October 1, 2018

Who gives a fuck about how it makes you feel!

Elliott Carter and Oliver Knussen

Formal analysis is not the only source of objective claims about music which are accountable to independently verifiable evidence.  A notable composition is likely to have a history, including its genesis from initial sketches to the final revision of the score, the evolution of its reception, the ways it may have been exploited for political propaganda or plagiarized in popular music, and more.  Then there are specific technical challenges the work may pose for performing musicians (including conductors).
     These, along with editorial matters pertaining to early musical notation and performance practice, constitute the domain of objective discourse on music.  The rest is impressionistic drivel which, despite the seeming objectivity of wording, is only about whatever it is that pops into the writer's head when he/she listens to (or reflects on) such-and-such piece of music.  When confronted with this kind of writing - whether in the form of metaphysical mumbling (Wagner), Marxist yapping (Adorno), feminist babbling (Susan McClary), or diarrhetic torrents of metaphors, free associations, and misused scientific concepts (insert here the name of any so-called new musicologist) - the only appropriate response I can think of is the one given by the title of this post.

September 15, 2018

Voyeurs. Stalkers. Biography readers.


I do not know which hand Tchaikovsky favored for the act of self-gratification.  I doubt anyone knows.  Still, it is conceivable (if by now very unlikely) that evidence concerning Tchaikovsky’s preference in that area may one day come to light.  Say, a fortuitously discovered letter from the composer’s brother Modest to one of Modest’s lovers in which it is mentioned that Tchaikovsky was a lefty.  Supposing this were to happen tomorrow, would you expect to read about Tchaikovsky’s left-handed masturbation in the composer’s updated biographies?

September 1, 2018

Two cheers for tabloid musicology!


The experience to which Mr. Carter's music gives authoritative access is that of belonging to a self-congratulating coterie, lately beside itself with rage at its loss of power to tyrannize the classical music community.
RICHARD TARUSKIN, letter to the Editor, New York Times, 27 July 1997.*
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There is no denying that the musicologist Richard Taruskin's cantankerous, pugnacious writing style can be refreshingly entertaining in today's climate of PC Jihadism, where sharply negative criticism is readily equated with bullying.  And when such criticism is directed at the works of those who happened not to be white heterosexual gentile males, the critic may end up with the career-destroying label of enemy of diversity, inclusion, equity, sustainability, social justice, and other Stalinist linguistic contortions whose meanings are known only to delusional academics, useless bureaucrats, and self-righteous Silicon Valley nerds.

August 21, 2018

A hugely succesful failure

ELLIOTT CARTER and PIERRE BOULEZ at Avery Fisher Hall before the 'Informal Evening' performance of Carter's Concerto for Orchestra on 11 February 1974

From most New York Philharmonic subscribers there was a sigh of relief when Pierre Boulez left the orchestra.  ...  [R]eliable reports have it that nobody was happier than the front office when Mr. Boulez went to Paris for good.
HAROLD C. SCHONBERG, Facing the Music, Simon and Schuster, 1981, p.362.
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What could have so upset the front office folks about Pierre Boulez' tenure as music director of the New York Philharmonic?
     Was it Boulez's introduction of Rug Concerts and other unconventional concert formats such as Informal Evenings?  Not likely given that Boulez's Rug Concerts "played to a full house that greeted each piece with unrestrained enthusiasm"[1], and the series proved to be "enormously successful"[2].
     Was it because of decreased attendance due to Boulez's insistence on performing a substantial amount of 20th century modernist music?  Again not likely because the attendance rate at the Philharmonic was at 96% of capacity in Boulez's third year[3], rising to 99% in his last year, with the average over his entire tenure (1971-1977) being 97% [4].  This is slightly better than the 96% attendance rate under Boulez's successor Zubin Mehta[5], and vastly better than the 78-88% attendance rate during the tenure of the ridiculously overpaid Lorin Maazel three decades later[6].

With this in mind, I'm inclined to think that Harold Schonberg was simply full of shit, and his allusions to (unnamed) "reliable sources" and the (statistically invisible) aggrieved majority of Philharmonic subscribers are nothing more than a feeble attempt to camouflage his own intense dislike of post-war musical avant-garde and of Boulez as its most influential spokesman.  If I'm right, this is one example to support my view of Schonberg as a superb music writer - one whose books I re-read periodically for the sheer pleasure of their Hemingwayesque directness and powerfully projected personality - who also happened to be a spectacularly limited and biased music critic.

August 10, 2018

Yankee ingenuity!!!


U.S. Ranked Low in Math Literacy


In a study of how good 15-year-olds are in math, the "big, bad" USA ranked 24 out of 29 countries.
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A serious problem, indeed.  And this is how American parents have dealt with it:

August 6, 2018

Then again, maybe not...


In an earlier post about Yo-Yo Ma's involvement with Elliott Carter's Cello Concerto I claimed to know - based on the live recording of one of Ma's performances - that Ma had no difficulties with the technical challenges posed by this concerto.  A couple of  days ago I received an email from the composer Wei-Chieh Lin (a student of Milton Babbitt) which considerably diminished my confidence in the above claim.  Here is the pertinent excerpt: