LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 16.0

Help for CLASSICAL Archives


CLASSICAL Archives

CLASSICAL Archives


CLASSICAL@COMMUNITY.LSOFT.COM


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

CLASSICAL Home

CLASSICAL Home

CLASSICAL  July 2006

CLASSICAL July 2006

Subject:

Simon Says

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 3 Jul 2006 05:59:29 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (95 lines)

        John Simon on Music:
        Criticism, 1979-2005

John Simon. Introduction by Ned Rorem.
New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books. 2005. 504 pp.
ISBN 1557835063

Summary for the Busy Executive: Stunningly mislabeled.

John Simon for years has made a living infuriating people with gratuitous
insults of many of his betters.  His "No Fat Chicks" campaign (indulged
in the present volume, by the way, as he discusses certain plus-size
divas) usually has shown him simply as a mean spirit with little
imagination.  In short, he has often hurt himself as well as his targets.
Mostly, he confines such poor - and attention-getting - behavior to his
"popular" criticism.  His more highbrow work for journals like the Hudson
Review and New Leader takes on a much more earnest tone.  Unfortunately,
often in these venues he says very little not boringly obvious.  Does
anyone, for example, really need Simon to point out Ingmar Bergman as a
great director?  Furthermore, Simon, fluent in several languages, writes
in what Gore Vidal has sneered at as his "proud, Serbian style." I'm
sure Simon thinks of his prose as lapidary.  I, on the other hand, think
of it as klunky, stiff, constipated, a style easily parodied by someone
with a knowledge of English grammar and a thesaurus.

Despite these blots, Simon is indeed a critic, as opposed to a reviewer,
one of the few with a non-academic audience, although academics might
read him as well.  The difference, quickly speaking, is that between a
kind of Consumer Reports write-up - Should you spend your money on this?
- and an analysis of why and how art, usually great art, works or fails
to work on you.  Of course, there's some overlap of the two.  But Simon
aims mainly at the latter, from which you can infer the former.

I have always found Simon at his best when he loves what he writes about.
His rave review of And Now for Something Completely Different turned me
on to Monty Python, for which he has my gratitude.  Soured by his pans,
I felt I just had to see something he liked.  Fortunately, John Simon
loves classical music.  That is both the great strength and weakness of
the book.  Simon is a music-lover, rather than a musician.  He doesn't
even read music and apparently has no desire to learn how.  On the one
hand, he often comes up with an insight that wouldn't occur to most
musicians.  On the other, it limits him.  Most of this book is about
non-musical aspects of musical works, so that part's not really "on
music" at all.  Simon has a wide knowledge of literature in several
languages, and he can relate musical artifacts to the general culture
of the time, as one can see in his discussions of Pelleas et Melisande,
for example.  Further, if he tells you what Janacek's letters say, you
can be pretty sure he himself has translated the original, rather than
relied on a mediator.  Nevertheless, because of his limited ability to
think in purely musical terms, he concentrates on music with texts: songs
and operas.  Even here, he confines his opera discussions largely to
plot recitals.  Unfortunately, very few operas have held the stage because
of their plots, so Simon pretty much fails to account for their power.
Acquiring the technical knowledge, not necessarily to spit it back at
the lay reader, might nevertheless give Simon other strategies for talking
about a musical work.

Furthermore, the book could have stood severe editing.  Simon claims
that he wanted to preserve his reviews whole, as originally written.
Having used that excuse myself, I suspect he's merely lazy.  Meanwhile,
he has written about some works more than twice.  About the third time
you read the plot of Kat'a Kabanova, you tend to sigh deeply and fall
into a light slumber.  It's not that Simon doesn't say new things, but
there aren't that many of them.  He would have improved the book immensely
if he had rolled several essays on the same subject into one.

However, the book has its virtues.  Chief among them is Simon's ardent
love of a wide range of classical music.  I usually don't learn as much
from a negative criticism as from a positive one. A negative critic often
misses the point, since he doesn't understand why anybody other than
a boor would like what he himself despises.  It's all very well, for
example, to think La Boheme a piece of garbage, but does the judgment
really offer much understanding or insight into the work itself?  In
music, as opposed to drama and film, Simon likes the Certifiably Great
as well as the Iffy.  His essays on writers like Bantock, Lennox Berkeley,
Berners, and Alexander Tcherepnin are some of the most enjoyable in the
book.  I also like, and fully endorse, his plea for major-minor and
minor-major composers.  I pity listeners who consider anyone but Bach
(or Beethoven or Mahler or Brahms or Mozart) unworthy of their time.
They miss out on too much.  Besides, avoiding Schumann because he isn't
as Great as Brahms strikes me as bizarre.  Simon isn't afraid to jump
into the deep end to retrieve some cheap bauble, which means the bauble
moves him and that music isn't another badge of Pharisaical
self-congratulation.

One minor annoyance: Simon routinely takes others to task for typos,
misspellings, and small grammatical slips, even in languages other than
their own.  Yet his book is not entirely free of these.  Oscar Wilde's
name, for example, is hyphenated "Wil-des," probably a vagary of computer
typesetting, but it still shows a failure of proofreading.  It's nice
to be able to live up to your own high standards, but it's not always
possible.  I'd normally cut an author some slack, but not when he busts
the chops of others for the same infractions.

Steve Schwartz

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

Advanced Options


Options

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password


Search Archives

Search Archives


Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe


Archives

May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
June 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999
September 1999
August 1999
July 1999
June 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
July 1997

ATOM RSS1 RSS2



COMMUNITY.LSOFT.COM

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager