Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fifty Years Hence

Over at Slipped Disc, Norman Lebrecht has been taking a poll over the last few days about which composers who are alive today will be played fifty years from now. In essence, he's asking about repertory formation and about our powers of prediction. It'd be nice if he'd focus on particular genres. Do we mean composers of big orchestral works? of opera, which has special challenges? composers who focus on chamber music or choral music?

It might be interesting to look at which composers were alive fifty years ago who are still played today. Let's start with the biggest gun of all, Igor Stravinsky. Alive in 1959? Check. Still being played today? Boy howdy. Dmitri Shostakovich? Alive in 1959, played all over today, Shostakovich might be the most recent composer to enter what I'd call the standard repertory.

How about Benjamin Britten? Yep. Ralph Vaughan Williams? Ooops, died in '57. Aaron Copland? Still played today. Leonard Bernstein? Oh, yeah. Pierre Boulez? Yep, people are still playing him. He's one of the old guard of Modernism now. Elliott Carter? Still alive and still composing at nearly 101. I'm willing to bet that string quartets looking for depth and challenge will be playing Carter fifty years from now, too.

Can anyone come up with a nice list of composers who were played 50 years ago and are not played today? Mr. Soho, this seems up your alley.


rootlesscosmo said...

There's a delicate nuance here: "played" is vague (how often? by whom?) and "never played" is too categorical ("Why, just last year the Winnipeg Chamber Symphony performed...") But what about Roy Harris, Howard Hanson, and William Schuman? I don't think their music ever was played as often as Tchaikovsky or Haydn, but I have a general sense that it's heard less often now that they're dead and fashions in music have moved on.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes, exactly - and I had those three American guys in mind, as composers who have fallen out of fashion, to the extent that they were ever IN fashion.

I was also reminded of claims that classical music is dying. Well, define dying, define dead, etc. I would like to have a bet with you-know-who about the death of classical music, of course, because as far as I can tell, what he was saying was "some classical music institutions will die," to which one can only say, duh.

Kyle L said...

I think I remember reading in an interview with Mr. Boulez what he thought of minimalism. His response was basically this: Menotti was popular 50 years ago, and his music isn't really performed much any more. I believe that he has a good point about Menotti. I get the feeling that only a few of his operas are performed at universities, and Amahl might be dragged out every now and then for Christmas.

As for minimalism, I don't think it's just a fad like Mr. Boulez implies. Of the main trio, I say Reich has the best chance for sticking around. The guy at Musical Perceptions thinks that Glass has the better chance. But I definitely agree with him that John Adams (who has gone beyond minimalism) has a very good chance for still being performed.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Menotti's a great example.

I'm with you on minimalism. If it's a fad, it's a fad with 35-years-and-counting legs.

sfmike said...

Samuel Barber, Honegger, Hindemith, Tippett, William Walton, William Schuman, Roy Harris, Antheil, Darius Milhaud, Stefan Wolpe, Milton Babbitt, Andrew Imbrie, Ned Rorem, Luigi Nono, Penderecki.

Michael Walsh said...

We don't hear much of Ferde Grofe's (d. 1972) hit, although we'll still hear his arrangement of Gershwin's Song of United Airlines for a while. (I'd really like to hear his Sonata for Flute and Bicycle Pump some day.)

It's hard to know what if any Alan Hovhaness (d. 2000) is played now.

And who, outside of music history classes, plays John Cage?

Sator Arepo said...

Cage is played frequently and in lots of different venues. It's easy to find Cage-y-inspired festivals and offshoots and concerts.

sfmike's list is plausible but I've heard works by all of those guys (live) within the last 10 years except maybe Imbrie. Tippett is plausible as Menotti I think.

Finzi (outside of student vocal recitals)? Lili Boulanger? Malcolm Arnold? C.V. Stanford?

John J. Becker is a good one, heh.

Henry Holland said...

I've never really been interested in what constitutes the "standard repetory" because I realized early on that, having seen rock music richochet from Beatlemania > Dylan > Sgt. Pepper > The Band > CSN(&Y) etc., classical music has fashions > reaction > reaction to the reaction all the time too and that what's completely forgotten can be revived years later. See: Franz Schreker and his incredible operas.

Re: Penderecki. Of course, certain works are played pretty often in Europe (Threnody, the big choral works) and in Poland there usually at least one production of his operas (Devils of Loudon etc.) done a year. The Met could really do Paradise Lost right, with the big chorus and vast scenic requirements.

So, if a composer is played in one country a lot but not really anywhere else, does that count?

Mr. Boulez is being disingenuous about minimalism. It's quite clear listening to his glorious Repons that he's absorbed some lessons from minimalism and put them to his own uses.

Joe Barron said...

There are several mainstream American symphonists whose music seems to be disappearing, though like anyone else, they do turn up on specialist programs now and again. Walter Piston, William Schuman and David Diamond rarely if ever turn up on orchestral programs these days. Neither do Vincent Persichetti or Norman dello Joio, though a lot of their music seems to have been taken up by bands and amateur choirs.

I think you can tell something about the state of a composer's viability by the number of new recordings of their work being done. Carter, for example, still gets recorded, but there hasn't been a new recording of any of Henry Cowell's orchestral music in years. The Cowell catalog consists mostly of older recordings. Same with Schuman and Piston (though MTT's version of the Piston’s Second is a classic).

I doubt we’ll hear much of John Corigliano or David del Tredici in years to come, either. These guys have made their reputations as anti-serialists, anti-modernists. When the fight no longer seems as urgent, the demand for their music will become less urgent as well.

And Wolpe will always have an audience as long as I'm alive.

Joe Barron said...

PS Is Mike Walsh the same Mike Walsh who does alfa for JRC? If so ... wow, small world.

Lisa Hirsch said...

What is "alfa for JRC" in this context? The Mike Walsh who is commenting above is a friend of mine who is a software developer, um, software company executive.

Joe Barron said...

>>What is "alfa for JRC" in this context?

If he knows what it means, then he's the guy. If not, it's not worth explaining. Since he's friend of yours, and, I assume, a West Coaster, I doubt it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes, West Coast resident, so not the guy.

Michael Walsh said...

I don't think I'm him.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one surprised to see that Esa-Pekka Salonen is not mentioned at all?

Lisa Hirsch said...

No - I noticed the omission and was surprised by it. Also, not many mentions of Saariaho and Lindberg.

Henry Holland said...

Saariaho and Lindberg are perfect examples of the up-and-down nature of things. We got a lot of both of them while E-PS was in charge, with Dudamel, they're composers-non-grata. Of course, Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas, I think, will take their place.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Might take a few seasons to get a firm fix on Dudamel. I hope he can find better composers than Chavez and Revueltas, though. I bought that seven-CD set of Mexican composers offered cheap by Arkiv a year or two back and thought Chavez better than competent but missing greatness and Revueltas not as good as Chavez. I have no doubts of Saariaho's greatness, and both Salonen and Lindberg are pretty close to her level.

calimac said...

Thanks to the statistics I've pulled out of Kate Hevner Mueller's work, I can tell you that the symphonies (just symphonies: I didn't do this for other works) most played by major American orchestras in the 1950s by composers still living in 1959 were:
1) Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" (44)
2) Shostakovich's 5th (40)
3) Shostakovich's 1st (30)
4) Creston's 2nd (23)
5) Harris's 3rd (15)

Check the American Symphony Orchestra League statistics for the last decade, and the top 5 places are occupied by four Shostakovichs and Copland's Third (the last of which had 6 in the 50s). Here's the 2000s statistics for the '50s leaders:
Hindemith Mathis (34)
Shostakovich 5 (144)
Shostakovich 1 (49)
Creston 2 (2)
Harris 3 (8)

So Shostakovich has risen (as has Copland), Hindemith has fallen, Harris has fallen farther, and Creston's very name probably draws a blank for most people.

calimac said...

(By "top 5 places" for the last decade, I mean the most-played symphonies of the 2000s decade written by composers living in 1959. Nothing not yet written then makes the top five. The leader in that category would be ... Shostakovich's 15th. You can't win.)

calimac said...

Oh, that's still not clear. Try again:

(By "top 5 places" for the last decade, I mean the symphonies most-played during the 2000s decade written by composers living in 1959. Nothing not yet written in 1959 makes the top five. The leader in that category would be ... Shostakovich's 15th. You can't win.)

rootlesscosmo said...

@calimac: Data! Actual data! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Wallingford Riegger, Peter Mennin, John LaMontaine, Robert Kurka, Vittorio Giannini, Harold Shapero (still alive), Virgil Thomson, Roger Sessions, Hunter Johnson, Nicolas Flagello, Lee Hoiby (still alive, and his 2006 "Last Letter Home" was a surprise YouTube hit), Alvin Etler, Morton Gould, Karel Husa, Lukas Foss, Vivian Fine, Irving Fine, Henry Brant, John Becker, Salvatore Martirano.

calimac said...

I've put more data here.

Lynn Kendall said...

I'll be very sorry if Cowell leaves the repertoire. The work of his that I've heard is beautiful. (Joe, you introduced me to his music.) He's still be remembered for the land he bequeathed to California, now a state park.

calimac said...

No, he won't, because it was a different guy with the same name.