Jon Gallant's excellent ID'ing of the Beethoven 2nd inspired me to respond
a day earlier than planned. So, get out your Invective Meter and see
how you did.
1. [This piece] is one of those whispering, clucking, picking little
pieces which [name] composes when he whittles away at small and futile
ideas, until he has achieved the perfect fruition of futility and written
precisely nothing "The Ultimate Significance of Nothing" -- this would
be the proper title of this piece. The audience laughed it out of
Webern, Symphony for Chamber Orchestra.
2. [This piece] is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon
that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously
beats about with its tail erect.
Indeed, Beethoven 2. But keep this in mind below.
3. Is [this composer] a human being at all? Is he not rather a
disease? He contaminates everything he touches -- he has made music sick.
Wagner. The critic was none other than Friedrich Nietzsche, who was not
writing about a specific piece.
4. [This composer] elected to play his composition dignified by the
title . Note the omission of key. Ultra-moderns cannot be bothered
with such trifling designations. [He] plays the piano part from memory.
...Would it make any difference if memory failed and different notes
were substituted for those written in the score?
Bartok, Concerto for Pianoforte and Orchestra.
5. We cannot consider [this work] an advance over his preceding works;
we cannot rid ourselves of the idea that the attempt to play in two keys
at the same time is as disastrous as the attempt of two railroad trains
to pass each other on the same track.
Strauss, Ein Heldenleben. As if to illustrate Jon Gallant's point,
Louis Elson of the Boston Daily Advertiser wrote, on December 8, 1901:
"After the Strauss work, the orchestra rinsed our ears with Beethoven's
Second Symphony." Tastes do change over time; maybe there's hope for
the moderns yet.
6. Here is a composer -- the only one with the possible exception of
Charles Ives -- who operates on the theory that if you know how to put
a bunch of notes on a piece of score paper you are, presto, a composer.
Forty-five years have passed since [he] wrote [this piece], and it will
certainly be another forty-five before it is programmed by popular demand.
Schoenberg, Chamber Symphony.
7. The Prelude to [this work] reminds me of the old Italian painting of
a martyr whose intestines are slowly unwound from his body on a reel.
Wagner. Renowned critic Eduard Hanslick on the Prelude to Tristan und
Isolde (which was on the Met simulcast just this afternoon).
8. If you are perverse enough to endure over an hour of masochistic
aural flagellation, here's your chance! [This piece], with all its
elephantine forces, fatuous mysticism and screaming hysteria, adds up
to a sublimely ridiculous minus-zero.
Mahler, Symphony No. 8.
9. After [this piece], I had a splitting headache, and all through the
night I dreamed about a goose.
Wagner, Lohengrin. This was the reaction of composer Mily Balakirev.
10. [This piece] was abominable. Not a trace of coherent melodies. It
would kill a cat and would turn rocks into scrambled eggs from fear of
these hideous discords....The whole crap could be reduced to 100 measures,
for it is always the same thing, and always equally tedious.
Wagner, Siegfried. Not a review, but an excerpt of a letter sent by
Richard Strauss in 1879 to his friend, Ludwig Thuille. Slonimsky adds:
"Many years later, in a letter to Roland Tenschert, ... Strauss pleaded:
'I wonder whether these silly tomfooleries of a callow schoolboy of which
I delivered myself to friend Thuille could not be swept aside in the
future? I still believe that the seven performances of Parsifal which
I lately conducted in Bayreuth have earned me perpetual absolution for
these idiotic youthful transgressions.'" I find this poignant. I wonder
how many critics would like do-overs as well.
Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective pops up occasionally on eBay,
but even at full price it's a great buy. Very amusing and, as a
reflection of how tastes change, thought provoking.
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