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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Re: Conversations with Sessions

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 6 Mar 2000 18:31:27 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (85 lines)

Although Stirling's Sessions posts were in large part responding to my
book review, I want to say at the outset that I find them penetrating,
even brilliant, even though I don't agree with him on every point.

>But you are both Thanh-Tam so I'm waiting for a counter example.  Actually
>my argument runs in the other direction - that there are fair number of
>people who are supporters of the avant-garde who do not rate Sessions' very
>highly, because for all of the dissonance in much of his music, he makes
>himaslef a direct juxtaposition to Beethoven adn Brahms.  And ends up on
>the short end of that comparison.

I was under the impression that Sessions was a darling of the "hard
music" crowd.  I've not seen an avant-gardiste (except possibly from
the minimalist end of things) knock Sessions.  Of course, I'm defining
avant-garde as current journalism defines it.  There are many strains
of music out there that could reasonably be defined as in the forefront.
However, the remark about Beethoven and Brahms I find dead on, as I do
the following:

>As I pointed out, Sessions' mature output has more to do with Diamond and
>Hanson and Shuman than it does with Scheonberg.  Compare the differences
>between Kirchner - an American Schoenbergian - to Sessions and one sees the
>heart of the matter - Sessions' was clearly affected by the need to produce
>an American concert music with the same monumental heft that was found in
>the European one.

Reading the letters, you find it's one of his obsessions, and he had it all
his composing life.  I think that "heft" is what attracted him to Bloch in
the first place and led him to undervalue the neoclassical Stravinsky and,
hence, the Boulanger students.  The influence of Bloch on Sessions I don't
believe has ever been discussed, mainly because Bloch's music is so
low-profile these days.

>He makes - in this book and elswhere - various claims for his music.  He
>wants it to be judged against the older standard of music, and the failure
>toattain any sort of foothold by that standard is a sign that the music has
>fialed by the composers' own standard.  This does not mean that it does not
>have supporters - it does - nor does it mean that his supporters don't have
>a right to perform and listen and study his music - they do - but that the
>various claims of him being "important" are overblown.

Yes, but "importance" is over-rated.  Besides, it's early days yet, as far
as a performing tradition goes.  So few of the recordings of Sessions's
music are very good.

>The charge that he a boogey man is exagerated - One can talk to a large
>number of music afficinadoes and find only a few who know his music one
>or another, or even have heard of him.

I think that's a fair criticism of what I wrote.  However, I had in mind
those who do listen to 20th-century classic modern music, but avoid the
12-toners.  However, the main point of that passage was that style is not
music.

>But in order to be "a masterpiece" a work needs to do more than appeal to
>someone.  We are trained in this time and place to take "gushing" as the
>most sincere endorsement for a work or experience.  Marketers work hard
>to present exampls of people gushing over a restaurant, or movie, or book.
>They hope that enough people gush, then others will think that there must
>be something genuine going on.  But in reality gushing is the easiest thing
>to fake in the world, it has no content.  I could take your post, replace
>Sessions and references to his works with "REO Speedwagon" and a list of
>their albums, replacing the techniques listed with "heavy metal" and "AOR"
>and there would be no difference in the form.

There's a great difference between having no propositional content and
insincerity.  Thanh-Tam is not arguing at all, just stating an opinion,
at this stage unsupported.  I don't think he realized it's a quiz or that
someone would suspect him in the pay of evil marketeers.

I have no idea what a masterpiece or greatness is, as I've often stated,
so I'll stay out of this part of the discussion.

>This is my charge that I level at the Session's suporters - that their
>prose is purple, and without substance, that repeatedly we hear high
>and low about how greathe is, and then are left waiting for the details.
>I've read that "the second symphony's riches are piled recklessly high"
>- but the materials themselves are not particularly intersting in their
>implications.  Is there a new chord progression here? A ndew use of
>modality? A new twist on an older idea?

Does there have to be? Can't he simply use existing ideas very well? I have
no specific examples to offer.

Steve Schwartz

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