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Brecht and the audience of scientists

June 7, 2011

I’ve begun reading Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic and it’s been an interesting read, even as a musician. Some moments are notable in a person way, such as correcting an assumption or worth the read to see Brecht’s development into a ‘good communist’ after reading Marx to something much more complicated.

I also had never really imagined that Brecht was a member of the cult of science that was so widespread in the 20th century. Music crafted through advanced mathematics or elements of nature are common in 20th century music, and were done sometimes in the name of advancing music to the level of sophistication found in modern science. I had not expected Brecht, the author of colorful stories like Threepenny Opera, to be focused on bringing science into the theater. I was surprised to find his concept of Epic Theatre very much aimed to do that, as one can see in A Dialogue about Acting (p. 26)

The actors always score great successes in your plays. Are you yourself satisfied with them?
Because they act badly?
No. Because they act wrong.
How out they to act then?
For an audience of the scientific age.
What does that mean?
Demonstrating their knowledge.

There are other moments where Brecht talks about the importance of bringing science to the stage and an attempt to raise the value of reason over feeling. This creates an interesting difference between Brecht’s theory and the trajectory of modern music’s relationship with science.

Brecht viewed the audience as the scientists, while musicians claimed the title of scientists. The difference, to me, is that fourth graders are trained how to use the scientific method, but precious few people are trained to understand music that is built around modern science.

Interestingly, I think a lot of music in the classical era would perform well with an audience of ‘scientists.’ Consider the sonata form, with its two contrasting themes followed by an exploration of them together. It allows for observation, which changed into impressing the audience with emotional entreaties in the romantic era, and indecipherable coding in the most extreme 20th century music. It’s also interesting to see how minimalism fares with an audience of ‘scientists.’

Specifically, I’m curious to see how Robert Ashley’s music compares to the many recommendations Brecht makes for opera, which I’ll have to hold off on until another time.

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