August 1, 2011

RICHARD WERNICK: String Quartet No.8

This must hurt.  An American composer writes music for half a century, receives many prestigious awards (including the Pulitzer Prize), holds an endowed professorship at an Ivy League university, and today, at the age of 77, he is ... nearly invisible in the music world.  It was only a couple of days ago that I came across my first live recording of Richard Wernick's music.  And I have been enthusiastically collecting live recordings of contemporary music for quite some time.  (Of course there are some commercial studio recordings of Wernick's music, but these recordings are poor indicators of the composer's visibility.  After all, the music of such archeological curiosities as Fasch and Locatelli had been commercially recorded too, but I probably have a better chance of bedding Scarlett Johansson than encountering a Fasch symphony or a Locatelli violin concerto in the concert hall.)

In any case, I think Wernick's atonal (but not athematic) String Quartet No.8 (2010) (performed by Daedalus Quartet at the 2011 Music Mountain Festival) is attractive, even if it never ventures far from the sound world of Schoenberg's String Trio and the last two quartets.  I simply happen to like the (admittedly old-fashioned) style of "atonal romanticism", so it matters little to me that Wernick's string quartet - like those of other "atonal romantics" Artur Schnabel, Leon Kirchner (one of Wernick's teachers), and Henri Lazarof, to mention some - is neither especially innovative nor particularly individual.


lescamil said...

Thanks! I only know Wernick through a handful of piano compositions (which I enjoyed) and more as a conductor. I also know Lerdahl from a sole composition on an eighth blackbird CD. Great stuff! Much appreciated, as usual.

Ron said...

So cool, wonderful to be able to hear both works! Thanks

Parker said...

SICK! I have never heard any Fred Lerdhal's recordings! I have only read his writings on the GTTM.

Boom said...


Lerdahl is a strange case for me. He seems to have gotten into his head (as did the conductor Ansermet decades earlier) that serialism somehow violates the innate (hard wired) "cognitive constraints" on human comprehension of musical material. That was the old Chomsky's hypothesis about "universal grammar" underlying all humanly comprehensible languages, and Lerdahl had invested much effort in attempting to translate this idea into the realm of music theory.

Personally, I don't think anything promissing came out of Lerdahl's efforts, either as cognitive science or as music theory. (The right kind of cognitive science requires a great deal more from neurophysiology and high level mathematics than Lerdahl or his pal the computational psychologist Ray Jackendoff ever learned.)

In any case, that direction of his reasearch seems to have had affected him as a composer rather negatively in my view. He wanted to be a "contemporary" composer, but also to keep his music from "violating" what he saw as innate and "deep" rules of musical grammar in the listener's mind.
The actual results of his compositional efforts strike me as uninteresting, much as his applied cognitive science did.

But, of course, that's my personal opinion, not a scholarly argument!

RonanM said...

Many thanks for this fascinating upload, which is slowly dribbling down my uncertain internet connexion as I write.