Friday, July 06, 2012

Something abides; but not a frowning score

...western musical works, whether symphony or opera, have beginnings and middles, and they leave you in no doubt about when the end has come: a crashing finale.

indian music starts as if from nowhere (as the casual tuning of a sitar), rises to unpredictable heights (of anguish, joy, or meditation), descends again, and trickles off to nowhere. (you know it all has ended when the last note is sounded and nothing, nothing follows.)

it has solved no problems: it has given no lasting insights. it is not likely, even, ever to be played again.

the instruments will be played again; the musicians, too, may play again (molecules in both of them having changed): something abides; but not a frowning score.
That extract from a 1970 journal entry by the American poet Robert Lax (1915-2000) resonates with several Overgrown Paths. Lax, a friend of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, lived as a semi-hermit on the Greek island of Patmos for many years, and in a recent post I wrote about the new hermits who distance themselves from the excesses of twenty-first century marketing. Lax laments the frowning score, however his words also resonate with the impermanence of the creative act itself - "molecules in both of them having changed".

Those resonances also reach the vital but neglected link between music and the visual arts. The accompanying photos were taken on Wednesday in Norwich's Victorian skating rink, now the Country & Eastern emporium showcasing oriental artefacts, which was the venue for three free performances by Britten Sinfonia musicians and tabla player Kuljit Bhamra. Yes, the music was notated, but the Britten Sinfonia are one of those rare ensembles that can make any score smile. Which explains why their three recitals of music that was neither easy nor difficult and which did not end with a crashing finale, were packed. Elliott Carter once told composer and technology maven Jeff Harrington that if he wrote music that expresses joy he would never have a career in music. Today existential angst rules in the form of wall-to-wall Mahler. Is the frowning score one of the silly conventions Western classical music must drop before it can engage with new audiences? More on the abiding appeal of Indian music in a post titled, appropriately, 'The only limits are those set by the musicians'


Header quote is from Peter France's book Hermits. The Britten Sinfonia's Country & Eastern recitals, which were part funded by Orchestras Live, brought a refreshingly crosscultural theme to the Olympic torch relay when it visited Norwich. Photos are (c) On An Overgrown Path 2012. Any other 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 Also on Facebook and Twitter.

2 comments:

ghooper said...

Does the score necessarily frown? It seems a shame to recruit Elliott Carter into the argument with that one reported comment. After all, even Roger Scruton admitted that Carter's Concerto for Orchestra "succeeds in turning an uncompromising modernism to the service of joy". I for one don't hear much angst in his music and certainly not in that of his late, late period.

Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

What a terrific post, especially, " if he wrote music that expresses joy he would never have a career in music. Today existential angst rules". I've always steered clear of angsty music in favor of uplifting music, as angst and other negative emotions are all to easy to experience on their own (at least for me).

Implicit the beginning, middle, end structure of so much Western music is the notion of catharsis. While aprreciating what that's all about, have never been convinced it's the only way to go. I've always avoided horror movies for the same reasons.