August 22, 2008


I’ve written a good deal describing and praising Europe ’s public funding of the arts, but there is a negative side I have never mentioned.  The Germans sometimes describe certain artists and art works as “Beamterkultur” which roughly translated would mean “civil servant culture.”  Beamterkultur might help us understand why Germany (and a number of other European countries) have largely rejected Postmodern aesthetics and remain so strongly oriented in an elitist high Modernism.  As someone mentioned, modernist European composers are still strongly funded and performed by the State Radio system.  In Germany , they can also receive very generous professorships where they are highly paid and have little work requirements.


In many respects, Wolfgang Rihm is a good example of Beamterkultur.  His music is almost paradigmatic for largely modernist State Radio festivals like Donaueschingen.  Beamterkultur often has a nationalistic and masculinist character as well.  (One thinks of that old Ruggles and Ives sensibility of taking your dissonance like a man and a good American.) 

Beamterkultur also reflects the modernist view the art should be a rigorous form of edification – an exalted “Feuillitonism” for those familiar with the larger cultural meanings of the term.  It’s something like Frank insisting to himself that he eat his musical vegetables, even if he has to spread the Rihmian spinach out over three days. 

There is much that could be written about the social and cultural phenomenon of European Beamterkultur and its relationships to high modernism.


Anyway, we might see why there would be a natural antipathy between a hip, Postmodernist like Frank and a high priest of modernist Beamterkultur like Rihm.  One might even say that in many respects there is a similar general division between the art music cultures of Germany and America .  The only exception in Germany might be the composers involved with computers and multimedia.  These mediums seem to bring a postmodern aesthetic with them.


 William Osborne