Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Who am I?

While researching another post I came across, completely by chance, a perceptive appreciation of Leonard Bernstein's Mass.

The following was written by a well-known musical figure. But who was it? Answers please to be added as using the comments feature at the foot of the post. I'm interested to see if anyone can correctly identify the author as the tone of the piece is quite surprising once you know who wrote it. On Friday I'll add the next section that the mystery author wrote, which should make the answer clearer.

"Kennedy Centre opened on September 8th 1971. The opening of the Opera House preceeded that of the Concert Hall by one day with Leonard Bernstein's Mass, written for the occassion. The work made a deep impact upon the emotionally pre-charged audience, not least because of the re-emergenceof the Kennedy name and the Kennedy tragedy. This worked-up state of mind of the public was, perhaps, detrimental to a true appreciation of the work, and the fixed date of the production was perhaps detrimental to the work itself, for in my opinion it is quite outstanding and would have merited a premiere unconnected with any occassion whatever.

It represents a dramatic study of the drama of worship and thus also an exploration into the nature of the religous Mass as we know it.

For this reason , I think, the name of the piece is a misnomer. If the word "Mass" was placed within quotation marks, then the title would be correct and significant. But how many ordinary memebers of the public could be expected to read as carefully and thoughtfully as that? The best would have been to use in a sub-title the words that most correctly describe the nature of the piece and to call it:

"Mass" (A Mystery Play)

The work depicts, movingly, the evolution from the improvised laudatio to the ceremony and its subsequent decadence, ending in the hope of a revival, the return of spontaneous, wide-eyed, grateful rejoicing in life's blessings - the true origin and true primary content of all worship.

Be that as it may, the Kennedy Centre Opera House succeeded in presenting at its opening a truly original work - not only an original specimen but, as I see it, a species quite new in our age and times. For mystery plays have been missing from our stages for centuries."

A well known musical figure wrote this - who am I?

No prizes for the right answer. But no black marks for the wrong one either. Use the comments feature below, if you don't want to identify yourself you can post your answer anonymously.

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21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Peter G Davis music critic for New York magazine to me.

He was one of the few critics I can recall writing favourably about Mass at its premiere, see this link for the text, although I cannot trace him writing the words you quote.

anonymous too said...

I don't know who it is, but here is another favorable appreciation of Bernstein's Mass, by someone very familiar with his conducting, composing, and recording career.

"Although Bernstein would produce several more works, the apex of his activities as a composer was Mass (on Sony SM2K 63089), which he subtitled, perhaps for lack of a better description, "a Theater Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers." Aaron Copland once dismissed Bernstein's music as "conductor's music – eclectic in style and facile in inspiration." Bernstein turned that criticism into the unifying strength of Mass.

In Mass, Bernstein attempted to universalize the Catholic ritual in order to further explore the spiritual crisis of our time with which he remained obsessed. All the sections of the traditional ritual are there, but interspersed with decidedly nontraditional observations and challenges. While arguing with God is an accepted part of Jewish theology (which Bernstein had exploited in his "Kaddish" Symphony), many Catholics were shocked at applying such rhetoric to the immutable truth and order of their mass. Indeed, when a Cincinnati production was announced the next year, the local Archbishop condemned the work as blasphemous and forbade Catholics to attend."

Peter Gutmann
http://www.classicalnotes.net/features/bernstein.html

Cincinnati, Catholicism, Bernstein, blasphemy, Mapplethorpe ... Do I see a pattern?

Pliable said...

Peter G Davis was an intelligent stab at the answer, but unfortunately a wrong one.

Somewhat surprisingly the author is not a critic or journalist.

Anonymous said...

Alan Hovhaness?

Pliable said...

Alan Hovhaness - now that's much warmer (the Mount St Helen effect?) but still wrong.

But this is working! That answer sent me scurrying to the 'rarely played' CD section in my library. I've dug out both his Symphony No 2 Mysterious Mountain and Symphony no 22 City of Light. Wonderful works, if not great masterpieces.

Thanks for sending me down that particular overgrown path, my evening's listening is mapped out...

Next answer?

Pliable said...

Interesting how overgrown paths cross. Reading the sleeve note of Hovhaness' Symphony No 22 I see that one of his champions was Howard Hanson

What a fascinating personality Hovhaness was. A Fulbright to India to stidy Karnatic music in Madras, and a Rockefeller to Japan to study Gagaku. Together with Lou Harrison the man is as fascinating as his music.

But I digress. Who am I?

