But the best part of the item, as is so often the case at Slipped Disc, is the comments. Here is a sample:The International Chamber Choir Competition has just ended at Marktoberdorf. Choirs from all over the world shared in the prizes, many with new works written specially for the occasion.Imagine their dismay when the jury president, Georg Grün, declared: ‘These are 200 pieces that the world doesn’t need.’
I sometimes call myself a snob, though usually qualified as a radical, hard-core classical snob, not an actually pathological one. But I notice that there are those out there whom you might call pathological non-snobs and I wonder if this commentator is one of those. I suspect, with just a smidgeon of evidence, that he is one of those who is extremely rigid about his own musical values. Great Composers are those whose music is always Great and no criticism will be brooked about that. Then there are the other, non-Great, composers who write Insufferable Trash (that's probably me!) and in between there is that Range of Legitimate Music. This smacks to me of the error I might call the Fallacy of the Received Values. I was on a bus once with a friend and we got into some musicological discussion that ended up questioning the absolute value of some great composer or the other. When we got off the bus I was astonished to be accosted by a woman sitting by the door who had overheard our discussion and cursed me as some sort of, well, I forget the precise expression! But it was very negative.The music world is filled with opinionated intolerance of that sort. Between insufferable trash and the great composers there is a very wide range of legitimate music, but one always finds a pathological snob who knows, for example, that the peasant melodies that Haydn put into his symphonies and string quartets, or even Bach’s immortal quodlibet, must be “rubbish”.
I often find myself falling between two stools, intellectually speaking. On the one hand I am most certainly an apostate of High Modernism. I reject the fundamental assumptions and aesthetic values that lie behind their practices and works. I do not believe that the music of Boulez, Stockhausen, Cage and their followers is the Music of the Future. I believe it is a mannered excursion down an alleyway that will be forgotten within fifty years. But at the same time, I also reject the rigid traditionalism exhibited (I suspect) by the above commentator (and probably by the lady on the bus). I do not believe that the Pantheon of Great Composers is set in stone, but rather that their fortunes rise and fall over time. There are great composers, of course, but who they are reveals itself differently to us over time. We saw the fortunes of the once-reviled Shostakovich rise enormously since his death in 1975, while the fortunes of the once highly-respected Hindemith have fallen. By "fortunes" I mean aesthetic judgment.
Even though we moderns pretend not to make aesthetic judgments--a claim made particularly aggressively by the more fashionable among us, like Alex Ross--we still do. Every time you go to your CD shelf or iPod and pick one piece instead of another you make an aesthetic judgment. The sum total of all these aesthetic judgments over a hundred years or so enables us to conclude that yes, J. S. Bach is a very great composer and Beethoven and Mozart are not far behind. Ironically, folks like Alex Ross make some of the most sweeping and egregious aesthetic judgments simply because they don't perceive them as such but operate as if they are simply basic principles.
I think that the act of making your own aesthetic judgments, not refusing to do so, is what makes you a good listener. You do not listen to Bach because someone said he was Great; you listen to Bach because it sounds good to you. If you hear a new piece of choral music and it sounds pretty bad to you, and you say so, then good for you. I do hope that you have some reasons that you can give, though.
So the only thing we can say about the new works written for the chamber choir competition that Herr Grün condemned, is that if he is right that was unfortunate and we are eager to hear what his reasons might have been. I mean, surely a couple of them, at least, might have been ok? I am tempted to submit one of my pieces for choir to the next competition, if I can figure out how...
"Marktoberdorf" by the way means "the upper village with the market". A "dorf" is a village and "ober" means upper.
Remarkably, through the magic of YouTube, I can actually find a performance of a choir, possibly of a newly-commissioned work, at this very same Marktoberdorf competition. This is the Louisville Cardinal Singers, mind you from several years ago, but still:
So exercise your powers of aesthetic judgment and weigh in on that piece, Cantus Gloriosus by Jozef Swider.