A Texasman in New York

I liked this review pretty well. The writer wrote well. However, the anti-modernist bias continues to drip bile that leaves nasty stains on even the best-intentioned accounts of early modern music.

MET Chamber Ensemble engagingly offbeat

NEW YORK – Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg were among the seminal figures of 20th-century music.


But nearly a century after their first essays in composing with all 12 tones of the octave, as opposed to the eight notes of traditional major and minor keys,

But…Bach used all 12 notes of the octave. Constantly. Regularly. So did Chopin. And Mozart. And basically every post-Renaissance composer, ever. Even some Renaissance composers did.

these three and their followers remain hard sells.

Sort of. As I’ve discussed before, perhaps often, the narrative of “nobody likes this music” is not helpful in this regard. Perhaps the reviewer doesn’t like this music?

In your wildest dreams, can you imagine the Dallas Symphony Orchestra playing a piece by Webern?

Yes. Yes, I can. It’s not really that wild a dream, either. It should be noted here that the reviewer writes for the Dallas Morning News and is in New York. Those crazy liberal East Coasters and their hundred year-old unlistenable music!

Even the Dallas-Fort Worth modern-music series avoid this whole chunk of repertory as if it were radioactive.

This is an argument? We’re not talking about really obscure pieces here, either. Pierrot Lunaire is, perhaps, Schoenberg’s most popular and accessible work. I found dozens of available recordings without even trying.

But James Levine, music director of the Metropolitan Opera and Boston Symphony Orchestra, has been a long-standing champion of Schoenberg and company.

True! Good research.

On Sunday evening, at Zankel Hall, the chamber-music hall buried in the bowels

Nice choice. The “bowels” are, I reckon, where the “shitty” music lives.

of Carnegie Hall, he and the MET Chamber Ensemble served up two-and-a-half hours' worth.

Of shit?

In retrospect, the revolution led by Schoenberg was inevitable.

I guess, in retrospect, it could be seen that way. Schoenberg certainly thought so. This is the “inevitable stylistic progress” narrative, and is invoked frequently enough. It is problematic, though. That’s probably for another time. We have more prose…

To the big narrative forms of late romanticism, it responded

It = the revolution? The revolution responded? Cool! That must have been something.

with stark disruptions and miniatures of wispy gesture and clattery cataclysm.

This is slightly unclear. How many things are there in this sentence? Three? “Stark disruptions,” “miniatures of wispy gesture,” and “clattery cataclysm”? Or is it “stark disruptions” and “miniatures of wispy gesture and clattery cataclysm”? Disruptions and miniatures are not…the same kind of thing, and it’s funny to phrase it this way. I think what he means is possibly “miniatures that feature stark disruptions, wispy gestures, and clattery cataclysm”?

Anyway, bonus points for “clattery cataclysm”. I just want to say that over and over. Try it!

Supersaturated harmonies based on predictable tensions and releases gave way to arbitrary unpredictability.

Honestly, I don’t know what this means. The music is…predictable, yet unpredictable. Or: the big, narrative late Romantic forms' predictability was replaced with unpredictability? That sounds like a positive thing. Right? No? We like our art to be predictable? Sigh.

Composed between 1909 and 1934, Sunday's fare covered quite a range of scale. There were the miniatures of Webern's Four Pieces for violin and piano (Op. 7),

Awesome pieces. Totally tiny and quiet, with subtle tone color manipulations. A little dense and hard to get at first. But cool.

Berg's Four Pieces for clarinet and piano (Op. 8)

Also awesome. More post-romantic and full of notes. Pretty accessibly expressionistic.

and Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces (Op. 19)

Transcendent pieces. Great for beginning study of atonal style, and also analysis. I recommend this. Analysis. Of these pieces. And, well, in general. And these pieces in general.

At the maximalist end lay Berg's massive Chamber Concerto for piano and violin with 13 wind instruments. Atonal or not, this music can sometimes seem a jumble of tonal fragments.

That is true, especially of Berg. He retained various tonal elements in some of his works.

The Berg Chamber Concerto sometimes sounds like busy neoclassical counterpoint patched in and out of sync.

Sort of. Okay. But it’s cool right? Or good? What? Bad? Bueller?

The Schoenberg piano pieces seem like peeks into miniature worlds of sometimes haunting beauty.

Yeah. Rad.

What could have been a mortification of the flesh came across as genuinely engaging, at times downright seductive, thanks to performances lovingly detailed and finely finished. Standouts among the performers were Mr. Levine (a deft pianist as well as conductor), violinists Gil Shaham and David Chan, pianist Yefim Bronfman and clarinetist Anthony McGill.

You…you liked it? Or some of it? Awesome. That is great. Or did you just like the performances of the awful music? Or the performers? I’d like to hear more about what you think, sir.

And veteran soprano Anja Silja made a riveting experience of Schoenberg's Pierre lunaire, its speech-song settings of Otto Erich Hartleben poems as disturbing as the rawest expressionist paintings.

Good. That sounds good. Like I said, that piece is famously liked by people who don’t really like this music. So: what was good? I also want to hear some more about the chamber music you mentioned in the previous paragraph.

That’s it? Oh. Okay. That's kind of disappointing. It almost seems as though you didn't hate it because famous people were performing in New York.

Next time, I'd like to hear some more, please.


Aaron said...

"Anyway, bonus points for “clattery cataclysm”. I just want to say that over and over. Try it!"

I tried. I failed.

It's worse than "She sells seashells by the seashore."