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Neglected Composers & Bach

Neglect of certain composers (was: Telemann's prodigious cantata output)

Continue of discussion from: Georg Philipp Telemann & Bach [Bach & Other Composers]

Anne (Nessie) Russell wrote (February 17, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< One of the problems we face is that the canon of "Great Music" has been effectively closed and many popular artists do not stray far from very a narrow repertoire -- even early music types. >
I'd like to add to this topic.

Much of the fault is due to teachers who teach in the Conservatory systems. I know this because I am one of them.

Most people begin keyboard studies on the piano. The repertoire is so vast that the so called "Minor Composers" are neglected. The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto certainly has selections from these composers in it's syllabus and in it's repertoire books, but they like for students to play the so called "Major Composers" for examinations. If you want a student to do well on an exam you give them Bach rather than Telemann, Beethoven rather than Mozart, Chopin rather than Scriabin ......

Early in my teaching career I heard an examiner at a workshop say "Only give Mozart sonatas to students who are not good enough to play Beethoven." I have always had the feeling that the same applies to the Early Music section - only give Telemann to students who can't play Bach.

My answer to this has been to teach the "Minor Composers" to students as extra pieces or on years they are not taking exams. Of course this approach leaves a message about their value.

Most teachers probably don't intend to plant this in kids minds, but I am afraid that we do.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 17, 2006):
Nessie Russell wrote:
< The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto certainly has selections from these composers in it's syllabus and in it's repertoire books, but they like for students to play the so called "Major Composers" for examinations. >
It's extraordinary for a national institution but the RCM only added Canadian composers to its examination lists in the last 10-15 yrs. More distressing is to look at the interpretative editing of the Baroque repertoire. You'd never know that there has been a revolution in the performance prctice of Baroque music. The same old unarticulated, endless phrasing and Romantic dynamics continue to be the model for young players.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 17, 2006):
Nessie Russell wrote:
< Much of the fault is due to teachers who teach in the Conservatory systems. I know this because I am one of them. >
ME TOO---I SYMPATHISE!

< Most people begin keyboard studies on the piano. The repertoire is so vast that the so called "Minor Composers" are neglected. The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto certainly has selections from these composers in it's syllabus and in it's repertoire books, but they like for students to play the so called "Major Composers" for examinations. If you want a student to do well on an exam you give them Bach rather than Telemann, Beethoven rather than Mozart, Chopin rather than Scriabin ...... >
yES--BUT THIS IS AS MUCH THE FAULT OF THE EXAMINING BOARDS AND REGULATORY BODIES SURELY?

< Early in my teaching career I heard an examiner at a workshop say "Only give Mozart sonatas to students who are not good enough to play Beethoven." >
GOSH!!

< I have always had the feeling that the same applies to the Early Music section - only give Telemann to students who can't play Bach. >
PROBABLY ---- AND EQUALLY MISGUIDEDLY

< My answer to this has been to teach the "Minor Composers" to students as extra pieces or on years they are not taking exams. Of course this approach leaves a message about their value. >
VERY TRUE--at least about the message. But let us poor lecturers not take the complete blame. At the beginning of my career I tried to introduce Monteverde to my students. There were few good recordings--and I recall one student coming to me with a music history book (I now forget which) and waving it under my nose. Under Monteverdi it said ' A C17 composer of little significance today!' , The student wanted to know, reasonably fairly, why we were bothering with him IN THE 20TH CENTURY!

I rest my case!

Yoël L. Arbeitman wrote (February 17, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Under Monteverdi it said ' A C17 composer of little significance today!' , The student wanted to know, reasonably fairly, why we were bothering with him IN THE 20TH CENTURY!
I rest my case! >
In what part of the 20th Century was this:-).

Julian Mincham wrote (February 17, 2006):
[To Yoël L. Arbeitman] Late 1960s.

John Pike wrote (February 17, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< At the beginning of my career I tried to introduce Monteverde to my students. There were few good recordings--and I recall one student coming to me with a music history book (I now forget which) and waving it under my nose. Under Monteverdi it said ' A C17 composer of little significance today!' , The student wanted to know, reasonably fairly, why we were bothering with him IN THE 20TH CENTURY!
I rest my case! >
A few years ago, I was wondering through Venice, exploring the churches and the splendid art works in many of them. The guide book had helpfully informed me of the particularly fine art works in one church and I duly entered. However, what seized my attention most was not the extraordinary art works, but the tomb of Monteverdi, which I stumbled over completely by chance and which was not mentioned at all in that blasted guide book. I don't know who wrote the guide book but the exclusion of that piece of information left me feeling bewildered and frustrated that anyone could be either so ignorant or could underestimate his readers so much.

