9/30/10

Critic Defies Logical Explanations

Word choice is a funny thing. And this can be especially true when that word is in the large, bolded text at the start of an article. It may be my shitty worksheet/fill-in-the-blank education, but my eye tends to gravitate to those words and give them extra importance.

So, you'll forgive me when I read the following title, and wondered...hmmm.

Review: Vienna Philharmonic defies expectations in Danville
Loren Tice, Lexington Herald Leader, September, 29, 2010

Defies? Really? I'm not sure you're using that word correctly.

Petulant children defy their parents.

Republicans defy logic.

figure defies expectations: "I'm not much for giving inspirational addresses, but I'd just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think that we'd save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I'm for wasting sportswriters' time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give 'em all a nice big shitburger to eat!"

But the Vienna Philharmonic usually exceeds expectations. You see most people naturally assume (based on their storied history and reputation) that they are a very good, if not great, orchestra. To defy that reputation, you have to assume that the Vienna Philharmonic purposefully played poorly.

Defy can mean exceed, but usually that applies to something or someone originally thought to be terrible at the given task. Kind of like those Police Academy movies. Rarely are great things/people that exceed our expectations described as "defying" them.

figure more defiance of expectations: Nerds! Nerds! Nerds!

You see?

It's a small thing, but you know, we're just picky that way here at the Detritus.

But what do I know, maybe they sucked. Let's find out, shall we?

The great thing about expectations is when they are dashed — for the better.

Dashed? Again, that words has negative connotations when associated with something good.

For example, hopes are dashed.

When expectations are dashed that really only means, "not for the better".

The august Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra never plays outside the musical capitals of the world. But Monday night, there they were in Danville's Norton Center for the Arts on Centre College's campus.

Yes, this is odd. Explanation?

And they surely would make a poor match to one of the most exuberantly youthful conductors in the world today: Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel. (The Vienna Philharmonic uses only guest conductors.)


Yes...they would...make a poor match? Why is that again?

Count it a match.

Right. No time for explanations. I forgot this was music criticism -- just make unprepared, cliched assumptions and go from there.

So, how was it a match?

Dudamel was wise to never over-conduct.

Not that I disgree, but when would it be wise to "over-conduct"?

I think the words themselves suggest that one should never do that. It's kind of like over-cooking food -- I can't really think of time that I'd recommend that.


Not once did he subdivide a beat to be clearer.

Less clear conducting. Got it. That does sound better.

His trust in the cohesion of musicians he barely knew was total.

He trusted them to just play, even with his unclear conducting? I guess that makes sense.


And what he got in return was total commitment.

To his non-conducting? Okay, I'm a little confused.

Might you say that the orchestra defied him? Seeing as we don't know what that word actually means.

It is so rare to see every single musician dig in with so much conviction.
Some expectations held.

Wait a minute. So, some expectations held. Did you establish which expectations didn't hold yet? Surely, we're getting to that part soon, right?

I think we should back up a minute and clarify ourselves. What are our expectations...generally speaking?

Dignity from central Europeans as opposed to informal directness of Americans.

I'm not sure with this exactly means, but it fits in with my cliched understanding of Europe as snooty and pompous and America as awesome and extreme (whooo!), so I'll go ahead and nod approvingly.

figure dignity: Europeans as I understand them to be.

The sound of the instruments reflected that.

Reflected what? Dignity? What does that mean?


The string tone was not volume-rich and certainly not edgy, but it was unbelievably luminous.

Interesting. So this means, by logical contrast, that American orchestras are loud, edgy and unbelievably not luminous.

Sounds about right.

Woodwind tone was subtle, even thin, especially in the double reeds.

Hmmm. This sounds rather not good, as it were. Maybe I'm misreading you here...maybe the Vienna Phil did defy expectations.

What else ya got?

The flutes were so cottony smooth that they didn't cut through the texture well in solos.

Double reeds and flutes sucked. Check.

The grand exception was the first clarinet: a tone of gold, played by a man with music in his very bones.


In what part of the body are the "very" bones?

The perfect showcase for these instruments...

Wait. What?

The perfect showcase for thin double reeds and flutes that can't cut through the texture?


...was the concert opener, Antonín Dvorák's Symphony No. 9, "The New World."

Oh, well...I didn't know it was Dvorak's "New World". Carry on.

As much as Americans love to claim this work — Dvorák wrote the piece in the United States — it is quintessentially European in sound.

Thank you. That's what I've been trying to say.

The symphony is often played with American brashness, but this reading was controlled excitement.

Controlled excitement. Sounds like this might have been part of Tanner Family Fun Night.

figure jodie sweetin: Meth? Well, not exactly what I had in mind, but...okay.

Blend and clarity of layers were in perfect balance. And so were the musical thoughts.

The musical thoughts were in balance?

Several times, a soft flute solo was answered by violins so caressingly it was like willow branches bending over lovers. Now that was Dudamel's doing,...

Are you sure it wasn't Dvorak's doing?

...and he indicated it with typical understatement.

Dudamel? Typically understated?

I thought his style was too undignified for the Vienna Philharmonic, which I assumed was because he was typically not understated in his conducting.

Is this our defied expectation?

Oh, he could be a viper with his baton.

An understated viper...

The very next moment was an explosion that was riveting in its contrast.

And this wasn't in the score?

But there was not a bit of the showboat in his gesture. That shows respect for the orchestra.


You thought his respect for the Vienna Philharmonic was in doubt?

Are you suggesting that Dudamel doesn't respect the LA Phil, or any of the other symphonies he guest conducts?

All bets were off for the first selection after intermission,...

Really? Wow, what sort of brash, over-the-top piece do we have next?!

...Leonard Bernstein's Divertimento of 1980.

Oh. A Divertimento? A divertimento with a "Turkey Trot"...all bets were off?

[btw, I love this piece...it's just not an "all bets were off" type of piece. It's...you know, a divertimento.]


The orchestra's personality did a complete about-face. The extrovert Bernstein, with his fabulous fanfares and peg-leg dances and naughty non-sequiturs, found plenty of gamers to match him.

Naughty non-sequiturs? I love those...let me give it a try.

figure non-sequitur: Thank you once again, Failblog.

Perhaps the jazz riffs could have been more down and dirty.

Perhaps.

But you had to love Dudamel's Charlie Chaplin conducting style.

I don't know what this means, but you're right, I do have to love it.


Two Maurice Ravel pieces topped off the evening, Pavane for a Dead Princess and Boléro, and you would expect French music to sit uncomfortably.

Oh, those Frenchman, and their uncomfortable music.


But exquisite subtlety was back. There was no over-emoting in the sad Pavane.

How did you know that I like to understand all music by virtue of some sort of trite, simplistic stereotypes? And you've made this real easy...American music, loud and brash; European music, boring and understated.

Do you happen to teach music appreciation at the local community college?

But we're getting a bit unfocused. We were talking expectations and the defiance of those expectations...

