody," whatever that is, I'd love to hear John Derbyshire, or maybe even New Criterion's bow-tied editor and douchebag Roger Kimball's definition of what constitutes a "melody." Being the worldly, cultured dons of our country's right-wing I'm sure they've poured over Lach's 1913 Studien zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Ornamentalen Melopoie countless times.
Actually, I am almost entirely sure that neither Derbyshire or Kimball has never actually heard Webern, or much less understands what atonality actually is. They most likely have a cloudy, vague notion of some sort of elitist, avant-garde ideological pitter-patter designed by ideologues to make people feel dumb. And sure, atonality was/is often that. Perhaps Derbyshire and Kimball have René Leibowitz in mind, and then I'd have to agree with them; but if they haven't heard of Webern you can be sure they've never even heard of Leibowitz. And again, that's okay, because René Leibowitz sucked.
But lets take Derbyshire's bait. He seems to imply that a melody it something memorable, tonal, and right for whistlin'. A "tune," if you will. But if a melody is something memorable that you can whistle I can whistle you* countless atonal melodies! Just ask me to and I will come over and charm you and your children. Sure, I'm no genius like Roger Kimball, but I can whistle several snatches from the symphonies of Karl Amadeus Hartmann, sing just about the whole of Wozzeck, or tap the wacky, thorny rhythms of the second of Webern's Piano Variations, Op. 27 on your back (or thighs, for 10$ extra and a ride home). And although mailmen don't whistle atonal modernist music, do we really want them whistling at all? Why was that even a goal? Isn't it enough that every day the government sends a man in upsetting shorts to our door?
By the way, if you do a Googe for John Derbyshire's picture, you find that this is his most published photograph:
While I am surely no Lorenzo Lamas, I think you will agree that this looks like a pedophile's passport photo. Perhaps nubile 14 year-old, mail-ordered Cambodian boy-lover Rangsey Ung-Dim spiked his sherry with valium shortly before snapping it?
This is the above-mentioned Roger Kimball dressed as Orville Redenbacher. A typical article by Kimball will reference Anselm of Canterbury while defending Joe the Plumber.
*I cannot whistle.