Scruton’s Danubian overtures
Sir Roger Scruton: A classical composer and inspiration to Hungarian students
In September 2016 Roger delivered a lecture on the nature of conservatism at the Hungarian National Academy of Sciences under the auspices of the Danube Institute and the Pazmany Peter Catholic University. The title, Europe and the Conservative Cause, reflected the fact that Roger was a man of action as well as of thought and was itself revealing; many conservatives are reluctant to admit to pursuing anything as strenuous as a cause. His arguments were sympathetically received by a mainly young audience of around 200 which gave every impression not only of not having encountered them before but of being interested in and even stimulated by them. There was none of the hostility that might have been expected had the lecture been delivered in London, New York, Toronto or Sydney. It was followed by a spate of television, press and radio interviews.
In his lecture, Roger, posed the question “What remains of conservatism in a society of material abundance and instant communication, when human relations are fluid, global and without respect for the old boundaries and the old hesitations?” Although it was plain that Scruton found many aspects of Western civilisation disagreeable it was also clear that he believed in the possibility of finding a way to reconnect with the spirit that had shaped Western civilisation and brought it into being. Indeed, in his view it was essential that this should happen; humanity would survive without conservatism, but it would not flourish.
A day later after his lecture, knowing that Roger was a composer of classical music (as well as a a distinguished musicologist) I arranged for young musicians at the Liszt academy to perform some of his shorter pieces as part of a talk by him to post-doctoral students. I had the distinct impression that members of the Academy’s teaching staff, which was very thinly represented, did not approve of his presence because of Roger’s trenchant criticism of musical modernism. To the evident relief of staff members who did attend, Roger refrained from launching into a full-scale attack of the musical avant garde. Indeed, he played passages from Schoenberg on the piano to illustrate the points he wanted to make and was sympathetic to some aspects of contemporary music. What he did do was to warn those present not to uncritically accept the attacks of the high priests of modernism, such as Pierre Boulez on classical traditions in matters of tonality and form, but to make their own judgement. Politics was not on the agenda, and was not mentioned, but it was evident to those with ears to hear that Roger’s criticism of the musical avant garde, (and indeed of architectural modernism) was rooted in a profound belief that evolution is always preferable to revolution, and that the accumulated wisdom of the ages is better than the transitory fashion of the moment. He did not say as much, but it followed that a debt was owed to the dead as well to the unborn. Judging by the enthusiastic response of his young audience – both to the performance of his music and to his arguments, I think it got the point. I came away feeling unexpectedly moved – as much by the responsiveness of the young people present as by Roger’s eloquent and sweetly reasonable words.
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