The beginning of Boléro was as courageously done as the beginning of the Dvorák symphony: almost inaudibly soft. Few conductors will try it. It couldn't have been missed, how much tension was built in expectation of the crescendo to come. That expectation was fulfilled.

"Fulfilled"? That's a funny way to defy an expectation.


And the ending was full-bore abandon — along with the audience's appreciation of it.
Then what a delight in a Viennese encore treat, Johann Strauss Jr.'s Pizzicato Polka. It was, of course, tort sweet.

Wait...doesn't tort mean "a wrongful act"? What an incredibly odd word choice.

Or did you mean "torte"?

Whatever.

To summarize, Loren Tice had some expectations. Those expectations were defied. However, the orchestra played well, in the expected manners of each piece, and was conducted in a way conducive to the orchestra and the music. The end.

9/27/10

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

This will not do.

Music review: Chanticleer's "Out of This World"
Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2010

Thematic programming is always a fine thing, even if it's often little more than a pretext for a musical group to do more or less what it was going to do anyway.

Well, that seems reasonable, marketing after all being what it is, and...

Wait. What was that first bit?

Thematic programming is always a fine thing...

Always?

That is a lie.

That is a damn lie and you know it, Kosman. And I, for one, won't stand for it.

Exhibit A


Figure 1: Several indicators, including pointless lasers and talking pop-culture robots, point to the underlying seriousness of this effort.

Exhibit B

Figure 2: Like eating Nutella with a spoon.

Exhibit C (for fuck's sake)


Figure 3: The soft bigotry of low expectations indeed.

Figure 3a (supplementary): Enough with this doe-eyed horseshit.

Pro tip: Always never use the word "always" when reviewing music.

9/22/10

"Philip Glass Organ Works". So does mine!

A small diversion today -- Anne Midgette, the very capable critic for the Washington Post, simply made me laugh with this telling, possibly unintentional, juxtaposition.

figure juxtaposition: Good call. They really are more of an appetizer.

During a season preview concert, the Baltimore Symphony played works by Prokofiev, Mahler and Mozart and...

The biggest hit with the audience was John Williams's "Star Wars" theme, which will be featured on a space-themed January concert along with a co-commissioned work by Philip Glass.

Nothing says space theme quite like Philip Glass?

No judgments, here, about highbrow and lowbrow.

What an incredibly odd thing to say.

The BSO is working to make people feel welcome, turning what has traditionally been a society event into a genuine social exchange.


Poor, Philip Glass. Does no one like your music?

Which reminds me of an Amazon.com user review of a Glass album which I ran across a few days ago:

Handel composed water music. Philip Glass composes water-torture music. Certainly, the track-by-track agony of waiting for Glass' infernal triplets to reappear (and they do, again and again) is akin to counting the moments until the next water particle falls. What is it with those triplets?

[snip]

Glass pays tribute to Disco with track two ("Lightning") and Jimmy Webb's "MacArthur Park" on track five. Linda Ronstadt pays tribute to bad soprano singing on tracks three and six. Pay tribute to your intelligence by avoiding this washed-up exercise in minimalist excess.

I am amused.

figure glass: Happy Happy Happy, Everybody Happy.

9/21/10

Litotes [?]

Ask a random person on the street to name a composer. Was it Beethoven? Maybe; if it wasn't, perhaps it was Bach. I'd bet on it. I call this the "What If I Asked My Dad?" method of thought experimentation.

Figure 1: Not the Bach to which I was referring.

Musicians adore Bach. Even the most cynical historian, theorist, composer, or performer, in my experience, adores Bach.

People who love music's mathematical designs love Bach.

People who love music's emotive qualities love Bach.

People who love to study elaborate contrapuntal techniques love Bach.

People who love to perform love Bach.

Analysts love Bach; musicologists love Bach.

Everyone the fuck loves Bach. And with good reason.

Bach is the unambiguously most revered composer in the canon. Beethoven might be more enfant terrible-y; Mozart more zesty; both are undoubtedly massively influential. But it's hard to overstate the influence of Bach on, oh, say, the last 300 years or so of Western art music.

The Power of Bach, the Comfort of Morricone
Vivian Schweitzer, New York Times, 9/20/2010

So: Bach, right?

Bach strongly influenced several prominent South American composers, including Heitor Villas-Lobos of Brazil and Alberto Ginastera of Argentina.

Mm, hm. Mm-hm.

Figure 2: The Grand Canyon was strongly influenced by the Colorado River.

Hilarious understatement as rhetorical device?

Yeah; no. I wish.

9/15/10

Post hoc ergo propter hoc - Great Music Edition, Part II

Welcome to the second part of our look at what passes for journalism at Film Music Magazine.

Guest Editorial: Is Film Music Great?
John Graham, Film Music Magazine, September 8, 2010

Continuing from where we left off, Mr. Graham had just finished establishing that the academia has colluded to repress any acceptance of enjoyment as a measure of piece's greatness. Furthermore, he contends that great music comes not from within the soul of a composer, but from the impetus to please the person paying the bills.

He now continues pondering scorched earth trailing behind these maniacal academics.

Where Has the Insular Elite Left the Arts?

In shambles, I'm sure. It's really a miracle that there remains a culture that could still produce musical geniuses like Eminem and Lady Gaga.

So what is the result of the “insular elite” seizing the helm and steering the arts?

There's that word...elite. So much antipathy for elites, what with their medical and technical breakthroughs, contributions to building governments and societies and their endless philosophical and artistic contributions to culture.

For answer, I look to the marketplace.

Marketplace answer? It's done wonders for the economy, so I can only assume that it will do wonderfully in helping us to determine which music is truly great.

How busy are concert halls?

According to the League of American Symphonies, very busy.

How many poetry magazines are there today?

Good question. Just a quick search of the Google turned up Poetry (in publication since 1912), Conversation, Oxford Poetry, 32 Poems, The Gettysburg Review, Shit Creek Review, The American Poetry Review, Poetry London, Mezzo Cammin, Two Tone, Untide Press, and several others. But that's not as many as are dedicated to celebrity gossip, so I get your point.

How many people, even the educated, feel free to like or dislike a work of art or a piece of music without reference to whether it’s on some “approved” list?

You shouldn't speak ill of the Authority if you care for your safety. I had a friend once who hated Webern's Symphony, op. 21. They crab canoned him within an inch of his life. Really, I've said too much.

Are scalpers charging $400 a ticket to any symphonic concerts?

Well, since we're into conjecture, I assume anecdotal evidence should suffice as an answer to your question. I once saw Citizen Kane for free at a film festival, and I paid $100 a ticket to see Britney Spears when I was in college...(yeah, I saw Britney Spears...twice! She was Lady Gaga before Lady Gaga was Lady Gaga, and sometime after Madonna was Lady Gaga.)

Anyway, you're a film composer, has anyone scalped tickets, for any price, to a concert of your music?

By the way, what's your point? You do realize that it's sort of stupid to equate how much people pay for something with its intrinsic value, right?

Does one feel susceptible to being made a fool of if one expresses dislike of, or bewilderment with, a piece of art only to learn that, say, the V&A paid millions for it because it had been approved by critics as “groundbreaking?”

Depends, am I disliking the piece for good, well-founded reasons, and am I basing my opinion on 'just because'?

You do realize you're only a fool if you express dislike but don't have any reason to support your opinion, right?

Does the announcement of new works of the sort championed by academics excite anticipation or, instead, a desire to flee?

We are certainly getting far afield from the original question of "what makes music great", and even further from "is film music great".

But the desire to flee based on an announcement sounds dangerously close to prejudiced. You're not prejudiced, are you, John? You know pre-judging a work before you've heard it.

I think we know the answers to all these questions.

We do? How convenient that your singular set of experiences have provided all of us with answers to these questions.

Few people, even among the educated, anticipate with pleasure new music, poetry or art, and I place the blame squarely on the Academy’s failure in leadership.

And those few people really don't count. By all rights, we should marginalize and belittle them for their stupid and very wrong opinions.

How about a history lesson to help us understand how we got to this awful state of the arts?

The history of this debacle goes back at least 50 years.

For clarification's sake, the debacle we're discussing is that people write music you don't like, right?

Championing a combination of what, by around 1945 or 1950, had become a rigid and almost unassailable “canon” of Approved Old Guys, plus a more recent crop of dissertation-ready music, with its systems to analyze, structural rigour, and harmonic ideas rooted not in enjoyment but physics or some other realm of intellectual novelty, The Academy ground the fun and natural enjoyment out of new music so that by now we see the legacy in too many empty concert halls and a feverish urge, even among regular concert-goers, to hasten away from any music labeled “modern.”

Damn, that's one hell of a sentence you've got there, John. I was hesitant to interrupt such a beautiful, rambling mess. But ultimately, I think that's a pretty good summary of what the ignorant think happened in classical music over the past 50 years.

How is that good for music?

I guess it wouldn't be good for music. But you know, John, there's one aspect to this whole editorial-thing that you should be aware of -- just because you say it, doesn't make it so.

Generalized statements based on purely speculative evidence about music over the past 50 years doesn't make for a compelling argument. Well, unless you went to Arizona State.

However, if you were to have some examples to support your argument...do you, John, have any examples?

Hasn’t the same contempt toward popular work produced the same scorched earth seen in many of the arts? Serious poetry,...

Serious poetry is popular?

...to take one example, has been relegated to oblivion nearly everywhere in the West. Young people look for thoughtful art that can help them make sense of their crazy lives, and find it only at iTunes.

There's serious poetry on iTunes? And young people look for thoughtful art? Is Jersey Shore considered thoughtful art?

Meanwhile, academically-sponsored art itself seems engaged in extended seppuku, crabbed and tangled with explicit and implicit rules for art that surely throttle the natural creative impulse.

Seriously, you're going to need to give me an example. How is music produced in academic circles committing suicide? Just because you don't listen to it? Or is it financial suicide? Should they charge more for their music?

And furthermore, why do you care if academic composers have committed suicide? I thought your point was that great music doesn't come from academia, but from music-for-hire situations?

How likely is Great Art to appear from the hand of the average professor-composer suffering a full teaching load, with time to write at most a 20-40 minute piece in an entire academic year that he or she knows will be subjected to some kind of analytic scrutiny instead of just heard and liked, or not-liked?

I don't know...very likely? How about this John -- you can listen to the piece and just like it or not like it, and all those evil academics can analyze it to death. Then you can tell that composer your gut-based opinion, and if the composer survived the savage raping from the other academics, I'm sure he'll thank you.

Plus, how dare that professor have a full-time job and try to compose. What a fucking loser, needing healthcare and a steady paycheck. Not to mention the fact that they might actually enjoy teaching.

Should we add the criterion that great art is only created by those without families or other sources of income?

Real composers sell their music because it's awesome, and don't need outside work, right? I mean it's not like Mozart or Beethoven ever taught students. Pssh.

How likely is Great Art to appear from a composer-in-residence whose main obligation is to generate music that the faculty and / or the committee approving his re-appointment will prize?

How is composing music for a faculty or committee any different from writing music for a paying client? I'm assuming that he took this job because it paid him a salary, right? Is just that you object to any opinion that has a basis?

Fuck me, John. Did a composer with a pipe and tweed jacket kill your family when you were a child?

My guess is not too likely.

I'm glad you're guessing. Because, fuck, if you actually had any support for your claims, I'd suggest we torch every school of music around this country and end the madness.

I am not sure whether a film composer has or will overcome the shortcomings and pressure of the medium, and produce something so good that “they would not willingly let it die.”

Who is "they"?

It’s very early to be sure what, in 50 or 200 years, will still be admired. But I’d bet that commerce, over time,...

Fuck me, Nostradamus, but didn't you just get done telling us exactly what music won't be remembered?

...will beat the products funded by the “difficult and dense” school of composing or The Committee To Destroy All Arts Via Committee.

Who funds that committee?

But, nevermind. I'm with you, let's get rid of The Committee to Destroy All Arts Via Committee. They sound like an awful committee. Plus, they have a stupid name.

Ironically, the result of decades of strenuous efforts of critics seeking to guard us from low-brow music is that the overwhelming majority of new orchestral music is produced for media, rather than the concert hall. Of all orchestral music written in the last 20 years, what proportion was written for film and TV? 90 percent? 99?

Seriously, John, you and I are totally pals. But, come on, that's a pretty lame argument.

Did you know that over 99% of all the basketball played in this country doesn't happen in the NBA? Clearly, that means the best players aren't in the NBA, statistically speaking, of course.

I am willing to place my bets there, in music-for-hire, rather than any Milton Babbitt or Luciano Berio or other composer whose work is so dense and difficult that it requires an instruction manual, or “historical perspective,” or decades of study to appreciate.

Instructional manual...classic.

But, John,you've been so incredibly open-minded and inclusive thus far, you're not really going to argue that music that is complex is lesser than simple music? Well, that might make you look like a judgmental asshole, and I don't want your powerful message to be lost.

So what's wrong with music that requires study or "historical perspective"?

Who has the time?

Oh, I get it, you're a busy guy. Well, I have the time. But what does that say about you...you're a composer and you don't have the time to listen to music? Possibly broaden your musical horizons? Or was your understanding of music perfectly formed when you were 12 or 14?

But now I'm being judgmental. I'm sure that you have a perfectly valid reason for thinking that complex music has nothing to offer you...

I listened at age 12 or 14...

Good, an anecdote from the early teen years...the most reasonable and thoughtful years of most people's lives.

...for the first time to Beethoven’s third symphony, and that was it – instant admiration, astonishment; powerful feelings of all sorts, with no study, no manual.

Good for you. You "just liked" it, therefore the piece is great. But...

I just had a thought, John. What if you hadn't liked the piece on the first listening, how many more chances would you have given the piece, or does it always have to be "instant admiration"? There was a chance that you would have decided that Beethoven's Third Symphony wasn't (gasp!) any good. And then what would we have done?

Or is it that no one could have not have liked that piece on first listening without, you know, being wrong?

