main: September 2006 Archives

A box of paperback copies of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow has just been delivered to this office. This means that all of you who have avoided buying the book all these years because it was horribly expensive will now have to avoid buying it because it's too technical and doesn't contain enough pictures.

September 25, 2006 5:04 PM | | Comments (6) |

I've got three conflicting events coming up the end of this week:

-- Pianist Sarah Cahill will premiere my brand new work, On Reading Emerson, which she commissioned, at the Harvard Faculty Club inCambridge, Mass., on Friday morning, September 29. It's part of the Boston Research Center's conference "Emerson and Imagination." Looks like you have to register for the conference to attend, though. She'll be giving a couple more performances in the Bay Area in October; info here, but I'll post about those later.

-- Also this Friday, I'll be on a panel with Mikel Rouse to discuss his new work The End of Cinematics, being performed afterward at Memorial Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The panel's from 5 to 6 at the Carolina Inn.

-- The Philidor Percussion Group will perform my Snake Dance No. 2 this Saturday, September 30, at 7:30 at the Watson Chamber Music Hall of the North Carolina School of the Arts. I'll also be lecturing on Great Rhythms of the 1990s to composer Lawrence Dillon's students earlier that afternoon.

(It kills me that I can't hear Sarah premiere my new piece in Boston, but I'd committed to these North Carolina gigs months ago. Can't be everywhere at once.)

September 25, 2006 1:19 AM | | Comments (1) |

This afternoon at 5:45 PM Greenwich time, which if I remember my time-zone conversions correctly is 12:45 PM New York time, BBC Radio will air a special edition of the show "Music Matters" on Steve Reich's legacy in honor of his 70th birthday. The show examines Reich's influence in - brace yourself - the context of Uptown and Downtown, the angle being that a disreputable Downtown composer is now the darling of places like Lincoln Center. Music journalist Tom Service, who does the show, also interviewed me for local color; we drove around to Lincoln Center, the Kitchen, and the Knitting Factory. If you miss it live today, it'll be in the archives for one week. Presumably I will be quoted. tomkyle.jpg Had I known that I would also be photographed for the web site, I wouldn't have worn a bright pink shirt - I thought I was dressed just fine for radio.

For all those Downtown-deniers - those determined to pretend the Downtown scene never existed, those who want all memory of it obliterated, those who claim there was never any difference, those who think La Monte Young might have been a great composer if he'd only studied with Roger Sessions, those who've convinced themselves that Young actually did study with Sessions - the BBC interview'll be just something else to hate me for. Don't say you weren't warned.

[UPDATE:] Interesting.... Carnegie Hall artistic director Ara Guzelimian, interviewed on the show, mentions that there was some thought of inaugurating Zankel Hall with the slogan "Downtown now begins at 57th Street." I guess he hasn't heard the news that Downtown never existed.

September 24, 2006 9:55 AM | | Comments (4) |

I'm directing, this semester, a student ensemble for works of unspecified instrumentation. It's above my accustomed course load, and takes up a chunk of my time, but I took it on out of guilt. I've felt terrible for years that our students graduate thinking that the sole available mode of modern music performance is faithful reading of scores elaborated in every detail of articulation and dynamics. Among the pieces we're looking at and may perform are Riley's In C (of course), Rzewski's Attica and Les Moutons de Panurge, Glass's Music in Fifths, Barbara Benary's Sun on Snow, Christian Wolff's Snowdrop, Rhys Chatham's Guitar Trio (we have a lot of guitarists), and Samuel Vriezen's The Weather Riots. (I directed the Dallas premiere of some of these pieces in 1976 at SMU.) It's been a blast. Every music-reading level is accommodated, and people love working on In C and Music in Fifths. Plus, tonight we had our first read-through of Julius Eastman's Gay Guerrilla, for electric guitars (it can be played by multiples of any instrument). I wonder whether the piece has been played since New Music America 1980, or whether it's ever been played on guitars. The performance, at Bard, is December 14. I'll keep you posted.

