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PHILHARMONICA. International Music Journal

Simeon Ten Holt's Canto ostinato as a manifesto of the musical Metamodern

Khrushcheva Nastasia Alekseevna

PhD in Art History

Associate Professor of the Department of the History of Foreign Music of the St. Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory

195279, Russia, Saint Petersburg, Peredovikov str., 29 k. 1, of. sq. 28










Abstract: The object of research in the article is the cult music of Simeon ten Holt Canto ostinato (1976-79), which is considered using the optics of metamodernism. The authors of the concept of metamodernism were the Dutch Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Acker, who created the manifesto of metamodernism (2010), another manifesto was subsequently created by the Briton Luke Turner (2011). This music, as well as the whole concept of metamodernism in music, represents one of the concepts of culture-after-postmodernism and proclaims the return of affect, semantic oscillation as a constant oscillation between direct utterance and irony, a new actualization of the meta-narratives devalued by postmodernism, which replaced postmodern total irony with post-irony. The novelty of the stated perspective is that for the first time in Simeon ten Holt's opus "Canto ostinato" such tendencies of musical metamodernism as new simplicity, the return of melody and tonality, the actualization of song and dance, the flickering affect of melancholy and euphoria, the purpose for the listener of a new type and the features of "sentimental minimalism" are revealed. Despite the fact that this music was created long before the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which became the cause of metamodernism, one can see such obvious features of metamodernism in it that one would like to see in this opus a manifesto of the musical metamodern looking into the future.


Canto ostinato, metamodernism, new music, sentimental minimalism, ten Holt, affect, new tonality, return of melody, melancholy, post-irony

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

Simeon ten Holt's iconic opus Canto ostinato, created in 1979, not only does not lose its relevance, but also seems to be increasing it every year.

Canto ostinato is one of the few abnormally popular academic "music": it is known far beyond the professional musical community and exists in many arrangements created not only by the composer himself, but also by numerous performers around the world.There is a feeling that it resonates in a strange way with our time the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution with its total Internet and longing for lost sensuality.

That is why it seems interesting to consider it through the prism of metamodernism, a paradigm that replaced postmodernism and forced us to look for new metanarratives and affects instead of total irony.

The manifesto of metamodernism was written in 2011 by Acker and Vermeulen, a year later Luke Turner presented his version. Over time, this concept has gained more and more popularity, and today it can be stated that it has become the most influential among the concepts of culture-after-postmodernism (along with metamodernism, there are digimodernism, hypermodernism, cosmodernism and a number of others).

Metamodernism was a reaction to the crisis of postmodernism with its total irony and devaluation of meta-narratives. Therefore, the basis of metamodernism is the desire to return to "big narratives", the attraction to a new seriousness and a new sincerity, the desire to return sensuality, and, more broadly, affect. However, in the era after the death of God, in the era that came after postmodernism, faith in big ideas and a single truth in its original form cannot be returned; hence the oscillation proclaimed by metamodernists as a constant oscillation between direct utterance and irony.

In the projection to music , metamodernism implies:

- the search for a new simplicity: inheriting different forms of the new simplicity of the 1970s, the metamodern does not collide with the mass elite (as it happened in postmodern), but finally levels the differences. Difficult is no longer equal to either good or smart.

- actualization of tonality: in contrast to the serial and post-serial techniques of the avant-garde and post-avant-garde, metamodern returns tonality to music both in the form of the "modal" tonality of minimalism, and in the form, for example, of the naive tonality of songs of any type.

- actualization of melody: melody is another important, along with tonality, musical metanarrative, regained for the first time in a long time. Her return represents the most radical turn: as Vladimir Martynov writes in the note Melody as a terrorist, "asking a composer about a melody these days is like asking about a rope in a hanged man's house" (1. p. 6).

- actualization of song, dance, and more broadly, genre: genre in metamodern acts as a replacement for the canon and means longing for it as a predestination in the broad sense of the word.