Monteverdi is one of my very favourite composers. I am not so keen on some of the more experimental stuff but at his best he is truly heart-wrenching.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 17, 2006):
John Pike wrote:
< However, what seized my attention most was not the extraordinary art works, but the tomb of Monteverdi, which I stumbled over completely by chance and which was not mentioned at all in that blasted guide book. I don't know who wrote the guide book but the exclusion of that piece of information left me feeling bewildered and frustrated that anyone could be either so ignorant or could underestimate his readers so much.
Monteverdi is one of my very favourite composers. I am not so keen on some of the more experimental stuff but at his best he is truly heart-wrenching >
I made of point of visiting Monteverdi's grave many years ago and was terribly disappointed to see how insignificant and poorly marked it was. I suppose we shouldn't complain given that Mozart and Bach are lost to us.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (February 17, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] There are many neglected composers in fact they are very numerous partcularly in their on lifetimes such as Charles Ives, for instance, Sir William Hershell (who took up astronomy as a hobby until it took over him and made him famous---he wrote some very worthy music---but it sounds very much like Haydn), Chavez---someone who was almost unknown in his lifetime and whose Symphonies were at least recorded but you will never see his works on a concert program unless perhaps you are in Texas, Paul Patterson---totally unknown mostly outside of England yet he is the greatest English Composer since my late friend Ben Britten; there is Gershefski--who made somewhat a splash in the 1940s-1950s and died an almost unkown in the Athens, Georgia area. There is Robert Powell --perhaps the greatest American Liturgical Composer living today although his music is performed in Churches most folks have never known his name. Bob retired from Christ Episcopal Church in Greenville, SC but I have not heard or spoken to him since he retired and do not think he still lives in Greenville. I have many friends who are composers who should be of some note but are neglected and all of us including myself have a very difficult time getting our music performed let alonsomeone like Monteverdi---he is an unknown outside Academia and is never or almost never performed--same for Palestrina---who if it were not for a famous recording group would not be heard at all today. Let us not
forget you Mr. Cowling also. Strangely some forgotten composers are more performed these days than those who resurrected them ---Felix Mendelssohn for instance who almost single handedly resurrected the music of JS Bach. One gets the feeling that there is some anti-semeticsm going on here in the failure of perform Felix Mendelssohn works often and certainly there was in Felix Mendelssohn lifetime which is why he converted to Christianity but the eyes of Jew haters (especially Nazi Germany)----the taint of Felix Mendelssohn Jewishness could not be erased by his converso status.

Who is responsible for this---snobs are the most guilty; publicity folks next in line; Cheapskates perhaps the most guilty who perform public domaine works rather than pay to perform the music of a living composer or recent deceased composer tradition of playing the same ol' music over and over again--with the result of keeping everyone ignorant of what is going on in the music world. Yes, I love Beethoven, Mozart etc but if I hear B's overplayed 5th Symphony one more time or see "Figaro" one more time I think I will croak.

There needs to be a revolution in the music world where all composers get a hearing. It is a matter of freedom of speech.

Nessie Russell wrote (February 17, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote to Nessie Russell:
< It's extraordinary for a national institution but the RCM only added Canadian composers to its examination lists in the last 10-15 yrs. >
There were Canadian composers, especially in the younger grades, when I was a student more than 15 years ago. There certainly are more of our own composers in the books now.

< More distressing is to look at the interpretative editing of the Baroque repertoire. You'd never know that there has been a revolution in the performance prctice of Baroque music. The same old unarticulated, endless phrasing and Romantic dynamics continue to be the model for young players. >
This was true when I was a student, but not now. The present series, The Piano Odyssey, has very clean Baroque music.

John Pike wrote (February 17, 2006):
Douglas Cowling wrote:
< I suppose we shouldn't complain given that Mozart and Bach are lost to us. >
Readers will probably know that many years ago, workmen discovered what was thought to be Bach's grave, based on long tradition of its position. The remains were brought back into the St Thomas Church, where a prominent slab marks the position of the new grave, near hte high altar. A bunch of flowers are kept there.

Further details of bach's skull can be found at Teri Noel Towe's excellent web site, The Face of Bach: http://www.npj.com/thefaceofbach/QCL06.html
Scroll down that page and you will find the bit about Bach's skull.

