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Traditionalism with a view to the future

Traditionalism with a view to the future

When art meets science

Who: Jan de Roder, assistant professor of Literature at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

What: Dumbarton Oaks by Igor Stravinsky

Target group: students of Arts and Social Sciences

“Almost everything by Stravinsky is worth listening to,” says literature lecturer Jan de Roder. He plays Dumbarton Oaks during his lectures. “First this, with all his references to Bach, and then Bach himself. This allows students to hear the similarities and hopefully when they get home they will read more about Stravinsky and listen to his music.” That makes them – he hopes – conscious of the way in which artists dealt with tradition and history in the nineteen-thirties and how this contrasts with today.

“I am fascinated with art from the first half of the 20th century. People like Stravinsky, but also the poet T.S. Elliot, were looking for art from the past that is still valuable. In a reaction to the First World War, to the turbulent political climate, they go and search for order and regularity. They reject the chaos and the heat of romance, and prefer to the coolness and structure of classicism.”

The difference with contemporary art, according to De Roder, is that today no value is placed on art from the past. “It is neither positive nor negative, it is material that you can use. It is a kind of lucky dip from which you take what you need. Does it work? That is the only criteria. Tradition meant much more to someone like Stravinsky. He doesn’t just use a piece of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in Dumbarton Oaks; he pays homage to a certain tradition in which Bach stands. He sought the ideal of a unity between art, politics and religion. It is traditionalism with a view to the future.”

The way in which people look at art has also changed over the years, says De Roder. “Students today are much more free in this than my generation was. It is a lot less about what is virtuous and what is not, or what you ‘must’ like. What you listen to doesn’t matter. The students in my lectures who recognise Stravinsky, also know a lot of contemporary pop music; these don’t conflict with one another.”

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