Mystery score

Mystery score

Monday, August 02, 2010

You Rant About How Terrible Modern Music Is. I Say You Are Not Listening.

Hoisted from the comments, something I wrote:

Twentieth and twenty-first century music runs the gamut from harmonically conservative composers like Schmidt and Vaughn Williams and, hell, Havergal Brian to Britten and Shostakovich, both of whom are firmly in the standard rep, to Stravinsky, Bartok, and Janacek to Glass, Reich, and Adams, to Carter, Xenakis, and Fernyhough (born decades apart), to Lindberg, Salonen, and Saariaho (and Sallinen and Aho and Part and...) to Higdon, Harbison, Diamond, (Melinda) Wagner, and on and on.

Really, there's something for everyone. Any person interested in Western notational music who can't find something to like in the music of the last hundred years isn't trying very hard.

20 comments:

rootlesscosmo said...

Not to mention Miklos Rosza, Bernard Herrmann, Duke Ellington (what, you think those guys made up the charts on the spot?) and Jerome Kern. Any person who can't find something to like in the music of the last hundred years isn't even listening.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me but there is nothing written in the past 100 years that is on a par with Debussy's 'Pelleas et Melisande', 'La Mer' or 'Prelude To The Afternoon of A Faun'...

A couple interesting pieces here and there, yes, but nothing that comes close to the Debussy.

Joe Barron said...

Eric! I knew it was you.

Lisa Hirsch said...

If you compare the Debussy masterpieces to the following works, there is no way to prove that claim:

The Rite of Spring, 1913
Die Frau ohne Schatten, 1919
Wozzeck, 1925
Turandot, 1926
Moses und Aron, 1930-32
Shostakovich string quartets
Bartok, Concerto for Orchestra, 1940-something
Peter Grimes, 1945
Gruppen, 1957
Le marteau sans maitre, 1955
Nixon in China, 1987

Etc.

Paul H. Muller said...

Anonymous says: "A couple interesting pieces here and there, yes, but nothing that comes close to the Debussy."

How about Arvo Part?

Try this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxKqg0Fwsro

Anonymous said...

Lisa and Joe,

When I wrote 'on a par' I meant not just comparable in sonorous beauty, but delicacy and sophistication also.

Regarding Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring': While I enjoy it on occasion, I've always found it to be largely raucous, discordant, and a bit headache-inducing. There is little of beauty, mystery, nobility, spirituality or elegance within it. Would it really matter as regards the harmonies or the general musical effect of much of the piece, were some, or even many, of the notes within it to be played incorrectly ?

It is, for me, a travesty of music and a betrayal of the great legacy to which Stravinsky was heir. Had I written it I would be thoroughly ashamed of myself.

Ditto Wozzeck.

I do like 'Turandot'

Bartok I generally can't stand.

Schoenberg's 'Moses und Aron' I admire but I don't cherish it.

No comment on the other pieces.

Btw, you might want to read this great and refreshing article by former New York Times critic Bernard Holland. In it he says that Debussy's 'Prelude To The Afternoon of A Faun' is a somewhat misundertood masterpiece. He also considers it as great as Bach's 'Saint Matthew Passion'

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/10/26/arts/classical-view-what-s-in-a-name-power-sometimes-trouble.html

Now THAT'S the kind of enthusiasm for Debussy's 'Faun' I like to read about it !

Anonymous said...

Thanks Paul, I'll check it out.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That's all a matter of taste. You get a headache from Sacre, I get a high. Chacun a son gout, but you haven't proven a thing - because you can't.

As for Bernard Holland, so? It's no secret that I considered him lazy, incoherent, and mean.

Anonymous said...

Well, I still miss writers like Bernard Holland, Howard Taubman, Edward Rothstein and Harold Schonberg:

"I thought the serial-dominated music after the war was a hideously misbegotten creature sired by Caliban out of Hecate..."

--H. Schonberg


I find today's leading critics -- Anthony Tommassini, Anne Midgette and Alex Ross -- mostly uninteresting and at times just downright silly.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, regarding the two Debussy works. It's sad that the musical art essentially ended for you more than a century ago, considering how much great music has been written since then.

Joe Barron said...

Lisa, don't waste your breath, time or talent arguing with Eric. It's been tried on various discussion boards. He's right, we're wrong, God said it, that settles it.

doug said...

How interesting that "anonymous" argues his personal musical preferences as fact. I'm grateful to have a less clouded view and I'm certainly grateful for the music of the last 100 years -- that which I love and that which I don't. To Lisa's point, it is such a diverse and wonderful world of sound! Personally, I don't currently love most of the Debussy I've heard, but I sure get and appreciate his remarkable talent and influence.

