Friday, April 17, 2015

Friday Miscellanea

And I know just how she feels: "Woman Stabs Roommate for Refusing to Stop Listening to The Eagles." Hey, we've all been there.
It's unclear which of the band's songs drove Bader over the edge, but police have narrowed down the possible suspects to "Witchy Woman," "Take It Easy," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Take It to the Limit," "One of These Nights," "Tequila Sunrise," and "Hotel California" on repeat.
Oh, for sure:


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Alan Gilbert, just stepping down as music director of the New York Philharmonic, recently gave a lecture on the future of the orchestra. You know what I think: the only problem with orchestras and classical music generally is that we need better audiences! But of course you cannot say that sort of thing in public. What must instead be said is some version of the Received Wisdom: classical music must change and fit into the Brave New World of the 21st Century, by performing in Unconventional Spaces and attracting New, Younger Audiences. Blah, blah, blah. Let's see how Gilbert finesses that:
What orchestras can be for their audiences is changing, and that actually presents a wonderful opportunity for us to grow. The new generation of emerging orchestra musicians and conductors can approach things with an optimism that is unburdened by any sense of historical limitation. Music has an eternal power to move us, and increasingly, schools and professional music groups are embracing the new role that musicians can fill in touching people’s lives both in and out of the concert hall.
What is asked and expected of musicians is constantly evolving. Outstanding musicians in today’s orchestras are only doing their jobs fully when they understand and invest in their expanded portfolio that is demanded by the wider definition of what an orchestra is. I want to see orchestra musicians held up as heroes in their communities – both for their brilliance as musicians, but also for how they use that talent to touch the lives of those around them through music. People must get used to seeing musicians as the crucial agents of change in communities, as teachers, leaders and role-models.
Oh dear... One wonders, what with all this touching of people's lives outside the concert hall and being heroes in the community, when will musicians ever have time to actually give a concert, not to mention practice and rehearse? But he says a lot of things in the lecture and it is worth having a look.

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I rarely run across music criticism that is as, well, "full-blooded" as that on offer here at the Music Salon, but occasionally... One such example is a rather unbuttoned take on the contemporary music scene by Simon Heffer from last November titled, "A Raspberry for Emetic Music".
I wonder whether it is a coincidence that when when composers relied on private patronage they wrote music that was, and remains, wonderful, but now all sorts of orchestras and public bodies channel money to them from the pockets of taxpayers, they write music that is, and will remain, crap? I think not. If it hardly matters to a composer whether people come to hear his work, or buy downloads of it in the event it is recorded, because the state-funded cheque turns up whatever, he can indulge himself to the point of exhaustion in writing what Kathleen Ferrier once memorably termed "three farts and a raspberry, orchestrated". These nonentities pose as being of the people, yet write music that only the smallest handful, and those having been in receipt of one of the most elitist educations imaginable, can even pretend to understand. And even many of them would never go as far as saying they "like" it, because much of it is profoundly unlikeable.
I think I have said something very like this at times. But if you are going to criticise something so severely, then you ought to at least name names.

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 From time to time, one wonders what 20th century music is the most popular. One indicator is this list of the top eight parts rentals from Boosey and Hawkes. These are all works still under copyright (the Mussorgsky because it is the Ravel arrangement), but none of them dates from after 1960:
1. Bernstein: Symphonic Dances From "West Side Story"
2. Bernstein: Overture to "Candide"
3. Mussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
4. Britten: The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra
5. Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2
6. Britten: Four Sea Interludes
7. Copland: Appalachian Spring Suite
8. Copland: Clarinet Concerto
Looking at that list, it is almost certain that it is just within the US. How would European rentals look, one wonders?

