Arguing for Caring About Contemporary Music

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Ralph
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Arguing for Caring About Contemporary Music

Post by Ralph » Wed Nov 08, 2006 12:06 am

The shock of the new

Arts

We are living in a glorious period for contemporary British musical composition. There are more first-rate composers living and working in the UK than at any time in our history. Among others, Harrison Birtwistle, Brian Ferneyhough, Judith Weir, George Benjamin, Oliver Knussen, Mark-Anthony Turnage and James Dillon have all written major works across a range of genres. Sadly, in the cases of Dillon and Ferneyhough, their profiles are higher abroad than they are on these shores.

As controller of BBC Radio 3, I try to showcase the best of British talent and promote understanding of these composers. The station is the world's largest commissioner of new music, and this aspect of our work is particularly important to me. I feel strongly that Radio 3 is not a museum with a static collection; one way in which it can remain fresh and topical is by regularly including new work, juxtaposed with more familiar music.

However, there is no doubt that modern classical music is suffering from an image problem. As the nominations are unveiled for this year's British Composer Awards, which will be announced at the Hayward Gallery in London on 24 November, we are unlikely to see a huge surge of interest in the works selected or the composers honoured. This is the fourth year of the awards, organised by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, but I am no longer waiting with bated breath for extensive press coverage or a sea change in the public's attitude to modern music. I will not be surprised if such media interest as there is focuses on Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead and on if his work will win the Radio 3 Listeners' Award.

Compare this to the pull of contemporary visual art - the Turner Prize, for example, or the equivalent award for modern fiction, the Man Booker Prize. Both events generate reams of newspaper copy and huge public interest, leading to vast increases in the commercial viability of the prizewinner. Michael Finnissy won two of last year's British Composer Awards. Yet his name and music remain unknown to the wider public. His "English Country-Tunes" is one of the most important piano works of the past 50 years and yet it remains only rarely performed.

So, how has this problem arisen? I would suggest that there are two main reasons: how we experience the music and the language we use to talk about it. With a visual artwork, you can pause, often walk around the piece in question, and move on as quickly as you feel necessary. You can then choose to return to it whenever you want. Similarly, you can pick up and put down a book in your own time.

Classical music, on the other hand, demands concentration and commitment. In a concert hall, where the vast majority of new pieces start out, you are obliged to sit and listen - there is no realistic opportunity to walk out. After that, the experience is over and you will probably never have the chance to hear the piece again. How frustrating it is for the composer, and how difficult for the audience.

Second, we seem shy to talk about music using words with which we are more comfortable talking about other art forms - for example, colour, mood and energy. Our critical language slips too readily into musical terms that are meaningless to most people - "atonal", or "second Viennese school", or "new complexity". This encourages the idea that you need to "understand" new music before you can talk about it. People who don't feel they have an academic understanding of what they are hearing find it difficult to enjoy new music as a sensory experience.

It is tempting to think that we can solve these problems through better music education. In fact, progress has been made over the past five years, with increasing opportunities within the school curriculum to look at new music. I don't think enjoying new music should require an education, however - it should be a natural part of our lives, in the same way as pop is a natural part of the lives of the younger generation. In the past, there was not always this division between the popular and the new: in this Mozart anniversary year, it is important to remember how his music touched the popular imagination.

Neither is lack of funding now the sole issue. Throughout history, great composers have had to do work other than composing in order to buy time for their art. At Radio 3, we are privileged to be able to provide an outlet to those compositional voices that the market ignores. As I write, Radio 3 is broadcasting the nine symphonies of Sir Malcolm Arnold, in whose recent obituaries it was pointed out how, despite his stature, his large-scale music is ignored by orchestras and concert promoters.

However, even in the commercial sector this is a problem of will rather than means. Even with the necessary funding in place, concert promoters and festival organisers are often reluctant to risk putting on new music. The innovative Encore scheme, run by the Royal Philharmonic Society, provides opportunities for new works which have been well received to find further performances. But it has not been easy persuading promoters to engage with the scheme, even with extra rehearsals paid for and potential lost box-office revenue covered.

In order to sustain the public's interest in classical music as a whole, it is crucial that programmers play fresh and innovative work alongside the traditional repertoire. This means having the imagination - not only the funds - to keep programming as alive as possible. Some may argue that it is the composers who have lost touch with their audience. But it is we, the audience, who are in danger of losing touch with composers, and we are much the poorer for it.

The British Composer Awards will be presented on 24 November [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/newmusic/br ... ards.shtml]



Three to watch

Simon Holt Nominated in the "Instrumental Solo and Duo" and "Listeners'" categories

Holt won fame with Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?, a stage work for Almeida Aldeburgh Opera in 2003, based on a press report about the 1943 discovery of an unidentified woman's remains in the hollow of a tree at Hagley Wood, in the Black Country. "I've no idea what it was about it - something seemed to come to me in a flash," he said. Other big influences are the Greek legends, on which he based The Icarus Trilogy (completed 1995), and Federico García Lorca, whose writings inspired Holt's first opera and his song cycle Canciónes.

