Atonality: A Musical Fairytale
Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed.
One day the Emperor went in procession through the city, dressed in a splendid array of garments and finery, resplendent under his royal canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!”
“But he hasn’t got anything on,” said a stern looking man called Arnold Schoenberg.
“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said the Emperor. And one person whispered to another what Arnold had said, “He hasn’t anything on. Arnie said he hasn’t anything on.”
“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.
The Emperor was very confused, because he was pretty sure he was wearing clothes. “Nope. These clothes are here, exactly where they should be: on my body.”
“Clothes have failed!” cried Arnold. “Being clothes-less will now be the supreme form of expression for the next thousand years!”
The town was whipped into a frenzy. “On whose authority are we to believe this?” cried the town.
“It’s just historically inevitable or something,” said Arnold.
The whole town cried out in fervent agreement. “Historically inevitable! That’s what Arnold said!”
“What is he talking about?” said the Emperor. “Everybody is wearing clothes. We’d all get cold if we didn’t wear clothes. How is this even going to work?”
“I’ve figured it out,” said Arnold. “Clothes are finished, so now you have to carry around a little passport that I will issue to all the good people. Anyone who wants to wear clothes or not use my passport is clearly worthless.”
The Emperor was puzzled. “But Arnie, you’ve just taken your shirt off. You are still wearing that eighteenth century jacket and seventeenth century trousers. I can see them right now.”
“What an old fuddy duddy!” said Arnie. “Look how old fashioned he is! Anyone who doesn’t want to be respected better do what I say. You wouldn’t want to appear old fashioned now, would you?”
Everybody sent out a hurrah of agreement. “We hate old-fashioned things! That’s what Arnold said!” The Emperor was doubly confused because everyone basically kept all their clothes on anyway. It was freezing outside.
“But wait a second, everyone here is still wearing clothes,” said the Emperor. “Clothes are still extremely practical and convenient and they still contain the potential for an endless variety of stylistic invention the likes of which humanity can not even imagine. There is no need to abandon clothes at all.”
A young man called Pierre Boulez stepped forward.
“I can prove that clothes are not necessary, even Arnold’s gauche jacket,” he said. “Here: look at this photo of me not wearing any clothes in 1952.”
The Emperor glanced at the photo. “Well, great, but you’re wearing clothes right now, so clearly that didn’t work out.”
“I said, look at this photo.”
“I think we should blow up your house.”
And so the Emperor, deeply confused, left his kingdom of Darmstadt never to return. He travelled the world, and found that everybody outside his tiny homeland welcomed him with open arms. Everywhere he went, people thought he had a lot of amazing clothes, though they liked some more than others, and everybody was taking inspiration from each others’ clothes in order to make more clothes in as many inventive and different ways as possible but all the while wearing clothes because that was practical and hygienic and prevented them from freezing to death.
Though the Emperor often asked for news from his homeland, he was always disappointed with what he heard. Every few years a new leader would appear, and they would each insist “there are no clothes!” Upon hearing this news, the Emperor would always became very sad. “But there are,” he would say. “Even a child could see that.”