Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Once More into the Breach

At the end of an article about how much performers move around when they're playing, Bernard Holland asks:
At the end of the day, whom do we take more seriously, Rubinstein or Lang Lang?
To which I answer:
Ask me when Lang Lang turns 75.
Then there's this:

The television program I happened to come across was produced by or for (probably both) a major American piano competition, and the young people I saw on it were part of that process. The program also offered commentary by an eminent conductor talking about the differences between Apollonian and Dionysian approaches to art. The Apollonian refers (and I paraphrase) to symmetry, invention and elegance; the Dionysian, to art more from the gut, more spontaneous.

More personal too. Dionysus had the stage when I was watching: two ambitious young people were taking part in a system that asks them to use Beethoven and Schumann as ways to sell themselves. Maybe our eminent conductor could have added another distinction to his two-sided debate: that Dionysian pianists care about Dionysian pianists, whereas Apollonian pianists care about music.

So, is this a veiled assertion that, for example, Leonard Bernstein didn't care about music?

[Thanks to rootlesscosmo for calling out this bit of Hollandish nonsense.]


Marcus said...

His articles get more and more ridiculous. Is he trying to be provocative? If so, he's really bad at it (at least someone like Lebrecht can be mildly entertaining in his preposterousness). I actually think the most ridiculous statement he makes in this particular "article" is: "Even worse, lugubrious gymnastics like these advertise the feelings of performers, not of Beethoven or Schumann." Are the two really mutually exclusive?

Brian Hinrichs said...

Hi Lisa, Brian Hinrichs posting from Bangkok here, fan of your blog--I voiced similar sentiments on mine this morning when I came across Holland's article, though I said the comparison to Rubenstein would be fair when Lang Lang is 80!

Joe said...

I stopped reading Bernard Holland a long time ago. I stopped reading Alex Ross, too. It's not just that I disagree with them about music, though I do. It's that both frequently suggest that people who disagree wth them — that is, people like me — are just elite phonies who look down their noses plain folks like them. And they get a lot of stuff wrong.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Brian, hi! I remember reading one of your blog postings after following a link on another site - am I linking to you now??

Joe, I don't think Alex is nearly in a class with Holland on that count. He is more in the school of letting a hundred flowers bloom, as I read him.

Joe said...

Yeah, but he gets a lot of stuff wrong — factually, I mean — and I think he does it purposely when it suits his purposes. Anyway, after something he wrote a while ago about Ives, I gave up on him. But I agree he's not the horse's ass Holland is.

Lisa Hirsch said...

What about Ives? That Ives may have backdated some of his work to make it look more revolutionary?

Joe said...

Yes, but there's more to it. Citing Gayle Sherwood's research, Ross wrote that Ives had created a "fiction" on the score of 3 Places by writing "return to Charles Ives" on the first page above an old address. (Gayle found from the watermark that the paper was manufactured after Ives had moved.) I e-mailed Gayle, whom I've become friendly with, asking if there was a possible interpretation that didn't make Ives out as a pathological liar. She wrote back and said that, yes, she did discover Ives had penciled in an old addess, but she found Ross's conclusion about the fiction pretty ridiculous. To believe Ives backdated the score with an old address, she said, you'd have to believe he was thinking like a musicologist---that he knew that 30 years after his death, somebody would bother to find out when he was living at that address and use it to ascribe a false date to the score. (Her own conlusion is that Ives wrote in the old address to remind himself where he was living when he began the piece, then added "return to Charles Ives" above it at a later time, when he started shopping the score around.) If he wanted people to think the score was written in 1909, she said, he could have written "This score was written in 1909" on the title page. She explained this to the New Yorker fact checker who called her, but apparently it never made its way through the chain of comand. She also wrote a letter to the New Yorker after Ross's article appeared, but it was never published.

I told Gayle that using her research to impugn Ives's character was like using Gould's theory of punctated equilibrium an argument for creationism. She said it was an apt comparison.

So, I don't read Alex Ross anymore. I figure if I can't trust him on things I know about, I can't trust him on things I don't know about.

Back to Holland: I loathe the phrase, "At the end of the day." We hear it much to much.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Did you or Gayle Sherwood ever write directly to Alex? There's an email address on his blog. I also think he is not the only person who thinks Ives deliberately backdated some of his scores, but I can't pin down why I think that.

Joe said...

Well, since I don't read him, I wouldn't look at his blog, now would I? ;-) He's also made a few cracks about Carter I haven't appreciated. And it's not my job to keep setting these people straight.

I don't now what Gayle did, though I assume she feels she did her duty by writing to the magazine. Has Lynn sent you my e-mail address? You can get it from her.

Lisa Hirsch said...

He reads this blog (sometimes), so we'll see if he runs across this.

No, haven't got your email address.

Anonymous said...

Here's Ross in his own words:

"Later [after 1939, the date of a review he's just quoted] the legend of Ives the innovator underwent skeptical scrutiny. The author Maynard Solomon wrote a paper alleging that Ives had backdated his scores in an effort to establish his p;recedence in the race toward atonality. Gayle Sherwood countered by proving that the composer had been tinkering with outlandish harmonies as early as 1898."

(The Rest is Noise, p. 132.)

Joe said...


Where is this guy coming from? You know, "working with advanced" would have done just as well. Did Stravinsky "tinker with outlandish" rhythms? Jeez.

Lisa, I think AR has already seen my comments, a version of which I posted on a discussion board. I was told he left a response, at any rate. I didn't read it because, well, see above ...

Another thing he said that p'd me off: In discussing the Carter Piano Concerto, he alleged that Stravinsky, who admired the score, told Carter he didn't understand all of it --- the implication being that if the great Stravinsky couldn't understand this stuff, the rest of us mere mortals would have no chance. Of course, Stravinsky said nothing of the sort. The PS in his congratulatory letter to Carer reads: "I really can't judge the recorded performance, nor can I honestly claim to have heard everything on page 54." Nothing in that sentence implies a lack of understanding. That's what I mean by getting things wrong on purpose when it suits the agenda.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Joe, The Rest is Noise is directed to a general audience, not musicologists, not composers, not people like us who've been listening to this stuff for decades. Ives's harmonies are outlandish for that audience!

On the Carter remarks, I'm going to have to actually read the book, but "getting things wrong on purpose" I am doubtful of. And go read his response on the discussion board.

joe said...