When I left off in Part 8, I was beginning to describe Radvilovich’s aggressive questions after my lecture. First he asked why I had brought two overtures (the Adams and the Ades) — two pieces for the theater. Didn’t I believe in absolute music? Then he questioned my approach to sonata form. Either I should subscribe to Schoenberg’s principle that a composer should have the entire piece worked out before writing a note, or I should believe, as Cage did, that everything should be beyond my control. He then expressed disinterest in anything having to do with popular culture, which he described as selling out to Hollywood.
This all seemed far enough off the mark that I began to wonder how well my little lecture had been translated, and indeed, how well his questions were being translated back to me. But I did my best to address the questions at face value. I described Karl Jung’s four cognitive functions (which I have written about here), explaining that I make certain musical decisions intuitively, so they are neither planned in advance nor are they left to chance. I described creativity as a process of discovery, not dictation. To answer his comments about popular culture, I spoke of art as a specific balance between the world we perceive and the world we imagine. A significant part of the world I perceive is dominated by popular culture, so it would be dishonest for me to ignore it.
I couldn’t be sure if my answers were satisfying or discouraging, but in any case, Radvilovich changed the subject. He started asking questions about the current state of affairs in American music. I have a tough time generalizing on these matters, but I did my best to outline some current trends: Downtown, Neo-complexity, Neo-romanticism, Post-minimalism. We talked about Feldman, Reich, Harbison, Ferneyhough. One of Radvilovich’s colleagues, a fellow who bore a resemblance to a young Shostakovich, asked me if there were any composers who didn’t worry about fitting into categories, and I said “most.” He then asked what I thought of Elliott Carter. I told him Carter was one of my teachers, I admire him tremendously, and I consider his music to be beautiful and brilliant. I added that JS Bach was also one of my teachers whose music is beautiful and brilliant, but I had no desire to imitate him. In fact, Carter is a half-century older than I am, so it would make about as much sense for me to write like Carter as it would for Carter to write like Puccini.
I asked which Russian composers were comparable to Carter. They answered that there were some who were as famous, but none who were as good, and I was reminded again of Dostoyevksi’s literature of self-loathing.
We then launched into a discussion of how one learns about contemporary composers. They complained that the Russian media ignore new music. I told them the same was true in the US, but that the internet allowed for a free exchange of ideas and information, that composers had the opportunity to promote their work directly to interested parties. They said they didn’t want to promote their music — but the word they used, at least in the way it was translated back to me, was “propaganda,” which must certainly have very painful connotations for them. They also said that the internet would be a good way for them to learn about us, but not for us to learn about them.
It takes a lot to get me depressed, but they were making some excellent progress in that direction!
Then Radvilovich asked a question I would like to pass on to Sequenza21 readers. He spoke of works that change the direction of creative discourse. He gave two examples: Boulez’s Le marteau sans maitre in the 50s and Berio’s Sinfonia in the 60s. He asked what works have had a similar effect in America since then.
I know my answer. What is yours? What pieces from the 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s have changed the way composers think about composing? Let me know, and I will send back to him an Official Sequenza21 List of Galvanizing Works from the late-20th/early-21st centuries.
And later I will have a follow-up: coffee and vodka with Radvilovich at the Idiot Cafe!