September 21, 2006 10:27 PM | | Comments (1) |

ACA.jpgI am going to be the composer-in-residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts next February 19 through March 11, down in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. (February and March in Florida, can you imagine? I saw the location and accepted before I knew what it was they wanted me to do.) Composers are invited to apply to come hang out with me and be Associate Artists, meeting for at least two hours a day. The rest of the time, we'll work on our own projects; I'll be writing a Concerto for Piano and Winds commissioned by pianist Geoffrey Madge and the Orkest de Volharding. Poet Marie Ponsot and architect Steve Badanes are the other artists who'll be in residence. The application deadline is Ives's birthday, October 20. I am told by a former Associate that it's a good idea to advertise this on my blog, to get the word out so people apply. You can read all about my ideas for the residency here, frequently asked questions here, and more general stuff about the Atlantic Center for the Arts here. If you're reading my blog, you know what I'm all about, and did I mention it's February in Florida? I'd apply even if I didn't like my music.

September 17, 2006 2:05 PM | | Comments (1) |

I am proud to have been among the 17% of Democrats who voted in New York State today for Jonathan Tasini for U.S. senator - someone who did not support the invasion of Iraq nor has ever advocated an anti-flag-burning amendment.

September 12, 2006 11:26 PM | | Comments (2) |

Good lord, what a superb crop of comments my last post elicited! I seem to have stumbled on a topic - the mandates of "historical progress" - that many composers think about a lot and rarely get to discuss. My readers have outdone themselves, most beyond my capacity to improve on with further comment, notably Galen Brown's points about film music. But I'll respond to a few.

Matthew Guerrieri (whose thoughtful blog is worth checking out) pinpoints a dilemma that often has me dancing around in circles:

It's not so much the choice of vocabulary (out of the composers I went to school with, I can only think of one who wrote in a classic mid-century serialist style; the rest of us were too in love with John Williams to ever give up tonal centers) as the attitude among a lot of student composers that they simply don't need to know anything about non-tonal music that I find ridiculous. If you already think you know everything you need to know, what are you doing in school? And I'm deeply skeptical of any composer who isn't curious about the inner workings of every single piece he or she comes in contact with--and who doesn't constantly re-listen, and reassess, the entire repertoire. (If I had settled on my 19-year-old opinions, I would like neither Brahms, Barraque, or soul music.)

It's a big problem for me: at one point I rejected the premises of serialist and related music, but it was tremendously important in my development, and I still love a lot of it. So how do you teach a body of music that you've rejected as a creative artist, but still feel your students need to encounter and learn to understand, especially when the music exhibits a difficulty that raises automatic resistance in most of them, and seems so irrelevant to their prior interests?

This morning I went to Patelson's Music in New York and bought the score to the fifth movement of Boulez's Pli selon pli - for $100, which means I now own scores to four of the five movements, at considerable financial commitment - along with Shostakovich's Fourth Symphony, Wuorinen's Piano Sonata, and Ligeti's Continuum (not one of my favorites, but only ten bucks and a great teaching piece). Though I criticize a lot of this music, you can't say my attitude is unaffectionate, let alone unknowledgeable. It bugs me when I don't know how a piece works, or don't understand why it was written, and I study the music that perplexes me. I want my students to learn to do the same. I teach lots of serialist music, and present it as enthusiastically as I can, though I make it clear that, as with any body of music, there is a wide range of quality. I love Babbitt's Philomel, sort of like his Canonical Form, and don't care for Sextets. Nono's Contrappunto Dialettico alla Mente is fantastic, but Il Canto Sospeso leaves me cold. Stockhausen's Mantra is terrific, and I enjoy Kontrapunkte, but I wouldn't bother playing the first four Klavierstücke. The first two movements of Carter's Sonata for Flute, Oboe, Cello, and Harspichord are lodged in my heart, but his Variations for Orchestra seems empty and clichéd.

Ultimately, I believe it's high time to treat this music like any other historical repertoire. My students need to learn all the subtleties of sonata form, too, though Schumann and Brahms are difficult to interest them in. The difference between me and some of my colleagues is that I immerse them in the music - and then don't bother them about whether they want to apply anything they've learned from it to their own music. As trained musicians they have to understand why it was important to write this music, but as artists, they are free to ignore not only it, but all "historical progress," and anything else that doesn't touch them deeply. Still, the question, "Well, if this music is so freakin' wonderful, why doesn't your music resemble it in any way?" - can be difficult to evade.

Guerrieri adds:

I always get my best ideas when I'm sitting through a piece I don't like: I start to think of all the sounds I'd rather be hearing, and the imagination takes off. I know at least a couple colleagues who have had the same experience. Are we the only ones?

Absolutely not. I find nothing more inspiring than sitting in a concert and listening to bad music. As a critic-composer, I've started some of my best pieces while listening to music that bored or disgusted me. Often when it looked like I was taking copious notes, I was actually drawing staves in my little notebook and sketching out chords and melodies in a burst of anti-cliché inspiration. The opportunity to hear lousy music live is greatly underrated.

The always sincere John Shaw of Utopian Turtletop confesses:

I'm uncomfortable with the equation of aesthetic esotericism and political conservatism.

There's nothing "elitist" about esoteric interests. But feeling bitter that "the masses" don't share your esoteric interests does reflect -- or lead one to -- an elitist attitude.

I will have to ponder for a while, uncomfortably, why Aaron Copland may have felt that esoteric aesthetics were akin to political conservatism, and why he may have been justified at that time.

Personally, I'm uncomfortable with the fact that so many of these guys are politically liberal, yet manifest such authoritarian views in their music, or at least in the rhetoric with which they surround it. If a composer is fascinated by esoteric musical goals, but humbly realizes that his perceptions lie outside the range of the average listener, that strikes me as a perfectly reasonable attitude. That seems true of many of the best "advanced" composers: Nancarrow, Scelsi, Sorabji, even Partch. But the serialists, and the New Complexity guys who inherited their hubris, often sound like the musical equivalent of Donald Rumsfeld: "We're the experts, we know what's best, so just shut up and take what we give you, and if you're smart you'll learn to appreciate the bold new world we've created for you." And that bold new world, whether Rumsfeld's or Wuorinen's, is usually a hell based on theories that they've done a great job of rationalizing for themselves, but that are based on self-delusions that most people have too much common sense to accept. Given the assumption that their political views are sincere (though I've been told that Wuorinen and Babbitt express horribly right-wing opinions in private), I can't imagine how they reconcile that for themselves, or even how they look themselves in the mirror each morning. It's true, too, of not only the serialists (nearly extinct at this point, after all), but of my immediate colleagues who insist that their students use the proper modicum of "20th-century-sounding" dissonance, atonality, and pitch complexity whether it expresses what they want to say or not.

Finally, Ryan Howard asks:

I'm curious what you make of Charles Rosen's comments (in Piano Notes) of what he terms "neotonal" music. Rosen seems to advance the argument that the gradual move toward equal temperament destroyed one of the fundamental elements of 18th century tonality--the directionality of modulation in either the sharp or flat direction--and that "neotonal" music, consequently, can provide only a "hollow simulacrum" of 18th or 19th century tonality, in which classical tonal structures are "either abandoned or given a simplistic form which does not recognize the emotional intensity of full triadic tonality."

Unlike some of Rosen's comments about 20th-century music, I think this is a really profound point, and one that many microtonalists have made in one way or another as well. Lou Harrison liked to say that 12-tone music was the only style that 12-tone equal temperament supports. I myself gravitated toward microtonality partly because I was so interested in minimalism, and I always get a gnawing feeling that a lot of Reich's and other minimalist music (Glass's Music in Twelve Parts, for instance) would sound so much better in meantone or just intonation. Those of us not attracted to writing strictly atonal music confront an unconscious conflict, I believe, in the fact that the conventional tuning we use is at odds with the underlying meaning of the harmonies we use. My non-microtonal music (which is most of it) has been influenced to some extent by my work in just intonation, but not as pervasively as I'd like. When writing piano music, for instance, I often revert to a considerable amount of half-step clashes because simple harmonies just don't sound that good on a modern piano. It's a problem - one my teacher Ben Johnston feels is well-nigh insurmountable until we start moving away from the bland out-of-tuneness of modern 12-pitch tuning.