And while that instant recognition of something you want to hear again is naturally not be the only criterion for greatness,...

I'm glad to hear that you recognize the highly subjective nature of your example...however, I sense a 'but' coming.

...the academics’ near-automatic rejection of such instant delight, to me, is a sure sign of a institution that has missed the forest for the trees.

Academics reject liking a piece upon first listening? You must know some really shitty academics. I mean, who rejects unquantifiable, bullshit emotions from tweens as a standard measure of the greatness of a piece of music? Fuck.

Popularity is Not Enough

Yes, we know, it also had to make money.

Lest a misunderstanding emerge,...

Yes, lest a misunderstanding emerge.

...I think it important to emphasize that I don’t equate popularity with artistic merit.

Just money, right? And that people have to "just like" it.

The one does not automatically grant the other.

Yes, but you've argued that someone has to like the piece. So, how many people must like a piece of music for it be considered great art? Or is it more a percentage thing?

Can a single person like a piece, and it still be great?

I know, I know, I'm taking your argument to the furthest extremes. I hate when I do that. But, in my defense, it's only because your argument is so completely without any merit whatsoever.

But, I am saying that it remains widely fashionable to assume that there can be no connection between the two, to dismiss in horror even the consideration of the artistic merits of anything that actually is popular.

So let me get this straight, you just said that popularity doesn't equate with artistic merit. But if someone else were to say that popularity doesn't contribute a work's artistic merit, they're wrong?

I'm wondering, if it does matter whether a piece is popular, what would it mean if a composer were to compose a piece of music specific not to be popular!?

Even worse, a healthy proportion of scholar-composers actively seek to offend or displease an audience, even trying to out-do each other in driving audiences up a wall.

And this is wrong, of course. How should we punish them?

I have seen reviews chortling about how some piece made members of the audience leave, and what a success that was.

Why is that you value one emotional response more than another? Should all paintings be of bunnies and pastorals? No photographs other than sunsets and couples grinning stupidly at Disneyland? Should every novel/movie have a happy ending?

Tell me, John, what my music should sound like so as not to offend people.

A New York Times piece by an active composer repeated the now taken-for-granted saw that, without offending someone, a piece couldn’t possibly have any artistic value or be considered daring and new.

Don't worry, your biased paraphrasing of their argument is more than fair. Please don't provide any context or actual quotation.

To me it is nonsense to link the two; and not merely harmless nonsense. Indeed, it has had the pernicious effect of driving ever more people away from new music.

And what do you care? I'm getting the feeling that you don't really care for, or have the time, for new music.

But you are entitled to your opinion. You may be very right on this point.

Of course one has to acknowledge that it’s possible to write something that upsets some people but that, nevertheless, has real artistic merit.

One does? Why should one acknowledge that? It's not like we're ever going to listen to any piece like that...we already know, without hearing the piece, that it sucks -- for many previously established reasons.

But it’s equally possible that such pieces are merely sophomoric, irritating bilge.

It's equally possible? Equal as in 50-50? I like those odds quite a bit. So, one out of every two pieces that seems to upset some people has artistic merit. If only pop and film music could have such a success rate.

So why do you have so much antipathy for this music? Seriously, what the fuck gives?

It may be that a great new work will offend, but offense doesn’t guarantee greatness.

Got it. Just like popularity doesn't guarantee greatness. So why are you ranting against this music and the people who write it?

Just because audience members storm out does not mean one has written “Le Sacre du Printemps.”

But, of course, academics think this, because they are so easily confused by audience members leaving during the performance that they cease to have any control of their own personal judgment or standards.

Yep, they go to every concert with a checklist in hand:

  • Weird chords -- check
  • Offensive sounds -- check
  • Has interesting but clearly irrelevant "historical perspective" -- check
  • Can only be understood with instructional manual (which is purposefully not given to non-academic audience members) -- check
  • Audience members left in a huff -- check
  • Great Music? -- Double check!

Has the Academic Tide Turned?

Yes?

Clearly, film departments at universities...

Oh, yeah. This editorial was about whether film music is great art. I nearly forgot in the midst of all your unsubstantiated academic bashing.

...have grown in number and accreted a degree of respect.

So, universities aren't all bad. At least the parts that validate what you do for living. And not those snooty concert composers and their music that hates audiences.

And even a cursory glance at the titles of books and papers reveals that academics are directing meaningful energy at popular music. Serious work appears about Wagner and Copland, to be sure, but also about James Brown and Eminem.

Well, they are musical geniuses, too. But I'm confused. You were upset when these academics were writing books and papers about music you don't like, but now because it's about artists who you do like, you're commending them?

Should we boil down all academic pursuits to whether or not you agree with them? Based on the infallible nature of your arguments in this editorial, I say yes!

Even heavy metal music gets attention, along with practically every area of jazz, barbershop quartet, Stephen Sondheim’s musicals – unquestionably there is meaningful energy spent on popular works nowadays.

But Stephen Sondheim musicals are shitty. I thought the goal was for them to only write about musical geniuses. right?

Or are you saying that Sondheim is a musical genius? Fuck, if you're saying that, then I'm afraid I'm going to have to take back all the nice things I've said about you.

Even so, these papers and compositions seem written for and largely consumed by peers only.

Which means they shouldn't exist and the people who wrote them should probably just die.

In some cases, it is clear that they are stuck applying traditional yardsticks to validate the music they are examining, and that the pieces’ or composers’ quality is in those circumstances measured by the degree to which their music uses analyzable structures or techniques.

This would seem to be a great place for an example. But I watch Fox News too, conjecture is as close to fact as most Americans care about anyway. Carry on.

In other cases, the titles of these efforts appear to tangle the music with social or other non-musical issues. Phrases in a few titles such as, “the Musicological Skin Trade,” or “Charles Ives and Gender Ideology,” can’t help but make one wonder whether academic legitimacy, when writing about popular music, derives in those cases more from the music itself, or the reliably meaty arena of sociology.2

And your point? What if it does veer into sociology? If Ives' music is sexist does that make your music any less great?

Unless this is some sort of personal vendetta against higher learning in the arts, I'm wondering what your point is? Why do you want the approval of people you obviously despise?

As a result, it is not clear whether such music is taken seriously, or is serving mainly as an as-yet-unexhausted topic for a paper or book to be read by other academics.

So sociology isn't to be taken seriously? Damn, is there anybody with a brain of whom you aren't skeptical?

I have been told that Jane Austen initially wrote primarily for her family and friends, in order to entertain and divert them. Whether apocryphal or not, that desire – to entertain and divert – needs to be rehabilitated from decades of condescension and contempt if we are going to reinvigorate the concert repertoire, attract an excited new audience to concert music, and restore a positive link between music as it is actually practiced and the halls of academe.

Way to claim something that you have yet to establish that no one disagrees with -- well, other than your fictional dastardly sociologist posing as a professor of music.

Who knows whether any particular composer in the popular sphere is producing works that anyone will value in 100 years?

Simon Cowell?

What we can say, I think, is that most music which today we consider great, including that of Beethoven or Bach, was created for some fairly prosaic purpose – a church service, a feast day, an opera with a plot hastily hashed together, a concert on such and such a date.

To quote one of our readers, this is a "hot mess of something."

But let me try to follow, you wrote earlier that it didn't matter to you what the motivation was behind the composition of a piece of music. But, by proximity, you make the implication that music for commonplace occasions might make a piece valuable in 100 years. Am I close?

Of course, some commissions were spurred by coronations and other Great Occasions as well, but anyway, when the message came in, “we need some music” I assume it wasn’t “we need music that will Stand The Test Of Time,” but “we need music that The Guy Paying For It Will Like.”

And this makes a piece better? Are you just guessing that this is true? In any case, let me write back to you your own words:

It doesn’t matter to me...what the purpose of the writing is, whether it’s a lofty goal or, by contrast, a desire to impress a girlfriend / boyfriend, trying to make money, escaping a soul-destroying job alternative, rivalry with other composers / band-mates, seeking everlasting greatness, or sheer vanity.

So why would writing a piece for posterity or to please a patron matter? Can you see the contradiction?

It saddens me, both for composers and audiences, to picture the tortured, narrow channel into which composers seeking concert performances have been forced by critics and other cerebrals. Over many years, this has generated a catastrophic rupture between new music and audiences. We need to reset our criteria for selecting Important New Music so that it no longer seems explicitly to ignore anything likely to excite / interest / move / entertain or otherwise please an audience.

I think we're all with you on this. Why all these universities and music organizations explicitly ignore exciting and interesting music is beyond me.

With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy arts world.

Or were you only speaking about music which you find interesting and exciting?

The scribbling tribe has for decades behaved as though determined to crush any compositional impulse that might be recognizable as something that might originally have motivated the production of composers like Bach or Beethoven. That should end.

Sure, what the hell. Consider it ended.

I hope that the symptoms in academia reflect a tide that has turned decisively, and that we will therefore eventually see an embrace by concert halls of music (and poetry and art) that audiences would enthusiastically pay to experience. Imagine what, say, James Newton Howard might produce for the concert hall if he were to receive the sponsorship of someone influential in that arena?

If James Newton Howard were to ever give any evidence that he could write good music, that would be a interesting experiment.

In the mean time, I believe film and game music, for good or ill, has replaced symphonies, opera and church music – the mainstays of former times. And, if one accepts that idea, I believe that if we are to see great music written in our own time, it will be in media where we find the bulk of it.

And by replaced you mean not replaced, right? Because, you know there still are symphonies, operas, and tons of churches with music every Sunday morning.

---------------------------------------------

Since Mr. Graham didn't really bother to engage his original question of whether or not film music is great art, I shall also ignore it, other than to say, that there's no reason it can't be great. There is lots of wonderful music written for film, and I would have enjoyed a thoughtful discussion of how film music stands on its own against concert music. Too bad.

So, we're back to the question of who gets to judge the music -- the critics and academics, or the unindoctrinated masses? Well, in my experience, I've never understood this dichotomy. This is a false choice. Both are free to pass judgment in any way they want. Critics and academics like to use knowledge, history, theory, circumstantial and direct evidence (musical and extra-musical) to form a complete picture of a piece of music. And by contrast, there are people like John who like to use their gut. Both are effective methods, except when it comes to wanting to know more than whether someone liked a piece.

John Graham's big mistake here, besides not consulting an editor, is that he starts with the question of whether film music is great, and then never bothers to engage that question meaningfully. Instead, he chooses to take the position that it is great (or at least that it most likely is), and the only reason most people don't realize this is due to the institutional dismissal of all music-for-hire. Mr. Graham relies on ad hominem attacks against academia, and a series of logical fallacies to support this position, not once providing any support for his (unstated) thesis that film music is great (or should be thought so by academics). He appeals to emotion, to popularity, and to spite -- all of which are classic errors in reasoning.

Of course, as is most often the case, his opinions are easily ignored since he offers nothing more than unsubstantiated attacks. However, the harm is that this sort of ill-conceived, childish argument perpetuates a commonplace misunderstanding of music. A misconception that music owes something to us. That when we don't like a piece of music, it has done us wrong, and the composers have lost their way. While everyone is always free to like or not like any piece of music, that music has no obligations to you. Music doesn't have to make you happy, please you, provide you with emotional catharsis, or look or sound like anything. In fact, it doesn't even have to try and be popular. Rather than investigate why all these critics and academics may advocate for a certain composer or piece, Mr. Graham assumes that he already knows everything, and therefore all the critics and academics must be wrong. It's this sort of ego that will always keep ears closed, and music a stagnant, historical object.

However, that's obviously not the way Mr. Graham sees it. He accuses academics of having the egotistical view of music by ignoring pure enjoyment. There's essentially no response to that sort claim since his argument is based on a alternate view of reality. He doesn't understand the mission of academia, nor the difference between subjective and objective thought.

Furthermore, such points of view only serve to reemphasize the stereotypes that new music is something to be feared, and that academics have no relation to the outside world. Mr. Graham's suggestion that great music should provide "instant admiration" is a childish notion. A notion that only serves to show that he can't speak intelligently about music.

As Milton Babbit wrote, "he also will offer reasons for his 'I didn't like it' - in the form of assertions that the work in question is 'inexpressive,' 'undramatic,' 'lacking in poetry,' etc., etc., tapping that store of vacuous equivalents hallowed by time for: 'I don't like it, and I cannot or will not state why.'"

Classical music, by its nature, is a sophisticated form, which doesn't lend itself to "instant admiration" -- although, it certainly might. Like some things in this world, it may take a second or third listening to fully appreciate the artistry in a piece of music.

With regard to academics, well...fuck. I'm not sure what to tell a person who objects to studying an art form. Mr. Graham basic assertion that professors reject the relative "enjoyment" given a piece of music is both bullshit, and sort of true (although, not in the way he suggests). Music professors also love music (at least many do). But like with any serious, academic discussion, one's opinions and emotions are not qualitative measures. Even though Beethoven symphonies all easily surpass the required 33.7 Enjoyment Units (EUs) to be acknowledged as great music, it's just not an aspect of Beethoven symphonies that interest academics.

With just a small amount of training, the spectrum of music opens up, and as a result some ubiquitous forms of music can become increasingly plain and uninteresting. They offer no surprises nor originality, and sometimes as a result are rather boring. However, there is music out there that is full of depth and complexity which can be appealing....new music. Despite Mr. Graham's insinuation that academia forces this music upon these students and professors, it's actually a pretty natural and easy to understand phenomenon.

However, I am not arguing that more complex music is superior to less complicated music. It's not. Neither one is good nor bad based on the virtue of its relative complexity. To borrow from Ecclesiastes and pop psychology, there is a time and place for all types of music. So pardon us if we don't feel the need to capitulate our standards to your shallow vision of what music is, and should be.

