Return: Wherein Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Is Achieved Through Reinforcement of Stereotypes

Mr Tommasini, reliable scribe at the ol' Times, went to see some underperformed 20th century stage operas. He was clearly impressed by the music and performances. But a few tidbits...tidbit me along the way.

Songs of a Pilot Crashing


Over the years the conductor Leon Botstein has received well-deserved credit for programming many overlooked 20th-century works in his concerts with the American Symphony Orchestra.

Agreed on all counts.

But he has paid a price, as was evident in the poor attendance for Mr. Botstein’s latest adventure in programming at Avery Fisher Hall on Friday night.

Well. Adventurous programming has always been risky, I reckon. Part of that price is people not...paying...a price. To see the concert, you see. What factors, one wonders, could go into not selling 2738 tickets to the residents of a city of over 8 million people?

The program, intimidatingly titled “Persecution and Hope: Masterworks of Conscience,”

I don't want to make myself sound like some kind of badass,

Fig. 1: A Badass

...okay, not even a contemporary concert going badass,

Fig. 2: A Different Kind of Badass

but generally speaking, I am not intimidated by program titles. Besides, "persecution" is clearly set against "hope" and "conscience". And "masterworks" makes me want to see the program more than, say "second-rate commercial schlock".

Well...fine. I'll fess up. I am not a badass, as this:

Fig. 3: Noooooooooo!

scares the shit out of me. Anyway, back to the subject at hand.

The program, intimidatingly titled “Persecution and Hope: Masterworks of Conscience,” offered concert performances of two one-act operas by the Italian modernist

Red flag! Modernist!

Luigi Dallapiccola: “Volo di Notte” (1939) and “Il Prigioniero” (1948).

Got it. 60 and 70 year-old short operas of the WWII era.

It is baffling that these arresting operas, each less than an hour long, with librettos by Dallapiccola, are so seldom heard in the United States.

Is that because no one comes to see them, or is attendence low because they are seldom performed?

The admirably curious concertgoers

Seeking out the new or obscure is...admirable. Curiosity--athestetic, intellectual, or otherwise--is not a common trait among patrons of the arts, generally speaking?

gave a long ovation to Mr. Botstein, who conducted generally strong performances; the orchestra, which played with lush sound and dramatic sweep; the fine solo singers; and the excellent Concert Chorale of New York.

Well, at least all four of them liked it (and it sounds like the performances were good). But seriously: Telling people they are not supposed (or able) to "get" something will, likely, not encourage them to go next time. Or to subsequent performances.

Dallapiccola, who died in 1975, has never been able to shed the label “12-tone composer,” which will always put off segments of the audience.

No one said anything about this until you brought it up, Mr T. His inability to shed that label is attributable, at least in part, to writers repeating that line about his inability to shed that label. See how that works?

An avowed anti-Fascist, he became the leading exponent of 12-tone techniques and serialism in Italy.

True, and true...but confusing. How does part one of that sentence lead to part 2? Is serialism inherently anti-Fascist? One could make that argument, of course, but it could as easily read:
"An avowed coffee lover, he became the leading Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas".

Meh. Moving on:

Yet following the example of Alban Berg, Dallapiccola combined serialism with elements of tonality to give his scores an elusive harmonic allure.

Elusive...or allusive?

And you cannot be an Italian composer, it would seem, without acquiring a feeling for Italianate lyricism, which Dallapiccola had in abundance.

Good thing he wasn't Swedish! It'd be all frosty this, fjord that. Or an effeminate Frenchman. No lyricism in France. Swarthy Spaniards, Bad-toothed Brits, even the Stoned Dutch are welcome to mold the 12-tone system to their National Stereotypes!

(Also: passive voice much, Paper of Record?)

Cutting to the end (the rest of the review available via the link above):

Given his avowed interest in 20th-century opera James Levine should bring this Dallapiccola double bill to the Metropolitan Opera. If that happens, Mr. Botstein will have pointed the way with this significant, if underattended, concert.

1) Why is everyone "avowed" all of a sudden?
2) Well-said, Mr Tommasini. Let's bring Luigi to the Met.

Finally, here is a picture of Dallapiccola that is fun to look at:

Fig 4: Lyrical Italian Modernist Smoker/Composer


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this entertaining blog. I have only just discovered it. There is somewhat of a link between anti-facsism and serialism. I'm not as familiar with the Italian point of view on the matter, but the Nazis strongly condemned Schoenberg, Berg and their Axis of Atonality as degenerate.

Sator Arepo said...


One can certainly make the argument that

government/corporate control : freedom from opression :: tonality : atonality

in the sense that all pitches (and intervals) are equal and so forth. Is that what Mr Tommasini is attempting here? Perhaps.

It certainly was the "Degenerate" nature of their art that got the modernists in trouble in the Axis/fascist powers.

So much to ponder, thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

Luigi was, as a certain composition teacher who knew him liked to remind us, a communist. Of course the communists in Italy were against the fascists. In the 20th century communists killed far more people than fascists-- usually their own in peace time. Interestingly both the fascists and communists were socialist. Clearly both are anti-society. Anyway, you can find all different types of serialists-- and serialism in general is just a broad composition process. While trying to connect style to larger societal issues (i.e. tonality is connected to the rise in the city state and the end of serfdom), one sometimes misses local issues of perception. World view of aforementioned composers is not reason enough to explain audience disinterest in their music.


Sator Arepo said...

I forgot to add that, in order to sell out, each resident of NYC would have to purchase .00034 tickets each.

That works out to slightly less than 1 ticket per every 3000 people (tourists not included).

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, just wish you had the courage not to use pseudonyms.