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CLASSICAL  March 2000

CLASSICAL March 2000

Subject:

Re: Conversations with Sessions

From:

Thanh-Tam Le <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 9 Mar 2000 11:24:08 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (132 lines)

Dear listers, This, and I must say it clearly in advance, will not be
a very informative post...  It is more about approaches to a work than
specifically Sessions.  I wish I had more time for such interesting
problems.

Stirling wrote:

>TTL's post in defense of Sessions - while it is less "polished" than
>the first gets far closer to the heart of musical conversation and
>idea.  There are specifics - moments, ideas and forms - and there is,
>though a bit  scattered through the post - a description of the
>underlying reasons for the work's appeal to one particular listener.

Naturally.  Maybe I should point out something.  My first post (in which
I had apologized for not being more elaborate) was not primarily aimed at
convincing Stirling, nor proving anything.  We can criticize the fact
that many people have prejudice against a technique, or a word (such as
atonal, or dodecaphonic), and I certainly do, but I do not consider it too
uninteresting to be taken into account.  Possibly this mailing-list gathers
only devoted, learned music-lovers with an ability and desire to analyse,
free of any ready-made idea.  Some posts seem to stand against that ideal
conception, though.

That many listeners would reject Sessions (or even Bartok, for that matter)
within a few minutes, saying that it is music for specialists and not for
"honest people", is unquestionable as a fact, which I have encountered all
too often.  Should a performer ignore those listeners and their prejudice?
Of course the point is not to say "this music is good because I, for one,
like it".  Now, many people prefer to have a rough idea of the initial
effort demanded before they decide to investigate a new world, a new
composer.  Either Stirling forgets all of my previous posts when he
reads a new one or he regards all of them as pointless and with no actual
content, but, silly as it seems, some listers consider them serious enough
to believe that even an undetailed statement of mine might be prompted by
some less superficial and primary reasons.  So, just saying "one can have
80% of baroque, classical and romantic music in one's life, and still find
Sessions fully convincing and enjoyable" is useless for Stirling and many
others, but may help to open a few ears.  Only then can we discuss music
itself.

As for scattering arguments, I plead guilty to that.  I would not indulge
in that for my mathematical thesis or a printed book, but since my posts
here are neither courses, nor homework for some teacher or defense speech
for a jury, I find it somewhat illusive to conceal the limited aptness of
words by providing a perfectly consistent and achieved, but necessarily
reducing statement.  Besides, my English is clumsy indeed, but I would not
withdraw a whole sentence from what I wrote.  My words are much weaker than
my violin, this I readily (and gladly) admit it, but this has nothing to do
with taking music too lightly, as mere entertainment.

(However, it is a relief to know that I could make a living selling wu-tang
tickets.  I never thought of it, nor do I know exactly what they are, but
now I know whom to turn to for further advice:-}.)

---

More to the point, most of Stirling's objections are sensible in
themselves, of course, and seriously argumented as usual.  There definitely
are better ways to express a given musical idea, and not many composers are
able to achieve the very best.  Simply pretending that the idea always is
what the composer actually made of it, as too many persons do, is far too
idealistic.  Some parts of Sessions's 2nd symphony I find less persuasive,
hearing the rhetorical methods without grasping the necessity.  But I do
not have this feeling about his 7th.  I cannot endorse the conception
that any work bearing the title "symphony" and meant to be performed by
traditional symphony orchestras is, or should be Beethovenian or Brahmsian.
Beethoven's symphonies were dominant at Brahms's time, and probably
accounted for the delayed release of his own 1st, but do we agree with
those 19th century critics who ruled out Brahms's 2nd for not being
Beethovenian enough? I do understand what Stirling means by a discrepancy
between the expressive goals and the choice of techniques.  At some point,
I did address the same criticism against some of Prokofiev's works, and
also quite a few 12-tone pieces.  Not against Sessions's 7th.  Possibly a
single flute would have been enough somewhere, I only would like to know
exactly where, and see for myself whether the same idea would have be fully
conveyed with more efficiency that way.  Certainly saying that 12-tone is
unnecessary to write a Brahms symphony is not enough for me.

Stirling seems to suggest that what Steve and myself like in Sessions
comes down to a mere bunch of niceties.  Temporality, for one thing, is
not a jolly detail in my view.  Nor is balance between wide intervals and
aural consistency.  Did I not emphasize the fact that the ending of the 7th
symphony did not satisfy me just as one minute of music? Of course I did
not prove that it was a logical ending in Beethovenian terms, and it
happens not to be a Beethoven symphony.

Possibly what I demand from a work is not exactly what Stirling demands,
but I see no reason to admit that I only care for isolated and inessential
things while he would know about what is important.  Actually it is a gross
distorsion, not just of my own musical approach and experience, but of that
of most serious performers.  Obviously architecture, overall conception are
fundamental, and using precisely the necessary matreial to fully bring out
one's musical ideas is a composer's primary task, the most difficult one as
well.  How do you think that we work on a Bartok concerto or a Bach solo
violin sonata? Among the thousand 20th-century symphonies I have heard
(maybe more), even I can see that the vast majority are indeed interesting
for ingenuous details and some brilliantly effective writing, but finally
not of much significance.  Now please tell me what non-musical reason could
have prompted me to consider Sessions's 4th or 7th way beyond those and
I might thoroughly question my own judgement on these works.  That the
justification of the methods he uses lies, ultimately, in his music, is
precisely one of its strongest qualities, while it cannot be demonstrated
(no more than the opposite view can), only hinted at.  I do not mind
Stirling's personally disliking Sessions or finding it dull -- I do object
to his implying that reasons standing behind different views ought to be
More superficial than his.  Once again, none of his arguments is absurd
in itself, but I see no proof (if such proofs are at all possible for any
serious work) that they do apply to Sessions.  This does not prevent me
from thoroughly considering them.

---

As for my disdain for "romantic enthusiasm", there is no such feeling
in my mind.  Romanticism and enthusiasm are noble and rich notions,
although they sometimes have little credit in what some regard as a serious
discussion about (?) music.  What I wrote was that my interest in Sessions
could not be reduced to romantic enthusiasm caused by a mere illusion.  It
is quite possible, for some people, to build up tremendous enthusiasm for
something which will appear as almost dull to them the following day.  I
would not despise them for such behaviour anyway.  To take a more complex
example, M.Chion's interesting point about the love scene in Berlioz's
"Romeo et Juliette" is that it depicts "love for love" -- without the
beloved one.  Well, this is fascinating.  But this is not the kind of
qualities I find in Sessions.  This does not mean that I find no
Romanticism at all in his works.  I hope that you see the difference.

Sorry for the non-topical post, hopefully it makes a few points clearer
for some of us.

Best wishes,

Thanh-Tam Le

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