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CLASSICAL  March 2008

CLASSICAL March 2008

Subject:

Re: My "Blind Taste Test" at an NSO Concert

From:

Karl Miller <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Thu, 13 Mar 2008 11:56:47 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (86 lines)

Deryk Barker responds to me::

> Oddly, it seems that Korngold is probably more "relevant" today, with
> the bulk of Webern's work being viewed as a curiosity.
>
>Viewed by whom, I must ask?  Personally I still consider Webern one
>of the great composers of the 20th century and a more interesting and
>important figure than Korngold - no matter how much I might (and do)
>enjoy the latter's music.

I am not saying who wrote great music and who didn't.  Nor am I
suggesting that one composer had a greater influence than another. 
Nor am I suggesting that Korngold had a greater role in the history
of music.  I am reminded of my days in graduate school.  We studied
the music of Webern.  Korngold's music was never discussed.  In those
days, the early 70s, there were only a few recordings, mostly broadcasts
tapes, of Korngold's music.  Come to think of it, we only had the Craft
recordings of Webern's work.  Webern's music was talked about, and
studied, but rarely performed even then.

Do I think Webern was a great composer?  Yes. I also have high regard
for Korngold.

> Writing this I am reminded of the notion of how tastes change, and how
> what was once considered significant, is no longer valued. Clearly the
> pendulum continues to swing, but sadly, it seems that in doing so, so
> much that was good, can be lost. I am reminded of all of those who wrote
> tonal music, some of it quite good, during the years when 12 tone was
> "in." So much wonderful music was ignored...and still is.
>
>>I don't believe it is ignored still, not all of it.  The symphonies
>>of George Lloyd (which I don't care for) and those of Robert Simpson
>>which I do) have both been recorded in the last couple of decades.

I believe that a great many fine composers were assigned to oblivion
as a result of the critical mileu which, for a time, favored modernist
tendencies.  Let me know if you want a list.  Conversely, I am saddened
that so much great non tonal music is now being completely ignored.

What I am suggesting is that the critical writing these days seems to
place less importance on innovation and less value on serial music.
Sadly, it seems that music critics also place little importance on
substance, whether the music be tonal or non-tonal.

>Maybe the pendulum was allowed to swing too far in academia (particularly
>the US) but to dismiss the work of a composer such as Webern is to go
>too far (much) in the opposite direction.

Having spent much of my life associated with music in higher education,
serial music was discussed primarily within the confines of classes for
composition majors.  It was touched upon in general music theory and
music literature classes.  I don't recall Korngold's name ever being
mentioned when I was in graduate school.  For that matter, in the 70s,
composers like Prokofieff, Shostakovich, Vaughan Williams, Schuman,
Harris, Poulenc were rarely a part of the course of study.  You might
study a piece of Ravel as a pianist, but Ravel wasn't given much coverage
in the advanced courses in music literature.

As to what is being taught these days, with the several changes in my
job assignments during these last 7 years, I have little contact with
the music department.  I was still teaching a class on the American
Symphonic Tradition as late as 2006.  However I do recall that when I
was actively associated with the music department seven years ago, there
was a stated shift towards popular music. As one of our faculty members
said, "that's where you will find the students."

Webern can still be found in the repertoire lists of the Symphony
Orchestra League...but the conductors listed are usually Barenboim and
Boulez.  When they, and their generation are gone, I doubt we will even
see the occasional performance of Im Sommerwind or the Passacaglia.  If
I were a publisher, I would be happy to trade the catalog of Webern for
Korngold.

In short, I am not talking about excellence of the music or the
contributions that they made to music history, I am talking about the
perceptions of the importance of those contributions to history and how
relevant their contributions may be seen within the context of today's
programming tenencies.

Karl

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