Thanks to all for a fascinating dialogue.

September 10, 2006 12:59 AM | | Comments (4) |

The other day on New Music Box some guy, a young guy I presumed, characterized composers who write tonal music as having ignored all the progress made in the 20th century. That was certainly the kneejerk complaint my old-fart college professors were making in 1975 when minimalism first reared its diatonic head. It didn't take too many years for the charge to get laughed out of court, so I'm always surprised to hear of someone still learning it in school now - like those Japanese soldiers stranded on desert islands who went months without hearing that World War II had ended.

The new course I'm teaching that I wrote about recently is titled "Progress Versus Populism in 20th-Century Music." It describes classical and postclassical music since 1913 as racked between two contradictory convictions. One is the idea that music should continually increase in subtlety and sophistication, each new generation learning everything that came before and moving continually forward in a linear evolution. The other is the idea that music not understandable by untrained listeners is elitist and therefore politically suspect; that by appealing only to the super-educated it marginalizes itself and becomes safe, soaking up cultural resources without doing anything to break down the advantages that the elites - financial, corporate, cultural, and otherwise - have over the common man.

Notice that these two convictions do not directly contradict each other. The belief that music should continally become more subtle and complex - though where that "should" acquires its moral force is difficult to ascertain - does not deny the proposition that complex music removes itself from the sphere of political action. One can believe that music should remove itself from political action. But the way I'm characterizing the first two thirds of the century is that, for those decades, the contradiction seemed unresolvable. In 1933 - which, as a historian, I see as the year of the century's most abrupt and diametrical change in musical attitudes, at least in America, the year that the repercussions of the stock market crash began to affect American lives in a widespread way - the idea of writing complex, dissonant, increasingly shocking music became about as totally discredited as an aesthetic attitude can become. It became "self-indulgent." Every American composer who continued writing in the Depression simplified his or her style to reach out to the masses, starting with Copland's El Salon Mexico. Some of the composers most committed to modernity, like Crawford, Rudhyar, Varèse, and Arthur Berger, temporarily ceased composing. Others, like Cowell, Antheil, and John Becker, felt forced to switch to an undistinguished conservatism. Those who managed to simplify their styles without weakening their music (or who were already writing simple music anyway), like Copland, Thomson, Barber, and Harris, took over the lead. Interestingly, Soviet composers of the same era had the exact same change forced on them by governmental fiat. Later, after the next war led to an era of financial prosperity, between 1948 and 1960, a tremendous countercharge swung the pendulum back toward complexity and increasing sophistication, in both America and Europe.

In any case, it seemed a foregone conclusion in those post-1920s decades that one could not be both politically and musically progressive. One either believed in participating publicly in musical life by writing music for the masses or in retreating from public presence by writing the most sophisticated music possible and hoping that society would eventually catch up. Political convictions and musical aspirations became extremely difficult to reconcile.

Around 1960, however, an interesting new possibility seemed to open up - at least that's the way a lot of composers I know saw it. Minimalism, at least once its early, noisy, austere phase was over (by 1967), was certainly a move toward widespread understandability. It also made claims in terms of musical progressivism. The "metamusic" in those early Steve Reich pieces began to elicit subtle new listening modes not known before. Process pieces by Philip Glass and gradually retuning continua by Phill Niblock stretched musical perception - just as serialism had stretched musical perception, though in a different direction, one not closed off to the lay listener. Many composers, like this guy at New Music Box, denied that returning to pitch simplicity in any respect constituted a perceptual stretch. I remember a friend saying circa 1974 that he liked what Reich was doing in Piano Phase, but wished he had used more dissonant pitch sequences to make the point. For many of us, however, that phase of minimalism from 1967 to 1979 created a whole new perception of how music could be progressive and increasingly sophisticated without being elitist. Then Glass wrote Satyagraha and Reich wrote Desert Music, and those who saw minimalism as musically regressive seemed, for awhile, to have won their point.

But the seed had already been sown. For a lot of (you will excuse the term) Downtown composers, that 1964-to-1979 phase of minimalism was the movement's only creatively exciting phase. By 1983, a small segment of the generation born in the '50s had begun developing minimalist ideas in the direction of greater sophistication. Limitation of harmonic materials (either consonant or dissonant, it hardly mattered) allowed an increased focus on more interesting kinds of aural illusions. Rhythmic dissonance and formal process appeared to be more fertile avenues of new perception than intricately convoluted pitch structures. Elliott Carter-type rhythmic complexity, with no beat-grid to hear it against, seemed tame compared to beats at different tempos running at the same time. Though left in the lurch by minimalism's subsequent development, we felt emboldened to believe that one wasn't forced to choose between political and musical progressiveness. Employing electric guitars, drum beats, and other materials borrowed from pop music in processes derived from Nancarrow and the unrealized visions of Henry Cowell, we felt we could have it both ways at once.

And that will be the surprise ending of my course: that it just might be possible that the "versus" in "Progress versus Populism" can eventually be dissolved away.

Of course, the progress made by the totalists (as some of us call the rhythmically complex/harmonically simple composers who tried to have their cake and eat it too) has been ignored by the great majority of composers, who either never recognized the inherent political pitfalls of elitism or took a defeatist attitude toward them. And that's the great tragedy - that the decisions get made by composers rather than by the public. The corporate dictatorship unleashed by Reagan's policies drew a curtain between newly evolving music and the wider public, with the result that by the late 1980s we found that the audience for new music primarily consisted of fellow professionals - other composers.

Personally, I don't write my music for composers. I don't expect other composers to appreciate my music, and most don't. There is no way I could impress, or would want to impress, composers superficially trained to make a kneejerk association of pitch complexity (even the watered-down, New Romantic type) with forward-looking musical thinking. The number of composers whose taste I trust enough to learn anything from their reactions to my music is relatively tiny - I could name them in a brief paragraph. Yet I learn tons from the reactions of colleagues in other fields, from unbiased listeners, from students, from nonmusicians who come up to me after concerts. Unfortunately, those people - whose perceptions I deliberately aim to expand and seduce, and who frequently express delight with what I'm doing - are not the people making decisions about what music gets supported. The world of new composition, of commissions and awards and grants that make creative work possible, is run by composers, the vast majority of whom have ignored the types of progress made by my kind of music, and who oppose its dissemination.

That's been the tragedy of new music for more than 20 years. We invented a new music that we thought would create a new audience. Then our potential for influencing any mass audience (which Cardew accurately notes is the composer's true means of production) was taken away by the corporate elites. It's extremely difficult for us to understand how so many composers can cling to a musical elitism that is precisely analogous to the corporate, financial, and cultural elitism that keeps new music out of the public ear. That false conception of "musical progressivism" does seem tied to political regress, to an ultimately right-wing notion that only the experts should be in control. Society doesn't need to "catch up" with our music - it only needs to hear it. And the composers commited to elitism, who would rather consolidate their power within the professional institutions than by eliciting love and admiration from audiences, prevent audiences from hearing it - on the grounds that it "ignores all the progress made in the 20th century." It looks to me like they're the ones ignoring the progress.

September 8, 2006 12:22 AM | | Comments (22) |

McMillen.jpg This Friday night, some music of mine is included in a solo recital by boffo new-music pianist Blair McMillen. It's at 8 PM at the Tenri Cultural Institute at 43A W. 13th Street in New York, between 5th and 6th Avenues. Read all the details here. He's playing two of my Private Dances, a NYC premiere, along with pieces by Annie Gosfield, Peter Flint, Feldman, Ives, Scelsi, C.P.E. Bach, and a trio arrangement of King Crimson's "21st-Century Schizoid Man" from 1969. Sounds like I'll have one of the quieter moments.

