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  April 2008

CLASSICAL April 2008

Subject:

Rochberg's First

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

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

Date:

Thu, 3 Apr 2008 12:35:31 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (98 lines)

George Rochberg

*  Symphony No. 1 (1948-49, rev. 1977 & 2003)

Saarbruecken Radio  Symphony Orchestra/Christopher Lyndon-Gee.
Naxos 8.559214  Total time: 64:15

Summary for the Busy Executive: "Not deep the poet sees, but wide."

Or so poet and critic Matthew Arnold said.  I first came upon the music
of George Rochberg in the Sixties, after he had been writing about fifteen
years.  At the time, he was one of the most powerful figures in American
music, an editor at one of the big presses, and therefore a force in
deciding whose work got published.  I even had the occasion to perform
some of it.  The scores struck me then as well-written and trendy (in a
bad way), but never got a hold of me.  Szell liked to program Rochberg's
Second Symphony, which counted for a great deal to me, since I idolized
Szell.  However, the symphony itself failed to stick with me.

Rochberg made a mini-splash in the early Seventies by announcing his
switch from dodecaphony to a more Romantic-based music.  He also gave
up his editorship.  Then he or his surrogates began to complain, like
Lear, that his commissions had fallen off and that nobody loved him for
himself.  I had no dog in the fight, since I didn't care for Rochberg
as Schoenberg or Rochberg as Mahler.  He simply bored the pants off me
no matter which approach he took.  The violin concerto for Stern and the
Caprice-Variations on Paganini raised their momentary cloud of dust and
then disappeared.  Unfortunately, it turned out that the tonal-atonal
fights of the Fifties through the Seventies had become largely irrelevant
to the way young composers actually wrote.  Leonard Bernstein turned out
to be far more germane to the new crop than Rochberg.  Fundamentally,
we have to judge Rochberg -- or any composer, for that matter -- not on
his critical position nor on the means by which he produced his music,
but on the finished score, and we can't establish quality a priori from
style.

All this, of course, should lead somewhere, and it leads here: Rochberg's
First Symphony knocked my socks off the moment I put it on the CD player.
It's not that I haven't heard better contemporary symphonies, but that
the score impressed me as the work of a composer with a brilliant,
wide-ranging mind, full of possibility and a prodigious feel for the
orchestra.  The number of original, powerfully imaginative textures on
practically every page left me with my mouth hanging open.  Moreover,
it's his first symphony, his first major work for orchestra.  To someone
of my generation, the idiom feels like a "squaring of the circle": a
reconciliation of Stravinsky with Schoenberg, for decades the antithetical
poles of Modern music.  Indeed, in a passage from the composer quoted
in the liner notes on his aims for the symphony, the names Stravinsky
and Schoenberg alternate from sentence to sentence.  Incidentally,
Rochberg's other writings show a similarly wide intellectual embrace.
It's probably not an accident that he and Dallapiccola, one of the most
cultured figures in Western European art, hit it off.

I shouldn't leave anybody with the impression that this is easy music.
From the standpoint of architecture and argument, it's especially difficult
to follow.  Just letting the music wash over you (my standard strategy
as a young listener, which may explain why Rochberg failed to connect)
probably won't get you anywhere.  Hard, repeated listening might.  The
reason is that the symphonic argument doesn't end with a movement, but
continues through the entire symphony.  Great orchestration can't hurt,
but the unfolding of the argument counts as the most powerful thing about
the score.  The approach may derive from the symphonic dramas of Bruckner
and Mahler as well as from the cyclic mechanics of Franck, but it differs
from all of them as well.  For example, the cyclical style usually comes
down to recurrence.  After all, you've got to be able to recognize the
cyclic bit when it arrives again.  To me, at any rate, the return often
seems arbitrary and clumsy.  With Rochberg, the point is more transformation
than recurrence, something that changes its context and, in so doing,
is changed itself.  In the early days of the symphony's performance
history, Ormandy insisted on cutting out two movements -- a slow one
and a scherzo.  He also wanted the ending, one of the most daring things
in the symphony, re-written (it ends way before you expect it to, like
suddenly coming upon a sheer drop).  Rochberg reluctantly agreed to the
cuts, but held firm on his ending, thus souring his relationship with
Ormandy, who tended to pout when thwarted.  The slow movement became an
independent piece, Night Music, and the scherzo a work for two pianos.
Incidentally, other performers plagued Rochberg with demands for cuts
in his major scores.  Isaac Stern got him to cut fourteen minutes out
of the violin concerto, which is one reason why you don't want to hear
Stern's performance.  At any rate, I can't imagine how those first
audiences got much from the symphony in its mutilated state.  It's like
missing two acts from Macbeth.

Naxos has released what amounts to a mini-series of Rochberg, led by
Lyndon-Gee.  I've heard this release and the Violin Concerto, and both
have turned me around on Rochberg's music.  Obviously, I've got a lot
of re-listening to do.  The Saar-Brueckners may not be the most refined
ensemble I've ever heard, but they grapple with this symphony like Jacob
wrestling with the angel.  My only question is why haven't the major
American orchestras taken up this score?

Steve Schwartz

             ***********************************************
The CLASSICAL mailing list is powered by L-Soft's renowned LISTSERV(R)
list management software together with L-Soft's HDMail High Deliverability
Mailer for reliable, lightning fast mail delivery.  For more information,
go to:  http://www.lsoft.com/LISTSERV-powered.html

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