Thursday, May 01, 2008

Music to My Ears

Steve Smith on Elliott Carter, in his Times review of Tuesday's Juilliard Quartet/Charles Neidich concert:
Too much time and ink have been spent talking about how challenging, rigorous and difficult Elliott Carter’s music is, and not nearly enough on how lively, vigorous and even funny it can be.

A hint from here on how to approach Carter: attend concerts and listen to the music before you look at the scores. His notation makes my head hurt, even when I'm following a recording, because I try to count it. My eyes cross and everything! But the musical narrative is easy to follow if you're putting your ears first.


Steve Smith said...

You're much too kind, Lisa. For what it's worth, I followed the score the first time through to get a sense of the structure, then left it closed the second and just enjoyed how the music felt. It was more fun the second way -- but that lead sentence came to me after the first.

If I'd had just a little more space, I would have raved a bit more about the solo pieces (and Ronald Copes in particular), as John Clair did here.

joe barron said...

Bravo, Steve! It's always a pleasure to read a review that captures one's own experience of a concert. When you told me your idea for the lede on the subway the other night, I hoped you would change it in the way you actually did. You said the lede would be something like, Too much ink has been spilled explaining why Carter's music is so bloody difficult. The "explaining why" didn't strike me as quite right, since critics who dislike Carter seem to explain the difficulty, in my experience. Rather, they take the difficulty and unlistenability for granted and complain about it.
Anyway, a pleasure to meet you the other night. And may the quintet be recorded soon.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Thank you for the process notes! And I am not at all too kind.

joe barron said...

BTW, my own take on the evening, and the ruckus that followed, may be seen here.

Anonymous said...

"how lively [etc] it CAN be" - 'can' is the operative word. I've heard revelatory and delightful performances of music of that kind (see my cts on TinAlley and Bartok 4), but far more performances which are utterly cold and meaningless.

Steve Hicken said...

>but far more performances which are utterly cold and meaningless.

That's why it took me so long to get into Mozart.

Henry Holland said...

but far more performances which are utterly cold and meaningless

Boulez has talked about how bad performances of the Second Viennese School were in the 40's and 50's, simply because players weren't used to working with the language. A friend told me once "You can't imagine how bad performances of Webern and Berg were until about the 70's; the performances did more to turn people off than the actual music". Now, of course, any major orchestra can zip through Webern, Berg and Schoenberg's Orchesterstucke with no technical problems, so they can focus on the expressive end of it.

Anonymous said...

That's why it took me so long to get into Mozart.

Fair enough. There are a lot of bad Mozart performances out there, probably more than for other big name composers. But at least one can still follow the thread, it's just incredibly dull. Bad 20C modernism sounds like random squiggles.

Empiricus said...

Bad writing/thinking sounds/reads like random squiggles.