main: October 2008 Archives

October is the cruelest month. Or rather, late October/early November: my first-year students know diatonic chords and a few non-chord tones, but it's awfully difficult to find pieces of music (even hymns!) devoid of accidentals for people still stymied by secondary dominants. One piece that I've found wonderful for teaching around Halloween is Barber's Adagio for Strings - I'm not a fan of Barber or the piece, but they all know it by heart, and the film industry has done very well by it. And a lot of it stays in B-flat minor and teaches the 4-3 suspension ad nauseum:


Also, that last chord in the fourth measure is good for driving home the point that inversions matter. Barber uses it all over the place, and as a major 7th chord with the third in the bass and seventh in the melody, the root gets a little buried, for a bittersweet effect that feels both D-flat major and F minor. No wonder it's laid over so many muted scenes of handsome young men dying in battle. The chord in that position comes back over and over, including at the climax (third, fifth, and seventh chords here):


Plus, the climactic chord progression here, though it strays outside the key, pretty much runs through half the circle of fifths in the flat direction: Gb, Cb7, Fb = E, A7, D, B (instead of the expected G), C, F - and you're back at the dominant. So I get to demonstrate how comforting it is to keep moving toward the flat side of the key. That opening 4-3 suspension, with its repetitious iv7-V chord movement, comes back eight times in one form or another (six of them literal) in seven slowly creeping minutes, which is partly why I don't much respect the piece - Barber stumbled across a nice opening gesture and milked it for more than it was worth. But the kids learn, I think, that knowing how to use common harmonies effectively can become a well-remunerated skill in the film industry. Perhaps other theory profs might benefit from the suggestion.

October 30, 2008 8:30 PM | | Comments (3) |
We in American music owe a great debt to John McCain and Sarah Palin. Those two have so cheapened and tainted the word "maverick" that it will be at least a generation, maybe two, before anyone will be able to use the word non-ironically again. And that means, surely, that there will be no more talk about the "American maverick composers." 

As I've written here before, the musicological purpose of the word "maverick" is to legitimize certain handpicked composers despite the unconventionality (as compared with alleged European norms) of their composing methods, and to do so without de-marginalizing all the other composers who share those methods. What we need is for the methods themselves to be legitimized, so that a true pluralism of aesthetics can be accepted into discourse. The "maverick" image of Cage, Nancarrow, Lou Harrison, La Monte Young as lone dissenters - composers who, after all, had teachers, friends, students, protégés with whom they shared ideas and developed their creativity collectively - was always a palpable fiction. And no one who watched Palin vacuously self-identify as a maverick at the end of the vice-presidential debate will ever be able to use the word seriously again, thank god.

October 28, 2008 7:38 PM | | Comments (9) |
I had a lovely lunch yesterday with my former editor from the Voice, Doug Simmons, who hired me and edited me for seven heady years. Each of us had some anecdotes from those years we'd never told the other before. The guy who'd recommended me for the job (who might want to remain nameless in this instance) once called Doug up, furious about some new infraction I'd committed in the paper. "You're the guy who recommended him to me," Doug expostulated, "I'd never heard of him before." "I think I've created a monster!," the guy exclaimed, and hung up.

As big a thorn in the side I am to the classical composing world, there was a time when the Downtown scene hated me even more. Why Bill O'Reilly and I still have public careers, I have no idea.

October 27, 2008 12:01 PM | | Comments (4) |


From Peter Garland: I Have Had to Learn the Simplest Things Last.

October 26, 2008 10:10 AM | |
I refuse to do those "playlist" things that tell you what I'm listening to lately, because 1. I go for long periods without listening to anything, and I'm entitled because I've already spent way too much of my life involved with other people's music; 2. half of what I do listen to is for teaching reasons; 3. I often listen to pieces because I'm planning to steal ideas from them, so admitting it would sometimes be too revealing. But lately I'm listening over and over to a mammoth work that's long fascinated me, Grand Hotel (1989) by Cornelis de Bondt. I found a score of it last year in Amsterdam at Donemus, and in fact, I envy the Dutch that they have such a helpful, friendly, professional institution as Donemus as a one-stop-shopping center for Dutch music. I hiked over to their spacious office (way off in an inconvenient corner of eastern Amsterdam) several times, and was welcome to listen to recordings and peruse scores for hours before buying anything. Imagine if the U.S. had a central place you could go to and look through scores by John Luther Adams, David Lang, Elodie Lauten, and almost any other American composer you could name - that's what the Netherlands has. Although some of the younger Dutch composers have refrained from selling their scores through Donemus because, they told me, the place has gotten a reputation for representing the stodgier side of Dutch music. Given that they handle music by people as hip as Jacob ter Veldhuis, I couldn't quite see the criticism myself, but I report what I was told. One easily imagines that if there were such a place in the U.S. it would get swamped by the officially approved orchestral New Romantic crowd of whom our elites are so dubiously proud, but Donemus struck me as admirably democratic in its absence of stylistic bias.