9/14/10

Post hoc ergo propter hoc - Great Music Edition, Part I

I apologize in advance for the mess that follows. It is, first, very long. After many times reading this article, I felt it necessary to include all of his words. So as a result, I have also decided to split this particular Detrital breakdown into two parts. And it is, second, absolutely crazy.

That music, starting in the 20th century, would cease to try and appeal to the average Johnny-Concert-Goer has been a consistent bee in the bonnets of music lovers everywhere. However, most of these objections always require someone else to adapt their musical tastes, and surprisingly, always to the tastes of person making the objection.

It's been my contention on this blog many times that this problem primarily arises from a phenomenon in adults that they just don't want to learn anything new. Remember the whole flap over Pluto losing its status as a planet? How dare "scientists" refine definitions and introduce blasphemous ideas like dwarf planets and Kuiper Belt objects. There were 9 planets when I was born, and there will be 9 when I die. Harrumph.

Well, once again, I have stumbled across a gentlemen who just happens to find fault with looking at music for reasons other than to determine whether we "just like" a given a piece of music. Under the guise of asking the actually interesting question of whether film music is great music, he seeks to undermine, through a series of logical fallacies (each one more fun than the last), the academic establishment.

Now, academia is certainly not above reproach, but it is above the inane arguments made in the following editorial. Enjoy.

Guest Editorial: Is Film Music Great?
John Graham, Film Music Magazine, September 8, 2010

An excellent question. I've had this debate many a times, and needless to say, it's a question complicated by the fact that concert music and film music serve two entirely different functions. But I look forward to your thoughts on the subject.

Where Does Great Music Come From?

An interesting place to start. Where does great music come from? I'm guessing from the top of a very tall mountain.

I bet on music written for an audience, paid for by someone else.

Didn't I already cover this before? But fine, I'll bite. Why would you bet that way?

Arm’s length transactions, I believe, have generated the best results historically.

The best! Well, I'm a fan of the best. So surely you and I are certain to agree on this point.

Oh, how did you determine which art was the best? Nevermind, you have the floor.

Art-for-money has brought us Shakespeare, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Bach, Fielding, Raphael, Rembrandt, Dickens. All worked for money, whether for single patrons or a broader, paying audience.

I got it. So, Beethoven was a composer because the pay was good?

But you're right, money can be exchanged for goods and services. One might even point out that everyone does something for money. But I'm sure that would be missing your point entirely.

Shakespeare wrote plays for money, which made him write better plays than he would have normally written. Right? Because, without the promise of money the creative spirit is stifled.

All suffered through the petty vexations of commerce:

One of the most important aspects of great art.

whims of patrons; popular enthusiasms; losing a coveted job to charming or “connected,” but less-able rivals; and the scramble for good players and nice venues at a reasonable cost.

The "debtors" movement of Brahms' Fourth Symphony gets me every time.

But I'm a bit confused...does a composer simply have to produce his art under the promise of money, or does he need to be poor as well, desperately needing the money to survive?

A few great creators were rich, or at least were born into enough money that their financial worries were eased for some part of their lives – Richard Strauss, Alban Berg, Tolstoy. But not too many.

So you can be rich, but it doesn't help. Got it.

As the Bible says, it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to write a good piece of music.

So, while allowing for important exceptions, for the most part, the artists of the past whose work has lasted beyond their lifetimes worked for money.

Well spoken, sir. There aren't holes in that logic. As they say, post hoc ergo propter hoc.

This definition of money-for-music captures Beethoven, Mozart & co., but also includes Gershwin, John Williams, Waxman, Zimmer et alia, Rogers and Hart, The Beatles, Eminem, Lady Gaga, Snoop – whatever.

Whatever? It's your list, why get snippy?

Also, did you know that the rooster's crow makes the sun rise?

I think there’s a reason why each of them has been called “a genius” by various composers at various times.

You think there's a reason? Would you like to venture a guess?

Sure, there’s plenty of popular rubbish out there that will not Stand The Test Of Time,...

Whoa...slow down a minute. Where did this "Stand the Test of [by the way, we don't capitalize prepositions here at the Detritus] Time" standard come from? I thought you said all great art was the result of pay-for-service.

So, how do you determine which pay-for-service music has (or will) Stand the Test of Time, and isn't just popular rubbish? Clearly, there is a now a third criterion needed to separate out those pieces of music that were written for money, but won't stand the test of time.

...but I will be very surprised if the art that does meet that test fails an essential measure:

Excellent, some carefully refined definitions and qualified remarks will bring clarity to this discussion on where great art comes from.

So, music that was written for money, but won't stand the test of time is missing what?

That many people simply want to hear it (or to view it, or to read it) without being motivated by something beyond seeking diversion, curiosity about the thing itself, or “just liking” it.

Wow, couldn't have put it better myself. Great music (and art) should be nothing more than a popular diversion that I "just lik[e]".

When you say "I", is that the universal I?

In other words, people take an interest not primarily because they have to write a paper on it or need a dissertation topic, and certainly not because its greatness only becomes apparent in the pages of an analytical explication, but because it gives pleasure.

Exactly. No analytical explications. Music is either just good or bad, it either gives pleasure or it doesn't. And there is no explicating this...at all.

And most importantly, don't try to understand. Because if you tried to understand a piece of music, you would sap it of all it's mystical pleasure-giving powers.

The details of how great art is actually generated – how the artist zeroes in on the set of ideas, craft elements, and feelings that actually produce something personal and unique and fresh and “forward” – I think that varies but, however it comes about, I think nothing lasts in the long run without the ability to provoke the reaction, “I like it” in an intelligent but unindoctrinated audience.

Didn't the Word paperclip dude warn you about run-on sentences?

And, where did this "intelligent but unindoctrinated audience" criterion come from? What about us stupid people? Do our opinions not count?

That seems unfair, because I'm pretty good about not liking a piece the first time I hear it, and I've always figured it was because the piece sucks (and that it was obviously composed for analytical explications in dissertations -- i.e. Debbie Gibson's "Shake Your Love").

But you said something about these intelligent people not being indoctrinated? Wait a minute...who writes dissertations, explicates things analytical, and is brainwashed...?

You're talking about academics, aren't you?! Fucking academics. Socialists, that's what they are.

Do Motivations Matter?

Huh? What happened to the socialists?

Despite the fact that some might consider the motivations and goals of the artists as an important measure of whether a work of art could be considered great, I am sceptical about including the artist’s motivation as an important measure.

Oh yeah, what makes a piece of music great art? Any specific reason you're dismissing a composer's motivation, or are you just proving your status as anti-academic?

It doesn’t matter to me (except out of idle curiosity) what the purpose of the writing is, whether it’s a lofty goal or, by contrast, a desire to impress a girlfriend / boyfriend, trying to make money,...

Wait? So it doesn't matter whether someone is "trying to make money" so long as they composed the piece for money? Interesting.

...escaping a soul-destroying job alternative,...

[To compose or teach high school marching band? Hmmm...]

...rivalry with other composers / band-mates, seeking everlasting greatness, or sheer vanity.

But they have to have composed the piece for someone else who paid them, right?

