I know that when things are slow it’s all to easy to pick on Sound and Fury blogger A.C. Douglas, but THIS post on 20 January had me groaning seven different ways (you can click over there to read, but I’ll reprint it here to save you the flip-flop):

The Composer As Physicist

If you want to understand why such a large measure of postmodern classical music is so dreadfully wrong “” so anti-music, as I’ve elsewhere called it “” you’ve only to read the following from French (surprise!) composer Tristan Murail:

Only now have I begun to feel as if I have obtained the technical means to achieve my dreams of adolescence: I imagined certain ambitious works, but lacked the capacity to realize them. With a piece like L’Esprit des dunes (1994), for ensemble and electronics, I feel that I have succeeded in doing something that I could have easily dreamed of doing when I was twenty or even younger. In a piece like that, there is a clear research on the level of pure technology but there is also a musical research into the combination of sounds; this may not be immediately apparent, but so much the better. And while the “poetic” side of the piece probably has an even greater impact than the spectral contents, the “poetry” depends utterly on their careful construction. Creating this sense of research, newness and “avant-garde” while still maintaining a coherent and comprehensible musical discourse is my real goal. [Quote taken from a post on the theater blog, Superfluities.]

No further comment required.

Let’s see, Murail consistently acknowledges the musical/poetic as the guiding principle that all of the “research” is in service to, and yet Mr. Douglas reads it as proof-positive of the composer as “physicist”? The funny part is that if you subsitute one word in this line of Murail’s, thusly:

And while the “poetic” side of the piece probably has an even greater impact than the formal contents, the “poetry” depends utterly on their careful construction.

This could be said by Bach or Beethoven.

It’s interesting too, that he calls the music he finds so “dreadfully wrong” Postmodern; So I’m guessing the plain old “modern” stuff Like Schoenberg and Boulez are just fine with him?……(not)…

49 Responses to “Blinders On…”
  1. A.C. Douglas says:

    Not to be picayune, but I wrote postmodern, not Postmodern, and I didn’t label the music thus. I merely located it thus.

    I trust you grasp the distinction.


  2. A.C. Douglas says:

    Oh. I just noticed that in saving your readers the trouble of “flip-flop[ing]” over to my site by your in-violation of the principle of Fair Use quoting of my entire post, you neglected to copy the included link in that post (a mere oversight on your part, no doubt). Here’s the missing included link for those of your readers who may be interested in reading the linked post:



  3. Jeff says:

    Heh, well the difference between spectral and formal is what is interesting in your comment, Steve. And I think that strange edit points to an important difference between the notion of ‘sonic objects’ and ‘musical objects.’ Musical objects are created and sustained through musical processes not physical processes. And I think it is this conceptual loss during production – coincidentally – that A.C. is pointing to…

  4. The funny thing though is that if there’s one composer among the Big Names of recent decades has been writing gorgeously-sounding, beguiling music, it’s Murail. There’s a lot I’m ready to consider in the way of Murail criticism, but some sort of quasi-science derivative technical dryness – the centuries-old “soulless science” argument that has been directed at pretty much everybody, the sort of thing you today might hold against Babbitt should his work not be your cup of tea and you’re not particularly imaginative a critic – well, that’s just not in Murail. So before this turns into a silly abstract exchange of mere gratuitous opinion, why don’t we all find and listen to a recording of l’esprit des dunes, say?

  5. For the record, I think Jeff is a little closer on target with this difference between spectral and formal. Spectral music seems to try to efface form insofar as form depends on boundaries, and indeed, as a result, you often get intriguing mass stuff but not much individual drama, say. OTOH, one of Murail’s most stunning pieces, I think, is the Treize couleurs du soleil couchant – one of the most interesting pieces in terms of the difference between “chamber” and “orchestral” I know, in that it sounds (almost) orchestral but feels, in live performance, very chamber, maintaining very much the musician’s individual contributions.

  6. & AC Douglas hates being addressed intellectually in music: Of that so-called New Music of which I’ve direct experience, almost all of it not recognized immediately as blatantly and tiresomely derivative tripe requires at some level, and to greater or lesser degree, the active participation of the intellect in order to appreciate or, in some cases, even begin to comprehend.