Anyway, back to Grand Hotel. It's a huge, sprawling, 37-minute essay, one of those complex pianistic virtuoso marathons mostly notated on three if not four staves, played in a frantic fury by Gerard Bouwhuis, and based on Beethoven's Op. 111 Sonata. The opening diminished-seventh chords of that piece burst forth frequently, and many of the streams of falling 32nd-notes come from the concluding scale passages of Beethoven's first movement. The longer (naturally) second movement is dotted with less obvious references to Beethoven's tranquil Arioso theme, often simply sudden secondary dominant chords that hang quietly in the air. Key signatures - three flats, six sharps, five flats - run through the piece, although it more often sounds atonal than diatonic. The title, according to the liner notes, is a reference to the crumbling edifice of tonality, which certainly stands nobly, but in ruins, here. I'm told by one of his students that Cornelis de Bondt (b. 1953) teaches theory at the Hague Conservatory. I'll upload an mp3 here for you, as is my wont, but only temporarily, for it's a big file and I can't spare the space forever.

Grand Hotel is a interesting contrast to Clarence Barlow's Variazioni e un pianoforte meccanico, which is a theme and variations for live pianist and Disklavier based on the theme of Op. 111's second movement. Barlow's achievement is a stunning logical and technological feat, the computer grabbing data from Beethoven's theme and composing its own cheery, sometimes almost humorous variations. Grand Hotel is far darker and more introspective, a kind of existential, manic-depressive drama featuring Op. 111's elements in dozens of flashbacks, playing with sudden recognitions and buried shards of memory. 

As documented here, though 95% of my musical influences are American, I've got my own long history of associations with Op. 111, a piece which haunts me almost as much as the Hammerklavier haunted Brahms. (Other European pieces deep in my compositional bloodstream include Mahler's Sixth - which turned up in Custer and Sitting Bull - the adagio of Bruckner's Eighth, Busoni's Fantasia Contrappuntistica, Boulez's Rituel, and everything Erik Satie wrote.) I've never directly quoted Op. 111 except in my Disklavier piece Petty Larceny, which consists entirely of quotations from the Beethoven sonatas, but my I'itoi Variations of 1985 was a kind of spiritual homage to it, and my two-movement piano concerto Sunken City mimicked Op. 111's proportions and movement contrasts. In grad school, for Peter Gena's class on the late Beethoven sonatas, I wrote a paper titled "Zen and Op. 111," in which I analyzed the piece as a contrast between samsara and satori, between the earthly veil of illusions and the tranquility of Zen consciousness. My idea was that the first movement's angry diminished sevenths chords represented a relentless drive to the final, sad resolution, while the arioso variations gradually defuse the polarity between tonic and dominant, creating an image of timelessness in which resolution becomes unnecessary:


(Years later, in a review of Pauline Oliveros, I described this same C-D-F-G sonority as a musical equivalent of the Yin-Yang symbol, a union of tonic and dominant with no thirds to specify major or minor.)