- the increasing importance of minimalism: the subject of the metamodern era needs not a story, but a ritual, not a story, but a state, not a drama, but a trip, a flow. Minimalism as the music of gradual processes, as the music of static, the music of consolation, the music of euphoria from endless repetitions is becoming today the only answer to information trauma, the main music of the post-traumatic era. Today minimalism is not only a musical direction, but also a state of consciousness, it is no coincidence that rehearsality prevails in the art of the Internet (for example, in the structure of coubs or "circular" Stories).

- the return of affect: depth comes to replace postmodern superficiality, and with it emotion, and not in the form of romantic feeling (it is no longer possible), but in the form of a lasting affect, in its static close to the baroque.

-postirony: in music, it is expressed in the ambiguity of the message, in balancing between direct utterance and irony (for more on this, see 2). Post-irony can be found where there is a coexistence of two (and no more) opposite semantic layers within a whole composer's gesture.

Written long before the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Simeon ten Holt's music turns metamodern in all its parameters: as if looking into the metamodern (and maybe opening it), which probably determines its increasing relevance.

The new simplicity here manifests itself already in the first (really simplest) pattern: harmonic turnover I VII nat. I "preset harmony" Canto.

Two quarters, but inside there is a dance nonsquare: five-sixteenths, as if the square underlying all European music is violated by an additional fifth, and then this violation already becomes a system.

The designation "staccato, legato, non legato" gives the performer freedom of options. This freedom is of a different nature than, for example, the romantic freedom of "interpretation". Rather, it is related to the freedom to replace tools in the era of Monteverdi. Or maybe it's freedom in the utterance of the words of prayer: it's not so important whether you shout her words or whisper the sequence of words works as a universal code.

Note 1. Simeon ten Holt. Canto ostinato. Vol. 1. For all the simplicity of the initial pattern, complementarity and multilevelness are already embedded in it, which will then unfold in the Canto canvas: each of the five or six-tenths can be in the focus of attention when listening, and from this change the overall picture.

Song and dance are the most important attributes of the music of the metamodern era. In Canto ostinato, both of them are present in a somewhat hidden, encrypted form, appearing as if shrouded in a haze of nostalgia. At the same time, if "dancing" is set already in the first bars, you need to go a long way to "songiness", or, more precisely, to the Song.

The third "whale" (after the dance and the song), bearing the Canto ostinato, becomes the anthem. Not solemn, but soft, but still the hymnality is heard in this music from the very first bars, and it is she who makes this work a kind of universal text suitable for a variety of instruments (and almost any number of them).

Can Canto ostinato be attributed to minimalism? Definitely. But this is a special type of minimalism, which I would like to call sentimental. The sentimental phase of minimalism is separated from its shock phase not so much by a chronological boundary as by the boundary of affect. Where the festive emphasis or the "tragic" emphasis is replaced by softness and a special detached sentimentality, metamodern begins.

This type of minimalism includes those minimalist works in which there is a mode of detached sentimentality: this is David Lang's Sweet air, along with many other compositions by Bang on a can, numerous opuses by Simeon ten Holt, music by Vladimir Martynov.

"Sentimental" minimalism operates as patterns with "sentimental" formulas: fragments of melodies and whole melodies, often stylistically related to the era of Romanticism. This is exactly the pattern Simeon ten Holt uses: not the shortest, but an extended pattern a melody, an entire theme, which, if you listen to it separately (and once), is not associated with rehearsality at all.

The basis of ten Holt's minimalism is not archaic and folklore, not exotic oriental practices and not any of the traditions of church music, but the totality of the author's European music of the last centuries, its gestalt. A similar effect can be observed in most of Vladimir Martynov's piano works, also related to sentimental minimalism ("Wall-Message", "Memory Machine", "Raw and Boiled"): repetition is like detachment, a journey deep into sentimentality, closing and opening quotation marks, the return of melody.