    Myself, when I first listened to Mozart at age 17 or so, I definitely neede the active participation of the intellect in order to appreciate it. Appreciation came much, much later (and I think I still think when I hear Mozart, who has become one of my 5 favourite composers ever). Xenakis, OTOH, was for me much more direct an emotional experience (though I’m not sure my intellect is ever suspended). So YMMV.

  7. andrea says:

    my hackles are raised by the disdainful use of the word “French.” why does douglas feel the need to be bigoted?

  8. And shouldn’t it be “freedom (surprise!) composer”?

  9. Steve Layton says:

    Jeff & Samuel: But the “sonic object” does become the “musical object”; the spectral becomes the formal, and all through the poetic metaphor. I don’t think spectralism really succeeds in effacing the formal boundaries (any more than any other work of art could), as much as it follows, trusts some newer formal boundaries suggested in the sound itself. But again, it takes above all the poetic, the “musical”, to find, interpret and accept these. And that’s precisely what Murail repeatedly stresses in this quote.

    A.C.D., if you’d like me to quote only a portion as “fair use”, write a longer post next time. Besides, since I didn’t give the reference link included in your original, it seems I did only use an excerpt. ;-)

    Andrea, I cringed at the “French” jibe, too.

  10. Jeff says:

    Steve, Samuel, I was referring to the intentional reductionism of Murail’s comment which I think is A.C.’s point. (And for the record coincidentally we listened to an hour of Murail just last night! Beautiful… although he does get into that annoying Boulezian noodling a bit much here and there!)

    When I hear statements like, ‘Music is organized sound’ or ‘Careful construction of spectra’ it harkens me back to the 50′s and 60′s when there was a post-human computational agenda to a lot of musical discourse. Computability was the agenda – and is implied here – I think as a kind of avant-gardism. It’s a machine-centric approach which while sounding cool, is ultimately meaningless and misanthropic. Music isn’t organized sound. Music is what is perceived as music. ;)

    Of course, we can see what Murail was getting at is a wonderful (but vaguely reductionist) description of how studious care in managing harmonic intensities pays off and enhances one’s poetic intent, but what A.C. is getting at is what this thread is about!

    When we reduce our descriptions of our compositional efforts to mere organizing of spectra, we sometimes practice destructive and anti-poetic discourse. And I think that was A.C.’s point, less destructively put. ;)

  11. A.C. Douglas says:

    I was referring to the intentional reductionism of Murail’s comment which I think is A.C.’s point.

    It was indeed.

    Incidentally, I’ve heard Murail’s work only once, and so can make no informed comment about it specifically. But what I heard sounded like a soundtrack for a pretentious sci-fi movie. Whether that’s representative of his output in general I can’t say.

    And do those who took knee-jerk offense at my French remark, I suggest you reread it in context, please. It makes perfect sense.


  12. First, a couple of terminological clarifications: I appreciate the distinction ACD is trying to make between “postmodern” and “Postmodern,” but I’m pretty sure that’s not a generally accepted distinction so confusion on the matter should be forgiven. He means, approximately, music since the arrival of serialism as a hegemonic force. In the post from 2004 he dates this from “about 1940 or so.” Please correct me if I’m wrong here, ACD. It’s also worth noting, with reference to that 2004 post, that “New Music” with a capital N and M actually generally refers to the Downtown scene, which is distinctly different from the problematic serialist and post-serialist music. At this point it’s a somewhat outdated term (appropriately so) but it’s probably worth being aware of the distinction.

