Friday, October 05, 2007

The difficulty communicated in modern music


Read about the food, the champagne, the Dorchester, and the Gramophone Awards here. Then read this:

Theodor Wiesengrund Adorno (1903-1969)...believed in music's progress. In his view, composers, as members of society, could not avoid dealing in their music with society's tensions, and inevitably, in increasingly complex and divided societies, increasingly complex music would arise. Neoclassicism and restored Romanticism, in looking back to previous states of music and therefore of society, were efforts to disguise current tensions, and therefore betokened a failing of moral will.

Serialism represented music at its most advanced, and alone offered possibilities for authentic expression. The fact that this langauge had gained little support from performing institutions, radio and recording authorities or the public was not condemnation but a proof of its validity, for the commercial business of music was utterly unconcerned with composition and had seriously injured the public's capacity for musical experience.

A Beethoven symphony thus heard was loaded with the mollifying messages of those in control of society, insinuating that culture was available to all with no effort, that the great works all came from long in the past and had been duly sorted out, that music could be a home comfort. The difficulty communicated in true great modern music was its pride, in making it resistant to such appropriation.


From A Concise History of Western Music by Paul Griffiths (Cambridge University Press ISBN 0521842948).

Photo of Catherine Sternis (harpsichord), Jean-Pierre Phelippeau (violin) and Walter Grimmer (cello) taken by me in Chapelle St Alexis, Malaucène, France. Their recital included true great modern music by Isang Yun. The stunning murals are the work of the contemporary artist Michael Bastow. I will write the full story of this remarkable venue soon.

Now read more about industry awards here.
Photo (c) On An Overgrown Path 2007. Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

8 comments:

Jessica said...

Assuming you're making the point that contemporary music was sorely thin on the ground at the awards - rather than that the whole industry was being insufferably shallow in quaffing champers at lunchtime - you're quite right. An award was presented to Julian Anderson, but contemporary music occupied just one category of some 15, while early music was allocated at least three spots (it felt like more). I agree completely that the most creative and dynamic contemporary composers and those who perform their music should have a much greater presence at such events.

Pliable said...

Actually Jessica I was making both points.

That contemporary music was sorely thin on the ground at the awards.

And that the whole industry was being insufferably shallow in quaffing champers at lunchtime.

violainvilnius said...

We need to remember that it is a classic fm award. Classic FM is not known for its deep intellectuality, but on the other hand it contributes to people going to concerts, buying classical CDs (even if those may be compilations), and thus keeping all those folks in jobs who have done nothing else all life but play music.

At a celebration champagne is not totally inappropriate, even at lunchtime. But if you consider this shallow, what do you suggest they should have drunk. Herbal tea?

As for Adorno - you are making me open Adorno's book 'Dissonanzen' (in German) which has been sitting on my bookshelf for a while.

I suspect music reflects society, and different societies, very greatly; partly of course it reflects the power structures (where composers need to eat, hence all the neo-classicism etc). On the other hand composers can work against established power structures, such as the music in Germany and Austria between the second World War. There music was also an expression of intellectuality and freedom to compose, whereas if you look at British music of the same period it's all pastoral cowpats and pomp and circumstance. Similarly in the post war period contemporary music in continental Europe, ie Germany, was all outrage and rebellion (at some annual event in Darmstadt in the 50s involved Stockhausen and a very rebellious young Boulez where the music was very much anti-establishment). Probably this also has something to do with different funding mechanism for composers, even during that period.

Pliable said...

VV - At a celebration champagne is not totally inappropriate, even at lunchtime.

Celebration of what?

Let's take Rattle's Ein Deutsches Requiem.

It got universally lukewarm reviews, e.g. It's a perfectly decent performance, though by no means the equal of the classic recordings by Rudolf Kempe and Otto Klemperer, both also from EMI.

It won a Gramophone Award. Why?

Herbal tea is a waste. I suggest tap (fawcet) water.

JW said...

"On the other hand composers can work against established power structures, such as the music in Germany and Austria between the second World War. There music was also an expression of intellectuality and freedom to compose, whereas if you look at British music of the same period it's all pastoral cowpats and pomp and circumstance."

English music of the same period it's all pastoral cowpats and pomp and circumstance. Hmmm... Really?

Pliable said...

Quite so John.

Anyone who thinks music such as Elisabeth Lutyen's 1939 Three Pieces for Orchestra Op 7 (which was premiered on the first night of the Blitz) or Elizabeth Maconchy's first three quartets, composed between 1932 and 1938, are 'all pastoral cowpats and pomp and circumstance' has clearly been listening to too much Classic FM, or reading the wrong blogs.

Pliable said...

Isang Yun's Chamber Symphony No 1 and other works are available on Naxos -

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Isang-Yun-Chamber-Symphony-Gong-Hu/dp/B000E0VNYI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1258312714&sr=8-1

Deborah Marshall said...

Yes! I've heard of Isang Yun! In fact, I had the great pleasure of meeting and working with him numerous times in Germany. He gave me endless encouragement and inspiration in the performance of his work for clarinet solo, Piri. He wrote many pieces for my teacher and mentor, Eduard Brunner, who is fortunately still with us.