Christopher Webber responds to David Lamb:
>The darkness was spread by zealots who saw serialism as the ONLY way,
>and who did everything they could to sabotage the careers of those who
>chose other ways of expression.
>We hear much of these "zealots", but I find myself wondering who (if
>anybody) they were.
Two who come to mind were Wuorinen and Boulez. When Boulez was conductor
of the New York Philharmonic, tonal music by contemporary composers was
rarely performed. Oddly enough even the usually trendy NY press was
critical of his not playing any American Music...and indeed, he hadn't
programmed much of it. I still remember a response some time after that,
a picture in the New York Times which featured Boulez posing with a group
of American composers whose music he had performed...most of which, as
I recall, had been programmed since the time of those critical comments.
As I recall several works had been commissioned by the orchestra for
some anniversary...two of which, the Harris 11th and the Hanson 6th,
were conducted by the composers and not by Boulez. Boulez did conduct
the Copland Variations (not exactly his most tonal effort) and the Carter
Concerto for Orchestra
Some years ago there was an article in the New York Times which spoke
to this disregard of tonal composers who were working in the second half
of the 20th Century.
I believe we are always subject to trends...were it not so the entire
fashion industry would crumble!
As a composer I used to attend the meetings of what was then called the
American Society of University Composers...name has been changed for
obvious reasons...if you ever heard a tonal piece in those years, the
70s and 80s (I stopped going around 1985) the best it could hope for
would be some polite applause.
From my perspective, there was a shift of interest. I think of a composer
like Leo Sowerby. There was a time when his music woud be performed as
soon as it was completed. Towards the end of his life, his music dropped
from sight. His final symphony has never been performed. The same can
be said for the music of Edward Burlingame Hill...his final symphony was
One can make a reasonable arguement that there just wasn't room for
everything. More music was being written, hence some had to fall by the
While it is not the best indication of quality or relevance, one can
look at the list of the Pulitzer prize winning composers. By my reading,
the first non-tonal work to win was in 1960, Carter's Second String
Quartet. The next three awards were for tonal works. No awards in 64
and 65 and then the next nine were non-tonal. By 1975 tonality was once
again "in" and with a few exceptions has remained "in."
As an aside, it is interesting to note that very few of the winners have
become part of the repertoire: Copland's Appalachian Spring and Barber's
Piano Concerto being amongst those most performed. Of course the award
was for excellence, and not an estimate of what would make it into the
repertoire. It is however, interesting to note that the bulk of the
winning composers had some connection with the New York or Boston areas.
>it wasn't Sir William's fault if our Little World had moved
>on and was for a while not much interested in Rubbra's fine music.
Who said it had moved on and where did it go?
*I think we need to be careful about constructing myths about this Evil
>Empire of Serial Hegemony. As far as I can see, it never existed.
I don't believe it was an "Evil Empire." But I do believe it was, for a
time, trendy to be a composer non-tonal music. It was certainly true in
academic circles...at least in the circles of my colleagues.
As I write this I am reminded of a particular day when I was teaching a
class in contemporary music. It was back in the 70's. I had just taped
a broadcast of the Boston Symphony which featured Reich's Music for
Mallet Instruments Voices and Orchestra. I played the Reich for my
students. That next semester many of the composition students became
Reich clones, just as they had been Carter clones some years before.
So, for me, there are trends in music, but sadly, being trendy usually
translates to a myopic perspective, one which can overlook music of great
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