And that’s because it’s hard to discern motivation, even if one sifts through letters and other documents from an artist’s life produced contemporaneously with the work.

What if the composer is alive and tells you his motivation?

Motivations slip easily away from view, even from the artist himself.

Good point. All that context would just get in the way of "just liking" the piece.

Although seeking money almost certainly stimulated a large part of the past’s artistic output, most of the time, for most composers, the impulse to sit down and write something is hard to capture in words.

I think saying they did it for money is a pretty clear.

On the other side of the transaction, I don’t think it matters what the motivations are of those paying (up to a point). Teenagers wanting to dance, trying to seduce or impress someone, an impresario / producer trying to make money, or just fun. Each of these has produced great art, and each has produced a good bit of forgettable work.

Teenagers wanting to dance have commissioned great art? Is that accurate? Or would it more accurate to say that a composer/songwriter wanting to create music for teenagers to dance to led to some great art (and also piles and piles of shitty music)?

So I argue that, whatever the specific notion in the artist’s or consumer’s mind at the time – the motives of the buyer and seller are so hard to pinpoint and may be so various and contradictory, that I believe focus on them obscures rather than illuminates the work itself.

But the exchange of money isn't hard to pinpoint, and isn't contradictory. Therefore, the motives are pure. Just like paying a prostitute, or buying subprime mortgage-backed securities.

While it’s certainly interesting to the curious, we don’t really need to know the motivation in order to love the work, because we have the work itself, which, when it’s as dazzlingly attractive as Beethoven or Shakespeare, speaks for itself.

Does it matter who paid for the music? I mean, what if a bunch of teenagers looking to dance commissioned Beethoven and he gave them the Grosse Fuge? I doubt the teenagers would have been pleased. So Beethoven, while having been paid for the music, failed miserably at creating effective music for teenage dance.

Also, should we concern ourselves with how much they got paid?

Where Doesn’t Great Art Come From?

Good question. I say France. Although, what does this question have to do with "just liking" a piece of music?

These days, many papers and books are being written in academe about popular music.

I know. Socialist assholes. Wait, we hate these papers and books, right?

And from time to time in the past, music departments have included composers in residence – Schoenberg being a conspicuous example.

A conspicuous example of an academic book written about popular music?

Do your first two sentences have anything to do with each other?

But even allowing for exceptions, and perhaps a growing change in mood that may eventually alter the situation, over time, in effect if not by intention, the academic world has been content to navigate almost completely unmoored from engaging the majority of paid, living composers and their work.

Fuck. You're starting to lose me. Money makes music good, I get that. But academia doesn't engage most living composers? I guess that's true in the technical sense. Do they engage the majority of paid, dead composers?

Do you have any idea how many composers there are? And just how many shitty composers are out there? You work in the film industry, so you surely you must.

And what does this have to do with where great art comes or doesn't come from?

Some of the reasons for that are of course understandable. A large proportion of media music is artistically unambitious, for a start.

I thought your point was that we shouldn't care about whether a piece is ambitious, but just whether we like the piece.

In addition, the academic hot-house has always given shelter to those whose creations are interesting, if not widely understood or popular. That’s fine and that’s part of the role, as I see it, of universities.

I'm glad you approve. I was afraid you were going to accuse them of validating music that, by your measures, only exists to be analytically explicated in dissertations to be read by other academics, and that no one actually "just likes" it.

On the other hand, if all of that work, or nearly all, requires shelter from the storm, is it because it’s all great but misunderstood?

"Storm"? Does it logically follow that if universities like interesting, if not widely understood music, then those universities must surely be sheltering it from criticism? Are you just a bit anxious to hate on this music?

Or is it the Emperor’s new clothes, with some of those composers seeking academic harbors because they shun any risk of having their music validated or rejected by the outside world, by shepherding into channels that will expose their work only to those who are going to accept it?

That's exactly it. It's an elaborate plan hatched by terrible composers who spend their entire lives becoming experts in music, who unfortunately write music that no one likes. Then, in conjunction with other terrible composers, pretend together under the guise of academia that their music is good, which they keep hidden away in a self-insulated society.

I'm sure that they'll be upset that you've uncovered their evil plot to fill the world with music that should never have existed in the first place.

Fucking academics always lying about "great" music. I fucking hate those guys!

Part of the relentless history of condescension (or at least neglect) of music-for-hire...

Are you suggesting that academics don't study Beethoven? Or Mozart? Who both, previously established, wrote music-for-hire.

...by the insular elite stems, I believe, from a conflation of, on the one hand, money and popularity with, on the other hand, the low-brow and bourgeois.

That sentence had 6 commas (not used as part of a series). On the one hand, it's impressive, but on the other hand, it's very confusing.

Put differently,...

With fewer commas...

...this line adopts the supposition that anything written for money and served to a mass audience automatically is disqualified from a “serious” musician’s consideration.

Except the examples you gave at the beginning of your editorial, of course.

And it’s of course fair to ask whether anything that’s popular among the masses could be considered “great.”

That is a fair question. But I swear you already answer this, again, when you pointed out that great composers like Mozart and Beethoven wrote music for money. And I think most of us, including those piece-of-shit academics, would agree that they wrote some very popular music, much of which is widely considered great.

But enough of this insinuation...let's get to the question you're dying to ask.

What Do We Get from the Experts?

What? No scare quotes around "experts"?

Whether or not, however, mass art can produce or is producing art worthy of the name, as I look around, I don’t see the world festooned with Great Art jetting forth from the academic world, or from the cartloads of art paid for by well-meaning organizations that are supporting arts that can’t support themselves (in other words, government-grant art / music / literature).

So many things wrong with this (very long) sentence. But let's wait and see where you're going with this.

Not that there couldn’t be some great, or potentially great composers in academe; undoubtedly there are.

Why back down? You're right, academia is only a place of shitty music protected from the unindoctrinated masses just waiting for a chance to shout it down.

But what audience are they getting?

That sounds like it might take facts and some unbiased research. Fuck that. Let's just say none. Cool?

How many players do they get?

Only the students forced to play on these concerts with no audiences.

A handful of soloists and recorded or electronic sound sources can produce some intriguing music, but it’s born amid departmental academic expectations and, often, constrained further by budget to minimal resources.

I don't know what this means, but yeah?

In those straits, I am not sure how the natural impulse to compose can escape being mangled, or how, even if it fights through, we will ever hear of the work.

So budgetary constraints of the university system mangle compositional impulses, but those budgetary constraints that require one to sell their music to the highest bidder encourage creativity?

While there is certainly a lot of energy in the academic world directed at topics that formerly would have been off-limits, study of, criticism of, and research into music remains burdened by the legacy of a clutch of false premises still echoed in know-it-all circles generally:

Wow, you really are an expert on the academic music world. Elucidate us to the many failings of the academic world.

1. That only professors or “those qualified” are able authoritatively to identify, dissect, and specify genius;

Ah, there are the scare quotes. Fucking people who like to read and shit. Fuck those guys and their "qualifications". Yep, it's nothing but the "Dr." Laura's of the world for me.