Mozart was buried in an unmarked grave, as was customary for people of his financial standing in those days. But research into the position of graves of people who died in December 1791 led to a good guess of the approximate position of Mozart's grave. A graveyard attendant thought it was a pretty poor thing that Mozart's grave was unmarked (as well he might) and he created one, out of bits of old disused grave masonry. I think the result is rather good. It is of an angel, I think, weeping over a broken column...very symbolic for one whose life was so tragically cut short in its prime.

Julian Mincham wrote (February 17, 2006):
John Pike wrote:
< However, what seized my attention most was not the extraordinary art works, but the tomb of Monteverdi, which I stumbled over completely by chance and which was not mentioned at all in that blasted guide book. >
As an addendum when I last visited Venice I made my pilgrimage to St Marks. I particularly wanted a recording of the Vespers made in the church. I asked at the cathedral shop and the attendant asked 'Who?' 'Claudio Monteverdi' I replied---he was a composer who worked here'

'Sorry' I was told---'I've never heard of him'.

No wonder the grave is given so little importance.

A similar occasion occured some years ago when I tried to find the grave of Percy Grainger (another most neglected musician--have you heard his fantasic 1920s recording of the Chopin sonata???).

I asked the attendant in the cemetery of Adelaide. The conversation went

'Percy who?"

'Percy Grainger--he was a very famous musician.'

'He might have been famous mate--but I've never heard of him!'

Ah well--------but I did eventually find it.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 18, 2006):
William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote:
< Who is responsible for this---snobs are the most guilty; publicity folks next in line; Cheapskates perhaps the most guilty who perform public domaine works rather than pay to perform the music of a living composer or recent deceased composer tradition of playing the same ol' music over and over again--with the result of keeping everyone ignorant of what is going on in the music world. Yes, I love Beethoven, Mozart etc but if I hear B's overplayed 5th Symphony one more time or see "Figaro" one more time I think I will croak.
There needs to be a revolution in the music world where all composers get a hearing. It is a matter of freedom of speech. >
I'm not sure that the failure to hear contemporary composers is quite the same as a failure to hear forgotten composers. The great masters did indeed leave some very able artists obscured in retrospect. Bach did it to Telemann. Mozart did it to Hoffman. Beethoven did it to ... well, Beethoven was always on his own planet. But these artists, like Monteverdi, Palestrina etc were by and large respected and successful in their lifetime considering the status given to artists in the past: not a small thing if you were the artist involved.

Most contemporary composers won't get heard in their lifetime. Wonder how many music profs or teachers out there have their version of Mr. Holland's Opus? Who gets the "blame?" Zuckerman has lately been smashing the music press for strangling contemporary music. The very zealous cadre of contemporary music fans would certainly agree with Mr. Rowland's list and maybe add on a few more villains.

As I understand it, some parts of the world are more enlightened then others. Scandinavian countries, or so I've been told, get decent crowds for work of new composers. Good for them. Yet I fear more than a little deals with the product itself. The local critic, Joshua Kosman, a new music evangelist, has written about this lately. At present he's with the SFO on a tour to China. He noted that while the "war horses" (they're not war horses to the Chinese audiences of course because they haven't heard them 75 times) were very well received, Stravinsky was a dud. Kosman earlier reported on findings by some audiologists that suggested there were simply some kind of sounds that people didn't like to hear. Pierre Boulez had several years in New York to bring enlightenment to American serfs but failed and he failed because people didn't like what he was playing. I'm one of dolts myself. "Contemporary" music to me is Sibelius. (Come to think about it, much of the contemporary music from Scandinavia I've heard sounds a lot like Sibelius.) And you can't blame this on the recording industry. Despite the encouragement of the avant garde critics later Schoenberg was utterly shunned by the masses. Indeed, it was about this time when concerts increasingly revolved around the "masters" when during the 19th century the typical program was typically half "new." Couldn't part of the answer be that new music, like much of contemporary poetry, is created by professors for professors and a handful of adventurous souls? And if the public doesn't like it, there's something wrong with the public? Just a thought.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 18, 2006):
John Pike wrote:
< Mozart was buried in an unmarked grave, as was customary for people of hisfinancial standing in those days. But research into the position of graves of people who died in December 1791 led to a good guess of the approximate position of Mozart's grave. A graveyard attendant thought it was a pretty poor thing that Mozart's grave was unmarked (as well he might) and he created one, out of bits of old disused grave masonry. I think the result is rather good. It is of an angel, I think, weeping over a broken column...very symbolic for one whose life was so tragically cut short in its prime. >
According to Peter Gay's biography of Mozart, Mozart was not buried in a common grave for financial reasons. Gay claims that it was fashionable, particularly in Masonic circles in that period of the Enlightenment, to consider the standard burial service as a pointless exercise. The memory of the deceased in the hearts of friends and family was thought of as being of far greater importance than physical ornament. Considering the huge boom in cremation in our era, this idea is not so outlandish.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 18, 2006):
Eric Bergerud wrote:
< Couldn't part of the answer be that new music, like much of contemporary poetry, is created by professors for professors and a handful of adventurous souls? And if the public doesn't like it, there's something wrong with the public? Just a thought. >
I heard a very interesting suggestion in a documentary about Hollywood film music that the disruption of the two world wars forced the Late Romantic stream of music out of Europe into the film world. Considering that Strauss wrote his "Four Last Songs" in 1948, it's an intriguing thought that the Romantic stream of Western music flowed into scores of such expatriates as Korngold from which there is a direct line to John Williams and the symphonic scores for "Star Wars".