Jonathan Dove Nominated in the "Choral" and "Community and Educational" categories

Dove's opera Tobias and the Angel was the production chosen to open the refurbished Young Vic theatre last month, where it received rave reviews. He specialises in work that involves the community, and says he likes writing tunes that "people will enjoy on a first hearing". Besides contributing music to various plays, including His Dark Materials at the National Theatre, Dove has written the operas Flight, set in an airport, and When She Died . . . (for Channel 4), marking the fifth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Judith Bingham Nominated in the "Choral", "Liturgical" and "Stage Works" categories

Bingham's composition Chapman's Pool (1997) received more than 80 performances around the world in just four years, making her one of the UK's most internationally performed composers. To more recent acclaim, her choral work Hidden City, inspired by the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, was premièred at the closing concert of the City of London Festival 2006.

Research by Olivia Shean
This article first appeared in the New Statesman.
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Post by Lance » Wed Nov 08, 2006 12:48 am

An excellent and thought-provoking article. What I have seen in concerts, and in the university environment with composers who work assiduously trying to reach an audience is, bluntly put, not reaching an audience. Contemporary music recitals in most universities garner only a handful of people. Those kinds of concerts have terrible attendance, and those that do attend are friends of the composer, trying to support him/her. It's not the composer's fault. He/she is putting as much effort into the music as Mozart or Beethoven may have put into their music. (Although it is somewhat easier today given copying machines, computers, software etc., et al). The problem is the listening public. If one has been steeped in classical music, as it was known before, say, 1950, then the "new classical music" will generally be found unappealing to those listeners. It is the present generation, from age 5 to 18, that will, no doubt, have more acceptance of today's "classical music," like it or not. By the same token, they will probably have less interest in what we 40-to-70+-year-old music lovers enjoy today. It's just the way it works. Most of the great classical music composers we know, from Tartini to Beethoven, were often paupers. If they could enjoy the residuals and royalties from their music today, they would be billionaires. But life doesn't work that way.

Too many times—and I've said this many times on this board—the graying folks at concerts simply don't want to hear music that is so vastly different from the music they are accustomed to hearing. Orchestras all over the world lose season ticket holders when conductors try to give them more than a few minutes of a new contemporary piece, concert after concert. I've seen some devout music lovers—long time season ticket holders—simply walk out never to return.

After we are all dead and buried, and the remaining population of the world 50, 100, 200, 300 years from now survive, one wonders just how much Mozart or Beethoven will be heard. One wonders even how much Glass, Adams, or any contemporary composer's work will survive and be heard. (Vaughan Williams stands a chance, I think.)

Bear in mind, I'm not throwing stones at contemporary music. Personally, most of it is not my cup of tea. I've chosen the music I want to hear, but I'm willing to give any piece a hearing. My mind can be changed, too. But more often than not, I probably won't want to hear the new piece more than twice when I can hear so much other ear-palatable music that I really want to hear. It's not closed-mindedness, it's all simply a matter of the time you have and how much of what you want that you can squeeze into your life.

Even the article notes that after the awards are given for Britain's highly acclaimed new composers, even the public shows no interest, and neither does the press. How DOES one turn all this around, especially for the young, inspired composer today?

Further, I noted a large online CD marketer who is having a BIG sale. Indeed, they are. I checked the repertoire. Almost all the labels showing presented music from 1900 to today. Very few items of the hundreds and hundreds offered were from the Baroque through the Romantic periods, though I noticed a substantial number of Early Music recordings as well. How do you account for all this? The buying public isn't buying. Companies are losing money which means that the next new composer who wants to have something recorded doesn't generally stand a chance. Millions of contemporary composers at once (impractical, I know) might change the world's attitude, but a few won't make a dent. Remember that even Charles Ives sold insurance in Massachusetts while simultaneously composing his music. Long after his death, Ives' music is heard more frequently today, but his name is still not a household word. Virgil Thomson wrote some fine music, but mention his name and anybody who reads reviews will tell you that he was "just" a music critic. Life. Strange.
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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Nov 08, 2006 1:46 am

"I'm very fond of piano music, particularly I like Chopin, Mozart, and Beethoven. I am very fond of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and Verdi operas. Most any kind of music I like, except noise, I don't like noise." - Harry S Truman
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Post by Lance » Wed Nov 08, 2006 1:54 am

Corlyss_D wrote:"I'm very fond of piano music, particularly I like Chopin, Mozart, and Beethoven. I am very fond of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and Verdi operas. Most any kind of music I like, except noise, I don't like noise." - Harry S Truman
:D :D :D
Lyss - you have me ROFL.