Obsessively quoting every historical thinker from Basho to Nietzsche and beyond, "Zen and Op. 111" was too embarrassingly immature to make public now, but at the time I was moved to write it by a book that I recently had the tremendous pleasure of rereading: R.H. Blyth's Zen in English Literature. This is one of the books Cage read in the '40s, and one I had discovered through his writings. Blyth was a British Japanese scholar who sat out World War II in Japan, and whose books on haiku elevated that genre to heightened visibility in the West. Zen in English Literature is an absolutely charming tome, a virtuoso display of astonishing erudition (which I tried ineffectively to imitate) in which he traces examples of Zen consciousness through Wordsworth, Dickens, Shakespeare, Keats, Blake, Pope, Donne, Milton, Chaucer, Cervantes (not English, but included anyway), and many others. Hamlet's "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so" is the book's continually recurring mantra, and he finds Zen in every perfectly self-forgetful artwork: "Art is frozen Zen." No isolated example will do the book's flavor justice, but for instance Blyth compares George Herbert's

I made a posie, while the day ran by:
Here I will smell my remnant out, and tie
     My life within this band,
But time did beckon to the flowers, and they
By noon most cunningly did steal away
     And wither'd in my hand.

with Basho:

Leaves of the willow tree fall:
     The master and I stand listening
          To the sound of the bell.

as a type of self-identification with nature. Zen is Blyth's poetic criterion, in fact, and for want of it he damns Coleridge as merely a sentimental pantheist.

Zen in English Literature is the liveliest and most enlightening introduction to Zen for a Westerner I've ever found; it's long out of print, but I located a used copy from Amazon, and enjoyed it all over again. By Blyth's way of thinking, Zen could be found in much (or any) great music, but there's something special about the second movement of Op. 111 and its gradual dissolution of 19th-century goal-directed syntax. In fact, one could impose the two movements of Op. 111 as a metaphor on modernism versus minimalism, or perhaps postclassical music, in general: anxiety, portentousness, climax-orientation, and ambition versus calm, intuition, flatness, and paradoxical nonsequitur. The karma-riddled first movement is entirely classical, but the Arioso lays out a postclassical harmonic agenda many decades before the fact. Perhaps that's why the piece has never relaxed its hold on me, and every musical work that makes reference to it demands my attention.

October 24, 2008 5:44 PM | | Comments (4) |
One of the more anti-American parts of the country:


UPDATE: I keep glancing at this and thinking it's my post on the Hudson Valley painters. I wonder why.

October 22, 2008 11:38 AM | | Comments (3) |
My profile of Larry Polansky is now out in the November/December Chamber Music magazine. The cover story is on Ned Rorem.

October 22, 2008 11:34 AM | | Comments (2) |
Someone's applied the exact same rhythmic technique to Sarah Palin that I did to Custer. 

October 19, 2008 2:07 PM | | Comments (14) |
Pursuant to requests from our European affiliates, the deadline for submissions to the Second International Conference on Minimalist Music is being moved back to January 31, 2009. Thanks to all those who've already submitted - you've given us an early idea of what we can expect, and the results are already exciting. Some members of the Society, though, just found the preparation time too... too... too minimal

October 19, 2008 11:46 AM | | Comments (3) |
There's a lot of new interest in the songwriter/cellist/composer Arthur Russell, who died of AIDS in 1992, because of his work in dance electronica. I don't know how far the interest extends to his early minimalist music, but I ran across my old Arthur Russell vinyl discs yesterday, and it occurred to me that I've never played his music on PostClassic Radio. So I've put two records up, Instrumentals 1974 Vol. 2, and Tower of Meaning (1981). Some of the Instrumentals have a nice beat to them, but Tower of Meaning (conducted by Julius Eastman, no less) is pretty austere, just chords in rhythm. But attractive, if you're into the same kind of no-frills listening I am. The production values are pretty sketchy, some tracks simply cut off in mid-phrase. Imagine a big "[sic]" every time that happens, because that's what was on the record. Part of being an expert is just having lived long enough to own the records everyone's forgotten about. I'm sure I had these because Yale Evelev at good old New Music Distribution Service thought I should have them and sent them.

I've also put up some Jacob Ter Veldhuis including his Paradiso Oratorio, Renske Vrolijk's hot-off-the-press Sound of Wax based on sampled wax cylinders, Morton Feldman's For Christian Wolff in its three-hour entirety, and some orchestra pieces by Christian Wolff and Petr Kotik. I notice, however, that the average listening time per log-in has been only 15 minutes lately; this simply won't do with the new format. In case you're really dying to hear the Arthur Russell and could stand to know where it comes in the playlist, I'm going to try a new way of posting the playlist, as jpegs here. Below is the current 31-hour+ playlist, as of this morning. You'll notice I have to play tricks on the software to assign three tracks from one CD without triggering Live365's anti-classical copyright rules, which is why Morton Feldman gets renamed "Uncle Morty" - a name everyone would recognize him by anyway:


