Society and Music: Wozzeck and music as incrimination

There are a lot of the things the Arts can be. Uplifting, beautiful, harrowing, etc. In the past few years I had decided that what I found most valuable in my experiences of the Arts could be summed up in two words; nourishing or enjoyable. Lately though, I have been thinking more about the kinds of responsibilities the Arts have.
Today I saw the open dress rehearsal for Houston Symphony’s Wozzeck. They will be performing March 1 and 2. I was blown away by the production- the orchestra and singers sound great, but most of all, the story, written 100 years ago is so relevant today. The gross differences in decadence and poverty of the times it was written in are no different from our OccupiedWorld. At the heart of the story is a man Wozzeck and his wife Marie (the 99%) who are so oppressed and hurt by the world around them it becomes inevitable that all they can do is hurt and oppress each other. Wozzeck from the beginning has, in this order, his intelligence, morality, and then sanity questioned because of his poverty. Wozzeck is a neglectful husband and father because he is so plagued by his demanding work for the Captain and his medical trials for pay by the Doctor. (These titles instead of names for the 1% equivalents in the opera make them even more relatable to big banks and corporations and bring up interesting associations in our presently war-driven and over and under medicated world) Because of this his wife Marie embarks on an affair with the Drum Major. She is found out by Wozzeck who is then continually bullied by the Captain, Doctor, and Drum Major about her infidelity. They drive him to madness as he murders Marie and then commits suicide. The opera ends with their child all alone after being bullied by other children telling him his mother is dead.
Yeah, not really a feel-good opera. But I was inspired. When Marie first resists the Drum Major, he says “I can see the devil in your eyes!” she then gives in to him saying, “So be it. Everything is going to hell.” This is a woman who does not believe she has choices which can change her life or the world around her. This opera shows us the danger of that kind of mindset.
So I left inspired to make choices for myself and the world around me, but I was also inspired by this new role of the Arts …new to me anyway, of holding an audience accountable and in a sense, incriminating them. Berg in a way was making a political statement with this opera about how societies can oppress…he was exploring social, cultural, and mental health issues of his time. I am so inspired by how this opera participates not just in music history, opera history, history of music theory (because it is an important and highly impressive work on all those accounts), but how it participates in history and transcends opera and music to be a work of humanity in response to the world. That is what makes Wozzeck for me, an enduring work.
So go see it if you can…March 1 (technically tonight) and March 2.


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