Ludwig wrote (February 18, 2006):
[To Douglas Cowling] I have problems with the publish or perish syndrome or which you write by implication. I not most of my colleagues do not write music to justify one's job at a University. We write to be heard, to create pleasure and disconfort in the hearer and we attempt to write for posterity.

Douglas Cowling wrote (February 18, 2006):
[To Ludwig] Just to be clear, that was Eric's comment about academics not mine.

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 18, 2006):
[To Ludwig] I have no idea how "publish or perish" works in the world of music. What I was referring to was the creation of art made for, perhaps unintentionally, its practitioners, not a broader public. German critics early in the century called it "Augenmusik." Perhaps I misread the situation, but I think Schoenberg's later music was a turning point. He and his enthusiastic supporters believed that Western music had hit an artistic "brick wall" and could only be rescued by doing something truly new. (After World War II something very similar took place in poetry.) The few composers that remained public figures in the 20th century such as Sibelius, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Strauss were considered to one degree or another reactionary. (I strongly suspect that Rodrigo could not have flourished in an artistically progressive nation, unless he had went to Hollywood. Same difference perhaps.) Now they are all gone.

I don't understand why someone would compose to discomfort the listener. (I assume you're not referring to choral works that might move the mind toward dark corners as Bach was capable of doing.) Bellini once said that music was made to be beautiful and if it wasn't it failed. (Either Bellini or Rossini claimed he could make beautiful music out of a shopping list.) Bellini was my kind of guy, but, as noted, I'm a philistine. As for composing for posterity, good luck. There may be the odd premier of a work composed by a musician no longer with us, but the odds of it being played twice are pretty small. Composers that have been successfully rediscovered in the 20th century once were part of the repertoire - they had simply passed out of it for a century or two. If there are any musical van Goughs I haven't heard of them.

I certainly wish modern composers all of the best. It is the belief of the fans of contemporary orchestral music that if the art is not kept alive it will some day fall completely into the realm of antiquarianism and take a position akin to ancient Greek drama in today's art world. But if they think a reluctance to embrace contemporary music is due to bad press and worse audiences I see no road ahead. Why is the press bad? Why are the audiences poor? Schoenberg's fans have had 60 years to educate the unwashed and things haven't gone well for them. (I should think selling works like Pierrot lunaire might be an uphill climb.) Isn't there a real possibility that "modern music" has become synonymous, perhaps unfairly, with something unpleasing to the ear? (I personally found the highly regarded Transmigration of Souls by John Adams an assault. And I sort of like some of Adams' works.) But who knows where the future will take us. Maybe Nixon in China or Dr. Atomic will save opera. I'm not holding my breath.

Ludwig wrote (February 18, 2006):
Nessie Russell wrote:
< The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto certainly has selections from these composers in it's syllabus and in it's repertoire books, but they like for students to play the so called "Major Composers" for examinations. >
Douglas Cowling wrote:
It's extraordinary for a national institution but the RCM only added Canadian composers to its examination lists in the last 10-15 yrs. More distressing is to look at the interpretative editing of the Baroque repertoire. You'd never know that there has been a revolution in the performance prctice of Baroque music. The same old unarticulated, endless phrasing and Romantic dynamics continue to be the model for young players. >
The only Canadian Composer that most Americans know anything about is David Diamond who died recently. David's music is well know through his music for television shows and movies. However, most people do not know that he wrote Symphonies and other works---which one can not find today.

