Sunday, February 24, 2008

Bryan reviews ...

... The Rest is Noise.

I am just now listening to Carl Ruggles's Sun-Treader, a great example of authentic musical modernism, in a splendid recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and the BSO. If orchestras played works like this more often, audiences would be better prepared to judge contemporary music fairly. (Frankly, little that I have heard has struck me as anything but the palest imitation of the sort of thing Charles Ives did - when it is even that good.) As for Boulez, his best music - Complainte du lizard amoureux, for example - is just a few timid steps beyond Debussy. I do not agree that "music was required both to reflect with jagged forms and conceal with rabid propaganda the murderous ravages of modernity." The best piece of music I know of that comments directly on an episode in the "century of death" is Bohuslav Martinu's Memorial to Lidice, written only a year after the Nazis wiped out a Czech village in retaliation for the assassination of one of their goons. It displays neither jagged forms nor rabid propaganda. It simply moves the heart and soul.
I should add that there is also on the Tilson Thomas record what is probably the best version of Walter Piston's second symphony, a fine work by an unjustly neglected composer. Of course, there are plenty of those. Audiences need to made familiar with works like Piston's symphonies, and those of Roy Harris and Edmund Rubbra, as well as knottier works like those of Ives and Ruggles. As it is, when they hear the premiere of a contemporary work, it's like trying to read an academic imitation of Finnegans Wake without ever having read Ulysses, or Faulkner or Woolf or Eliot.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you, I think. The best modern work appeals to the mind and soul, as does any other work: Ives' Concord Sonata, Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," you name it. How and why modernism became surrounded with the aura that has scared off so many listeners, I don't know, but the result is a shame, with benefit to none except bullshitters and intellectual bullies.
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