Mistakes Were Not Made

Daniel J. Wakin interviews James Levine, Charles Wuorinen, and John Harbison today in the Times, devilishly playing off, as the Times insists on doing, Wuorinen’s 12-tone beliefs against Harbison’s neoromanticism. There are some delightful little knots in the conversation, this one being the most delectable, I thought:

WAKIN: You wrote in your book, “Simple Composition” —

WUORINEN: Never write a book.

WAKIN: Of course it was a long time ago —

WUORINEN: It’s still in print. People use it.

WAKIN: It was written in 1979, and you wrote that the tonal system could be found only in backward-looking serious composers, is no longer used by serious mainstream composers, has been replaced and succeeded by the 12-tone system.

WUORINEN: Well, that’s a categorical statement which cannot be – of course, it had more to it then, although to some extent it is obsolete now. But it depends on what you mean by the tonal system.

LEVINE: That is spoken by a man who is tired of how difficult it is to make anything understood, in any of these distinctions.