October 14, 2008 11:24 AM | | Comments (5) |
Pianist Sarah Cahill has been trying to get me together with Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda, and Saturday he and I managed to have lunch in New York. Among other points of commonality, he's written a book on microtonality (I should say, I am currently writing a book on microtonality; I will always be writing a book on microtonality; I am so wary of the thousands of picayune errors of fact and number that my fellow microtonalists will hit me with, that I am planning to time its publication to occur mere moments before my death, so that their objections will come too late; but anyway, Mamoru has already completed one). It's titled The Archeology of Sound, only in Japanese, and here's his discussion of La Monte Young's Well-Tuned Piano:


Sarah had played me (on piano, not recording) a Fujieda piece called Patterns of Plants, and it turns out the Patterns of Plants series is an enormous cycle, comprising the bulk of Mamoru's ouput. As he explains it,

Patterns of Plants is a series of compositions based on the melodic patterns that are extracted from the data of slight changes of electric potential found in living plants. Such a procedure was made possible by "Plantron," an apparatus conceived by bio-media artist Yuji Dogane... The compositional process... starts from finding out "musical values" in the changes of electric potential. By finding out "musical value," I mean an attitude to regard the changes as "voices of plants" and to gather melodic patterns while listening to their voices.

This makes the piece sound rather complicated, or at least mechanical and objective, and it's truly anything but that. It's consummately simple, gentle music, somewhere between Chinese folk music, 13th-century motets, Greek bouzoukee, Virgil Thomson, and Peter Garland. Its simplicity is deceptive, and I find that as I listen to it more and more I increasingly hear embedded patterns and subtleties. One of the CDs he gave me (Tzadik) is imaginatively scored for violin, sho (kind of an Asian mouth organ), and two kotos, the other (on a Japanese label, Milestone Art Works) is for clavichord. Very calming music, and I've put up both CDs for your enjoyment on PostClassic Radio. Mamoru and I were also born the same year, though I thought he looked considerably younger; and we both studied briefly with Feldman, which happened for him when he was getting his doctorate at UC San Diego. He teaches acoustic design at Kyushu University in southern Japan. 


Some of you will recognize the environs as being Elephant and Castle in New York.

While I'm mentioning PostClassic Radio, after the big copyright brouhaha of a couple of years ago, the fees they charge me to run the station got raised 50 percent without much fanfare. But then - and I just figured this out recently - somehow they also doubled my disc space to 1000 MB, so I'm going to be gradually expanding the playlist from 17 hours to 34. Along with a couple of hours of Fujieda, I put up Robert Ashley's entire opera Improvement: Don Leaves Linda, a couple of installments of David Borden's The Continuing Story of Counterpoint, quite a bit of Alvin Curran's multi-hour piano piece Inner Cities, and Steve Peters's hour-long In Memory of the Four Winds. I'm a little more tempted to put up huge works in their entirety now. Soon the station will be rotating more than a day's worth of music, and will hopefully take a little longer to get sated with. 

October 13, 2008 4:28 PM | | Comments (2) |
[UPDATE: Anwer below] Don't you wish your doctoral music exams could have gone on forever? I know I do. And here, just to relive a little of the thrill, is a small test reminiscent of same. If you can guess the composer's name, you and I have a lot to talk about, but failing that, guess 1. the date of composition, and 2. the date of the composer's birth. Here's an mp3 of the passage so you don't have to drag your computer to the piano.


Answers later.

UPDATE: OK, several people (including Alex Ross, who sent me a separate note) figured out that this is the Sonata Op. 61, "Elegie Harmonique," written in 1807, of Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812). I could have picked a more obscure passage; this is the main theme of his least-completely-unkown sonata. But those who guessed dates after 1840 made the point for me that much of Dussek's music anticipated trends in Romanticism by several decades. Ironically, the one guess of C.P.E. Bach makes sense too, since some of that composer's sonatas get pretty weird harmonically, though it's unlike C.P.E. to keep this kind of rhythmic groove going for so long. The typically Dussekian restatement of the theme on the Neapolitan is rather Lisztian too, though I don't know whether Liszt knew Dussek's sonatas; they were popular during his lifetime, but fell into oblivion after his death. The statistic I find most impressive is that in the old series of Norton books The Sonata in the Baroque Era, the Classic Era, etc., Beethoven is discussed in the Classic era book, Dussek in the Romantic - even though Dussek was ten years older than Beethoven. As Howard Allen Craw says of him in Grove, "Dussek is an unjustly neglected composer... As has been frequently observed, much of Dussek's music resembles that of other composers. Most often, however, these composers are later than Dussek, and such resemblances show him to have been very much ahead of his time in the development of a Romantic piano style." Thanks to all for your guesses, internet research, and knowledge, class dismissed.

October 10, 2008 6:48 PM | | Comments (15) |
Off topic, I realize, but this Palin article by Matt Taibbi from Rolling Stone is too entertaining not to share:

Here's the thing about Americans. You can send their kids off by the thousands to get their balls blown off in foreign lands for no reason at all, saddle them with billions in debt year after congressional year while they spend their winters cheerfully watching game shows and football, pull the rug out from under their mortgages, and leave them living off their credit cards and their Wal-Mart salaries while you move their jobs to China and Bangalore.

And none of it matters, so long as you remember a few months before Election Day to offer them a two-bit caricature culled from some cutting-room-floor episode of Roseanne as part of your presidential ticket. And if she's a good enough likeness of a loudmouthed Middle American archetype, as Sarah Palin is, John Q. Public will drop his giant-size bag of Doritos in gratitude, wipe the Sizzlin' Picante dust from his lips and rush to the booth to vote for her. Not because it makes sense, or because it has a chance of improving his life or anyone else's, but simply because it appeals to the low-humming narcissism that substitutes for his personality, because the image on TV reminds him of the mean, brainless slob he sees in the mirror every morning.

And again:

We're used to seeing such blatant cultural caricaturing in our politicians. But Sarah Palin is something new. She's all caricature. As the candidate of a party whose positions on individual issues are poll losers almost across the board, her shtick is not even designed to sell a line of policies. It's just designed to sell her.

And as a public service announcement, some much-needed publicity for the Alaska Secessionist Movement

October 8, 2008 10:42 AM | | Comments (3) |
I wrote an article on William Schuman for Symphony magazine, which I'll give you the details on presently. I couldn't really spare the time, but chances to write about Schuman are rare, and I love his music too much to have resisted. I gather that being a huge Schuman fan puts me in somewhat of a minority (what else is new?). There is a prejudice abroad that Schuman's composing career was only propped up by his powerful position as President of first Juilliard and then Lincoln Center. Don't you believe it.

I met Schuman once. He had some piece played in Chicago in 1986, and I reviewed him by phone for the Chicago Reader, then introduced myself at the performance. I wish I had had the chutzpah to insist on getting to know him. I told him that at home, beneath my bed, was a box of compositions I wrote in high school, most of them attempts to plagiarize the bleak opening atmosphere of his Eighth Symphony. In perfect crusty-old-sea-captain character he growled, "Surely you can do better than that!" Here's the passage in question, a reiterating series of succulently grim major-minor triads leading to a long, angularly wandering horn solo:


I know it's fuzzy, but try to look at those two harps and the piano, with tubular bells playing both thirds of the triad and a grace-note in the glockenspiel. Delicious. There are few passages in the orchestral literature I love so dearly. It's desolate, haunted, almost motionless, yet palpably not despairing; there's a latent energy to the rhythm and even the subtly shifting voice-leading that somehow forecasts the sardonic fireworks that will come in the third movement. It's as Americanly tragic (sorry, "tragically American" just won't do) as The Grapes of Wrath - a novel that coming events may compel us all to reread. I love Schuman's Third, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Symphonies too, and his New England Triptych, and I played his less impressive piano piece Voyage which had a little impact on my piano writing, but the Eighth is the one I kept trying to duplicate. 

My guilty secret is that before I discovered Cage at 15, I had already lost my creative vriginity to the Harris Third, the Schuman Eighth, and the Bernstein Second (gang-banged, as it were). My high school composing style slithered around among Schuman, Harris, Ruggles, Copland, Bernstein, and - more consciously but a little more distantly as well - Ives. Had I not then fallen in with the Cage crowd, I suppose I'd be writing symphonies today. And I still suspect that my personal take on minimalism, heard through glacially moving microtones, minor-triad obsessions, and even my fetish for the 11/9 interval (347 cents) that's halfway between major and minor, was conditioned by the spellbinding effect Schuman's gloomy chords had on me at a tender age.