    As to the accusation that “almost all of it not recognized immediately as blatantly and tiresomely derivative tripe requires at some level, and to greater or lesser degree, the active participation of the intellect in order to appreciate or, in some cases, even begin to comprehend.” (again, the 2004 post) I used to agree with that assessment, but I no longer do. I doubt even the most outrageously cerebrally convoluted music is heard primarily analytically by its fans. In fact, I would argue that the better the music is the less you need to actively analyze it to appreciate it. Just as I don’t have to be able to hear “ooh, listen to that invertable counterpoint” to appreciate bach, I don’t have to hear “ooh, listen to the retrograde inversion of the note-length row as it relates to the retrograde of the pitch row” to appreciate integral serialism. It’s a technique. Bach wrote better fugues than other composers because he understood the rules and his materials better, — it’s the same phenomenon; Bach is a Physicist too. And this is one of the ways in which Babbitt’s “Composer as Specialist” essay is wrong — Babbitt isn’t less popular than Britney Spears because his music is more “advanced”, it’s just far enough outside of mainstream tastes that most people aren’t going to bother learning how to appreciate it.

    But ACD can hardly be blamed for thinking that Modernist music requires “active participation of the intellect” given that so many of its proponents (or defenders, more often than not) make that very claim. He’s dismissing a lot of music out-of-hand for the wrong reason, but every time we say “the audience doesn’t like our music because they are uneducated” we’re complicit in driving him away.

  13. corey dargel says:

    In case folks tire of the uninformed and possibly non-existent A.C. Douglas, you’ll be pleased to know that one of his contemporaries, Prof. Heebie McJeebie, has vowed to renew his audio podcasts later this spring.

    Certain bloggers blog because they cannot imagine.

    For a good bit of reading that really does have some actual relationship to postmodernism and really does represent a writer’s attempt to learn and imagine (as well as present a fresh point of view that might change some people’s minds), check out the latest issue of Harpers magazine in which Jonathan Lethem has an excellent essay on copyright. It’s called “The Ecstasy of Influence.”

  14. A.C. Douglas says:

    Although I thought (and still think) otherwise, this thread has made clear that my post, apparently, needs some further spelling out. I’ve done that in a brief update to that post. The updated post may be read here:



  15. Daniel Wolf says:

    In essense, Murail is saying that “it took x years to develop the technique to realize the music I dreamt of making”, which, as a statement about the relationship between the poetic and the technical ought to be unobjectionable, especially when Murail grants that the greater “impact” of the work is due to the poetic “side”.

    Douglas, in his update, specifically objects to a “preoccupation…with process”. That demonstrates a rather shallow idea about the preoccupations of composers: it’s not the rare and luxurious moments spent on the poetry of a piece, but the long hours spent on the simple mechanics of putting it together, filling it out, and putting it down on paper.

    Voice leading, for example, is a process fundamental to both counterpoint and harmony. It can take a long time to master voice leading, let alone to become inventive with it. The mature voice leading techniques in Wagner, Debussy, or Mahler all came relatively late, and the “poetry” of these works certainly depends at every point upon careful construction. Is that observation different in any fundamental way from Murail’s?

    If Douglas’s objection was to the specific techniques used by Murail, then he ought to make his case. I suspect, however, that it will be difficult to make, as Murail’s spectral techniques are essentially a way of gathering materials and not, a priori, a procedure like those used in serial techniques. Moreover, spectral techniques are a consequent extension and bridge between long traditions of working with harmony and timbre, and an objection in principle to that extension and bridge must either propose an alternative approach or make a case for the irrelevance of harmony and instrumentation to composition.

  16. I can’t find any further context for this French remark to make it make perfect sense. Did I overlook an important link somewhere?

  17. Matthew says:

    Enlighten me. I’ve read Murail’s comment three times now, and as best I can figure, he’s claiming to be ACD’s kind of guy. He takes his craft seriously, but only in the service of a pre-existing poetic ideal; he recognizes the necessity of technical advancement (I assume ACD likes styles beyond Leonin and the Notre-Dame school) but only validates that advancement when it can contribute to “comprehensible musical discourse.” What’s the problem here? Why is ACD so eager to characterize Murail as saying something he’s manifestly disagreeing with? (I’d understand if he didn’t like the music, but he doesn’t know the music.) And the “French” thing really isn’t clarified by the context at all, because the context remains stubbornly locked inside ACD’s head. Is he saying that all French composers value technical hermeticism over poetic soul? Poulenc too process-oriented for him? Satie? DJ Solaar? No further comment necessary?, huh? If he’s got an argument to make, then he should by all means make it. But right now, he’s just an old professor who’s too lazy to come up with a lesson plan.