"One man's noise is another man's heavenly sounds."
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Post by pizza » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:30 am

Leon Botstein, conductor of the Jerusalem Symphony has a good solution and it seems to work. The JSO runs two parallel series of concerts -- a "Discovery Series" for new music and a "Classical Series" for the standard repertoire. They both are very well attended; the orchestra keeps busy and everyone has an opportunity to hear music they like.

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Post by pizza » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:45 am

Lance wrote: Remember that even Charles Ives sold insurance in Massachusetts while simultaneously composing his music. Long after his death, Ives' music is heard more frequently today, but his name is still not a household word.
After his graduation from Yale, Ives actually based his business in NY. He was one of the great innovators in the insurance industry. He established what is now known as estate planning and built the largest insurance company of his time. He was a genius in many ways aside from his musicianship.

His name may not be a household name in the US but in Europe and Asia his music is played and recorded with regularity and his popularity has greatly increased. Three Places in New England is standard fare in some orchestras and many foreign musicians play his most complex pieces with little or no difficulty at all.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:56 am

Lance wrote:—Hrooba Doopah
Baba & Didi Division,
Baba and Didi, Incorporated
[with various features which we knooooow you'll just love.]
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: etc.

Move over while I join you on the floor. :D
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Re: Arguing for Caring About Contemporary Music

Post by paulb » Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:05 am

Ralph wrote:The shock of the new

Arts

We are living in a glorious period for contemporary British musical composition. There are more first-rate composers living and working in

The British Composer Awards will be presented on 24 November [http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/newmusic/br ... ards.shtml]

.

Oh yeah, there is a little town in Oregon who thinks their Rhubarb pie contest is the world's best pie there is.
The British really are an island unto themselves. They need to start growing up and stop with these silly little "the best of the brits" contests.

They employ a incredible pump campaign for the stereo equipment, which is way overpriced and sounds aweful. But are in fact quite successful in their schemeing.

Oh man, they'd love to be able to say.
Elliot Carter is a Bristish composer. As far I go with British composers is Vaughan Williams. The rest is..well too british for my taste.

Cheer E O
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23 This is the Lord's doing , it is marvelous in our sight.

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Re: Arguing for Caring About Contemporary Music

Post by Sapphire » Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:56 am

paulb wrote:The British really are an island unto themselves. They need to start growing up and stop with these silly little "the best of the brits" contests.

They employ a incredible pump campaign for the stereo equipment, which is way overpriced and sounds aweful. But are in fact quite successful in their schemeing.
That's because Britain has a very proud heritage. Not been invaded since 1066. Mother Of Parliaments. Cromwell. First major industrialised country. World's largest Empire. Wonderful language. Shakespeare, Newton, Faraday, Darwin, Adam Smith. Many Nobel prizes. Nice countryside. Beater-upper of French on many occasion. Nelson. Duke of Wellington. Stood up to evil in Two WWs. Vera Lynn, Winston Churchill ("We will fight them on the beaches..."), Scotch Whisky, Mayfair. Wonderful hi-fi, best rock bands, Beatles, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd. RVW, Elgar. Sir Adrian Boult. Best TV (only slightly biased!). Mrs Thatcher. Princess Di. The list is endless. It's so wonderful to be British. I would not wish to be anything else. I can never wait to get back here after a spell abroad.


Saphire

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 8:14 am

Paul, you're just a bundle of half-baked opinion, ain't ye? :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 8:19 am

Corlyss_D wrote:"I'm very fond of piano music, particularly I like Chopin, Mozart, and Beethoven. I am very fond of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and Verdi operas. Most any kind of music I like, except noise, I don't like noise." - Harry S Truman
Ulysses S Grant wrote:For me there are two kinds of music: "Yankee Doodle," and everything else.
Karl Henning, PhD
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Post by pizza » Wed Nov 08, 2006 1:46 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:"I'm very fond of piano music, particularly I like Chopin, Mozart, and Beethoven. I am very fond of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, and Verdi operas. Most any kind of music I like, except noise, I don't like noise." - Harry S Truman
Ulysses S Grant wrote:For me there are two kinds of music: "Yankee Doodle," and everything else.
Grant reportedly told Lincoln, when asked what music he would like the Union Band to play: "It doesn't matter; I only know two tunes; one is "Yankee Doodle" and the other isn't."

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:04 pm

Thanks, pizza, I knew I was paraphrasing.

FWIW, the way I received the story, it was after the war, a parade was marching in front of the White House, there came George Ives's (Charlie's dad) band, and someone commented to Grant what a fine band it was. And then, Grant responded in whatever phrasing.

