Mystery score

Mystery score

Saturday, February 04, 2012

More on Martyr

Last month, Chloe Veltman and Brian Rosen talked on her radio show about bad music and a supposed general reluctance to criticize classical music. Now, I don't think I agree with the thesis that people are just unwilling to say any particular piece of classical music is bad or doesn't work or whatever; one need only glance at A Lexicon of Musical Invective or reviews of new music to see plenty of negative opinions. But Chloe then offered up Le Martyr de Saint Sebastien as an example of bad music. A rather entertaining discussion ensued, because one of Chloe's readers thinks the Janacek Sinfonietta is bad music. Say what?

I mixed it up elsewhere a few years ago with him, and he comes across here (as he did then) as a troll; unwilling to provide support for his opinions, unwilling to do a little research on his own; stating opinion as fact; unwilling to respond in full to any points made by others. So I dropped out fairly soon.

But there are real problems in trying to label music as "bad," and anyway, why would you want to? Is the music uninteresting? Ineffective? Derivative? Lacks originality? Ugly? Boring? The specific reasons why a piece doesn't work are always going to be more interesting than saying "it's bad," and they're certainly what I want to hear from a commentator.

9 comments:

Dave Natan said...

I love classical music, and I hate people who try to overtly objectify art.

Ok hate is a big word. I never-mind them XD

CK Dexter Haven said...

I've only seen once performance of the complete Le Martyr de Saint Sebastien; it was done by E-PS and the LA Phil back in the Dorothy Chandler. Soloists included Sylvia McNair, Paula Rassmussen, and Nancy Maultsby (I don't remember who the narrator was).

I wasn't that it into the piece, but I don't think I'd say it was "bad."

I remember liking the soprano part, especially with Sylvia McNair singing so radiantly; however, I thought it meandered a bit overall and it lost my interest many times. Haven't seen it since, and only have recordings of the "symphonic fragments." Even though Debussy is one of my favorite composers, I'm not sure if I'd make a big effort to see it again.

CK Dexter Haven said...

Oh, and the Janacek Sinfonietta is a fun piece of music, maybe/probably a guilty pleasure. But "bad?" Hell no. That's a piece worth seeing over and over, whether or not one thinks its a masterpiece.

Just to take the discussion of "bad" things in a slightly different direction, let's talk about Jack in the Box tacos. Mrs. CKDH and I readily agree that they are "bad" tacos in that we would NEVER make tacos like this ourselves: the ingredients are suspect, the preparation is questionable , and the health effects are negligible.

That said, they are surprisingly really tasty and addictive, and at 2 for $$0.99, we buy them regularly. They are really good "bad" tacos.

Similarly, if one considers Sinfonietta as bad music (I don't), then it should rightfully be called "really good 'bad' music."

Lisa Hirsch said...

I think the Sinfonietta is a genuinely great piece, in part because of its weirdness.

Re Jack in the Box: when my girlfriend was a nutritionist, she investigated various types of fast food so that she could discuss the stuff with her clients in an informed fashion. She concluded that Taco Bell tacos were nutritionally decent, and they're inexpensive as well. Don't know if the Jack in the Box are similar or not.

Re good bad music, my formulation is along the lines of great second-rate music. I put a lot of Saint-Saens, whom I adore, in that category.

Henry Holland said...

As a huge fan of Korngold's operas and a lot of his purely symphonic music, I'm used to the "Oh, that's awful music" nonsense being leveled at it. It's so lazy to do so and I roll my eyes at the idea that everything Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven wrote is pure gold, a claim which I've read more than a few times.

It's almost as if the deifying of them is more important than being reality-based, that if the collective "we" admitted that yes, Haydn and Mozart churned out rote music, and stuff like Wellington's Victory would be in oblivion if it wasn't written by Beethoven, then that casts doubt on the undoubted masterpieces the three wrote.

As for the Sinfonietta, I love it but I'm biased. My favorite band, ELP, used the opening few bars to construct their song Knife Edge (while throwing in a Bach French Suite to boot). Because of ELP, I began investigating Janacek's music and I'm really glad I did.

Brian said...

I kinda think the subtext of the radio show was that saying a piece of music is bad is more about the sayer than the music.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That would make sense. :) (I haven't heard the show, just read the blog postings.)

Brian said...

Oh! You should listen! It's fun. We laugh an awful lot.

Lisa Hirsch said...

If I can find the time.....!