September 6, 2006 9:09 AM | | Comments (0) |

I finally put together a listening list for my 20th-century music survey course, and, in best masochistic blogging tradition, I provide it here - not in the least because I'm proud of it, but simply to add my two bits' worth to the mountain of evidence that creating a decent listening list for a one-semester course covering an entire century is impossible. I guarantee, if you blogged your listening list for your course at your own college, and it matched mine piece for piece, I would turn away from it in scorn, just as you will here. I'm shocked at the names I omitted: Hindemith, Thomson, Maderna, Branca, J.L. Adams, Lauten. But in my (weak) defense, the course isn't a straight survey, but is entitled Progress Versus Populism in 20th-Century Music. The focus (since I needed some focus just to winnow out a few pieces and movements) is the effect of politics on issues of elitism versus politically-motivated accessibility. Electronic music is poorly represented, since its politics are somewhat different than the public ones of concert performance. My aim is to address the issue of making compositional and stylistic choices in the age of commercial democracy, and thus I begin with World War I, when the aristocracies that supported Romanticism were wiped out. Politically-charged figures like Cardew and Eisler will loom large, even though no specific pieces of theirs are on the roster. And this is only a small sampling of the music I'll actually play. I promise to cover a lot more bases, but the list is already inconvenient lengthy:

Charles Ives: Three Places in New England, 2nd movement
Igor Stravinsky: Le Sacre du Printemps
Igor Stravinsky: Symphony of Psalms
Arnold Schoenberg: Variations for Orchestra
Bela Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta
Darius Milhaud: La Creation du Monde
Anton Webern: Cantata No. 2
Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3
Aaron Copland: Billy the Kid
George Antheil: Ballet mecanique
Dmitri Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10
Harry Partch: Barstow
John Cage: Sonatas and Interludes, Sonatas I & II, Third Interlude
Olivier Messiaen: Turangalila Symphony, movements 1, 4, 6
Milton Babbitt: Philomel
Pierre Boulez: Pli selon pli, 2nd movement
Karlheinz Stockhausen: Mantra
Luciano Berio: Sinfonia, movements 2 & 3
Pauline Oliveros: I of IV
Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated
Morton Feldman: Why Patterns?
Robert Ashley: Perfect Lives, "The Bar"
La Monte Young: The Well-Tuned Piano, disc 1
Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach, "Bed" and "Spaceship" Scenes
William Bolcom: Songs of Innocence and Experience, movements 3 to 8
Clarence Barlow: Variazioni e un piano meccanico
Claude Vivier: Lonely Child
Daniel Lentz: The Crack in the Bell
Laurie Anderson: O Superman
Mikel Rouse: Failing Kansas, movements 1, 2
Maria De Alvear: Sexo

I'm proud to have included Shostakovich and Vivier in there, which, for me, represent branching out. My post-1975 European music (counting the Canadian Vivier as European) does lean toward the accessible side, but that's in keeping with the topic of the class. You can't paint an oil painting of 20th-century music in four months, but if anyone can squint at this rough charcoal sketch and think it looks remotely the same shape as the era, I'll be pleased enough. My textbooks are Paul Griffiths' Modern Music and After and my own American Music in the Twentieth Century. I also include as required reading the following articles:

Milton Babbitt: "Who Cares If You Listen?"
Pierre Boulez: "Schoenberg is Dead"
John Cage: "History of Experimental Music in the United States," "Lecture on Nothing," and "Lecture on Something" from Silence      
Cornelius Cardew: "Stockhausen Serves Imperialism"
Kyle Gann: "Making Marx in the Music" -
Charles Ives: Essays Before a Sonata, Prologue and Epilogue
Pauline Oliveros: "The Contribution of Women Composers"
George Rochberg: "No Center" and "The Composer in Academia" from The Aesthetics of Survival
Arnold Schoenberg: "New Music, Outmoded Music, Style, and Idea"
Elmer Schönberger and Louis Andriessen: "1966-Requiem Canticles," "No Copyright Problem Here," "Ordeals of the Memory," and "On Influence" from The Apollonian Clockwork

As for your comments, compliments will be ignored as insincere, complaints as redundant. Remarks are welcome.