I don't know how much of this is The Strict Historical Case, and how much anecdote; but as I say, that's how I received the story.

Cheers,
~Karl
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Post by Ralph » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:11 pm

I'm sure Elliott Carter will be startled to learn he is British since he was born not very many blocks from where I'm sitting now in New York City.
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Post by Joe Barron » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:18 pm

Lance wrote:Remember that even Charles Ives sold insurance in Massachusetts while simultaneously composing his music. Long after his death, Ives' music is heard more frequently today, but his name is still not a household word.
Just a point of clarification. Ives's insurance company was located in New York City. Ives lived in Manhattan for most of his career, though he did have a summer home in Connecticut, to which he retired permanently in 1930.

As for audiences, my experience has been mixed. Some contemporary music events are very well attended, some not. Sometimes the audience consist largely of friends of the composers and performers, sometimes larger. I've seen people walk out of concerts of music by elliott Carter, and I've seen Mr. Carter receive many standing ovations.

The one thing audiences I've seen at contemporary concerts do have in common is knowledgeability and an interest in the music being performed, but even this marks it as just another subset of the general classical audiences. Surveys have shown that 75 percent of classical-music lovers have studied an intrument at some point. Classical music is a minority taste, however, and contemporary music fans are a minority within a minority.

Karl, the story of George Ives's band that I have read is recounted in the Cowells' biolgraphy of Charles. In that version, Lincoln and Grant were reviewing the troops at City point, Va., during the siege of Petersburg, when George's band marched by. Lincoln remarked it was a great band, and Grant is said to have replied, "The best in the army, they tell me, buit you couldn't prove it by me. I know only two tunes. One's Yankee Doodle and the other isn't."

The incident might never have occurred, since, according to Swafford's biography of Ives, George was on leave in Connecticut, nursing an injured back, in the last year of the war.

Elliott Carter is indeed an American, New York born and raised, Harvard educated, still living near Washington Square, but he has been a fixture on the BBC since the 1950s, when Sir William Glock, the BBC's director, began to champiopn his music. And of course, British musicians like Knussen and the FFires of London have been great friends of his work.
Last edited by Joe Barron on Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by johnQpublic » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:27 pm

Ralph wrote:I'm sure Elliott Carter will be startled to learn he is British
Don't worry. Paul's just a confused Canadian. :lol:

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 2:36 pm

Sacrée brew! 8)
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:04 pm

Sir Thomas Beecham lamented the lack of memorable tunes in his day. Very few since, IMHO. Modern classical can't match Sugar, Sugar by The Archies in terms of a catchy melody. :twisted:

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:10 pm

Brendan wrote:Modern classical can't match Sugar, Sugar by The Archies in terms of a catchy melody.
Composers can live with that 8)
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Post by Brendan » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:20 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Brendan wrote:Modern classical can't match Sugar, Sugar by The Archies in terms of a catchy melody.
Composers can live with that 8)
Then why do folk whine and moan about the lack of popularity of modern composers if they turn their noses up at memorable tunes? I quite like Luto, Carter etc but I can never remember anything five minutes after one of their works is done. I can probably sing (badly) Sugar, Sugar from memory although I haven't heard it in years and do not own a copy.



Tangent: England was invaded in 1688 - look up The Glorious Revolution or try Empire, War and Faith in Early Modern Europe by Geoffrey Parker. Parker is very thorough in detailing the sucessful invasion.

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Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:44 pm

Brendan wrote:
karlhenning wrote:
Brendan wrote:Modern classical can't match Sugar, Sugar by The Archies in terms of a catchy melody.
Composers can live with that 8)
Then why do folk whine and moan about the lack of popularity of modern composers if they turn their noses up at memorable tunes? I quite like Luto, Carter etc but I can never remember anything five minutes after one of their works is done. I can probably sing (badly) Sugar, Sugar from memory although I haven't heard it in years and do not own a copy.
I can hear works like Chain 3 and EC's 3rd String Quartet in my head as well as anything. But of course, Sugar, Sugar is more memorable than any of the late Beethoven string quartets, so it must be better written

S

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:58 pm

Brendan wrote:I can probably sing (badly) Sugar, Sugar from memory although I haven't heard it in years and do not own a copy.
Steve's already answered this, Brendan.