I'll put up a first-movement mp3 here temporarily, but hopefully everyone already knows this piece.

October 6, 2008 10:31 AM | | Comments (10) |
One more word about Clementi, and as example a piece I bring into many classes. I was always a collector of canons, even before I discovered Nancarrow, and Clementi was something of a fanatic about them. (Sometimes to his detriment; the otherwise magisterial Op. 40 No. 1 Sonata is a little marred by its canonic scherzo, which doesn't bear enough weight for the rest of the piece.) There are eight canons in his massive, almost-five-hour piano opus Gradus ad Parnassum, and two of them are inversion canons. It seems to me that an effective inversion canon, in a tonal idiom, is one of the hardest things you can write, and this one, the more effective of Clementi's two, I find remarkably charming for the genre:


You can hear the canon here in a recording by Danièle Laval. Of course in E major he has to reflect the lower voice around F#, because the major scale (as a glance at the keyboard will show, noting D's position among the white keys) is symmetrical around the second scale degree. Debussy tweaked fun at Gradus ad Parnassum in his Children's Corner, and Charles Rosen blasts the collection as a marathon of mechanical soullessness. He's almost 100 percent wrong. They're all teaching pieces on some level, but included are dozens of lovely, memorable vignettes, variously diverging toward early Romantic harmony and warm neo-Baroque counterpoint. 

I've always gotten a kick out of keeping a secondary musicological specialty besides contemporary American music, sort of as a hobby and to keep new music in perspective. My period used to be medieval, which I studied in grad school with Theodore Karp, one of the leading figures in the field. But the last time I taught medieval, the textbook (by Jeremy Yudkin, the only enjoyably readable medieval music text) contradicted half of what I said, and I realized that that field changes too fast for me to keep track of - pieces are now attributed to different composers than was true when I was in grad school, and even the technical terminology has changed. So several years ago I switched to Classical Era as a secondary specialty, though I only do the instrumental music; most 18th-century opera bores me to tears. I enjoy taking students through the Haydn symphonies because they're so incredibly varied and numerous, though it's a rare student who shares my enthusiasm for Haydn. And I try to show them that the period was a lot funkier than it gets credit for, by playing Albrechtsberger's concertos for jew's harp, Michele Corrette's Combat Naval with its forearm clusters on the harpsichord, and music in odd meters like this fugue in 5/8 by Beethoven's childhood friend Antonin Reicha:


But I bring up Clementi's inversion canon even in composition lessons as an example of grace achieved under intense compositional restrictions.

October 5, 2008 12:36 PM | | Comments (4) |
Somebody urged me to join Classical Lounge, so I did, and lots of people there wanted to add me to their friends list, and I always pushed the "accept" button. And I started getting notices that people wanted to befriend me on Plaxo Pulse, so I'd go over there and thread my way through the web site, and then the similar LinkedIn requests started pouring in. And I got invited to join NetNewMusic, as did apparently my entire circle of acquaintances, because most of my e-mail time over the next couple of weeks was spent acceding to requests to link to people there. Many of the requests come from slight acquaintances I admire and certainly don't want to insult by refusing, others come from complete strangers. But in either case, I haven't figured out what the point is. 

If someone wants to get in touch with me, I already felt like the easiest-to-reach person in the blogosphere, with multiple web addresses and message sites. (Sensitive people think they get blocked by my spam filter, but it's never true.) Given that I'm an introvert with a high need for privacy and prone to the occasional peevish mood, I'm still fairly sociable, and I certainly don't want to give anyone the impression that I'm too high and mighty to join their little internet club. But I can't imagine a situation in which someone wanted to get information to me who wouldn't find it easiest to just add my e-mail address to a list. Maybe if I were young and on the lookout for career opportunities, some would come my way through this route, but my plate, insofar as casual acquaintances would seem to be able to fill it, is pretty full. I've found that I don't like getting caught up in web forums, because my ideas are pretty unorthodox, and classical musicians often get offended by my views (like, I don't know, my perception that most classical musicians are kind of stupid). And it takes about all my spare time to deal with mail to my own blog, where at least people already know what they're getting into. If I want to talk to microtonalists I go to their Yahoo list, and I check in on New Music Box, and I look at people's web sites when too tired to do anything else. I might also mention that I keep pretty busy.

