March 25, 2015

Charles Rosen was right...

Those who dismiss contemporary art music on the grounds that it has failed to attract a large public conveniently forget to ask whether attracting a large public is an accurate (or even meaningful) measure of the music's aesthetic merits.  History shows that it is not
Rather the aesthetic merits of new (and initially difficult) music are validated by "the continuing presence of an important group of musicians who passionately want to perform it" (Charles Rosen, "The Irrelevance of Serious Music", in Critical Entertainments, Harvard U. Press, 2001, p.294).  This was true, for example, of Beethoven's late piano sonatas, which owe their eventual public acceptance to such important musicians as Franz Liszt and Hans von Bülow who insisted on performing these works.  And I am glad to see that it is true of Elliott Carter's music as well.  A list of conductors who have been programming Carter's music includes James Levine, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Boulez, Oliver Knussen, Michael Gielen, Peter Eotvos, Pablo Heras-Casado, Thomas Zehetmair, Emilio Pomarico, and Jaap van  Zweden, to mention just some.  And then there are such illustrious instrumentalists as Emmanuel Pahud, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, James Sommerville, Charles Rosen, Fred Sherry, Ursula Oppens, Heinz Holliger, Alisa Weilerstein, Nicolas Hodges, Jan Vogler, and Rolf Schulte who are passionate about Carter's concertos and solo works.

It wasn't the public that demanded the inclusion of a large number of Carter's works in the most recent Mozart Week Festival which took place last January at the Mozarteum, Salzburg.  And certainly not the kind of public that goes to Salzburg year after year, happy to hear a Mozart concerto for the 1000-th time performed by some fleet-fingered 20-something metrosexual from Bejing or by a grizzled keyboard veteran from London whose arthritic fingers no longer can manage anything more complicated than Mozart's scales.
     A few of the Carter performances from that festival were broadcast by the Austrian radio, and I was only too happy to add them to my blog's slowly growing audio museum of Carter's music.  In addition to the charming miniatures Duettone and Enchanted Preludes (performed by members of the Camerata Salzburg), the broadcasts included the Flute Concerto (with Pahud as the soloist) and the song cycle What Are Years for soprano and ensemble (with Kerstin Avemo as the soloist), both conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado.


brackenberry said...

Late thanks for all your Carter postings. Expect Rosen's right when it comes to the music's current survival - who knows long-term? Was fortune in finding Carter lps as a young kid before I knew the music was meant to be hard - which helps.

welker said...

My experience of Carter's music has been mixed - and I say experience, not judgement - as I sometimes simply fail to respond but at other times am absorbed and delighted. I am, in any case, profoundly grateful to you for providing me (everybody) with the chance to actually hear such a wide range of works and interpreters.