Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Oh, Come On

Greg Sandow reports on a couple of composers ("one quite well known") who are, apparently, traumatized by the works of Luciano Berio and what he represents to them: the tyranny of serialism and the highly intellectual compositional styles popular (and supposedly required) in academic compositional circles in the 1950s through 1970s.

So, here's the deal. I lived through those times and remember a lot of diddly-beepity music at graduate student concerts at Brandeis in the late 1970s. I have a story or two, yes, I do, especially the one involving a composer friend who failed his written exams under unexplained circumstances. (He got his doctorate at an institution other than the one that flunked him.)

However, it's not the 1970s any more. Anyone still feeling traumatized in 2007 from their graduate student days of twenty or thirty years back needs to bear in mind that it's the 21st century, you're not in grad school any more, and you can write whatever music you want.

P. S. As far as castigating Carter for not incorporating popular tunes into his Joyce-inspired work goes: c'mon. The same thing I said above about writing whatever music you want goes for Carter too. Stop with the prescriptions.


Steve Hicken said...

Well said. You saved me some virtual ink.

Marcus said...

Wasn't Berio at least partially responsible for Reich's track as a composer? If he could survive direct study with him and become the composer he is today, these other fools need to get a life.

Anonymous said...

It's a little like someone telling the writers who were blacklisted in Hollywood during the Red Scare that they need to "get a life"; injustice has this odd way of persisting. Some of America's best composers had their careers more or less killed off, or at least stifled, by the serialists and high modernists, and I am not about to forgive and forget. Why did a style of composition turn into an ideology, anyway? The answer to that question is actually probably more interesting than the music the anointed ones produced.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Those aren't the terms Greg's blog posting are in, however, and it's that posting I'm discussing.

Which composers are you thinking of, and how were their careers killed? By academic politics? By organizations that didn't commission or perform their music (a problem for just about everyone, regardless of style)?

David B said...

I'm with "anonymous" on this. That is part & parcel with what Sandow is talking about, and it's real. Even older established composers as renowned as Copland and Barber were hounded by the sneering postwar orthodoxy; who knows how many younger careers were blighted? Malcolm Arnold in the UK was certainly hit hard by it. Reich and Glass got out from under, partly by way of a style (high 70s minimalism) that they could safely claim was even more radical than the enforced academic radicalism, but others were surely not so fortunate.

I don't know what kind of experience Reich had as Berio's student. Maybe his subsequent career has been a reaction against the orthodoxy he was fed at that time. (Glass's career, by his own account, has been a reaction against the Boulez coterie.) Or, alternately, maybe Berio didn't try to enforce as a teacher what he practiced as a composer. But if he didn't he would be unlike Boulez and many others.

At any rate I find it quite understandable that anyone force-fed that stuff 35 years ago would still be allergic to it today. This shoe fits the other foot too: people are still angry at Glass for what he wrote then and can't tell it apart from the very different music he writes today.

Alex said...

I don't doubt that the serialist orthodoxy had a chilling effect on young composers in that period--the academy closing ranks around some orthodoxy which looks short sighted after the fact is hardly a new story, or one specific to music. I'm sure history's dustbin is full of academic composers who once sneered at the titans. Fortunately for composers, unlike, say, anthropologists, they're not judged by the court of academic opinion their entire careers.

Which is why I think this 'stranglehold' story is sometimes a crutch we use to explain anxiety over what feels like the virtual disappearance of cultural recognition for new classical music in those years. I.e., the problem may be less that the academy was so strict, but that they were the only game in town, in light of the explosion of mass popular music culture, technology, what have you. That's a more complicated story to tell, but at least it doesn't offload the blame for all our woes onto a handful of diddly-beepity composition professors.

P.S. Ditto to your PS...Sandow gets in his standard dig against the snide classical elitists here (FYI: 'folk songs don't count'), but I'm thinking those oppressed students were probably aiming for some middle ground between tone rows and quoting Zeppelin.

drewmcmanus said...

Amen Lisa!