Anonymous said...

well...if its not a critic or a journalist (historian Wilfred Mellors said a thing or two about mysteries) and probably not the then-pope-to-be (Karol Józef Wojtyła) then maybe it was a composer (or his ghostwriter). How about Stravinsky (or Robert Craft) or Britten (or Peter Pears)? Or Roger Sessions or Aaron Copland?

How's this for eight-in-one guesses?

Pliable said...

Bernstein adored Britten's Peter Grimes and was planning to record it for DGG in 1993, but alas mortality intervened.

The admiration didn't seem to be reciprocated. Britten was as introverted as Lennie was extroverted, and Bernstein never got the magic invite to Aldburgh which signalled acceptance to the Britten (and Pears) inner sanctum. So those two are wrong.

Now Stravinsky and Craft (or a combination of the two as I'm never sure who composed or conducted what exactly). That is a fascinating thought. Igor was mixed up enough to have written those words, but he didn't.

Copland was a Lennie groupie wasn't he? Could have written it but didn't. I think Roger Sessions was simply too eclectic to have been quite so fulsome, so that's a negative as well.

I get the feeling this one may go the full distance until Friday - unless there are any more mass (pun intended)answers like this one, which are likely to hit the right name by a process of elimination.

Back to the Hovhaness which is on pause...

Anonymous said...

For your readers information, not only Cincinnati, but many cities in both America and Europe considered banning performances of Bernstein's Mass in the 1970s.

Pliable said...

The previous post is yet another of those fascinating examples of synchronicity on this blog. Last night I was researching Bernstein's political links with a view to a future post (But I don't want to be perceived as the Bernstein blog). The FBI files on Bernstein that were made available in 1994 under the Freedom of Information Act are a fascinating study in creativity and (misdirected) politics colliding. When I get time....

But the mystery text was not written by J. Edgar Hoover, so keep trying.

And now back to tomorrow morning's Proms preview post.

Kathy said...

How about Daniel Barenboim? Mostely, I guess him because I like writing (and saying) his name.

Anonymous said...

I veeeeery vaguely recall that Andrew Porter gave an
enthusiastic review to Mass, so that is my choice.
It is somewhat his tone of voice.

Pliable said...

No right answers to date. But one of the responses above from a blogger who use to be a Program Manager at Microsoft (that's to get you exploring the blogosphere) is getting even warmer.

24 hours until part two of the quote is posted. Will the combined brains of the music blogging community crack it before then?

Linux said...

I can imagine John Elliot Gardiner because of the spiritual tone of the comment -- or perhaps Michael Tilson Thomas, who like Marin Alsop, was a disciple of Bernstein's in his youth and nominally a co-religionist. Thomas was, as well, as a co-celebrant of youth culture and "freedom" in the 60s.

Pliable said...

Not John Eliot Gardiner. I'm with you about the spiritual tone. But I think JEG is a bit too 'establishment' (one of the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage patrons is Prince Charles, and when he's not conducting he is a farmer) to be that effusive about about the work of a Black Panther supporter.

There is a lovely picture of Bernstein with Michael Tilson Thomas taken just a few years after the premiere of Mass which you can view through this link.

As you say Tilson Thomas ticks all the right boxes. The fascinating thing with life though is the obvious isn't always the answer. So MTT is out of the race as well I'm afraid.

Fairhaven Friend said...

Just a total guess: Yehudi Menuhin. Now I can say I participated!

Pliable said...

Menuhin and Bernstein did share a platform at the so-called Concert of the Century at Carngie Hall in 1976. As far as I can ascertain neither Ravi Shankar nor Bob Geldof were on the same bill.

As I am sure you know it is the taking part that is important Fairhaven Friend. But sorry, no, it wasn't Yehudi.

I'm getting quite excited about this as it looks as though it is going to the 'tie breaker' tomorrow. (I'm glad about that as I've already typed it up).

If I post it at my normal 09.00h BST that will give an unfair advantage to my European readers as the US contingent will be tucked up in bed. So part two will be posted at 14.00h (2.00pm)BST tomorrow. If you're mad keen to be the first to get the answer convert 14.00h BST to your local time zone via this this link

That is unless anyone guesses Who am I? before then.

linux said...

definitely one of either Sir Colin Davis, Geraint Evans, or John Mauceri.
definitely not Kent Nagano.

Pliable said...

Actually I would have said the opposite.

Definitely not one of either Sir Colin Davis, Geraint Evans, or John Mauceri.

But Kent Nagano has just recorded Mass for Naxos. That kind of quote is a perect way to sell CD's. But as on an overgrown path doesn't get involved in gratuitous hype I'm afraid that one is wrong as well.

Pliable said...

You can now read the second part of this text, which hopefully should reveal the identity of the mystery author, by following this link.

Anonymous said...

Leos Janacek!!!!!!