And really, you're right, why would one rely on "experts" to help us determine hard to qualify matters? I think any shitkicker with a degree from Arizona State can identify, dissect and specify musical genius. And that's what really matters anyway.

2. The popularity of a work renders it automatically suspect and reveals it to be dangerously lacking in requisite musical rigour;

You so know academics. They all hate Beethoven. Hate him. And musicologists hate studying popular and indigenous musics.

And what do they love? Stockhausen. That's why there are just so many books about Darmstadt, and only a handful of movies and documentaries about Beethoven. If only they could hide their biases better.

3. Academics and the otherwise-degree’d are not susceptible to vogues, fads, and trendiness;

Seriously, why can't academics be more fickle in their tastes? Wishy-washy is how I like all my experts.

I must say, this is a pretty good list so far.

4. That great composers in the olden days – Bach etc. – were higher-minded, devoted purely to the Pursuit of Art, possessed only well-justified (if sometimes large) egos, were exempt from petty rivalries and fame-seeking, and generated Great Works unsullied by pursuit of girls, free drinks, a cushy place to work, and so on;

Again, you sooooo know academics. They absolutely hate knowing anything about a composer's life or those pesky primary sources. Hell, we used to burn letters and original documents in class on a weekly basis. They were taking up too much room in the school's library.

5. That the analyse-able elements of music – form and symmetry, or scale systems or other mathematical elements, or sociological significance – offer insight into why the pieces are enjoyable or interesting to us or, at least, make the piece “valid;” and

And of course, they don't. Music is something you feel, not something that gets written down on paper in a manner that must be construed and understood by another person for the purpose of performance. Nor is it to be understood within the context of the culture from which it arises. Culture-smulture.

6. That merely emotional music / art / literature, however powerfully loved (Dickens, Tchaikovsky being two examples), while it must be tolerated, is in actual fact beneath the notice of serious academics.

Based on the completely reasonable nature of all of your conclusions, I can only assume that you've done a diligent study of the opinions of a healthy representation of serious academics. No need to include any data or quotes to support your thesis. We trust you.

Plus, I'm sure that Dickens and Tchaikovsky appreciate your appraisal that there's nothing else to their literature/music other than emotion. No wit, no skill, no form, just emotion.

And I base my case against the legacy of critics, academe and their impact on the arts not just on these arguments, but on their results, which in my opinion have been totally disastrous.

Okay, I lied. I need an example.

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Be sure to tune in next time for another exciting adventure of me, Gustav and my stalwart manservant Argyle.

9/6/10

Orchestra Bravely Stands up to Fascism

Happy Labor Day! What have we here?

Classical music review: In opener, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra shows why baroque festivals are rare

Lawson Taitte, Dallas Morning News, 10/27/2010

While the usual title-writing caveats apply, the titular assertion is just untrue. Utilizing the time-intensive, rigorous methodology known as Spending Five Fucking Seconds on A Google Search, I turned up this list.

Now, clearly, those are not all strictly baroque festivals, but the broader point made below about the Scary Jackbooted Demons of Historically Informed Performance Practice apply.

But I’m getting ahead of the argument.

Symphony orchestras are baffled by the baroque these days.

Are they now?

Specialists in historically informed performance have changed the rules about how to interpret music of the period.

Those academic fascists! Why would anyone even attempt to figure out how music three centuries old might have sounded back then? Why, they think they’re better than us [sic]!

Figure 1: What the hell is that thing? I don't care what instrument it was written for. Just play it on something I can recognize, you elitist!

Most regular orchestras have just given up.


Yes; you’re right. No one ever programs Bach or Vivaldi. Or Handel. Ever.

So give the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra credit for bravery in scheduling a three-night baroque festival this weekend – 20 works by 15 composers, two of them anonymous.

Sure, I guess. Credit for you, FWSO! Way to play music written by dead white men! No one could have seen that coming.

I don’t know about bravery, though; if they do it wrong will the HIP Secret Police show up and disappear the entire string section?

Friday's opening revealed some of the issues that make such programs rarities.

Except for the part where I Googled up a bunch of early music festivals.

The Overture to Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 launched the festival with a performance that was accurate but lifeless.


Ah, actual music criticism! That tastes far better than speculation-slander.

In the three concertos followed, the orchestra seemed to have been coached merely to stay out of the soloists' way.

Memo

To: Dallas Morning News Editorial Department
From: Sator Arepo
Subject: Copy editing

Sirs and/or Ladies,

Your copy editor seems to have absconded. Please replace him at once. Thank you.

That's especially deadly in Vivaldi.

For reasons that are unclear, obvious enough to warrant an utter lack of elucidation, or shall remain arcane for mischievous reasons?

Kevin Hall played one of the Red Priest's 39 bassoon concertos with amazing suavity but little inflection.


Which would have been covered up if the orchestra had played better? Or so I infer.

Bach's Concerto for Two Violins fared better, though soloists Swang Lin and Alexandra Jennings Flanagan had different ideas about phrasing. (He favored greater articulation but a cloying vibrato; she dug in and got a darker, richer sound.)

That sounds like it might be cool, actually. It’s a fair critique, however, and merits mention in a music review, even if it does nothing to elaborate on the impending death sentences (presumably carried out by HIP Black Ops squads) that the orchestra and conductor have brought upon themselves.

Figure 2: Fetch...the hurdy-gurdy!

After intermission, Jennifer Corning Lucio played the famous Alessandro Marcello Oboe Concerto with passion and finesse – easily the highlight of the concert.

(This is merely editorial, but that is one boring-ass piece.)

In the highly decorated slow movement, Lucio proved once and for all that stylistic outlook isn't nearly as important as having something to say about the music.

Demonstrated? Made a case for? Expressed? No? “[P]roved once and for all…”?

Well, I guess we won’t ever be hearing about that issue again. I’ll be sure to email all of the other music critics, performers, and conductors and let them know.

The orchestra only came into its own when both conductors, Miguel Harth-Bedoya and Andres Franco (who had subbed in the Bach Double), left the stage. The violinists stood as the orchestra played the Pachelbel Canon and Gigue without a front man.

Well, that's certain...wait.

What?

Did you attend a fucking wedding? Cripes. If I ever go to a baroque-themed orchestra concert and they play that stale, tired-ass piece, I’ll have to be forcibly restrained from committing ritual seppuku.

Figure 3: Don't make me come in there.

Harth-Bedoya returned for movements from Handel's Water Music.

A special treat! Because one never, ever, ever hears that programmed. Kudos once more to the brave folks at the FWSO for reaching deep into the baroque catalog and finding a hidden gem!

Here, at last, he seemed to care about the piece as he let the orchestra rip, with superb French horns and woodwinds.

The implication is that he didn’t care about the other baroque pieces because his enjoyment of programming and performing them has been stolen by the Mean Old Musicologists.

The Overture didn't quite capture the true Handelian swagger, but by the end the entire band was off its leash and sprinting toward the finish line.

...aaand close with a mixed metaphor. Cut! Print!