comments on “Rising above the desert” – a post on minimalism and post-minimalism and other music

Searching for Basel and Lulu and Marisol Montalvo I found this which is well worth reading:
and which gives this link to a post on minimalism and post-minimialism and other music
Both the post and the comments are also well worth reading. This post has some thoughts about that post and comments. It is here rather than a comment on that blog because it exceeds the 4096 characters limit for comments.

A few thoughts prompted by that post and the comments:

* I seem to recall the composer Martin Dalby
was once reported as saying that Terry Riley’s “In C” was a very joyful piece of music, which is certainly my experience.
(Note to self: try to find a performance or recording of Dalby’s Missa Fi Fi, and other works.)

* “John Tavener says: ‘John Adams bores me to tears’. Tavener’s longer rituals bore me to tears, as it happens.”
Just before I found this post I wrote in an email that for me the music of Claude Vivier has the spiritual quality of John Tavener, but is non-religious and much shorter.

Years ago a BBC Prom concert had the premieres of Tavener’s “The Protecting Veil” and the first complete performance of Minna Keal’s symphony. I had previously heard a performance of the first three movements of the symphony, and for me her symphony had more substance than “The Protecting Veil”. Not so some critics discussing the performances later on BBC Radio3: I seem to recall them saying that they preferred Tavener’s piece, and speculating that perhaps she had only written in such a tough dissonant idiom because she was following or was persuaded to by her composition teachers. Which, when I thought about it, was bloody patronising: if someone has studied music (including composition) seriously at a young age, given it up in her twenties, and returned to it in her sixties, re-studying composition, I suppose it is possible that they are so grateful to their teachers that they almost slavishly copy them. But I think it much more likely that at that age they will know their own mind. Moreover, if the teachers are any good they won’t want to turn out a clone. Reading obituaries reinforces that judgment.

* My limited personal experience (I haven’t heard recent music by Reich, and I haven’t heard much music by Adams) is that I find Reich the most interesting of Reich, Glass, Adams: years ago there was a performance in Southampton by the Dutch group Hoketus of the piece “Hoketus” by Louis Andriessen. After the performance I recall having a short conversation with one of the musicians (I can’t remember how or why that happened) and saying to him that I felt that I might have appreciated their performance more (I seem to recall enjoying the piece) if it had been only percussion with no melody instruments. I think what I would have meant by that is that as the piece was basically (for me) rhythmic, melody instruments were a distraction from its essence, and I may (or may not) have also said that my problem with Philip Glass’s music was that for me is was both mostly not interesting enough to be interesting and not boring enough to be interesting: that’s certainly what I thought at the time, and still think. For example, in the early tape pieces “Come Out” and “It’s Gonna Rain” the initial material is interesting, but might rapidly pall on repeated literal repetition. But the effect of the slow phasing is that one (well, me at any rate) concentrates on micro events under the surface of the initial material, and that is interesting.

I should add that I genuinely admire Philip Glass for his persistence and determination – for example, working as a plumber to support his music making, his studying with Nadia Boulanger, and his interest in some aspects of Indian music – and I have heard a few of his pieces which really interest me, for example one of the movements of one of his string quartets, and it was interesting to hear what he said when he was interviewed on BBC Radio3’s Composer of the Week by Donald Macleod.

In general, the John Adams pieces I’ve heard are for me usually more interesting than Glass, but usually not as interesting as Reich: why I find that, I don’t know. Maybe because Adams is interesting enough to be interesting, which explains the Adams – Glass comparison for me, but not the Reich – Adams comparison.

* A question: Who do you consider was the first post-minimalist composer? I used to think Rimsky-Korsakov (Scheherazade, a piece I love), but now I think Beethoven, specifically one piece, one or maybe two movements of it. I ask this because I think post-minimalism came before minimalism.

* “a list of 20th century works offering affirmative capability, even if that only comes at the end of the masterpiece in question, one per decade” – for the 1920s – Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony

I won’t disagree with that choice, but will add something: after a very good 1980s BBC Prom performance by the (then) Scottish National Orchestra conducted by Alexander Gibson one reviewer adversely criticised the symphony for being “dramatic”, or possibly “too dramatic”, which struck me as a bit like adversely criticising Notre Dame cathedral in Paris for being massive – that’s the point of Notre Dame.

But assuming I understand I understand the task correctly, as an alternative 1920s choice, maybe Janacek’s “Sharp Ears the Vixen”, or “Adventures of the vixen known as Sharp-Ears”, or the (regrettable) “The Cunning Little Vixen”?

A list, in roughly descending order, or the 20th century operas that mean most to me:
* Sharp Ears the Vixen (The Cunning Little Vixen) – Janacek
* Duke Bluebeard’s Castle – Bartok & Balazs (I insist on crediting at least some librettists)
* Salome – Strauss
* Lulu – Berg
* Madame Buttefly – Puccini
(I know it was premiered in 1893, but I’m tempted to include Verdi & Boito’s Falstaff in that list.)
The only reason I place the Vixen above Bluebeard is that Bluebeard is about death and life and death, but the Vixen is about death and life and death and life.


About Colin Bartlett

I'm interested in arts, mathematics, science. Suliram is a partial conflation of the names of three good actors: Ira Aldridge, Anna May Wong, and another. My intention is to use a personal experience of arts to make some points, but without being too "me me me" about it. And to follow Strunk's Elements of Style. Except that I won't always "be definite": I prefer Niels Bohr's precept that you shouldn't write clearer than you think.
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