A concept we should all ponder for a moment: schmaltz, defined by Carl Wilson as "an unprivate portrait of how private feeling is currently conceived.” Wilson is a Canadian music journalist who has flown, Icarus-like, toward the annihilating sun of schmaltz, which is to say, he has written a book that attempts to takes Celine Dion seriously. Better him than me, but still, I think I'd like to read this book. Some of the music I treasure most is schmaltz. Right now I'm listening to the recording of Byron Janis playing the Liszt E-flat piano concerto, which is as schmaltzy as anything in the standard repertoire, and which I just love, love, love. I love that it makes such a spectacle of "how private feeling is conceived." Notice I dropped the word "currently" out of the quote. Whatever reflexive emotions and bogus revelations Liszt is promulgating, they find no resonance in contemporary sensibility; that sensibility needs to be reconstructed for the modern listener. The theme of the second movement, with its raised-eyebrow contour, its greasy little chromatic appoggiaturas swinging up the tonic triad to its aspirational apex, confessing a feeling that no decent person could ever have admitted to having. In loving it, I'm not being abject; the trick with Liszt is that you have to kind of power though the schmaltz, staring the reified gestures down. You empty them of their intentions until they seem like empty husks, pure form, and then allow them to fill with meaning again. And then they're beautiful all over, just as beautiful as when you were 12 years old and fell for their tricks the first time. Just because it's schmaltz doesn't mean it's not art. That said, I still don't want to listen to Celine Dion.
Anyway, schmaltz lurks behind every corner. Making too much of a fetish of avoiding bad taste is itself in bad taste. "Punk rock is anger's schmaltz," writes Wilson. Very true.
(Thanks to Graham Larkin for pointing this article out to me.)