“Modern Music” continued

A few responses to my post on Paul Griffiths’ Modern Music and After have come in, notably a gracious one from the author himself (see the comments for the original post). It certainly gives the well-intentioned but definitely amateur bloggist pause when the name of a pro of that caliber appears in one’s inbox after you’ve been critical of his book.

My gripes with the book come down to two things: it is very Eurocentric, and very – for lack of a better word – “avant-garde-centric”. Daniel Wolf at Renewable Music finds fault with my listing of “establishment East Coast composers” that are not mentioned in the book. (Actually, Hartke is based in California and Shapey worked in Chicago, while Mel Powell was in California as well as the East Coast.) The list could be amended to include composers from other parts of the country, and to include more downtown and experimentalist artists, but the real point of my list of excluded Americans, in conjunction with my list of little known but included Europeans, is simply to support my assertion that the book is terribly Eurocentric. A different approach would recruit more Americans as part of Griffiths’s avant-garde project, and/or would do more to look at a range of American work and in so doing be led to question the supremacy of the avant-garde point of view. The seeds of the latter are there, in Griffiths’ brief but appreciative comments on Druckman and Stucky. Wolf goes on to say that the Americans I list don’t “bother to make musical history” preferring to be “musical quietists”. (It is hard to imagine Shapey or Martino or Steve Mackey as “musical quietists” who don’t want to rock the boat.) Two questions arise – what counts as “making musical history”? It is not so clear anymore just who is a progressive and who is a regressive composer – or if those categories have lost their meaning. The second question is why should “making musical history”, let alone “nest-dirtying”, be a decision criteria for what is of musical interest?

Two small points – it’s Primosch, not Primrosch. And Wuorinen did get edited out of the third edition, save for a mention of one of his articles.

Renewable Music is definitely worth a visit, with a good deal of thoughtful writing. And don’t miss the Boulez and Stockhausen parodies under the post label “Cheap Imitations”.

In my zeal to complain about the limitations of Griffiths’ book I passed over its considerable virtues, and I’ll be writing more about the book in another post.

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