November 12, 2014
People are strange...
As someone who deeply admires the otherworldly, alien music of Helmut Lachenmann, I was jolted when I recently read an interview with the pianist Rolf Hind in which he said that Lachenmann's favorite composer is ... Ennio Morricone. (Rolf Hind worked closely with Lachenmann on the composer's piano concerto Ausklang.)
Not that there is anything wrong with liking Ennio Morricone's music. As far as film music goes, he has supplied some of the most memorable scores in the history of cinema. Compared to such three-chord musical midgets as Hans Zimmer (or to the fucking retard who won an Oscar last year for using less then three chords in his brain-numbing score for the film Gravity), Morricone is certainly an artistic giant.
Still, I think the greatness of a film score, whether by Morricone, Korngold, or Hermann, is inseparable from its function as a component of the total aesthetic experience of watching a film. Heard on its own - the way one listens to art music, such as a Mahler symphony or a Carter concerto - a film score immediately sinks under the weight of its severe limitations, imposed on the music by various pragmatic considerations having to do with its functional role in contributing to an overall non-musical aesthetic experience.
So, why on earth would a composer as revolutionary as Lachenmann listen to Morricone's film scores? What kind of aesthetic rewards does Lachenmann's mind derive from Morricone's triadic harmonies, conventional rhythms, and mostly ordinary (if very skillful) orchestration?
I really can't think of a plausible explanation. But then I don't know much about Lachenmann the man, so I may be unaware of some biographical reason for his elevation of Morricone to the status of a favorite composer (rather than favorite film composer). Perhaps this kind of aesthetic weirdness is common among avant-garde composers? The only other example that comes to mind is Milton Babbitt, who reportedly possessed encyclopaedic knowledge of (and immense affection for) Tin Pan Alley songs of the 1920s and 1930s.
In any case, if you are not familiar with Lachenmann's strikingly original music - the music whose gestures, textures, and timbres are light years away from the music of other 20th century modernist composers, let alone from Morricone's film scores - you can acquaint yourself with this composer by listening to his composition Air, music for large orchestra with percussion solo (1968–69), conducted by Ingo Metzmacher and recorded live at the Concertgebouw on April 5, 1997.