  18. I wish I could argue more forcefully that ACD’s complaint that composers are preoccupied with process as an end rather than as a means, but it is made somewhat difficult by people like Boulez who said that he is “less interested in how a piece sounds than how it is made.” But let’s at least put it into perspective:

    Bach wrote “Die Kunst Der Fugue” and “The Well Tempered Clavier” — two sets of works which are clearly interested in exploring and illustrating “process” and related issues of compositional research. Ultimately, though, the issues of process are subserviant to the production of compelling music. Bach’s interest in “process” or “technique” (which I think is a better word for what we’re talking about) is an interest in technical mastery in service of compelling compostion.

    The same can be said of Wagner — his music is like nobody else’s because he did research on what kinds of extreme processes and techniques can be applied to the tonal system.

    Schoenberg’s development of the System of Composing with 12 Notes Related Only to Each Other is, similarly, an attempt to quantify and develop a set of rules for composition which _acchieve the effects_ he wants to acchieve musically. Integral serialism, notwithstanding Boulez’s comments, is an attempt to use an even more strict process or technique to acchieve further musical goals. The same is true for Spectralism — the interest in technique is for the sake of making maximally compelling music.

    Moving over to Minimalism, where discussion of “process” is rampant, there are two school. First is the Steve Reich “music as a gradual process” about which he says “I do not mean the process of composition, but rather pieces of music that are, literally, processes.” But his interest is not in the process for its own sake but in the musically interesting results of the process. Piano Phase heard solely as the fact of the phasing process is pointless — Piano Phase as the slowly unfolding music that results from the process can be riveting. Then we have composers (myself included) who use processes compositionally — setting up a phasing process produces a specific kind of musical result; a feeling that the music is going in a particular direction, but that it remains static at the same time. I don’t care if you notice that I’m using a six-note cell repeated against a five-note cell: I need to know that to write the piece, but all I want you to worry about is whether or not you like the end result.

    Ultimately, though, any discussion of this subject has to lead to Cage. Using the I Ching to make compositional decisions is certainly a process, but again the point wasn’t the process itself. The point is to remove the composer from the composition . Cage was certainly performing what Tom Johnson calls “basic research” and his interest in forcing the audience to reconsider the ways in which it listens to music may well fall outside of ACDs definition of music. I’m not going to engage in the “what is music” argument here, but I would point out that even in Cage the process is the means to a musicopsychological end. The difference between Cage and Bach is not a difference in the use of process or technique as a means versus an end, but in their differing interests in the _results_ of those processes.

  19. David Hanlon says:

    Regarding Cage: if I remember correctly James Pritchett’s book on the man has an account of Cage working on a piece and experimenting with what chance method would produce the most “interesting” results. Over the course of these experimentations, naturally Cage rejects several “processes” whose results were not sufficently interesting. Backs up Galen’s well-expressed point that Cage, like most good composers, is still making process choices based on the results they produce, even if those results are not entirely predictable.

    I’m curious, when did Boulez make that statement about process being more important than sound? I’m curious if it was in his young provocative firebrand days or more recently, since his more “recent” music is so much more sensual.

  20. I get the Boulez quote from Michael Nyman’s book “Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond” and unfortunately he doesn’t provide a citation.

  21. Kyle Gann says:

    Since Nyman first published his book in 1974, that locates Boulez’s quote prior to that date, and I remember it from when I was pretty young, prior to that book as I recall. Cage may have quoted it earlier.

  22. Steve Layton says:

    Almost every one of the fiery “my way or the highway” Boulez quotes come from before the mid-1960s.

    Word to the wise, kids, is to watch those words; Someone will always be dredging them up & waving them in your face, no matter what kind of person you’ve become in the meantime.

  23. In Boulez, I believe the one thing that really changed was his status.

  24. David Hanlon says:

    Boulez is so much better behaved now, it’s almost (emphasis on almost) disappointing. You first hear of him as a take-no-prisoners guy, but meet him now and he’s a perfect gentleman. So it was a small pleasure to hear a throwaway remark during a rehearsal of his I attended last year. He was asking whether there was any way of removing the curtains on and above the stage which he felt were muffling the sound. Told that there wasn’t, he murmured into his microphone: “Burn them…” Still a bit of the old spark!

  25. Boulez relatively recently called Shostakovich a “second- or third-pressing of Mahler” (a statement I’m sure many of us can agree with), so there’s some fire in him yet.

  26. Graham Rieper says:

    If that’s your idea of fire.

  27. Anonymous says:

    “Boulez relatively recently called Shostakovich a “second- or third-pressing of Mahler” (a statement I’m sure many of us can agree with)…”

    Now who would want to agree with a dumbass statement like that? Mahler’s catalog of chamber music doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to Shostakovich’s. I think what Boulez was probably trying to say was “I don’t know any Shostakovich.” French is darn tricky to translate.

  28. Tom Myron says:

    The above: c’est moi.

  29. andrea says:

    or how about simply boulez doesn’t like shostakovich? and that’s perfectly fine. what’s not fine is that he has to make his personal taste into some weird put down. and why do people put others down? to make themselves look powerful. hmmm. and why would a.c. douglas put down both new music and the entire francophone world? to make himself look intellectually superior. why would this make himself look intellectually superior? because many other jerks who have stomped and clawed their way to the “top” also have allied themselves with both the tradition of putting down the new and the tradition of making fun of french people. but a.c. douglas knows that no one would read his blog if he simply wrote about music he’s passionate about and kept his mouth shut about the music that he’s not passionate about.

  30. Tom Myron says:

    “or how about simply boulez doesn’t like shostakovich?”

    I’m serious. I’d be amazed if Boulez new any Shostakovich. As you say:

    “…many other jerks who have stomped and clawed their way to the “top” also have allied themselves with both the tradition of putting down the new and the tradition of making fun of french people.

    I’d say Boulez fits the bill nicely on both counts.

  31. andrea says:

    come now. of course boulez knows the music of shostakovich. he may be persnickety, but he’s not ignorant or stupid. i also doubt boulez makes fun of his countrymen. he has made recordings of debussy and varese, at least.

    and i’m certainly not saying that a.c. douglas is ignorant or stupid, either. that’s what’s so annoying about his polemicisms (not to mention inappropriate remarks about one’s nationality): he can do better.

  32. Graham Rieper says:

    My hero is the swiss dude who had Boulez arrested as a possible terrorist for making the remark (many years ago) about blowing up opera houses.

  33. In fairness to ACD, his “French (Surprise!)” comment makes a bit more sense and is a little bit less offensive when taken in context. The post immediately preceeding the one in question is a slam on Postmodernism and its impact on modern culture. The roots of postmodernism are in fact heavily French — Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, etc. ACD sees the Murail quote as problematic due to its alleged Postmodern origins, and so feigns surprise that a Frenchman would be influenced by a movement with so much French history. Funny? Not particularly. Fair? Well, I think the Murail quote is actually much more Modernist than Postmodernist, but postulating a link between an individual’s beliefs and his culture of origin is, while always risky, not entirely unreasonable. Essentializing? Certainly — the implication that we should _expect_ a Frenchman to hold certain beliefs because he’s French is, as I have said, problematic, even if it’s statistically likely (I have no opinion on the statistics of the present situation.) Does ACD have other unrelated Francophobic tendancies? I have no idea, but this example by itself doesn’t prove anything — ‘Il n’y a pas de hors-texte,’ after all:)

  34. andrea says:

    there’s nothing wrong with saying that he’s french. it’s the disdainful “surprise!” that follows. it certainly doesn’t come off as respectful or even neutral. more important, douglas doesn’t go into any detail as to what murail’s music sounds like and what exactly he is hearing that corresponds with which premises of postmodernism he clearly detests. i understand that he doesn’t like murail’s verbal statement, but aren’t we here to talk about music? if we’re talking about music, then the words need to be backed up and referenced to sounds. we can talk about process until we’re blue in the face, but let’s talk about the sounds, too.

