All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

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dulcinea
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All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by dulcinea » Thu Apr 15, 2010 7:30 pm

You are all familiar with the saying that all new music inspires controversy because that is the nature of the beast; even Beethoven was controversial when he was alive.
How valid would you say is that argument? Can you measure in objective terms the phenomenon of startlingly modernistic music becoming acceptable and even conventional? I wish I could make such an estimate myself, but the Tampa classical music scene is still stuck in the 1950s, exactly as when I arrived here in 1983.
Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord! Alleluya!

John F
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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by John F » Thu Apr 15, 2010 7:49 pm

dulcinea wrote:You are all familiar with the saying that all new music inspires controversy because that is the nature of the beast; even Beethoven was controversial when he was alive.
How valid would you say is that argument? Can you measure in objective terms the phenomenon of startlingly modernistic music becoming acceptable and even conventional? I wish I could make such an estimate myself, but the Tampa classical music scene is still stuck in the 1950s, exactly as when I arrived here in 1983.
"All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning"? Sometimes true, often not. Haydn wasn't at all controversial during his long lifetime. Neither was Handel. What was controversial about Bach? Nothing that I know of. Beethoven ceased to be controversial long before he died. Such controversy as there was about Mozart, had to do with the richness of his orchestration in opera, but otherwise his mastery was unquestioned. Schubert's music wasn't well enough known in his lifetime to be controversial, but the little that was published and performed was generally praised. And so on.

As regards 20th century music, this topic has been brought up in CMG again and again, and I don't believe there is anything new to say about it.
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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by Carnivorous Sheep » Fri Apr 16, 2010 1:40 am

John summed it up nicely, and I'd just like to add that from what we see, it seems like contemporary reception has little correlation to lasting impact.

Jack Kelso
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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by Jack Kelso » Fri Apr 16, 2010 9:19 am

John F wrote:
dulcinea wrote:You are all familiar with the saying that all new music inspires controversy because that is the nature of the beast; even Beethoven was controversial when he was alive.
How valid would you say is that argument? Can you measure in objective terms the phenomenon of startlingly modernistic music becoming acceptable and even conventional? I wish I could make such an estimate myself, but the Tampa classical music scene is still stuck in the 1950s, exactly as when I arrived here in 1983.
"All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning"? Sometimes true, often not. Haydn wasn't at all controversial during his long lifetime. Neither was Handel. What was controversial about Bach? Nothing that I know of. Beethoven ceased to be controversial long before he died. Such controversy as there was about Mozart, had to do with the richness of his orchestration in opera, but otherwise his mastery was unquestioned. Schubert's music wasn't well enough known in his lifetime to be controversial, but the little that was published and performed was generally praised. And so on.

As regards 20th century music, this topic has been brought up in CMG again and again, and I don't believe there is anything new to say about it.
You can read about the many problems Handel had with public taste often being against him. Many of his greatest oratorios were "flops" financially---and many singers couldn't manage the arias properly.

It seems to be one of those old generalities that float about that Handel wrote "crowd pleasers". Mozart and Wagner were at least as successful in stage music during their lifetimes as Handel was.

Tschüß,
Jack
"Schumann's our music-maker now." ---Robert Browning

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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by karlhenning » Fri Apr 16, 2010 10:12 am

John F wrote:Beethoven ceased to be controversial long before he died.
Yes and no. After his death there were still conductors in the Paris Conservatoire who were "correcting" the harmonies in his symphonies.

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~Karl
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maestrob
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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 16, 2010 10:45 am

karlhenning wrote:
John F wrote:Beethoven ceased to be controversial long before he died.
Yes and no. After his death there were still conductors in the Paris Conservatoire who were "correcting" the harmonies in his symphonies.

Cheers,
~Karl
Like Mahler and Toscanini.....~g~

Oh, that was "only" the orchestration....

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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by karlhenning » Fri Apr 16, 2010 11:28 am

That Mahler . . . such a tinkerer ; )

Cheers,
~Karl
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dulcinea
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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by dulcinea » Fri Apr 16, 2010 1:50 pm

Today WUSF played the Bassoon Concerto of Rota, a very amusing piece; somehow, in 3 and a half months WUSF has managed to play more non-warhorses than was the case in all of 2009.
Could it be possible that WUSF is finally acknowledging that the second half of the 20th century really did exist? :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock: :shock:
Let every thing that has breath praise the Lord! Alleluya!

John F
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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by John F » Fri Apr 16, 2010 2:12 pm

karlhenning wrote:
John F wrote:Beethoven ceased to be controversial long before he died.
Yes and no. After his death there were still conductors in the Paris Conservatoire who were "correcting" the harmonies in his symphonies.