[UPDATE in response to comments: As I should have made clearer, the pieces on the list are only a small fraction of the music I'll be playing - they're the pieces I'll be sending the students to the library to listen to. I'm already afraid it's more than they can handle. And since we have an excellent jazz program, and I'm only an amateur in jazz, I wouldn't presume to teach it when there are top-notch experts down the hall: nor popular music, about which I know very little. I promised no one would be happy with the list, which reflects what some may consider my too-specialized body of knowledge.]

September 5, 2006 11:04 PM | | Comments (19) |

I have sometimes used this space to complain about brilliant music books that have been allowed to go quickly out of print. This month, one of the best, perhaps the most brilliant music book written next to Charles Rosen's The Classical Style, has just come back into print: The Apollonian Clockwork by Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schönberger. Amsterdam University Press is reissuing it, officially this month. The astounding thing about the book is that, like Stravinsky's music itself, it is circuitous, unsystematic, unconcerned with completeness or consistency, a continuously inspired array of intellectual bric-a-brac. The essays are a potpourri of odds and ends. One explains why Stravinsky was the only mid-century composer whom no one could get away with imitating; another why Stravinsky's melodies are impossible to memorize; another, "The Utopian Unison," why his music is filled with false parallelisms; Stravinsky.jpg another details the incident in which Stravinsky was arrested by the Boston police for the unconventional major seventh chord in his arrangement of the "Star-Spangled Banner," illustrated with a reproduction of Stravinsky's mug shot; another explains why Stravinsky didn't subscribe to the aesthetics of his own Poétique musicale; another describes finding the piano on which the Rite of Spring was composed; another researches the 17th-century dance steps on which Agon is based; another offers an insightful point-by-point comparison of Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Andriessen and Schönberger can say things like:

Requiem Canticles is the Requiem for the Requiem. After that, every composer who writes a liturgical requiem for large choir and orchestra, perferably in his old age, will seem like a taxidermist. He will be stuffing a skeleton with ersatz meat and then be putting a black hat on top of it. Then he will say: here is a man. But he will be wrong. It is no longer possible. Stravinsky's Requiem Canticles is Berlioz's Grande Messe des morts, shrivelled to an aphorism.

And again:

It is particularly because the late sonatas of Scriabin and the Sacre sound so different that it is interesting to look at their similarities. The ear easily passes over them. They are structural similarities. The glowing lava of Scriabin has solidified into the pumice of Stravinsky. Harmony, the clearest manifestation of the kinship, has coagulated.... The bars from Scriabin's Etude, Op. 65 No. 3, form the same chord that dominates the last page of the Sacre.

If you have any abiding interest in 20th-century music, buy this book and read it at once. If music as culture means anything to you, buy this book. It made so little splash the first time around that I've hardly run into anyone who's aware of it. But any composer living would give his left arm to be assured that so witty, wise, creative, simpatico, and insightful a book would be written about him after his death. Richard Taruskin has aptly called it "The one book about Stravinsky Stravinsky would have liked." And, thanks to an editorial miracle, it has reappeared after some 15 years' unforgivable absence.

September 3, 2006 10:35 PM | | Comments (5) |

As Alex Ross notes and I had just heard, Robert Christgau, dean of American music critics, has now been fired from the Village Voice. I think it's official: I no longer know anyone working there. I'm sure I would have been fired too, had I stayed around to find out.

September 3, 2006 2:57 PM | | Comments (0) |

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Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Bruce Brubaker on all things Piano
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Slipped Disc
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds

Jerome Weeks on Books
Quick Study
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera

Drama Queen
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
lies like truth
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world

Aesthetic Grounds
Public Art, Public Space
Another Bouncing Ball
Regina Hackett takes her Art To Go
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Modern Art Notes
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog
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