  35. Andrea — I understand that it’s the “(Surprise!)” that’s the problem. And yes, it’s clearly intended with scorn. I also agree that it would have been nice if he had talked about the music, or clarified his objections to Postmodernism. But I think my point remains — ACD thinks Murails comment is problematic and that the source of that problem is Postmodernism, and that’s the context for the “French (Surprise!)” joke. That he is wrong in his criticism and wrong in attributing the quote to Postmodernism doesn’t matter in the question of whether the joke is Francophobic. Some people in this discussion seem to think he means “and he’s French, which is bad because French people are bad” when what he really means is “and he’s French, so no wonder he espouses philosophically bogus views developed by the French.” It’s a dumb thing to say, but less bad than what he’s being accused of.

  36. andrea says:

    “and he’s French, so no wonder he espouses philosophically bogus views developed by the French.”

    galen, you are graciously drawing very fine lines, in the name of staying on higher ground and being diplomatic, and i respect that. but there’s a major difference in tone between saying “french (surprise!)” and saying, for example, “like his fellow countrymen who developed postmodern theory.” this is not unlike the point of contention i had with jerry six months ago; there’s a difference between saying “musical ability aside, britten’s purported pedophilia makes me uncomfortable and i think about it every time i hear his music, so sue me,” and what he actually said, which i am honestly too lazy to dredge up right now (and i’m definitely not interested in going through all that again). the point is the tone can strengthen or weaken (or ruin) the argument. we’re somehow supposed to buy into douglas’s argument of murail’s musical deficiency because he can dismiss murail as in league with those pseudo-french philosophers, les postmodernistes, with a quote taken out of context from a theater blog, no music, and a reference to his nationality? i find it difficult to separate the scorn for the composer’s methods, the scorn for the philosophical viewpoint, and the scorn for the nation, when it’s written in such a sensationalistic manner.

  37. Tom Myron says:

    “…there’s a major difference in tone between saying “french (surprise!)” and saying, for example, “like his fellow countrymen who developed postmodern theory.”

    True. One’s funny & one’s pedantic.

  38. A.C. Douglas says:

    Talk about the idiocies of postmodernism! I can’t believe you people — or, rather, some of you people (apologies to the others) — have still got your PC panties all askew about that generally perfectly-in-context-appropriate French remark of mine, and even more, can’t believe you missed the more particular reference, also perfectly-in-context-appropriate. You know, like the institution principally responsible for Spectral Music’s development, and where it received its first codification.

    I suggest that those of you who were offended by my perfectly appropriate if slightly mordant gibe hit the books.


  39. Steve Layton says:

    A.C., are you talking about IRCAM? IRCAM, Postmodern?!? And spectralism’s “codification”?!? I’d like to know what book you’ve been hitting!

  40. A.C. Douglas says:

    No, not IRCAM as postmodern. IRCAM as the research \”home base\” of Spectralism (beginning about 1979). And by codification I meant that Spectralism’s development at IRCAM (or through IRCAM funding) led to the firming up of its principles as it applies to composed music.


  41. The post immediately preceeding the one in question is a slam on Postmodernism and its impact on modern culture. The roots of postmodernism are in fact heavily French — Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Baudrillard, etc.

    I think there are some misconceptions in this idea. On the one hand, Postmodernism as a term was in use before this generation of thinkers was publishing – and outside of France. Calinescu, in his study Five Faces of Modernity, gives some early sources including the historian Toynbee and poets Jarrell and Berryman.

    On the other hand, there’s the idea that there is a postmodern period. This period is given different beginnings by different writers, but can easily go back as early as 1848.

    The theory of the French postmodernists is in no way influential on society. They mere pointed out paradoxes they felt they saw at work in society.

    I think the case for Murail as a postmodern composer can be made though. He’s certainly eclectic.

