Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Case of R. Murray Schafer

Who? Well might you ask. But R. Murray Schafer is probably the best-known Canadian composer. In fact, Make Music New York was just scheduled to give the premiere of two of his pieces at Central Park Lake. Here is an article on the performances. One of the pieces performed was this one:

I can understand if you don't want to listen to all of that, only four hundred some people have bothered since it has been on YouTube, so here are a couple of short choral pieces by Schafer:

How about some instrumental music? Here is a piece for solo harp:

And a piece for solo guitar:

Here is his String Quartet No. 12:

This last piece is a bit more interesting, though parts of it sound a lot like spooky theremin music from Ghostbusters and in general it sounds like it is searching very hard for some sort of character, but not finding much apart from diminished chords.

The music of R. Murray Schafer frequently consists of long, sustained chords, often with seconds. This is usually followed by trippy sound effects. Sometimes, as in the harp and guitar pieces, we have trippy sound effects followed by trippy sound effects, followed by more trippy sound effects. Schafer seems incapable of coming up with a melody or motif and his harmonies never seem to go anywhere. My feeling, after trying to listen to quite a few pieces, is that he is a massively untalented composer, re-hashing the European avant-garde in a very dull fashion. One wonders how one could make dissonance and sound effects so very boring, but that seems to be Schafer's specialty. Only in Canada... Schafer's paucity of musical talent is accompanied by an over-bearing pretentiousness.

Please, if you disagree, let me know in the comments! But from the few hits these clips get on YouTube, I doubt there are many rabid R. Murray Schafer fans out there. The string quartet, for example, has only sixty views.

The question is, how did someone with so little talent become the grand old man of Canadian music, festooned with honors? You got me. I think he started at the right time. He was probably the first one to do trippy avant-garde sound effects in Canada, which people in Ontario seem to find very impressive.

I previously posted about R. Murray Schafer here. You might find the discussion in the comments to that post to be rather amusing!


Craig said...

Earlier this weekend I heard a piece by Schafer (called "Scorpius") played by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in an outdoor concert downtown. Schafer himself was present. It was an older piece -- 20 years or so -- that sounded like a cross between a traffic jam and a malfunctioning radio.

People listened and offered subdued applause; the rest of the program was Wagner and Verdi. My daughter, age 4, loved it though; she shrieked throughout.

Bryan Townsend said...

Heh, heh, heh!

Well darn! I was almost hoping to get into an argument with someone.

Schafer is getting a lot of attention this year in honor of his 80th year.

And Craig? Nice metaphor.