Jon Gallant replies to my point:
>...surely, what Robert Peters means is precisely that music which is
>"unrestrained, excessive, flashy" reveals the vanity of its creator in
>his lack of self-critical discipline. "Unrestrained, excessive, flashy"
>is not the sort of criticism that is likely to be levelled against the
>music of, for example, Sibelius.
Well, who knows: how about someone inclined to the near-austere aesthetic
of Takemitsu or John Cage, or maybe Satie? However this swings, their
remark, like yours, is about the music, and one extends that to the
composer's personality at some peril, as it means extrapolating from
musical traits (seeming excess, lack of restraint, etc.) descriptions
of a person (as conceited, indolent, etc).
>Conversely, although one cannot tell from his music that Stravinsky was
>miserly with money, one can certainly discover disciplined economy of
>means. I am not surprised to learn that he was as economical with money
>as he was with notes.
But what then do we make of the lush Sacre du printemps, or the earlier
works? Was he maybe less miserly then, more carefree about money? Maybe
he changed? Interesting conjecture, but again it requires looking into
the biography, beyond the music, to find out.
So: how far can we go to say that the work reflects the artist's
personality? In pure music, it would seem, hardly at all. Otherwise,
among other things, we could be sure of a certain rigour or orderliness
about the lives of Bach and his late-Baroque peers, and something wilder
and more chaotic about the lives of Cage and Crumb, or Kelemen and Marco.
On the contrary, all kinds of people seem to have inhabited all ages,
and most have dragged around their bundles of contradiction.
And yet maybe this dismisses too much; it seems silly not to concede
at least part of Jon's point. For instance, the sardonic edge to
Shostakovich's music probably reflects something that's true about the
man: I for one would be very surprised if the biographies say he was
inclined to Jerry Lewis-type pratfalls in his day-to-day life. Similarly,
it'd be odd indeed, to put it mildly, to learn that Bernard Stevens or
Schnittke were a bag of laughs of a Saturday night, that Takemitsu was
as shallow as they come, or that Rodrigo had no inkling about simple
My feeling is that pure music is able to reveal only the broadest traits
about its makers. Without having read their biographers, I'd guess that
they'd probably attest to the tongue in DSCH's musical cheek, to Stevens'
seriousness and Schnittke's near-glumness (well, in one part of him),
Rodrigo's sunny disposition, etc. That said, one can go too far in
applying these traits to these composers, and things can get really wooly
when imputing human foibles to the makers of music that doesn't appeal.