Shame on Allan Kozinn!

Like Steve Smith in an earlier post, I caught NY Times columnist Allan Kozinn with his hand in the prefabricated, stock sentence jar.

__________ was at his best, bringing crisp articulation and an irresistible zest to the outer movements and giving the Largo an understated but pleasing lilt.

Shame on you, Allan! Go to your room, too! And no TV for a... what!? Don’t you talk back to me! Don’t you get that tone with Alfred Schnittke!

Tone rows melt into stretches of arching Romanticism, which coalesce into modernist acidity.

Don’t ever, ever talk about composers like that! Shame on you! You are so grounded. Just wait ‘til your father gets home.

Seriously, this is FUBAR. Kozinn has apparently taken Holland’s place on top of the modernist-hating pedestal, with an even more spiteful and backhanded tone. In one lousy sentence, he makes his opinion heard, loud and clear. This is, honestly, the worst piece of hateful music writing I have ever encountered.

Right off the bat, he belittles “tone rows”—which we all know by now are associated with Schoenberg—by comparing them to Romanticism. Tone rows, a humble little compositional technique, are compared to a rather hefty, stereotypically aggrandized period of sentimental thought. Why not replace “Romanticism” with a technique of the composers from that period, say functional harmony? You know, to be fair about this whole thing. Or instead of “tone rows,” why not name the period of thought associated with tone rows, say modernism? Right? Equal weight, no emphasis on either one. Of course, this is not what Kozinn does.

He also qualifies “Romanticism” with “arching.” Why? To what end? In the same spirit of fairness, as before, why not qualify “tone rows” with something similar, like “shapely?”

Notice how Kozinn cleverly capitalizes “Romanticism” but does not give “modernist” the same respect? Subtle, isn’t it? Not that it’s poor usage, but, for aesthetic reasons, it diminishes, or taints, the importance of modernism.

And when you mix modernism and romanticism, you get “modernist acidity.” Again, anything modernism touches turns into something nasty and “acidic.” This is just a flagrant and gratuitous stereotype. Shame on Kozinn.

To top it off, I’m not quite comfortable placing Alfred Schnittke in the modernist camp; one could easily argue that his eclectic musical personality is more indicative of post-modernism. Either way, this just intensifies Kozinn’s anything-new-is-to-be-lumped-together stereotype. And it reinforces his lack of knowledge, or research, about music, especially Schnittke.

Allan?! I’m not going to tell you twice! Apologize to Mr. Schnittke!

Yet it’s not quite a free-for-all.

Allan!? That’s not an apology!

To be fair, though, let me explain. I jumped into the middle of his description of Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings. He said this earlier:

This is Schnittke in his quirky, wry mode.

Schnittke is quirky.

The work’s single movement quotes, with distortions, Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata and Russian Orthodox chants and alludes to Renaissance choral writing and Stravinsky.

This is why Schnittke can be quirky: he is eclectic (that’s also why I think he’s a post-modernist). This is all fair and good. However, after the penultimate shit-slinging sentence, he says:

Yet it’s not quite a free-for-all.

So, given the Beethoven, the Russian Orthdox chants, the Renaissance writing, Stravinsky, tone rows and arching Romanticism, I can see how he might think that it’s a free-for-all, of styles. No problem, there. The problem is that he begins with “yet,” suggesting that the “modernist acidity” is a direct result of Schnittke’s eclecticism. Kozinn even tempers this with “quite,” acknowledging that it is a free-for-all, but that there’s something else that might make this acidic mess go away.

The wispy, tentative piano figure that opens the work resurfaces in different guises, giving the piece a measure of unity.

A measure of unity? That’s it?

Translation: the piece is a bunch of nonsensical modernist poo, but the piano repeats some wispy things, which gives it a “measure of unity.”

That is most definitely NOT an apology! Shame on you, Kozinn!

Empiricus: Mr. Schnittke, I must apologize for my little Allan’s actions. But then again, he doesn’t know any better, which is why he writes for the leading daily in the country. Also, if you’ve read the rest of the article, please give my apologies to Ms. Higdon as well. The inner movements of her piece were good, too. Oh, and while you’re at it, could you apologize to the horn players. They play a particularly difficult instrument and a mistake now and then is okay, in fact, it’s normal.


Sator Arepo said...

Wow. Crazy bad sentence. Good work. Some thoughts:

1) The inherent anti-modernist bias sucks.

2) You're competing with me for "most tags for a single post of the day!" award" that I just made up.

3) That was awesome.

Joshua Kosman said...


Anonymous said...

I heard that Mr. and Mrs. Wilson were complaining about little Allan as well.

You know how the Wilsons love gardening and modernism. Such a pity to bother two nice old pensioners.

Anonymous said...

Q. And what kind of flowers do modernist gardeners like to plant?

A. Dodecadendrons, of course!

Thanks, folks, I'm here all week...

Anonymous said...

You're never fully clean until you're 'zest'-fully clean!

Empiricus said...

Re: Joshua

That's certainly the coolest gravestone I've encountered.

Although, next to the fermata, I would have used an aseterisk, pointing to a footnote at the bottom that said something like:

"Note to conductor: take extra care to make sure that the saxophones are in tune."