Music: The University Outsider

I've been remiss in blogging this week, but it was out of my hands. I've overcompensated at New Music Box - if you go there you'll find my 17,000-word essay on political music, Making Marx in the Music. But that was mostly written in August. I wish I could say I've been caught up in some wild project that I'll soon tell you about, but truthfully, I've had the familiar academic experience of being up to my neck in committee work. I'm "evaluating" my fellow but untenured professors, and find myself every day now in some new and unfamiliar world. … [Read more...]

Almost Too Beautiful

Is it really necessary for a string quartet to be six hours long? Of course not - it would be an easy matter for someone to take a pair of scissors to Morton Feldman's String Quartet No. 2 and cut it down to a far more efficient, concise, nonredundant piece of three hours or less. But one of the points Feldman made with his usual breathtaking eloquence is that art is one of those areas of human life in which efficiency is not an asset. As author John Ralston Saul has argued, efficiency is not a good thing in itself, but something we should … [Read more...]

Some sites I like…

American Mavericks - the Minnesota Public radio program about American music (scripted by Kyle Gann with Tom Voegeli) Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar - a cornucopia of music, interviews, information by, with, and on hundreds of intriguing composers who are not the Usual Suspects Iridian Radio - an intelligently mellow new-music station New Music Box - the premiere site for keeping up with what American composers are doing and thinking The Rest Is Noise - The fine blog of critic Alex Ross William Duckworth's Cathedral - the first … [Read more...]

Kyle Gann

I'm a composer (since I was 13), a music critic (since I was 27), a musicologist (since I was 32), and a music professor (since I was 39).... … [Read more...]

Success in Obscurity

With reference to my blog entry about composers writing specifically for recordings: Art Jarvinen - a crazily creative Los Angeles composer whose music you would do well to check out - tells me about a late friend of his, Michael McCandless, who was part of a group of young composers at SUNY Buffalo who were writing pieces longer than 90 mintutes each. The reason was, not to imitate Morton Feldman as one might assume, but explicitly because 90 minutes couldn't fit on a CD. It was their way, Jarvinen attests, of rejecting the commodification of … [Read more...]

Rosen’s Sins of American Omission

As somehow who knows how difficult it is to balance the conflicting roles of artist and scholar, I've long thought of Charles Rosen as a hero and a model. He's not a favorite pianist of my pianist friends, but for me the structural sense he brings to Bach and Beethoven etches their works in granite, rendering his powerful interpretations indelible - I don't share the common opinion that he is scholar first, artist second. As scholar, I've always admired his refusal to rely on second-hand information, his relentless efforts to scour an entire … [Read more...]

In Newsday Today

I have an article today in New York Newsday (slightly mis-) titled Rescuing Classical Music, arguing that the emotional rhetoric of 19th-century music may be too distant from the experience of today's young people for them to relate to it - although they still find modernist and minimalist music compelling. It's not where you'd think to look for me - in fact, an editor there asked me to write the op-ed piece based on a response I had written to Sandow in his column at New Music Box, so by bringing it back here I close the circle in a way - me … [Read more...]

Slumming with the Pitch-Benders

The alternate tuning world is abuzz with the news that John Adams has gone microtonal. (Well, OK - that means Joe Pehrson put a notice on the tuning@yahoogroups list and a couple of people responded. But there aren't many of us, and we're pretty easy to get buzzed up.) Adams' new orchestral work The Dharma at Big Sur, being premiered October 23 or 24 depending on whether you believe Adams' web page or the Boosey and Hawkes press release (I couldn't find the info listed on the LA Philharmonic site), is reportedly written in a system of pure … [Read more...]

Recording and Its Unfulfilled Demands

More thoughts on recording from Charles Rosen's Piano Notes: A record of classical music is supposed to be a reproduction. Like all reproductions it is a substitute for something else, and as a substitute it is thought to be inferior to the real thing, the live performance... However, this view carries with it a number of confusions and some obscure paradoxes. A record of rock music is not a reproduction, but a creation. The realization of a new sound obtainable only by the machinery of recording is a constant ideal in this form of popular … [Read more...]

Interesting Revelation

On studio recording techniques, from Charles Rosen's Piano Notes: There used to be a prejudice that music of different styles needed different sorts of resonance - [for instance,] a contemporary piece should have a drier and more acid sound than the standard Romantic works. I experienced the results of this nonsense once with two days of recording for French radio. On the first day I played almost an hour of Schumann, and the quality of the recording seemed reasonable. On the second day, I played Schoenberg's opp. 19 and 25, and listening to … [Read more...]

I Know Where You Live

Speaking of self-indulgence, which no one has ever accused me of being immune to, one of the perks of this blog is that I can log onto a site that breaks down my readership according to statistics. Don't worry, I don't learn any names, just how many people a day, average visit length (1:22 - lots of speed-readers are also new-music buffs), and how many are on Mindspring, Earthlink, etc. Sometimes I can see when people from certain universities are reading. But the most fun page, I've just found, is a breakdown of my total readership by time … [Read more...]

Keeping Traditions Alive

Charles Rosen's Piano Notes, a compendium of everything he's learned about the piano in a lifetime, is a light, self-indulgent book, the kind of book you write at the end of your life when you no longer want to do research but flatter yourself that people still want to hear what you have to say. Luckily, he's brilliant enough, and his knowledge of music encyclopedic enough (up to Boulez, that is, and no further), that enjoying his self-indulgence vicariously is sufficient pleasure. Best point in the first half: The unthinking, unplanned … [Read more...]