Taylor Davis-Van Atta: You have described Béla Bartók’s music as “a kind of milk” for you. Can you elaborate on how Bartók’s music has informed your thinking and your evolution as a composer?
Vladimír Godár: As a child, I went to a school where I specialized in mathematics, studied piano, and listened to rock music. The worlds of numbers, words, and sounds interested me. I was twelve when The Prague Spring occurred, and it was then, after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, that I realized that the world of words was the main harbinger of shameless lying, so of the two remaining worlds—of numbers and of sounds—I chose the world of sounds. In fact, it was Bartók’s music that was the impulse for this decision. Initially, I admired his music’s expression, and later on its ideal balance between rationality and spontaneity, expression and construction, between contemporary and historical models, and between rational composition and oral traditions. The synthetic nature of his personality still fascinates me today. And not just me: we can hear Bartók’s influence in the ideals of many other composers whose music I enjoy: Lutosławski, Górecki, Ginastera, Piazzolla, Kancheli, George Crumb, and so on. The universality of Bartók was masked for too long by Adorno’s assertion that the polarity of Schoenberg and Stravinsky was the key to contemporary music. To discover Bartók’s significance, it is necessary to thoroughly critique Adorno’s ideas.
TDVA: One of the most beautiful movements of Querela Pacis is entitled “A Sad Pavan for These Distracted Times.” This movement seems to me as much an elegy to a bygone era and culture as it is a lament to what that old way of life has been replaced with: that is, a lament to today’s disposable culture. Art is highly marginalized in Western culture—and increasingly so in world culture. Even though most of the major oppressive political regimes of the past century have fallen, it seems to me that we now engage in a form of self-censorship, wishing to remain distracted rather than engaged. Do you believe it is possible for art to engage with the mass public today?
VG: Thomas Tomkins composed his virginal work “A Sad Pavan for These Distracted Times” two weeks after the King of England, Charles I, was beheaded on February 14, 1649. Perhaps he wanted to designate that period in history which was without rules, when violence and terror were everyday occurrences. Today, mass murder, possible because of the latest scientific discoveries, is being legalized by journalists, politicians, administrators of justice, and church leaders. The marginalization of art and its function inevitably accompanies our reality. . .
To read the entirety of Vladimír Godár's first English-language interview, purchase Music & Literature no. 3...