Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The purpose of puffery and closed-mindedness
Two contrasting responses from America to my post Third rate music on Naxos' American classics?
Flinging merde - 'Granted some of the stuff that Naxos has packaged in that series has been less than distinguished but operating in a cultural establishment where critics treat every cow patty ever dropped by the likes of Alwyn (above) and Bax and Finzi and Michael Tippitt (sic) as if it were fois gras, Clements is hardly in a position to fling merde' - from Sequenza21, and I'm sure Norman Lebrecht would approve of that misspelling of Tippett.
The true beauty of the effort - 'Personally speaking I expect listener reaction to concert music is heavily dependent on emotional mood and cultural/historical context . The concept of "ratings" and "tiers" for composers is pretty much an over-rated specialization of critics, which serves the purpose of puffery and closed-mindedness.
My father is the American composer George Frederick McKay (photo below), who liked to say that "if the criticism of a composer's music gets to be really sharp, then he knows he is writing some good pieces." He also once got a big laugh from hearing concert goers in seats in front of him commenting in reverent tones that he was dead.
His music is really like a big layer-cake; in other words, in his young life, he composed jazz-infuenced pieces and romantic songs. Later, his music became more socially aware and radical-- "ultra-modern" toward the end of the 1930's at a time when he mentored John Cage in Seattle both encouraging the younger composer musically and inviting him to the family home for dinner and philosophical discussion.
Following this, my father launched into a loving involvement with American folk-music, and completely cast aside the "opus' system, which he considered a rather crazy European artifact. As to making critics of his music "cringe," he probably would have enjoyed this, since he had a mischievous and rugged nature derived from his upbringing in the West. His music is far from simple, and in many cases has deep religious and philosophical meaning. Much is yet to be revealed, since he composed nearly 1000 various works.
It is doubtful that any of us will ever get to hear high-level performances of all his works, since most conductors are still under the threat of being pummeled by Symphony Society grannies if they get too far afield from the standard concert fare. We have a commercial radio station in Seattle that broadcasts a full month of Mozart works, with one Mozart piece every hour, which gives me the urge to say "give me a break, guys!" Also noted is the absolute repetition of Vivaldi's Four Seasons by glamour-puss groups of all stripes.
So with this rather subjective outburst, I have implicated myself forever as an indivdually thinking patriotic, and maybe not so clever commentor. I should add that, although I loved Mozart's music in context to the movie "Amadeus," he never will or would have the chance to equal the magic of George Frederick McKay's interpretation of Native American themes that most likely stretch back 10,000 years in human history.
This is the true beauty of the effort John McLaughlin Williams has made to create wonderful recordings of the legendary music of America, that many have forgotten. My father's initiative in his mature years was to merge his music with the natural music of his homeland and speak of international peace' - comment from Fred McKay on my Naxos American Classics post.
Any American readers who still think Michael Tippett is an English pastoralist should listen to my Future Radio programme on March 2 when I will be playing Tippett conducting his own Second Symphony; while this Tippett post with its world view brings this path full circle.
Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk