Several of the pieces listed in the group of short essays in this Sunday’s NY Times about recent operas deserving of further performances were what you would expect, with works by Adams, Saariaho, and Adès featured. Two notable omissions that I would have included are Messiaen’s St. Francis and Harbison’s The Great Gatsby. I was surprised that the Messiaen was left out; sadly, not surprised about the masterful but under-appreciated Harbison. What would you have included?
My recollection is that the ads for Carnegie Hall in the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday NY Times used to list the composers for each concert – but this season only a few of them do. It’s another example of our unhealthily performer-centric classical world – the Toscanini effect, I suppose Joe Horowitz would say.
On a related topic, I thought it was odd that no composer is listed in the ads for the new Broadway adaptation of Woody Allen’s Bullets over Broadway as a musical. I had to dig through several sites (including the show’s own site) before finding one mentioning that period music will be used for the show – without saying which composers of the period. More missing composers here, here, here, and here.
I was taken aback when I read Steve Smith‘s review of Taneyev’s opera Oresteia in this morning’s Times with its mention of Taneyev’s textbook Convertible Counterpoint in the Strict Style. Convertible? Surely it must be Invertible? But no, that seems to be the correct title. Well, if I want to write counterpoint involving a ’57 Thunderbird, I know where to look.
My own point of contact with Dutilleux’s music was at Marlboro Music where I had the privilege of rehearsing Les Citations, a work for oboe, harpsichord, double bass, and percussion. Oboist Rudy Vrbsky wanted to try the piece, and no keyboard player was available. Although I was there as a composer, I was asked to play the harpsichord part. It’s not his most profound piece, but the composer’s exquisite craft was still very much present.
It’s happened again. In the magazine section of the New York Times for September 30th, there are two pages devoted to the costumes for Thomas Adès’s opera The Tempest, to be staged by the Met this season – but no mention of the composer. The Met’s trailer for the production here, and a bit from the Royal Opera house production here. Another missing composer here.
It’s happened again, the composer is missing. In a piece about a will.i.am song being played from Mars, the New York Times refers to other instances of sounds from space, including the following:
But this is not the first time that NASA has dabbled in music from outer space. The radio emissions of Saturn, recorded by the Cassini spacecraft, were shifted into audible frequencies, and the Kronos Quartet then incorporated the space sounds into a composition called “Sun Rings.”
This would give you the impression that the Kronos created “Sun Rings”, when it is actually a composition by Terry Riley. The pop music assumption that the performer and the composer are one again takes precedence over reality. Ned Rorem wrote about this problem in a letter to the Times Book Review several years ago:
To the Editor:
In her review of ”Great Pretenders: My Strange Love Affair With ’50s Pop Music,” by Karen Schoemer (March 26), about seven pop singers of the 50’s, Nellie McKay doesn’t once mention a composer. Yet these singers were recreators, not creators, without whom the songs would not exist. These ”performers . . . were poets of unspoken passion, earnest preachers,” McKay writes. ”Their lyrics and melodies have never served the ‘in’ crowd.”
Like most listeners, McKay must think the singers make it up as they go along. In the 50’s great songwriters — Gershwin, Porter, Berlin and so on — were still being heard. Today they are mostly invisible. How, anymore, can ”we know the dancer from the dance”?
When God speaks it is in the form of a small chorus (for the Straubs a way of insisting that wisdom and power comes from the people, not from above).
In an article about a 1975 film version of Schoenberg’s Moses and Aron, Dave Kehr might give the impression that the filmmakers (Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet) came up with the idea of God being vocally represented by a small chorus. But anyone who glances at the first page or two of the score would know that Schoenberg wrote it that way – it is not the filmmakers’ invention.* One thing they did come up with is to change the spelling of the title – “Aaron” instead of Schoenberg’s “Aron.” No comment on what luck or lack of it may have been provoked by spelling the title with thirteen letters instead of Schoenberg’s twelve.
* Compare the pair of singers that give voice to the angel in the Abraham and Issac episode of Britten’s War Requiem – again, the singular (monotheistic) voice of the divine as multiple.
What kind of insane musical culture do we live in when an “eminent rock critic” (as described by the New York Times) can refer to James Brown as “the greatest musician of the post-World War II era”? It seems to me this was also a period in which Stravinsky, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Leonard Bernstein were all at work, to pull a few names from a hat.
A startling news flash from the Sunday New York Times:
“… the highbrow climate in the United States has never been overly hospitable to homegrown compositions.”
Gee, never would have guessed. Thanks to the Times for its alert reporting and keen insight.