November 27, 2016

A fifteen-year-long wait for the "Aha!" moment...

This is how long it seems to have taken Paul Griffiths - a very experienced music critic and a perceptive writer on modernist music in the 20th century - to change his mind about one of Helmut Lachenmann's most often performed orchestral works: 

Mouvement (vor der Erstarrung) for eighteen-piece ensemble is quite successful in the avoidance [of anything pleasant to listen to].  [It is] a landscape of rustlings, scrapes, electric bells and pointless percussion toccatas. (The Times, July 8, 1986)

[In] Mouvement (vor der Erstarrung) ... there are a lot of whirrings, scrapings, knocks and breathings. But not only are these noises beautifully made in themselves, they also add up to a bracing musical design. ... This omnipresence of sheer sound contributes to the poetry of Mouvement...  It comes as if from nowhere, takes you firmly by the hand and will not let go until it has shown you things you could not have suspected.  (New York Times, November 4, 2001)

For lack of better things to do, I briefly wondered about Griffiths' long delayed epiphany.[1]  After all, Lachenmann's Mouvement is neither intimidatingly complex (compared to, say, Carter's Double Concerto or Concerto for Orchestra) nor aggressively abrasive (unlike, e.g., the music of Xenakis or even Beethoven's Grosse Fuge).  For the most part Lachenmann's piece speaks quietly and delicately, and its large-scale structure is essentially that of three superimposed arcs representing gradual changes in pitch content, dynamic levels, and the density of texture.  In the manner of Hollywood screenwriters pitching an idea for a movie, one could simplistically describe Mouvement as Ravel's Bolero re-composed by Webern and performed on ingeniously adapted objects from the inventory of a hardware store.

November 2, 2016

If I were God...

Less than a week from today the American voters will decide whether their next president will be a flamboyant asshole or a corrupt sociopath.