I don't take to new technologies very well, and maybe there's something going on here that I just haven't figured out - or maybe the people who run these sites are themselves just testing the waters. Is there something to these music e-friend groups that I should be paying attention to?

October 3, 2008 9:55 AM | | Comments (6) |
The monothematic sonata (in which the main theme reappears as the second theme, and sometimes representing other functions as well) is reflexively associated with Haydn, but it could just as well be identified with Muzio Clementi. Except that Clementi approaches the idea with more nuance than Haydn. Often Clementi bases all his themes on the same motive, or else the second theme is a variation of the first, and perhaps the closing theme the inversion of the first. For instance, in the Op. 37 No. 2 Sonata in G, the opening theme:


is varied to become the second theme (and later inverted to become the closing theme):


It imparts to Clementi's sonatas a lovely brand of introversion you don't find in Mozart or Beethoven, a sense of the theme-hero being inflected according to its changing role in the sonata structure, and the whole movement being narrowly focused. I point this out to demonstrate how this particular sonata exhibits one of the cleverest strategies in leading to the recapitulation I've ever found. The development ends up on the dominant of A minor, and a modified form of the main theme emerges, moving ambiguously between e minor and G major, and finally reaching a dominant on G just in time for the second theme:


That means that, thematically, the piece arrives at the recapitulation thirteen measures before it reaches it tonally (i.e., a return to the tonic key), and uses the recapitulation of the main theme as its transitional element modulating back into the tonic. It's an elegant structural pun, the theme serving to embody, hint at, and retransition to the recap all at once. Very smooth, very clever. Clementi clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the potential subtleties in sonata form and how to play around with them. There are many similar examples in his music (and Op. 37 No. 2 pales next to the six magnificent sonatas of his Op. 40 and Op. 50). And when you compare this level of structural thought and compositional rhetoric to the kind of awkward, slapdash transition that Mozart could jerry-rig in a now-famous sonata even as late as K. 545:


it's clear that some of the excess idolatry we lavish on Mozart could aptly be retooled as honest admiration for Clementi, and for Jan Ladislav Dussek as well. Not that Clementi ever wrote anything that could match Mozart's late piano concerti and operas (though he did provide Mozart with a theme for the Magic Flute overture), but it's kind of silly and sad, given our far more complete view of the 19th century (except for the remarkable Franz Berwald) that we impart such a cartoonish, one-dimensional view of the classical era, just Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven with Gluck occasionally thrown in. Beethoven grew up with Clementi's sonatas and borrowed from them, and I sometimes wonder what Ludwig thought of poor Clementi, a well-respected composer 19 years his senior, reduced to becoming Beethoven's publisher and representative of his piano retailer. In my Evolution of the Sonata class, I try to correct the balance.

In Westminster Abbey a few years ago, I ran across Clementi's grave by accident. (The English adopted him as they did Handel.) It was a thrill to run into someone whose music has given me so much pleasure.

October 1, 2008 9:16 PM | | Comments (9) |

Sites To See

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the main category from October 2008.

main: September 2008 is the previous archive.

main: November 2008 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

AJ Ads

AJ Blogs

AJBlogCentral | rss

About Last Night
Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Artful Manager
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
blog riley
rock culture approximately
critical difference
Laura Collins-Hughes on arts, culture and coverage
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Dog Days
Dalouge Smith advocates for the Arts
Art from the American Outback
Life's a Pitch
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
Mind the Gap
No genre is the new genre
Performance Monkey
David Jays on theatre and dance
Plain English
Paul Levy measures the Angles
Real Clear Arts
Judith H. Dobrzynski on Culture
Rockwell Matters
John Rockwell on the arts
State of the Art
innovations and impediments in not-for-profit arts
Straight Up |
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude

Foot in Mouth
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Seeing Things
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...

Jazz Beyond Jazz
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...

Out There
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Serious Popcorn
Martha Bayles on Film...

classical music
Creative Destruction
Fresh ideas on building arts communities
The Future of Classical Music?
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
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
The Unanswered Question
Joe Horowitz on music

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
Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.