But do you really imagine that this argues for the artistic superiority of "Sugar, Sugar" over the Quærens me from the Berlioz Grande Messe des morts, which you heard years ago, may not own a copy of, and probably couldn't sing back to us from memory today even if your life depended on it? 8)

Cheers,
~Karl
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Wed Nov 08, 2006 4:59 pm

BWV 1080 wrote:
Brendan wrote:
karlhenning wrote:
Brendan wrote:Modern classical can't match Sugar, Sugar by The Archies in terms of a catchy melody.
Composers can live with that 8)
Then why do folk whine and moan about the lack of popularity of modern composers if they turn their noses up at memorable tunes? I quite like Luto, Carter etc but I can never remember anything five minutes after one of their works is done. I can probably sing (badly) Sugar, Sugar from memory although I haven't heard it in years and do not own a copy.
I can hear works like Chain 3 and EC's 3rd String Quartet in my head as well as anything. But of course, Sugar, Sugar is more memorable than any of the late Beethoven string quartets, so it must be better written

S
More popular, perhaps, but I am not implying fantastic artistic merit, writing or genius to The Archies. But the fact remains that most folk do not hum along to Carter etc. easily or readily, and most recall Ode to Joy with ease - not so much the late Qtets despite their unquestioned merit and genius.

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:01 pm

Brendan wrote:But the fact remains that most folk do not hum along to Carter etc. easily or readily, and most recall Ode to Joy with ease - not so much the late Qtets despite their unquestioned merit and genius.
So why exactly is this a "fatal error" for Carter, but not for the late quartets? Nor for four hundred other works in the repertory?
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Brendan

Post by Brendan » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:05 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Brendan wrote:I can probably sing (badly) Sugar, Sugar from memory although I haven't heard it in years and do not own a copy.
Steve's already answered this, Brendan.

But do you really imagine that this argues for the artistic superiority of "Sugar, Sugar" over the Quærens me from the Berlioz Grande Messe des morts, which you heard years ago, may not own a copy of, and probably couldn't sing back to us from memory today even if your life depended on it? 8)

Cheers,
~Karl
No, but artistic value and merit need not be inaccessable or unmemorable or un-hummable, let alone judged as art because of such unmusical factors. Schubert could whip up a memorable melody with an ease that astonished others, and was one of the hallmarks of his genius. That he could do much more with it than The Archies is not in question.

Why is it that modern composers are incapable of using and working with memorable and catchy tunes? It seems to me that many are "above" such things, the way modern poets are "above" rhyme, meter and, well, poetry. They can create a superficial, artsy effect but not a lasting memory. Others, such as Carter, Luto and such are clearly above being merely fashionable, but would nonetheless never deign to work with a catchy tune as far as I can see.

Whether they have the grace of the muse in them to invent one is another question. Few have the knack, it would seem.

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Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:13 pm

Brendan wrote:
karlhenning wrote:
Brendan wrote:I can probably sing (badly) Sugar, Sugar from memory although I haven't heard it in years and do not own a copy.
Steve's already answered this, Brendan.

But do you really imagine that this argues for the artistic superiority of "Sugar, Sugar" over the Quærens me from the Berlioz Grande Messe des morts, which you heard years ago, may not own a copy of, and probably couldn't sing back to us from memory today even if your life depended on it? 8)

Cheers,
~Karl
No, but artistic value and merit need not be inaccessable or unmemorable or un-hummable, let alone judged as art because of such unmusical factors. Schubert could whip up a memorable melody with an ease that astonished others, and was one of the hallmarks of his genius. That he could do much more with it than The Archies is not in question.

Why is it that modern composers are incapable of using and working with memorable and catchy tunes? It seems to me that many are "above" such things, the way modern poets are "above" rhyme, meter and, well, poetry. They can create a superficial, artsy effect but not a lasting memory. Others, such as Carter, Luto and such are clearly above being merely fashionable, but would nonetheless never deign to work with a catchy tune as far as I can see.

Whether they have the grace of the muse in them to invent one is another question. Few have the knack, it would seem.
Perhaps because catchy tunes have been done to death, whereas gesture, texture and rhythm offer more interesting possibilities. A catchy tune often requires the sacrifice of many other facets of musical expression. That being said, Dutilleux's lyrical gifts are comparable to Schubert, without the above mentioned sacrifices.

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:14 pm

Brendan wrote:Why is that modern composers are incapable of using and working with memorable and catchy tunes?
Brendan, I feel your pain. But it isn't nearly as simple as that.

(a) You cannot clump "modern composers" in an indiscriminate bundle like that.

(b) Who do you suppose you are, to pronounce "modern composers" "incapable" as a class of writing memorable melody? You should have more sense than to confuse "does not do" with "is incapable of doing."

(c) Some modern composers want very much to write melodically, and (John Rutter, for example) succeed only in writing reams of stuff which is immediately forgettable, in spite of its being designed for "instant accessibility."

(d) Each age has a different idea of melody, of what makes a great melody, and of the ideal fitting of melody to texture.

(e) You're just using this as an occasion to rant, and while there is no actual harm in that, I think I've already taken your rant more seriously than it quite deserves.