    BTW ACD: spectralism formed around the composers associated with ensemble l’itineraire, of which Murail was a founder in 1973. IRCAM opened its doors in 1977.

  42. BTW of course, the IRCAM-link is undeniable, in that IRCAM made certain things more possible. But if there’s a suggestion that spectralism = france = ircam, I think there is a lot of room for more subtlety. Ircam was founded by Boulez, spectralism was more or less against-boulez music – applying influences from earlier electronic music to orchestral music. For example, composing out ring modulation, which in itself it hardly a french concept. At the same time, the mystic italian Scelsi is considered an important influence. Etcetera.

  43. andrea says:

    i’m busy writing music, mr. douglas. what are you doing?

  44. andrea says:

    okay. i lied. i’m actually presently updating the email list for a subversive über-minimalist record label/conspiracy. but in general, i am writing music. and i am reading books — about music even. and although i may have my pc panties in a bunch (i am of french descent, after all), i do not have my philosophical boxers pulled up so damn tightly they’re covering my ears and keeping me from enjoying and making music. mr. douglas, i simply the attitude presented in your writing snotty, pessimistic, rude, and unproductive. i don’t understand what good it does anybody, including yourself. so you’ve read a few books. do you make music?

  45. andrea says:

    and because i enjoy talking to myself via pretending to talk to you all, here’s a quote that sums up nicely how i feel about the kind of putdowns-masquerading-as-intellectual-diatribe mr. douglas engages in. it’s from the mp3 blog moistworks.com. one of their contributors comments on this post (by another contributor):


    “The odd thing about this whole conversation is that we’re all working from the premise that we define ourselves through the goods we consume, even or especially the “discerning music fan.” I don’t think there is such a thing as subversive consumption, no matter how much agency our clever assemblages of goods might represent. And this anxiety about authenticity and correct thinking, sounds to me like simple elitism in ever more clever disguises: how can WE separate ourselves from the inferior THEM.
    I love music, but it saddens me when these badges of taste become the way we recognize one another, or ourselves.”

  46. Henry Holland says:

    Last year, WCRB streamed a huge block of Murail and Gerard Grisey’s music. I listened to it online and was knocked out about how beautiful so much of their stuff is. There’s the Murail piece Gondwana that is incredible, I think, very powerful and lush.

    As for the bit of Boulez bashing re: Shostakovich, the Great Bogeyman of postwar music isn’t alone in his disdain for the wildly overhyped Russian’s music.

    In a Gramophone interview in the 90′s, Daniel Barenboim was asked about Shostakovich. I don’t have the exact words but his reply was something like this: “I was hoping I wouldn’t be asked about Shostakovich. If you need to be told that page after page of quarter notes represent the Nazi’s marching for the music to come alive, then that music has failed”. Ouch.

    Closer to home, Esa-Pekka Salonen announced in the late 90′s/early 00′s, with great fanfare, a complete Shostakovich symphony cycle, with the numerically corresponding string quartet to be played by Phil members before the concert in the grand hall of the Dot. 3 symphonies per season, over 5 years, he didn’t really know the pieces all that well, but thought he should investigate them. He made it through one season, including a concert with the appalling bad 2nd and 3rd Symphonies before dropping out, only saying “Well, I think Shostakovich’s music is…interesting“. Translation: it’s awful and I have better things to do with my time. Guest conductors filled up the other four seasons worth of performances.

    So, maybe, just maybe, Boulez was right. Shocking, eh?

  47. Solomon Volkov says:

    The only conclusion one can reasonably come to is that Boulez, Barenboim and Salonen agree. Not shocking, but not necessarily right, either.

  48. Steve Layton says:

    Well, none the Shostakovich judgements related seems to be sworn testimony, Solomon. Anyway, as far as I’m concerned any & all tedious dreck is forgiven by the fact that the 11th, 13th and 14th Symphonies and the 4th and 8th Quartets got written. A composer’s always as good as, and never worse than, their best work.

  49. Kyle Gann says:

    A composer’s always as good as, and never worse than, their best work.

    Let’s all hope.