Ludwig wrote (February 18, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] Rodrigo did go to Hollywood and you will hear his music (the Concerto Aranjez) in the Movie 'The Naked Maja' among many others which I saw as a child when my mom was not looking (it was by the standards of the day rather scandalous although it was the story of Goya and a lady who posed nude for him) never realizing that I would get to know Rodrigo's inner circle shortly before he died several years back at the grand old age of 91.

The Publish or Perish syndrome works in music the same way it does for the sciences in those Universities that practice this form of 'harassment' as certain US Ivy League Universities and Colleges are or were once proned to do. You either write some music, it gets played and published or you do musicological research as was done on the 'The Messiah' Stradavarius Violin (vide Mastering the Rings in the Stad April 2002 Vol 113 issue 1344, p408 by Gassino-Mayer et al that was sponsored by the American Violin Society in or about 2000 just in case you do look this up you might also be interested in other journal articles by Nagyvary of the University of Texas who did research into Stradivarius Violin wood varnishes etc) and get it published or you are fired if you do not have tenure and if you don't many excuses will be found to get rid of you should you rest on your laurels after sweating out the period to be given tenure. Alternatively as a performer, you must perform at so many College gatherings and some College Presidents have made their performance professors play for their private parties all in the name of geting tenure and keeping it. What happens is that the pressure screws get tighten so badly that many professors will risk their entire careers as did the Korean guy recently who claimed to have made a significant advance in genetic research when all he did was fake his research or if that does not happen much hack work is thrown out that is of such low quality as to have no value as good research or discovery w.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (February 18, 2006):
[To Eric Bergerud] By stating that we compose in additon to be disconfortable---most lasting good art at one time was very disconfortable--the point being that it causes us to get out of our rut and think---can you imagine being at a concert nearly being made deaf yourself with Beethoven waving his hands like a mad person making the orchestra to assault the audience with as loud music as Beethoven could hear. Stravinsky made folks very unconfortable when he allowed Nijinski on stage(see his letters edited by Robert Kraft) to go on stage practically nude (which it appeared he was to the audience especially when he danced to Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun) in his Firebird. In the graphic arts;Frida Kahlo painted paintings that even today people(including myself) find particularly disturbing with their rather graphic scenes of violence and her self portraits of herself as a masochist and lesbian or pseudo-lesbian. Then there is van Gogh whose pure almost favish color schemes disturbed proper Victorian Society; Thomas Eakins's depiction of Breast removal surgery was shocking and disturbing to proper Victoran Society,and in literature William Blake's Poetry (Tiger burning bright in the forest of the night') and Paintings, James Joyce's Ulysees, Lawrence's Lady Chaterly's Lover, Nabokov's Lolita and Reinaldo Arenas's Antes que anochezca(Before Night falls), James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room as well as John Rechy's City of the Night followed by The Sexual Outlaw was too say the least disconfortable for the times in which they were created and still are found rather unconfortable today. Such works make us think and get us out of the rut of being confortable with the same old things---especially works like Rechy's The Sexual Outlaw--the documentation of the Los Angeles Police Department's numerous violations of human rights and their gestapo persecution of gay people or anyone they assume to be gay whether they were or not. Some American religious fundamentalists find Michangelo's nude David so disturbing and homoerotic that Museum in Florence alledgedly tries to make David more modest if they know such a tour is coming through, according to Steve Steeves who regularly conducts European Tours for Americans.

It was Beaumarchais Marriage of Figaro that helped bring about change in Society for the better as the above listed works also have had such effects.

Schoenburg was correct and even today music after some 3000 years has played itself out especially when we obey the old rules set up by the theorists of Haydn, Bach, Beethoven and Fuxberger's day. There is very little that can be composed new today unless we violate the rules of the past which to my ears are just too trite and predictable. Give me 5 bars of Mozart and I can complete the rest of the work---that is just how predictable such rules are. The question is for music today why not have parallel fifths, sevenths and other dissonance and microtones and mix them with the old rules of conterpoint and harmony.

Among the disconfortable things that have been created to create thought are some works of Bach for which he was fired for when he being an unintended champion of equal rights allowed his wife to sing in a Church where women were banned from having any role in Church life.

William Rowland (Ludwig) wrote (February 18, 2006):
[To Doug Cowling] thanks for the correction.

Vladimir Skavysh wrote (February 18, 2006):
[To Ludwig] I definitely agree that artists should aim to achieve new advances in their craft, to try to make their audience experience new dimensions of understanding. However, I do not think that the way to do so in music is to seek the "discomfortable." The reason for this is that music--a collection of sounds bearing no resemblance to speach--does not convey meaning. Literature, poetry, and paining are different in that regard; through words and images, a person is able to glipse at the world from the perspective of the artist. This is impossible in music unless music is accompanied by words--for instance if a composition has a descriptive title or if it is a song. This is why music ought to sound well to the ear for it to have a chance to be appreceated by many people.

Let me also cite an example in art where tergiversation from the older rules clearly led to detrimental results. This example is the rise and the fall of Modern arhchitecture. About a centrury ago, some architects realised that the "ornamental rubish" and the eclecticism did not represent the contemporary times. Instead, they developed a profound philosophy where the straight unornamented line was beautiful, where "less is more" (Mies van der Rohe), where "even the paintings on the walls were ... supposed to be capable of mass-reproduction" (Banham 248). Unfortuantely, when put to practice, these ideas produced strong negative effects, including the rise of crime and poverty in cities (see, for instance, Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage, 1961.). Eventually--at 3:32 p.m., July 15, 1972--this led to the destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in St. Louis, which is considered to be the end of Modernism in architecture. Some of the ruins of the project still lie in their original place to remind people about the effects that misguided--even if beautiful--ideas can have. Perhaps the music constructed around dissonance would meet the same fate, had it not been for the fact that people do not have to live surrounded by it if they do not want to. They can always press "stop."

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 19, 2006):
[To Ludwig] I think shocking the booboisie became rather stale, say, about fifty years ago - or maybe longer. It's still no trouble to disconfort (that's a new one on me) the ear, however. You could, for instance, record someone with stout finger nails scratching a blackboard. Indeed the mysteries of the aesthetics of music have interested people since antiquity. No Bach lover would question the ability of music to touch the soul deeply with or without the employment of words. Music can make one happy: or excited: or profoundly sorrowful or take one to places that defy easy description. At least this was possible with the rules developed over centuries. But how do you shock people with sound? What should a musical version of Guernica sound like? The Transmigration of Souls perhaps, complete with the sounds of urban traffic? If a musician wishes to assault the ear, better get ready from some pretty stiff competition from people that are genuinely good at it like Axel Rose, Eminem or the gents of Green Day. In that league, composing for a toy piano doesn't cut it. The artistic avant garde in our century has proven Marx right on at least one point - when history repeats itself it returns as farce. I don't know why people prefer Mozart to Schoenberg. But I do know that they do and that nothing in our world is going to change that. And, although I know this doesn't sit well with modernist purists, people are going to continue to prefer the music of Vaughn Williams or Britten to Schoenberg unless I've really missed something. It really could have something to do with the music. But again, just a thought.

Don Robertson wrote (February 19, 2006):
I feel the need to jump in here.

Ludwig wrote:>
< By stating that we compose in additon to be disconfortable---most lasting good art at one time was very disconfortable--the point being that it causes us to get out of our rut and think---can you imagine being at a concert nearly being made deaf yourself with Beethoven waving his hands like a mad person making the orchestra to assault the audience with as loud music as Beethoven could hear. >
Is that a factual statement, or something out of Hollywood, I wonder?

< Stravinsky made folks very unconfortable when he allowed Nijinski on stage(see his letters edited by Robert Kraft)to go on stage practically nude (which it appeared he was to the audience especially when he danced to Debussy's Afternoon of a Faun) in his Firebird. In the graphic arts; Frida Kahlo paintpaintings that even today people(including myself) find particularly disturbing with their rather graphic scenes of violence and her self portraits of herself as a masochist and lesbian or pseudo-lesbian. Then there is van Gogh whose pure almost favish color schemes disturbed proper Victorian Society; Thomas Eakins's depiction of Breast removal surgery was shocking and disturbing to proper Victoran Society,and in literature William Blake's Poetry (Tiger burning bright in the forest of the night') and Paintings, James Joyce's Ulysees, Lawrence's Lady Chaterly's Lover, Nabokov's Lolita and Reinaldo Arenas's Antes que anochezca(Before Night falls), James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room as well as John Rechy's City of the Night followed by The Sexual Outlaw was too say the least disconfortable for the times in which they were created and still are found rather unconfortable today. Such works make us think and get us out of the rut of being confortable with the same old things---especially works like Rechy's The Sexual Outlaw--the documentation of the Los Angeles Police Department's numerous violations of human rights and their gestapo persecution of gay people or anyone they assume to be gay whether they were or not. Some American religious fundamentalists find Michangelo's nude David so disturbing and homoerotic that Museum in Florence alledgedly tries to make David more modest if they know such a tour is coming through, according to Steve Steeves who regularly conducts European Tours for Americans.
It was Beaumarchais Marriage of Figaro that helped bring about change in Society for the better as the above listed works also have had such effects.
Schoenburg was correct >
Correct? Not in my opinion. If you are interested in that, see: http://www.dovesong.com/centuries/Atonality.asp

< and even today music after some 3000 years has played itself out especially when we obey the old rules set up by the theorists of Haydn, Bach, Beethoven and Fuxberger's day. There is very little that can be composed new today unless we violate the rules of the past which to my ears are just too trite and predictable. >
If music has "played itself out," then how do composers, such as myself, continue to write new music without violating those rules??? Sounds like you bought Schoenberg "hook, line and sinker" (especially the last adjective).

< Give me 5 bars of Mozart and I can complete the rest of the work---that is just how predictable such rules are. >
I suggest before making such a statement you study Mozart more carefully. Certainly what you say is true in some of the more simplistic junk the man had to write, but take a look, for example, at his brilliant movements in the sonata-rondo form in the piano concertos. Or how predictable is the great fugue at the end of Sym 41?

Julian Mincham wrote (February 19, 2006):
Re neglect of contemporary composers.

Composers shouldn't take all the stick; audiences and critics have to share part of the blame.

Is not part of the problem that we, as audience members, have become lazier?

Once it took a real effort for peopel to get to a concert--I think it was the musicologist Dalley Scarlett (whose writings I read as a student) who described the C18/19 business of getting the horse and trap transport, getting dressed up and making uncomfortable journies, there and back in order to hear good music.. I also recall, as a student being told by an elderly musician what a struggle it had been for him, in the earlier apart of the C20 to hear performances, even of basic repertoire such as the Beethoven symphonies, let alone get hold of scores! Technology has made it so easy for us--we can hear what we like where and when we like. The challenge, or struggle, no longer exists.

The consequence is, perhaps that now we do not put the effort into allowing ourselves to be challenged by the sorts of works that William descibes; which is a pity because surely ONE of the functions of art is to challenge. The BBC's original charter stated that it was to inform, educate and entertain--I think it significant that the entertainment came last--today it would come first. Similarly for the performance arts--although I do not think that the gap between creative artist and audience was ever as great with dance and drama as with 'serious' music (of course the jazz/pop phenominom also had a lot to do with this).

So the attitudes of society have changed. More people today are likely to want their music to entertain than to challenge.

As to critics--where to begin? But after WW 2 there did seem to be a fashion amongst critics to praise little that was comprehensible and much that was inexplicable. I think that this attitude did much to turn the audiences away from new and challenging composition--and gave a few charlatons a field day. And by this time there was so much easily approachable great music from the past on record (and, let's face it, contemporary music did not always have to compete with the music of dead composers) that people did not need to make the effort to accommodate the 'new'.

Finally there was the relinquishing of melody as a major compositional element (e.g. Atmospheres by Ligeti, a movement which has nothing to do with traditional melody, harmony or cadence and everything to do with texture, rhythm and timbre.) There does seem to be a craving in most humans for 'melody' in music-----something which JSB understood perfectly----and it would seem that no amount of rhythmic or textual interest fully compensates for its loss.

And I must say that it is seldom, even 50 odd years after his death, that I pull out some Schoenberg to listen to purely for pleasure (odd exceptions being the op 25 piano suite and the first chamber symphony). Logically, he was so right--but musically the jury still seems to be out.

John Reese wrote (February 19, 2006):
I had missed this the first time around.

< Give me 5 bars of Mozart and I can complete the rest of the work---that is just how predictable such rules are. >
Assuming that this completion is more than six bars long, I suspect it would sound more like Salieri than Mozart.