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:16 pm

Question still stands, Brendan:

So why exactly is this a "fatal error" for Carter, but not for the late quartets? Nor for four hundred other works in the repertory?
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Post by Brendan » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:26 pm

karlhenning wrote:
Brendan wrote:Why is that modern composers are incapable of using and working with memorable and catchy tunes?
Brendan, I feel your pain. But it isn't nearly as simple as that.

(a) You cannot clump "modern composers" in an indiscriminate bundle like that.

(b) Who do you suppose you are, to pronounce "modern composers" "incapable" as a class of writing memorable melody? You should have more sense than to confuse "does not do" with "is incapable of doing."

(c) Some modern composers want very much to write melodically, and (John Rutter, for example) succeed only in writing reams of stuff which is immediately forgettable, in spite of its being designed for "instant accessibility."

(d) Each age has a different idea of melody, of what makes a great melody, and of the ideal fitting of melody to texture.

(e) You're just using this as an occasion to rant, and while there is no actual harm in that, I think I've already taken your rant more seriously than it quite deserves.

Cheers,
~Karl
(a) Why not? As a generalization, it works in conveying my meaning nicely.

(b) Evidence (or lack thereof).

(c) Perhaps the muse has not graced him. Sad to say, perhaps it isn't a human right or something that can be learned.

(d) Quite so, and Sugar Sugar is known by far more folk than Carter etc.

(e) I'm ranting but not without thought



Think abiut what I'm saying, not that you resent someone putting modern music down. I'm not: I like it. But the question as to why it isn't publically popular may have something to do with the points I've been making. If you have better ideas, do tell.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:36 pm

karlhenning wrote:But do you really imagine that this argues for the artistic superiority of "Sugar, Sugar" over the Quærens me from the Berlioz Grande Messe des morts, which you heard years ago, may not own a copy of, and probably couldn't sing back to us from memory today even if your life depended on it? 8)
I probably could if I thought about it, but which tune is superior is hardly the issue. What's so horrible about tunefulness that modernists hold it in such contempt? Verdi as a matter of conscious policy composed tunes that people could hum leaving the theater. Is it that modernists fear appearing common, being the darlings of the cocktail set and exponents of post-modernism? Tunefulness is a natural property of music. Otherwise, its noise.
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:36 pm

Well, I am thinking abot what you're saying, Brendan. Lots of people know "Sugar, Sugar"; does that make it a great melody? What role does memorability have in musical greatness? Do you remember the Quærens me?

I've written a piece for unpitched percussion sextet. It has no melody. It is not "hummable." Is my sextet therefore an execrable example of modern music flying in the face of giving The People what they want?

You don't find Carter hummable, but Steve finds much of Carter memorable. Why does your inability to grasp Carter count more than Steve's appreciation here?

You find Carter "unhummable." Parisian critics bemoaned Carmen at its premiere because (ready?) it "lacked melody." Please have the good sense and humility to realize that your personal difficulties with Carter are not going to be the measure by which Carter is ultimately judged.

And do you seriously think that "Sugar, Sugar" is to be exalted as a beacon of memorability and likeability, in comparison to which Carter is to be our whipping post, rather than that "Sugar, Sugar" is a vile example of dumbing art down to the vulgarest common denominator?

Just asking :-)

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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:39 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:What's so horrible about tunefulness that modernists hold it in such contempt?
Strawman, my good lady. You know my work too well, I hope, to claim that I hold tunefulness "in contempt." But I don't feel the need to write all my music to be "tuneful" any more than Beethoven did.

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Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:44 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote:But do you really imagine that this argues for the artistic superiority of "Sugar, Sugar" over the Quærens me from the Berlioz Grande Messe des morts, which you heard years ago, may not own a copy of, and probably couldn't sing back to us from memory today even if your life depended on it? 8)
I probably could if I thought about it, but which tune is superior is hardly the issue. What's so horrible about tunefulness that modernists hold it in such contempt? Verdi as a matter of conscious policy composed tunes that people could hum leaving the theater. Is it that modernists fear appearing common, being the darlings of the cocktail set and exponents of post-modernism? Tunefulness is a natural property of music. Otherwise, its noise.
But what is tunefulness? Defined as well-thought out, attractive melodic lines then Carter, Ferneyhough et al. are as good as anyone in the 18th or 19th century. Defined as catchy jingles, then Schubert is clearly the inferior of Irving Berlin, Andrew Lloyd Webber or John Williams. Your dogmatic pronounciations aside, there are other facets of music such as rhythm and texture that it is often worth sacrificing "tunefullness" for. I have yet to be to a cocktail party where Elliott Carter is the darling, but do ever remain hopeful.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:44 pm

karlhenning wrote:Strawman, my good lady. You know my work too well, I hope, to claim that I hold tunefulness "in contempt." But I don't feel the need to write all my music to be "tuneful" any more than Beethoven did.
It's not a strawman. With all due respect to you Karl, and other composers who may not hold tunefulness in contempt, you guys aren't the trendsetters. The Glass', Adams', Carters, Lutoslawskis, Ligetis, etc are the trendsetters. When people talk about modern composers on the playlist, those are the people they are talking about.
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Post by BWV 1080 » Wed Nov 08, 2006 5:48 pm

I guarantee you that by your standards, Karl holds tunefullness to a greater degree of contempt than Philip Glass does.

Brendan

Post by Brendan » Wed Nov 08, 2006 6:24 pm

karlhenning wrote:Well, I am thinking abot what you're saying, Brendan. Lots of people know "Sugar, Sugar"; does that make it a great melody? What role does memorability have in musical greatness? Do you remember the Quærens me?

I've written a piece for unpitched percussion sextet. It has no melody. It is not "hummable." Is my sextet therefore an execrable example of modern music flying in the face of giving The People what they want?

You don't find Carter hummable, but Steve finds much of Carter memorable. Why does your inability to grasp Carter count more than Steve's appreciation here?

You find Carter "unhummable." Parisian critics bemoaned Carmen at its premiere because (ready?) it "lacked melody." Please have the good sense and humility to realize that your personal difficulties with Carter are not going to be the measure by which Carter is ultimately judged.

And do you seriously think that "Sugar, Sugar" is to be exalted as a beacon of memorability and likeability, in comparison to which Carter is to be our whipping post, rather than that "Sugar, Sugar" is a vile example of dumbing art down to the vulgarest common denominator?

Just asking :-)

Cheers,
~Karl
Sugar Sugar is a piece of bubblegum fluff which happens to be insufferably catchy. I used it as an example because it has no artistic merit whatsoever, yet has a quality lacking (and popular) in much serious music.

That you guys miss the point in high dudgeon is actually a bit funny, and to the point of what I'm talking about.

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Post by paulb » Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:08 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:
karlhenning wrote:..... The Glass', Adams', Carters, Lutoslawskis, Ligetis, etc are the trendsetters. When people talk about modern composers on the playlist, those are the people they are talking about.
Corlyss please edit your post. Exclude the name Carter, he's on a totally different level of composing. Thanks.

btw I'm probably more of a firece critic of most of the modern stuff than i am of the romantic era.
The romantic era may not appeal to me all that much but at least its real music. Much of the modern era is dubious as to any lasting value.
But since there are 5 billion people on this earth, I guess these composers you mention will attract someone.

Karl, sorry for such an attitude, but Corlyss' list drove me to the breaking point. I have difficulity about groupings where one composer is brought to a level of the others.

I see someone mentioned the love that the british have for Carter, I had a hunch. Which is why I said, they would love to have him as a honarary citizen. Elliot carter to me is a man od all countries. His music embraces all folks, from the deepest forests of the Congo, Amazonia, to the highest cultural centers of civilization, London, Paris, Berlin, NY, and Baton Rouge.
His music has this universality to it, embracing the earth, and even the universe.
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Post by Lance » Wed Nov 08, 2006 7:25 pm

paulb wrote: [snipped] I guess these composers you mention will attract someone. [snipped] His [Carter's] music has this universality to it, embracing the earth, and even the universe.
Well Paul, I'm glad you see Carter this way for yourself. He's simply not for me based on what I've heard and tried to hear and understand. But you're correct on one point: given five billion-plus people on this planet, there are surely people who admire the man and he will have his following. This is life. This is the way it can and should be. But I don't have to be one of them, thankfully, from my point of view. If there were aliens flying around our world, listening in to our music, one wonders just what they would think, referring, of course, to the "universality" of Carter's music.
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Post by paulb » Wed Nov 08, 2006 8:52 pm

Lance wrote:
paulb wrote: [snipped] I guess these composers you mention will attract someone. [snipped] His [Carter's] music has this universality to it, embracing the earth, and even the universe.
Well Paul, I'm glad you see Carter this way for yourself. He's simply not for me based on what I've heard and tried to hear and understand. But you're correct on one point: given five billion-plus people on this planet, there are surely people who admire the man and he will have his following. This is life. This is the way it can and should be. But I don't have to be one of them, thankfully, from my point of view. If there were aliens flying around our world, listening in to our music, one wonders just what they would think, referring, of course, to the "universality" of Carter's music.
Lance, I've had people try to offer suggestions of Beethoven's pieces I "simply must hear, before final verdict", and certain recordings as well, maybe its the recordings I've heard that has ruined my experience of "the masters music'. (btw don't tell Beethoven fan s that I know the 1930's Busch recordings of the sq's are the finest)...so I wouldn't even think about asking what you've heard.
As long as you did give it the ol college try, fulfills your duty.
Elliot Carter knows full well his music will appeal to a few, while many others will scratch their heads in puzzlement.