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I've been reading Monroe Beardsley's Aesthetics recently with great interest. One point he makes is that there are two basic categories of comments one can make about an artwork. He labels them "external" and "internal" according to whether they are about things external to or internal to the piece. For example, mentioning that Beethoven died in a thunderstorm, or sued his sister in law for custody of his nephew, or complained about Haydn's way of teaching counterpoint is to discuss externals as none of these things are internal to the artworks themselves. Mentioning that Beethoven liked the music of Handel, or worked on themes for months or years in his sketchbooks, or struggled with coming up with definitive metronome markings are, however, internal to the music itself (or could be argued so). All external comments are irrelevant, even if they shed light on the composer's intentions because the composer's intentions are also irrelevant. Now, ask yourself, how much of the liner notes, program notes and reviews you have read recently are actually relevant? 50%? Or maybe more like 5%?

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Not a terribly lengthy miscellanea today. I assemble the various bits over the course of the week, and for part of the week, I didn't have Internet access. Let's end with the popular Appalachian Spring Suite by Copland.


6 comments:

Marc Puckett said...

Yes, Heffer should have cited examples of what he was talking about, ha, but at least he named James MacMillan as one of the good ones. That Berserking concerto is quite good and bracing, although have only listened to it a couple of times. I had never heard of him until he was commissioned to compose a Tu es Petrus for the reception of Pope Benedict at Westminster Cathedral during the papal visit to England in 2010: it is solemn and otherworldly and dissonant in the right proportions and the right places.

Bryan Townsend said...

Yes, I have just scratched the surface of the music of James MacMillan, but he sure seems like "one of the good ones!"

Marc Puckett said...

Am not sure about the internal/external dichotomy; this is-- and I haven't read B.-- the scholastic intrinsecus, extrinsecus perhaps, applied to music, where 'extrinsic' is more or less a characteristic of an efficient cause and... well, I'd have to go read up. I see the 'externality' of the damn thunderstorm and the 'internality' of Beethoven having worked on a theme for months: but surely there must be, arguendo, a third class in which I might include e.g. 'liking the music of Handel'. Hmm. If it can be argued that Beethoven's intentions are irrelevant, then that's a very good way to eliminate the need to pay attention also to the intentions of artists who require me to deal with their 'conceptions' -- I can simply say, that is an ugly mass of unpleasantly drawn squiggles, or, well, 'that may sound like Spring to you but I hear an unharmonious and finally incoherent massing of sounds'. I can't think that B. can have meant that intention is not relevant?

Bryan Townsend said...

Beardsley is famous for being the co-author of the enormously influential paper, "The Intentional Fallacy". He points out that we must make a crucial distinction between the author's intent and the aesthetic object. When the author says he is going to write a poem about trees and we look at the poem and indeed, it is about trees, there is no real problem. But if the artist says he is making a sculpture that will symbolize inhumanity and oppression and we go and look and all we see is a granite sphere two feet in diameter, then we have a problem and the proper solution to the problem is to discount the artist's intention and whatever he or anyone else says about it. All we really have to work with is the aesthetic object itself. I think that my examples were not really well chosen on the internal side. Good examples of comments on the internal side would include: "the piece is in three movements beginning with an allegro", "the climax of the third movement is a fortissimo chord on D minor with an added ninth" and "the whole movement is tied together with an insistent dactylic motif." All these refer specifically to the music itself, the aesthetic object.

Marc Puckett said...

So I downloaded the W... cannot remember his name and Beardsley Fallacy essay. Hmm. I don't understand how the intention of the artist matters in the poem and not in the sculpture or the piece of music-- but I shall read the essay and do some thinking; thank you for the further explanation. Surely the sculptor of the sphere-like object... well, well.

And, an aside, I thought of Quintilian earlier, when I was reading at another blog, in the proemium of his Orator's Education, where he points out that those who would lead the state ought to be virtuous, not only virtuous sed omnis animi virtute exigimus, 'but we ask of him all the virtues'. :-)

Bryan Townsend said...

How wonderful to hear the name Quintilian. I studied his rhetoric a bit about 40 years ago and don't think I have heard him mentioned since. It has been a long time since I read the Fallacy essay, so I hope I am not misrepresenting it. I am working with a later version of his views, the ones contained in his substantial book on aesthetics, so I don't think I am far off.