Peter Bright wrote (February 19, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< The consequence is, perhaps that now we do not put the effort into allowing ourselves to be challenged by the sorts of works that William descibes; which is a pity because surely ONE of the functions of art is to challenge. The BBC's original charter stated that it was to inform, educate and entertain--I think it significant that the entertainment came last--today it would come first. >
I'm not sure this is a fair assessment of the BBC - some channels certainly, but Radio 3 continues to challenge and resist pampering to the 'easy classics' generation. Take for example the composer of the week this week:

The Belyayev Circle, including works by Lyadov and Glazunov, Blumenfeld, Evald and Winkler.

The prime time show 'In Tune' 5-7.30pm includes works by Borodin, Howells, Szymanowski, Bartok and Medtner.

Tomorrow's live Performance on 3 (7.30-9.30pm) is of Shostakovich's The Liberation of Dresden and Symph. 7 (Leningrad)

And of course, one of my favourite programmes, Late Junction, tomorrow, includes Ainu Oki, Cabanilles, and Tuncboyaciyan (!)

So, personally, I am more than happy with the 'challenges' presented by Radio 3... long may it continue...

Eric Bergerud wrote (February 20, 2006):
[To Julian Mincham] In 1964 Benjamin Britten won the first Aspen Award. Below is an excerpt from his acceptance speech:

"Anyone, anywhere, at any time can listen to the B minor Mass (BWV 232) upon one condition only - that they possess a machine. No qualification is required of any sort - faith, virtue, education, experience, age. Music is now free for all. If I say the loudspeaker is the principal enemy of music, I don't mean that I am not grateful to it as a means of education or study, or as an evoker of memories. But it is not part of true musical experience. Regarded as such it is simply a substitute, and dangerous because del. Music demands more from a listener than simply the possession of a tape-machine or a transistor radio. It demands some preparation, some effort, a journey to a special place, saving up for a ticket, some homework on the programme perhaps, some clarification of the ears and sharpening of the instincts. It demands as much effort on the listener's part as the other two corners of the triangle, this holy triangle of composer, performer and listener."

I have sympathy with this line of reasoning, but it is a little hard to fit it with the prosperity of classical music during the immediate postwar period. It could be, however, that in the long run recordings made music of less value because it became so easily available. The move toward ever cheaper music has not helped the overall industry, however much it has enabled fans like myself to listen to music by composers that I would have never heard of much less experienced. No free lunch I guess. (Let's not forget that the movie industry is having some trouble getting people to pay $25 per person at the flicks when they can wait a couple of months, rent a DVD for $5, and show it to everyone on the block. And in the Bay Area the number of clubs offering live pop and jazz has taken a nose dive in the past 15 years.)

I can't make any generalizations about Europe, but in my humble view, the downward slide of music and art education in the US cannot be of help. I know that Scandinavian countries spend taxpayers money to support the arts. They also appear to have a larger audience per capita for classical music in general and contemporary classical music in particular. I don't think it's an accident that these nations also spend real money on education, very much including the arts.

PS: As for the Schoenberg school, how long does a musical jury have to be out to decide that the defendant is guilty of some sort of crime against music lovers' ears?

Julian Mincham wrote (February 20, 2006):
[To Peter Bright] I agree totally. My analogy was rather 'broad brush' and capable of misunderstanding. I did not mean to suggest that the BBC never challenges. My point was to suggest that it did so less today than previously. Taking radio broadcasts alone, most local and national stations (with the honorable exceptions of Rad 3, 4 and the Overseas service) seem to be contrived to entertain first and challenge second (if at all). It is a matter of balance. But I remain a great fan of the BBC--one of the reasons why I settled in this country.

The broader point, which I obviously didn't make clear (apologies) was this. It seems to me that a cultural shift came about in the C20 whereby people expected the arts to challenge less (intellectually and spiritually) and to entertain more---for reasons given in my first email. (The evolution of the BBC was simple one example of this process). If true, it has profound implications---and instead of blaming the composers perhaps we might salute them----as continuing to endeavour to force us to make an effort to come to terms with their proffered challenges rather than 'dumbing down' to the lowest denominators???? And this raises all sort of interesting questions about who they are, or even should be, actually writing for.

Having said that, there are some C20 composers who still struggle to find audiences years after their deaths. Were they that far ahead of us? Have fashions simply changed to their disadvantage? Or did they have less of interest to communicate?

After all Monteverdi had to wait nearly 300 years to be recognised as the genius he was--although he did still have a contemporary audience.

John Pike wrote (February 27, 2006):
Julian Mincham wrote:
< Percy Grainger (another most neglected musician--have you heard his fantasic 1920s recording of the Chopin sonata???). >
I agree. Another unfairly neglected musician, and a good composer.

 

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