(So many things that cross my mind I never blog about. Here are last week’s, though some are earlier…)
I was driving last Thursday night, and listening to WNYC’s Evening Music show, aka the flagship classical program on New York public radio. (Which I’ve blogged about before.) Since they play so much new music, and also music that isn’t even classical, I’m ready for anything when I turn it on. I even once encountered a cheesy — delightfully cheesy — horror-movie score.
But on Thursday, Terrance McKnight, the host, was playing lieder. Chestnuts. Schubert’s Serenade, then Liszt’s “Oh quand je dors.” The music sounded like a lovely jewelbox, golden and untouchable.
Then came the very long Symphony No. 2, by Harri Vuori. Modernism Bleeps, skreeks, slides, and orchestral moans and screams. This was the kind of new classical music we’d all have sworn would never be on mainstream radio. But there it was. I had to like that, even if I didn’t love the piece.
Emotionally, the Vuori piece seemed tense and anxious. So here, with the lieder, we had two extremes, a lovely, distant jewelbox, and unremitting angst. Which offers a deadly critique of high-church classical programming, in which standard works alternate with modernist new music. Where’s the middleground? Where’s the music that’s contemporary, but offers a fuller view of life than screams alone can give? (There’s a lot of it, of course, both classical and pop.).
(Go here for last Thursday’s Evening Music playlist.)
Classical music cravasse
I said people see classical music differently these days, not as stuffy, or elite, or boring, but simply as music. Not completely, though! Here’s the Frazz comic strip from Saturday:
Springsteen and metal
Saw The Wrestler, powerful, touching film that doesn’t at all go in the direction cynical moviegoers might expect.
And the Bruce Springsteen song — which comes in over the credits, and was written for the movie — made me think. The Wrestler takes place in Springsteen territory, New Jersey, with even a scene in Asbury Park. And it’s in Springsteen social and emotional territory, too, since it shows us working people whose lives haven’t worked out.
But the two leads in the film, Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, aren’t listening to Springsteen. They’re into ’80s hard rock and metal. There’s a lovely scene where they each discover that about the other. “Nineties music sucks!” “Kurt Cobain ruined music!”
And it struck me that Springsteen — as far as I can remember — doesn’t deal with metal at all, either in his lyrics, or musically. Nearly all his songs, to my ear, come ultimately from two sources, folk music and mainstream pop from the ’50s through the ’70s. (With some Dylan detours in the early albums.)
But when he made albums in the ’80s, the people he sang about might well have been listening to hard rock, hair bands, and metal. Yet Springsteen doesn’t go there. I don’t mean this as any criticism of him. But the movie made me see a gap in his culture, so to speak, a place he doesn’t go. I’d never thought of that before.
The director of the National Gallery in London likes museum shows with just one painting, and of course a reduced admission fee. He brought in a show from the National Galleries of Scotland, consisting of two Titians. People flocked to see it, he said, and stayed longer than they often do, looking at the paintings and debating them.
Can we imagine one-work concerts? Which might say, to the world at large, “Here’s something we really want you to listen to.”
A Tom and Jerry cartoon, from 1948, which I ran into on TV, flipping channels. The score — so typical of old cartoons — is very classical, featuring classical quotes (the Barber of Seville overture), and even thematic development. Even the Rossini overture is developed, not just quoted.) And the score keeps changing, as it follows the action, just like an opera, or a symphonic poem.
This isn’t hard to listen to. This cartoon refutes any thought that nobody can follow classical music without special education. Anyone can hear how the music screeches to a halt when the chase scenes do, or trembles with anxiety when someone’s scared, or why (when someone seems to be in serious danger) the galloping Rossini overture suddenly turns sour.
If people can follow music doing these things in a cartoon, why can’t they hear them in the music alone? (Which is not to say that classical masterpieces might not be more subtle than the cartoon score, but then many people who watched the cartoon were also watching subtler movies, and reading sublter books. So why couldn’t they appreciate subtler music, too?)
Brahms’s Stalinist piece, “Song of Triumph.” written to celebrate a German military victory. I’d never heard it till last week, and hope I never do again.
Quite literally it reminded me of Shostakovich’s Song of the Forests, a painful piece of Stalinist propaganda. Of course Brahms wrote Triumphlied without being forced. But it takes him to an overstuffed, forced, and unconvincing place. It’s Stalinist, in the sense that music’s being used as propaganda, even if Brahms’s Stalinism came from within.
Daniel Mendelssohn on Dr. Atomic
A long essay by the noted critic, in the New York Review (not yet available to read on their site). Like Ron Rosenbaum (whose critique I blogged about), he strongly doesn’t like the piece. It’s good news, bad news. Good news: a classical piece gets attention outside the classical world. Bad news: It doesn’t stand up well when looked at by serious journalistic and literary intellectuals.
Makes me wonder what Mendelssohn and Rosenbaum might say if they turned their attention to standard classical performances. (Mendelssohn did write about last year’s new Lucia at the Met, and devastated it.)
The end of the Amato Opera
New York’s tiny company, bad for generations, but lovable. Its onlie begetter, Anthony Amato, is 88, and it’s no dishonor if he can’t go on.
But still I’m sad. I made my debut there, when I was nine, in the children’s chorus in Carmen. I’d loved opera on records. Now I could not just see one live, but sing in it!