July 9, 2018

A very sad day for art music...

Oliver Knussen and Elliott Carter in 2008

Just found out that Oliver Knussen died yesterday aged 66. 

No other conductor gave such lightness, sparkle, and forward momentum to the music of Elliott Carter; and these qualities also characterize Knussen's own delightfully playful compositions.

What a loss...

July 3, 2018

From the poster boys of the Wisdom Industry

[Those whose] work is the use of the body, and if this is the best that can come from them - are slaves by nature. For them it is better to be ruled...

Wives, servants, and children are possessed in a way akin to our possession of objects. If they flee, they must be returned to the owner if he demands them, without regard for the cause that led them to flee.   ...
A child that comes into the world apart from marriage is born outside the law (for the law is marriage) and therefore outside the protection of the law. [The society] can ignore its existence (since it rightly should not have come to exist in this way), and can therefore also ignore its annihilation.
IMMANUEL KANT, The Metaphysics of Morals

No wonder  it was such a happy day in Richard Feynman's life when his son Carl abandoned philosophy for computer science...

June 6, 2018

Summer reading

Few things in life are less rewarding than reading a typical Ph.D. thesis in the Humanities.  This one, however, is an exception not only because of its topic, but also because the writing keeps clear of the wooden, repetitive, jargon-laden style favored by academics who, in their heart of hearts, know they have nothing worthy to say but still take hundreds of pages to deliver a few trivial observations on some inconsequential subject matter.

Composing Freedom: Elliott Carter's 'Self-Reinvention' 
and the Early Cold War
U. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2012
(Available as free PDF download from the U. of North Carolina Digital Archive.)

ABSTRACT:  In this dissertation I examine Elliott Carter's development from the end of the Second World War through the 1960s arguing that he carefully constructed his postwar compositional identity for Cold War audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. The majority of studies of Carter's music have focused on technical aspects of his methods, or roots of his thoughts in earlier philosophies. Making use of published writings, correspondence, recordings of lectures, compositional sketches, and a drafts of writings, this is one of the first studies to examine Carter's music from the perspective of the contemporary cultural and political environment. In this Cold War environment Carter emerged as one of the most prominent composers in the United States and Europe. I argue that Carter's success lay in part due to his extraordinary acumen for developing a public persona. And his presentation of his works resonated with the times, appealing simultaneously to concert audiences, government and private foundation agents, and music professionals including impresarios, performers and other composers. This detailed study of a single composer sheds new light on how artists were able to negotiate the complex economies of the Cold War artistic environment.

May 6, 2018

Like the common cold...

Like the common cold, a bout of stupidity is something we all have to endure from time to time.
BOOM (in one of his more lucid moments)

And when the symptoms of stupidity have been displayed in public (say, in the form of a blog post), a diagnostic postscript seems entirely appropriate.  Which brings me to my earlier, flippant and decidedly unkind remarks about the symphonies of Anton Bruckner.

April 3, 2018

If Grandma had a dick ...

Roger Sessions (seated right) in 1959, with
Douglas Moore (seated left) and (standing left to right)
Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter,
Wallingford Riegger, William Schuman,
Walter Piston

That's what history is: the story of everything that needn't have been like that.
CLIVE JAMES, Cultural Amnesia.

If Grandma had a dick, she would have been Grandpa.
A sober response to metaphysical speculations about counterfactuals and possible worlds.

This is as sentimental as Clive James ever allowed himself to feel on the printed page: A memorable turn of phrase infused with longing for a world where human decisions and subsequent actions - which is what history is ultimately about - are not subject to the tyranny of causal determinism.  Alas, so far causal determinism is the only coherent perspective on how the world works, and it tells us that everything happens exactly as it has to, if often not as we wish it had.  The latter may give rise to feelings of regret, but to elevate such feelings to the status of 'ontological detectors' of how things might have been is sentimental daydreaming at best.

March 11, 2018

A Mozart puzzle...

If I don't practice one day, I know it. Two days, the critics know it. Three days, the public knows it.

In his book Mozart: A Life, Maynard Solomon gives the following description of Mozart's typical daily routine:

During his early years in Vienna, Mozart would customarily arise at six o'clock, be at his desk by seven, and compose until nine or ten, when he would make the rounds of his pupils, giving lessons until one o'clock.  "Then I lunch," he reported to his sister...  Returning to his room after several hours of social visits, he would again compose ... "I often go on writing until one - and am up again at six." ... With variations, that was Mozart's daily routine as he described it in his letters home... [On some] days the only time he had for composing was in the evenings, "and of that I can never be sure, as I am often asked to perform at concerts." (p.309).

With Mozart's time divided between composing, teaching, socializing, and frequent concert performances, the above description of his daily routine suggests that Mozart had no time to practice at all, or at least that he did not practice regularly enough to warrant mentioning practice among his daily activities.  This I find very hard to believe, but since I have no compelling evidence to the contrary, the best I can do is offer a few rather inclusive speculations on this matter.