For me Elliot Carter is.... well I won't go any further. ....oh heck why not, Elliot Carter is the completion, the fulfillment of the classical era, starting with Vivaldi and Bach. There I said it. Elliot Carter is one of 3 composers to make up :
The Late 20th Century Trinity.

As to folks from other planets, since you brought it up, might very well take quite fondly to Elliot Carter.
You know how sci-fi always has the "martians" as of superior intelligence than us 'earthlings", us bumbling fools and idiots. So its possible they may be delighted with Elliot Carter.
I'm in no way implying that those who can't take to Elliot Carter are of less intelligence than other fellow men who like Carter.
Even in england back in the 60's you had the mods and the rockers. each took fancy to a different beat.
Seems to me there are the 'mod classical" fans, and the "rocker classicphiles".
I like my classical to rock. Man, can Carter jam! :P I don't need Eric Clapton and pete Townsend anymore. :D
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Post by karlhenning » Wed Nov 08, 2006 9:57 pm

Brendan: So far from it being high, I haven't even troubled to pick my dudgeon up off the carpet. Rest easy :-)

Corlyss: Whatever I do, surely I do not set trends :-)

Steve: I don't think we could find anything reasonably resembling a tune in my organ Toccata, that is for sure.

Cheers,
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Post by Brendan » Wed Nov 08, 2006 10:22 pm

And do you seriously think that "Sugar, Sugar" is to be exalted as a beacon of memorability and likeability, in comparison to which Carter is to be our whipping post, rather than that "Sugar, Sugar" is a vile example of dumbing art down to the vulgarest common denominator?
In that case your low dudgeon is reasonably impressive. You were missing the mark by a wide margin.

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Post by pizza » Thu Nov 09, 2006 8:04 am

In his gem of a book titled Style and Idea, Arnold Schoenberg resolves the problem both with clarity and an economy of words that never fails to impress. He also makes it unmistakably clear that he was a fan of Gershwin, J. Strauss, Jr. and Offenbach, all of whose tunes appeal to the "average man in the street". (p.51)

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Post by karlhenning » Thu Nov 09, 2006 8:52 am

Brendan wrote:
And do you seriously think that "Sugar, Sugar" is to be exalted as a beacon of memorability and likeability, in comparison to which Carter is to be our whipping post, rather than that "Sugar, Sugar" is a vile example of dumbing art down to the vulgarest common denominator?
In that case your low dudgeon is reasonably impressive. You were missing the mark by a wide margin.
Opinion noted. There are others.

Cheers,
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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Nov 09, 2006 2:33 pm

paulb wrote:
Corlyss_D wrote:The Glass', Adams', Carters, Lutoslawskis, Ligetis, etc are the trendsetters. When people talk about modern composers on the playlist, those are the people they are talking about.
Corlyss please edit your post. Exclude the name Carter, he's on a totally different level of composing. Thanks.
Nope. He has a high grating quotient.
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Post by karlhenning » Thu Nov 09, 2006 2:52 pm

String quartets au gratin? 8)

You little suspected, Corlyss, how it would gall Paul for Carter and Ligeti to be listed together (they're both great, Paul, don't get me wrong!)

And, actually, my piece follows a work by Ligeti on tonight's program at the NEC.

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Post by karlhenning » Tue Feb 06, 2007 3:10 pm

Joe Barron wrote:Elliott Carter is indeed an American, New York born and raised, Harvard educated, still living near Washington Square, but he has been a fixture on the BBC since the 1950s, when Sir William Glock, the BBC's director, began to champiopn his music. And of course, British musicians like Knussen and the FFires of London have been great friends of his work.
Elliott Carter, October 1995 wrote:I became interested in music first of all through hearing contemporary music in the 1920s, before the American Depression, when a great deal of contemporary music was played in New York. I used to find Bach and Beethoven very boring; I used to walk out on their music when it was played, because it seemed to me so much less interesting. I still feel somewhat that way, although now I’ve come to like those older composers, even Monteverdi and Machaut – but I still feel that the best of contemporary music is far more interesting than older music. I don’t know whether it is better, but it is much more lively and interesting and stimulating.
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Re: Arguing for Caring About Contemporary Music

Post by diegobueno » Tue Feb 06, 2007 3:47 pm

The author of the article which began this thread wrote: Dove's opera Tobias and the Angel was the production chosen to open the refurbished Young Vic theatre last month, where it received rave reviews. He specialises in work that involves the community, and says he likes writing tunes that "people will enjoy on a first hearing".
I guess he must not be a contemporary composer.

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