Each new pattern in Canto shows new possibilities of hidden polyphony: when listening, there is a feeling of a gradually drawn openwork pattern in which there are several axes of symmetry at once and which can be read in several ways at once.

Simeon ten Holt. Canto ostinato. Ts. 91.

In the example given as in the entire Canto score (by the way, which is a manuscript of the composer himself) one can see the ecstasy of ornament: and in this case, the notation does not add ornaments to the actual sound of music, but only adequately reflects it. P. Florensky considered ornament the most philosophical of all kinds of arts, because it "does not depict individual things, and not their particular correlations, but gives visibility to certain world formulas of being" (3, p. 160). This world formula of being in Canto ostinato becomes his melody according to the laws of reverse perspective, present all the time and not shaded by any passing and insignificant material.

Another metamodern metanarrative the return of melody can be seen in the main theme of Canto ostinato: it is expanded (9 bars) and autonomous, and is a melody-theme with a beginning, middle-development and end. In this simple and sentimental melody, one can also hear an oscillation characteristic of metamodern: an oscillation between two opposite affects. Minor, but containing a rush upward, this theme seems to combine melancholy and euphoria, giving birth to an ideal metamodern emotion: at the same time clearly felt and elusive for verbal formulation, static and oscillating, motionless in its flicker. Such sentimentality, which combines melancholy and euphoria, is out of line with both the sentimentality of Romanticism and, in principle, all kinds and types of direct utterance of the twentieth century; its homeland is metamodernism.

Approx. 3. Simeon ten Holt. Canto ostinato. Ts. 74.

The final pattern of Canto ostinato is a magic crystal with which European music looks at itself: in it you can hear Songs without Mendelssohn's words, and Schubert's dances, and Chopin's preludes, it is an extract of musical romanticism.

It is symptomatic in this sense that ten Holt chooses not one piano, but as many as four and these are not four percussion pianos of Stravinsky's Wedding, but a Chopin grand piano elevated to a degree, as if suddenly finding himself in a space of continuous self-recognition. In Canto, Simeon ten Holt returns to us the lost piano, the one that stood in the salon, but aspired to the Temple. And the composer builds this temple: beat by beat, repetition by repetition in the end we find ourselves in the Temple, whether we want it or not.

As it happens with the music of the metamodern era, Canto ostinato can exist in a variety of forms: as an autonomous object and background (including the soundtrack), it is equally suitable for a live concert and an online broadcast, finally, it can be stopped and started again at any moment: its device guarantees instant immersion in this sweet metamodern stream without beginning and end. To a certain extent, this brings us back not only to the prewelding experience, but also to the "embryonic" period of the existence of music, when as in the folklore tradition - everyone could "connect" to a single code at any moment: it is this possibility of instant connection that every listener of Canto ostinato feels.

This music also requires a new type of listener not the one who was able to perceive the academic European music of the last few centuries. A Canto listener as, perhaps, a listener of the metamodern era in general should be both relaxed and focused. His task is to cover with inner hearing the "branching paths" of individual voices in all their updating Arabesque details, and at the same time not to lose sight of the whole topic in its integrity and indivisible affect.

Vladimir Martynov in connection with the music of the XV-XVI centuries calls this type of perception "peripheral vision":"unlike the modern European vision, which is purposefully directed forward at the subject and is entirely subordinate to subject-object relations, the shaman's peripheral vision does not try to consider a specific subject and contrast itself with the subject under consideration, but strives to see the general situation in which both the subject under consideration and the "I" considering it are located" (4, p. 54). Simeon ten Holt also has too long (from two hours) duration of the work to "turn on" this type of vision: the listener, accustomed to the horizontal narrative and musical eventfulness, simply will not be able to "follow" musical events for so much time and willy-nilly is loaded into a metamodern "trip".

The project of the Connecting Arts organ festival is deeply symbolic in this sense, in which the performance of the organ version of Canto ostinato was accompanied by a continuous circular dance of a dervish[1].

A circle, and the circle is not geometrically accurate, but as if distorted by the human factor, a circle unfolding in time like a spiral is the most accurate spatial analogue of Canto ostinato. The dance of the dervish is infinite in the limit the finiteness only informs him of the limitations of human possibilities; this is also the Canto, which theoretically can be played without end.

Just as the dance of the dervish is not a free improvisation, but has rules and restrictions, Canto ostinato represents a seemingly impossible creation within the canon at the end of the twentieth century, as if returning us to the pre-composer era. The dance of the dervish emphasizes this return and seemingly removes layer by layer, rotation by rotation the ideas artificially grown by the European mind and reaches the very existence; it is the connection of the western line with the eastern circle into a single flow.

In this dance, the feeling of the center of the body of the dervish is mandatory: it helps the dancer not only to maintain physical balance, but also to fall into a trance. Not only the dervish's body and its huge skirt revolve around this imaginary axis, but also the surrounding world itself in all its diversity; the dance is designed to order the world, to harmonize it. Similarly, Canto ostinato continuously rotates (danced, sung) around its melodic center the main theme, both simple and complex, accommodating the world.

The dervish here can be considered as a metaphor for the ideal listener of the music of the metamodern era: he does not listen, but stays in it, does not observe the events taking place in it with his inner ear, but creates it independently.

Screenshot of the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO6PfdAczqA (date of application: 17. 04. 2019). Kadir Sonuk is dancing. October 2, 2011.

"The West meets the East" is the name of this project of the Connecting Arts festival, however, as Martynov rightly emphasizes, it is wrong to reduce the entire array of precompositional practices to the East, because before the need for evidence of the existence of God, the West was in circular motion. Therefore, in the musical-historical sense, it is not the West that meets the East, but modern music meets the very essence of music, lost a long time ago and regained in the repetition of sentimental harmonies of Canto. In Canto ostinato, the West merges with the East, decomposing into the "lime honey" of metamodern euphoria.

The Dutchman Simeon ten Holt (1923-2012) in his long career as a composer went through free atonality, serial technique and electroacoustic music, by the end of the 70s having come to his personal ars nova: "sentimental minimalism" of his opus magnum.

A craftsman of a new tonality, Simeon ten Holt does not so much create an opus as he is inside the practice with all the modesty possible for a native of Bergen, the son of an artist. In this humility there is Bach's thoroughness and Vermeer's light. At the same time, it is this humility and inheritance of tradition (as if not only musical, but also artistic) that makes ten Holt's music as if free from it: Canto ostinato soars above tradition, contemplates it, attentively examines it from a height. Moreover, it is very difficult to say what kind of tradition is here: there is Mendelssohn, Chopin, romantic, baroque, and "light" music of the twentieth century up to Soviet songs, which were hardly meant, but still appear through this palimpsest, as well as many other musical logos.

The main genre of metamodern becomes a song, the main technique is rehearsality. In this sense, the name Canto ostinato a repetitive song concentrates both concepts, becomes in all respects programmatic for the era of metamodern, the key to which is the continued singing, song repetitions, the continuous development of a new song. In contrast to Il canto sospeso, the Interrupted Song of Luigi Nono, iconic for the second avantgarde and at the same time for musical postmodernism, Simeon ten Holt's "continuous song" can be considered a proclamation not only of a new song, but also of a new integrity of the metamodern, as well as its kind of musical manifesto

1. Martynov V. Melodiya kak terrorist // Muzykal'naya akademiya, N 2 / 2019 (766).
2. Khrushcheva N. Metamodern v muzyke i vokrug nee. RIPOL-klassik, 2020.
3. Florenskii P. Sobr. soch. Stat'i i issledovaniya po istorii i filosofii iskusstva i arkheologii. M., 2000.
4. Martynov V. Zona opus posth, ili Rozhdenie novoi real'nosti. M.: Klassika-XXI, 2019.
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