Simply chic symphonies?

The Overgrown Path leads to the symphonies of Leonard Bernstein. There have been very perceptive posts from Hucbald (check his excellent blog A monk's musical musings) and Fairhaven Friend (who contributed my guest blog A year at the symphony) on my recent Mass post. These prompted me to listen last night to Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony (No 3) in his own performance with the New York Philharmonic and soprano Jennie Tourel.

It strikes me that Bernstein’s symphonies contain the same blazing creativity that crackles through Mass, without the excesses and indulgences that flaw it. Why aren’t these works better known? Or am I wrong? Are these simply chic symphonies?

Whatever we think of his Mass and symphonies, there is no doubt that Bernstein was a larger than life figure. When I was at EMI/Angel in the ‘70s he was one of our artists. He was contracted with us to record with the French National Orchestra. I clearly recall a Milhaud album with La création du monde and the wonderful jazz inspired Le boeuf sur la toit, and was there also a Berlioz Harold in Italy?

Lenny (right) came to London's Royal Festival Hall on tour with the Vienna Philharmonic. At the time he was having a mutual, and passionate , affair with the orchestra. He conducted a typically over-the-top Eroica which included all sorts of gymnastics on the podium. Immediately after the applause died down my wife and I ducked round backstage to congratulate him on cloning Martha Graham with Beethoven. In the Green Room the maestro was stark naked apart from a skimpy shot-silk bath robe. As we both went to congratulate him he started to play with the chord fastening the robe. I’m still trying to work out who that performance was for.

* My photo actually shows Bernstein with sister Shirley in the Green Room at Carnegie Hall after a performance with the Israel Philarmonic, March 1951. The image credit is an interesting article Leonard Bernstein Talks About the Theremin, the Ondes Martenot and the Tape Recorder, which also allows me to add another Overgrown Path my own theremin article
Neil Armstrong finally reveals his moon music.

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* This article was originally published on August 2, 2005, and is reblogged here as part of On An Overgrown Path's second anniversary celebrations of Music beyond borders. Follow this link to read the comments posted to the original article.


Berend de Boer said…
The monk is brilliant. Take this: That's why it is a fact - and not my opinion - that wrongly so-called "atonal music" is noise and is not music at all: Music is the art of tone setting to display philosophical aspects of the implications of the overtone series!
Henry Holland said…
The Monk is "brilliant"? How about:

The Monk is woefully small-minded and just flat out wrong about certain things and a bumpkin from Texas who plays acoustic guitar shouldn't lecture people about what music is and isn't.

The Spectralists (Murail, Grisey, Saariaho, Harvey) prove that there's more to music than the overtone series even as they work from it. I'm listening to Saariaho's brilliant L'amour de Loin in my car at the moment and it's packed with non-overtone series sounds, via IRCAM. But according to this maroon, it probably wouldn't be considered music.

Everybody from every culture will recognize the music of another culture as music, even if they are not steeped in its traditions (This is a fact, by the way, and is not a matter open to debate)

Oh, that's a FACT, is it? The early tape experiments of Stockhausen are music, would a goat herder in Mongolia recognize it as such? Highly, highly unlikely.

music has at its heart a God-given key to the understanding of it

Woo ee! Thump that Bible Jethro! It's more to do with tunings that are major compromises reached centuries ago than any doings of the Imaginary Cloud Being. I think the people at IRCAM would have some strong words for him to the contrary.

That's why it is a fact - and not my opinion - that wrongly so-called "atonal music" is noise and is not music at all: Music is the art of tone setting to display philosophical aspects of the implications of the overtone series!

Well, considering that Berg or Schoenberg or Webern or Boulez or Stockhausen or Reimann or Birtwistle or Ferneyhough or [insert favorite "noise" merchant here] have more musical talent and knowledge in the fingernail of the pinky on their right hand than this guy, what. ever. dude. We get it, you like pleasing, tonal music --I do too, I'm listening to a homemade collection of late 60's Motown songs as I type this-- but unlike this guy's woefully shriveled musical universe, there's a lot of people who would dispute his "fact". I think Bartok and his love of minor seconds would laugh in his face, for instance.

And what on earth does that last bit mean? What does philosophy, even if he just means theory, have to do with it? Music is a multiude of things, everything from gamelan to Ligeti's 100 metronomes to Stockhausen's tape pieces to a lovely Bach Organ Prelude & Fugue to the ugliest plink plonk music written using total serialism concepts.

Bloody Texans........
Pliable said…
Henry, I'm trying to work out how you can be listening to Saariaho's brilliant L'amour de Loin in your car and writing an email at the same time.

Do you have your own chauffeur perhaps?

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