I'll add here that Alex Ross's writing has and continues to teach me about music, some ways to listen to it, and some irresistible reasons to love it and its diversity. Almost every one of his pieces makes me feel like he's just found something totally interesting or maybe even surprising and he can hardly wait to invite others to share in it. I love his ability to be so informative and passionate without losing less informed/trained readers like me. His book "The Rest Is Noise" strikes me as a stunning success on many levels, and it even has some nice things to say about Debussy. That book helped me fall in love with music I didn't know existed. I've gone from being an occasional classical music listener/attender to being obsessed and in love with the great diversity of the "classical" world thanks to Alex's writings. Heck, if it weren't for Alex, I never would have found or read this fun blog!

Ok, enough from me. "It's the poor little thing's turn." ;-)

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you - and I agree about how great Alex is about drawing in readers in that way.

Joe Barron said...

I don't care for Alex Ross.

The Unrepentant Pelleastrian said...

Lisa and Joe,

Perhaps I am missing out on a lot of great 20th century music but I truly doubt it. The aesthetic pleasure I derive from Machaut, Josquin, Bach, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Brahms, Bruckner, Wagner, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Strauss is just immense. Those are just a few obviously.

My objections to contemporary music (post 1950 specifically) is that much of it is self-indulgent and seems to rely on a lot of gimmickry.

For instance did you see you everyone raved about the Xenaxis percussion concert in Central Park about a month ago ? All the papers wrote about it and how great a composer he was.... Why ?

The same applies to the recent concerts of Andriessen and Ligeti 'Grand Macabre' at Lincoln Center.

Perhaps those composers didn't have large enough litter bins. I really don't know. It just seems as though everything which is written gets presented to the public without any filtering process for good or bad. The composers of the past who had great facility like Schubert or Bach presumably discarded a great deal of substandard imagined music in their heads almost constantly.

Only when the captive audience stops applauding, in many cases only politely, and starts booing what they are being forced to listen to, will there be any possibility of changing this

On a separate note:

I really would like to bring some formality back to the concert hall and opera house.

Just a few suggestions:

* End those patronizing pre-concert lectures. If the conductor would like to do it an hour before in a separate room, fine.

* Bring back the dress code. Not tuxedos or gowns obviously, but nice conservative dress.

* Remove all surtitles from opera houses. (People should do their 'homework' BEFORE they get there)

And most importantly:

* Ban all applause until the very end of the work.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Of course, no one is telling you not to love the composers you love.

I didn't hear the Xenakis percussion concert in the park, but last February I heard the JACK Quartet perform all his string quartets. They are fabulous pieces. And I loved "Le Grand Macabre."

I'm very puzzled by your comment about captive audiences and music they're "forced" to listen to. Nobody can force anyone to buy a recording or concert ticket they don't want, you know.

As for the rest, who cares what anyone is wearing, if they keep quiet during a program?

The Unrepentant Pelleastrian said...

Lisa,

"I'm very puzzled by your comment about captive audiences and music they're "forced" to listen to. Nobody can force anyone to buy a recording or concert ticket they don't want, you know..."

Yes, but why are many modernist works smuggled into programs of traditional works ?

This 'sandwiching' with the old chestnuts is annoying.

For instance, I've never seen a Carter piece played last after, say, a Brahms symphony.

Anyway, I think ACD is correct here:

"I am outraged at our postmodern art-is-whatever-the-artist-says-is-art Zeitgeist wherein snake oil pimped by charlatans is being bought wholesale and with enthusiasm by those best equipped by native intelligence and refined education and sensibilities to know better — most especially by those best equipped by native intelligence and refined education and sensibilities to know better..."

Lisa Hirsch said...

Please point me to the programs where what you're calling modernist works are being smuggled in. And also tell me which you've heard, while we're at it.

I'm sorry, I just can't take ACD's overblown rhetoric very seriously. It's a screed. I'm more interested in talking about specifics.

The Unrepentant Pelleastrian said...

Lisa,

"Please point me to the programs where what you're calling modernist works are being smuggled in. And also tell me which you've heard, while we're at it"

There are too many to name.

My point is that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a new composition by a major composer scorned at its premiere was usually enthusiastically acclaimed within days, or weeks, or at most A FEW years.

Music unloved 50 years later says more about the composer than the audience, doesn't it ?

Stockhausen, Boulez, Carter... these men have been composing for decades and their music is not even close to becoming standard repertory.

Lisa Hirsch said...

No, I think music unloved 50 years later says a lot about the audience as well as about the composers. Anyway...what about people who loved that music? Do you not believe the many people commenting here who like and seek out Stockhausen, Boulez, Carter?