That isn't controversy, it's editing. :D Performers, scholars, the composers and authors themselves, are always tinkering with texts.

As for controversy, the section on "contemporary assessments" in "The Beethoven Compendium" sums up how his music was received: "Beethoven's genius was widely recognized during his lifetime." Not unanimously, but controversy isn't about mere lack of universal agreement, it's about extended and widespread public dispute. Except in France (what would you expect?), there was no such dispute about Beethoven's standing and importance from his middle period on. Czerny wrote, "He was always marvelled at and respected as an extraordinary being and his greatness was suspected even by those who did not understand him." Nicolas Slonimsky delights in quoting some obtuse London reviewers in his "Lexicon of Musical Invective," but the "Compendium" observes, "Beethoven's music enjoyed great popularity in England." And so on. We're not talking about Wagner, Schoenberg, or even Gluck here.
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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by some guy » Sat Apr 17, 2010 1:32 am

John F wrote:...controversy isn't about mere lack of universal agreement, it's about extended and widespread public dispute. Except in France (what would you expect?), there was no such dispute about Beethoven's standing and importance from his middle period on.
Amazing how often the sneer substitutes for genuine argument.
John F wrote:Nicolas Slonimsky delights in quoting some obtuse London reviewers in his "Lexicon of Musical Invective"....
The sneer and the cunningly placed adjective.

And not to forget the simple failure to mention anything outsides one's thesis. In Slonimsky's book, for instance, there are quotes from several other critics from other countries, from a range of years. Vienna, 1804. Vienna, 1806. Paris, 1810. (I guess we can't use that, because France has been sneered out of this conversation.) Berlin, 1825 (though, be fair, this is a comment about Wellington's Victory). Moscow, 1843. Paris, 1849. Boston, 1853. Paris, 1855. (Two from that year.) Paris, 1857. (Four from that year.) Cassel, 1861. (This is a comment by Spohr that he "could never get any enjoyment out of Beethoven's last works.") Boston, 1899. (There's some evidence for "extended," at least.)

As for the claim that there was "no such dispute" about Beethoven's "standing and importance" from around 1805 on, well, it'd be nice to see how well that bland assertion stands up up to any sort of scrutiny. I don't have time to do the scrutinizing, myself. (My professional responsibility is to living composers.) Still, it'd be interesting to explore this.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

diegobueno
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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by diegobueno » Sat Apr 17, 2010 10:34 am

There is a large multi-volume work which consists of contemporary reviews of Beethoven's work, writings that were published during Beethoven's lifetime. One could cull reports from this extensive work to support either argument, that Beethoven was recognized as a towering genius or misunderstood as an oddball eccentric or a radical extremist. At some point when it's more convenient for me, I'll look it up and tell you the name and editor, because this is an important work that should be read by those who would use Beethoven as an example in the contemporary music culture wars.

This book will quickly lay to rest both notions that Beethoven was universally revered and universally misunderstood. It's not a black and white situation at all.

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Re: All the Old Masters Were Controversial at the Beginning

Post by some guy » Sat Apr 17, 2010 1:19 pm

diegobueno wrote:There is a large multi-volume work which consists of contemporary reviews of Beethoven's work, writings that were published during Beethoven's lifetime. One could cull reports from this extensive work to support either argument, that Beethoven was recognized as a towering genius or misunderstood as an oddball eccentric or a radical extremist.
Except for the multi-volume part, this sounds like The Beethoven Compendium that John Francis mentioned.

Of course, without going to any book, one can conclude that the real world is more complex than many people want it to be. One could almost argue that all(!) discussions of this sort are a cry for simplicity. Many people want everything they like to be great. Everything they hate to be bad. They want science to support them, too, as in the studies that show that only Western tonal music is "natural." They want all great works to have been controversial at first, or they want all great works to have been universally accepted from the get go.

Even comment like this one, "'Beethoven's genius was widely recognized during his lifetime.' Not unanimously, but controversy isn't about mere lack of universal agreement, it's about extended and widespread public dispute," which looks nuanced on the face of it, is really a call for simplicity. Define "controversy" in a certain way, and you can safely simplify all the responses to Beethoven's music, good or bad, as non-controversial.

I still, however, want to know what that book is, Mark, if it's other than the one John mentioned.
"The public has got to stay in touch with the music of its time . . . for otherwise people will gradually come to mistrust music claimed to be the best."
--Viennese critic (1843)

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not understood.
--Henry Miller

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