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Sacrum Profanum 2022

The vanishing present


Mature: edible, developed, shaped, attaining excellence, fully shaped, having all typical characteristics, attaining adequate quality. The idea of maturity in contemporary music entails some kind of paradox. The motto of the 19th Sacrum Profanum Festival – ‘Maturity’ – is not accidental.

At first glance, mature works seem to be devoid of everything that determine the crushing power and radicality of new music: shock, rebellion, breaking away, search, risk, confrontation or transgression. ‘In the history of art, late works are disasters,’ wrote German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno. From a philosophical point of view, maturity seems to be a feature that undermines the very essence of contemporary music. Mature contemporary music is almost an oxymoron. After all, we know that nothing ages more quickly than a novelty. The entire power of contemporary music is intuitively based on this radical, pedantic, almost fanatical understanding and seeking of novelty, which is normalised, synthesised, harmonised and domesticated by maturity. What could arouse strong emotions and objection earlier, mellows and becomes a part of some continuum, continuation, consistency.

Nothing could be more wrong. Beneath the surface of mature works, we can discover a completely new group of radical questions and doubts, which are particularly bold, confrontational and disproportionate if they are strongly detached from the established social order, the reality of the epoch or dominant aesthetic conventions. Maybe maturity is not only continuity perceived as consistency at best and as predictability at the worst, but the awareness that our search may lead us outside the margin of an established aesthetic or social framework. ‘But what of artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution but as intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradiction?’ asks Edward W. Said meaningfully in his essay.

However hard we would try to bring contemporary music outside a certain scope of linearity and causality in its more or less literal sense, which it renounced so categorically in the past, the perspective of time remains undeniable, and the carte blanche of new music will always be filled both with works by contemporary composers and those of their predecessors. The composer creates the work, but then the work creates the composer. Artistic maturity is the awareness of this process and continuous confrontation with it. Maturity is the courage to look inside oneself in detachment from the time, style and convention of the epoch, regardless of the price to be paid for that freedom. It is a continuation that may result in separateness, loneliness, detachment, or even expulsion, alienation and misunderstanding. However, this freedom is the ultimate criterion of creative force.

Maybe it would be more productive to question the imperative of novelty in contemporary music, which so often leads artists astray intellectually and aesthetically, and to replace it with the concept of invention. When defining invention, Edward W. Said refers to ancient rhetoric tradition, according to which invention, quite contrary to its current definition, meant rediscovery and returning to something. It was a form of creative repetition and repeated experience rather than searching for absolute novelty. In this sense, it connoted the search, refinement and specification of arguments rather than their reinvention.

Maturity means this kind of persistent and continuous penetration of one’s own subjectivism, the courage to create one's own individuality, authenticity and integrity that is consistent even at the risk of being accused of anachronousness, epigonism or outdatedness. In contemporary music, these are accusations of the heaviest calibre. Finally, maturity is the full awareness that actions carried out so far should not define the present and the future and change is not only possible, but actually inevitable in the process of building of one’s own creative universe. Maturity is the feeling that questions being asked and proposed solutions will sound deeper, stronger and more emphatic or poignant not only through a consciously used medium and the thoroughly mastered language of artistic expression, but also as a result of detachment from external expectations towards artists, critics’ suggestions or geopolitical agendas.

For KBF: Monika Żyła – musicologist, researcher, critic

All Sacrum Profanum concerts will be held live with an audience, and the festival will last from 29th September till 3rd October 2021 in Krakow. Festival passes and tickets are available on KBF:BILETY.

The festival is held by the City of Krakow and KBF.