Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Last Word On This Subject This Week

Stëve Sïmels, blog malignancy  18 hours ago
I've gone to Youtube and listened to some of David Diamond's work, Symphonies #5 and 6 and have to say he was a pretty good composer, much better than Blitzstein was....I can understand why the fine conductor Gerard Schwartz championed his music, something that Diamond lived long enough to see happen. Not every composer gets to experience that.

So -- all of a sudden the value of music depends on how popular it is?

Wow, Sparkles. You're an even bigger Philistine than I ever imagined.

A. I doubt that the championing of David Diamond's music by Gerard Schwartz from his base at the Seattle Symphony exactly counts as popularity.   Schwartz is a fine conductor as he was probably the finest trumpet player of his generation but I haven't noticed that his advocacy for Diamond's music has lit the fuse on a skyrocket to the status of popularity.   How many times have they programmed him at the NY Philharmonic there in your overrated city, for example?   It's kind of hard to dig out that information but the most recent performance I can find is 1992, so about a quarter of a century ago when they did the 11th Symphony under Kurt Masur. 

B. I never said anything like that, which is just another of the things that Simps has invented for me to say but which I've never said in my life.    I believe I had to point out to Simps in another musical brawl in which he used popularity as a measure of value that if that were the case then the music of Jackie Gleason would have to be held above that of many of the heroes of his crappy pop music genera and probably every classical performer of the 20th century and beyond.  Again, from Simple Simels' idea of an authoritative source because it's not important enough of a point for me to want to bother with real research:

Gleason's first album, Music for Lovers Only, still holds the record for the longest stay on the Billboard Top Ten Charts (153 weeks), and his first 10 albums sold over a million copies each. At one point, Gleason held the record for charting the most number-one albums on the Billboard 200 without charting any hits on the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

You know, Simps, that since you can't come up with something I really said to attack me with, it does nothing to make me suspect I'm wrong.   One of your problems is that you can't see anything of even the slightest complexity, only being able to see the most simplified of distinctions.   Lots of us don't inhabit that toddler's view of reality.  In your senectitude you'll never see it,  you should just stop trying to interact with adults.  Stay at Duncan's, in other words.


Thinking about the point I made about composers' going into eclipse, I think Diamond and those who made the claim that he was oppressed by the imaginary hegemony of the serialists - which never happened - makes a fundamental and rather stupid mistake. 

Composers don't get to decide which works are performed unless they are performers.  Performers do, conductors do, sometimes artistic managers do.  If a composer isn't performed it's because performing artists and those in direct control of the programming of performing groups and orchestras do not choose to play their music or don't know it exists.   And for the most part they choose tonal music of the past for the largest part of their programming.  There are performing groups and soloists who hardly ever to never go outside the narrowest of confines of tonal music of the past to fill out their careers.   If composers are pissed off that they don't get performances, they should complain about those people, if anything their fellow composers who write unpopular music are an even less powerful than they are to do something about it.

Considering the hostility of the powerful critics of the past to serial music, such as the very fine composer Charles Wuorinen and dozens of others I could name faced, it is an absurd myth that serial composers ever prevented performances of the work of tonalists. 

You can see what happened when such composers as George Rochberg openly broke with serialism - as if it were some kind of ideology in the early 1960s.   Rocheberg used his reconversion, his "return to tonality" as a selling point and he started getting performances of his music.  I never really saw much in his music early or late.  And he was hardly the only composer who used that career promotion gimmick.  I remember one who declared her conversion came while listening to a performance of Schoenberg's Phantasy for violin and piano,  a piece she's never approached in quality in any passage in her best work. 

When Rochberg died a lot was made of his conversion one James Freeman of Swarthmore college is quoted as having said "If George Rochberg can do something like that, there's nothing that I can't do and get away with it. I don't have to write 12-tone music; I can if I want to. I can write stuff that sounds like Brahms. I can do anything I want. I'm free. And that was an extraordinary feeling in the late 1960s for young composers, I think, many of whom felt really constrained to write serial music, "  I'm amazed that any American composer with the example of Charles Ives staring us in the face would have ever not realized that they were free to write anything they wanted to.   But, then, I guess some people are just born to conform to one thing or another.  I never felt the need to.  Probably why I don't teach at a university.  Why anyone would want to try to write Brahms when Brahms already wrote the best Brahms anyone is going to write, beats me, I always tell my students who want to write that they should write what they want to and let other people write their own music.  They might get lucky like Jackie Gleason did with his music, if that's what they really want.


  1. The reference to Jackie Gleason makes me wonder how many people in 50 years will remember the musicians we think uphold the ceiling of heaven today. I remember Jackie Gleason from his TV show. I barely remember he wrote the theme for that show, and only know "The Honeymooners" from re-runs. I'd bet the house my daughter has never even heard of him.

    All fame is indeed fleeting; and a barometer of nothing at all. Were it not for T.S, Eliot (whom most people today have never heard of), only a few obscure scholars would recognize the names "John Donne" or "Julian of Norwich;" not that either can be considered well known now.

    So it goes; but it certainly goes fast, doesn't it?

    1. It's really funny when you run into people who figure if you've never heard of some TV show then you're pig ignorant. I was with a kid in their 20s, they were watching a movie and someone mentioned "who shot JR" they had no idea what the reference was.

      It was kind of gratifying to be able that I was the one who had to make that reference to argue that Simels' citation of the Billboard rankings to prove quality when he said exactly what he attributed to me yesterday. He can't even remember what his arguments are. Another time I was able to point out that the baby-doll singing of "Tonight You Belong To Me" by Patience and Prudence hit charted higher than some rock and roll god he made that claim for. Everything I know about that I learned from listening to Toby Laboutiller on Maine Public Radio, back before they became unlistenable in a putrid all-talk format.

      It is humbling to read of authors and composers and other figures who were superstars but who no one reads or plays or listens to now. Sometimes you go back and read them or listen to them and can't understand how it happened, sometimes you wonder how they could have been renowned. I found that most of the humorous pieces of Mark Twain that I read didn't strike me as funny at all, they were mostly just silly, some of the clearly written just to get paid. And then there's Lenny Bruce.