by Barry Drogin
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THEME: Horizons '83 was a significant event in the new music world.
The great mass of contemporary classical music played at "Horizons '83 --- Since 1968, A New Romanticism?" probably did not open many minds. Amongst those involved in new music, the initial reaction has most likely been to pass it off as a one-shot deal and get back to work. But it is quite conceivable that years from now many will look back at this festival and attach historical importance to it.
The New York Consortium for New Music, for example, is a new conglomeration of eight new music groups that got a fantastic publicity booster with a survey, distributed in the programs, which may result in more intelligent audience interaction and enlarged mailing lists. Composers Forum had the insight to distribute its new format newsletter at the symposia, and the American Composers Orchestra did some program stuffing as well.
Time will tell what new friendships, collaborations, or business connections resulted from this huge conjunction of composers, enthusiasts, and other artists.
At the four symposia, musicians were confronted with unresolved problems: insignificant programming of women and minority composers (though this was probably due to age discrimination rather than sex or race discrimination); the presence or absence of politics in classical music; the dearth of modernist music, let alone of premieres, in orchestral programming; the survival of new music vs. the spectre of smart publicity. Although no actions were suggested, identification is the first step toward solution.
The most exciting feature of the festival was the audience. The open discussions and question-and-answer periods encouraged an atmosphere of mass familiarity, where concertgoers of every sort and age argued with and learned from each other. The stranger in the next seat, the stranger in the lobby, the stranger in the aisle or the Green Room or the gallery or even the bus stops --- people were spontaneously introducing themselves, voicing opinions, interacting. And unlike the New Music America theme of regionalism, the unifying theme of this festival provided an excellent focus for conversation.
The focus was conceived by Jacob Druckman, composer-in-residence of the New York Philharmonic, who was given carte blanche to devote fifteen days of the orchestra's time to new music programming. Many musicians affect a public pluralistic attitude to appear open-minded, conveniently avoiding standards and judgement. Jacob Druckman is a lot more open-minded than many directors of new music groups pretend to be, but he was daring enough to look for a trend and program accordingly.
There was a problem because, as in the movie cliche, Mr. Druckman did not believe hard enough. His basic thesis was that, since 1968, these five "Dionysian" qualities have possessed new music: sensuality, mystery, nostalgia, ecstasy, transcendency (Druckman may never live down having implied the term "neo-romanticism" in the festival title, but what's he going to call it, "sensual mysterious nostalgic ecstatic transcendentalism"?). These are in opposition to the 1920-1960 "modernist" qualities of rationality, alienation, objectivity, angst, and urbane wit. So why program music of Martino, Schuller, Rzewski, and Lerdahl, lingering modernists all? Conservative and nationalist works by Balassa and Schuman, as well as old-fashioned pieces by Street and Rochberg, simply confuse the issue. This confusion undoubtedly arose because Druckman himself, like all of the other composers over forty that he chose, still has one foot firmly planted in modernism.
The academic world, which is always behind the times, is overrun with late-modernist composers. They speak derisively, but seldom openly, about minimalism, though it's been turning the tables for well over ten years now. New York City, with Columbia, Julliard, Hunter, Mannes, and the Manhattan, is something of a music college town. The music students who flocked to the first week's activities, cheering the Martino piece, were obviously the same people to boo the Adams. Many attended the symposia not to learn or question, but to insure ideological correctness, staunchly defending atonality and the dying modernism.
Indeed, in a world where the old in music is not 1950 but 1910 or 1830, they have a right to be defensive. The audience was full of laymen who supposedly had "returned" after hating new music for sixty years! Unfortunately, it is impossible to appreciate today's music without understanding yesterday's, and modernism certainly has its share of masterpieces. In the interest of modernism's defense and reader education, here's a quick post-WWI list of ten favorites (what, no Ives, no Satie, no others in Le Six, and what of Boulez and Stockhausen and...?!):
1. Darius Milhaud, "La Création Du Monde" (1923).
2. Alban Berg, "Lyric Suite" (1926).
3. Igor Stravinsky, "Symphony of Psalms" (1930).
4. Edgar Varèse, "Ionisation" (1931).
5. Anton Webern, "Concerto for 9 instruments, Op. 24" (1934).
6. Bela Bartok, "Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta" (1937).
7. John Cage, "Six Melodies for Violin and Keyboard" (1950).
8. Elliott Carter, "Variations for Orchestra" (1955).
9. Aaron Copland, "Piano Fantasy" (1957).
10. Lukas Foss, "Baroque Variations" (1966).
Believe it or not, half of these compositions have been performed in the last three seasons of the NY Philharmonic (this is coincidence --- I made up the list on my own, then checked their performance list). The other half are for small non-orchestral forces (though it was the Webern, not the Milhaud for twice as many instruments, which was performed). Perhaps the NY Phil is keeping up its modernist side of the bargain, though compared to Mitropoulos's first struggles, Bernstein's cajoling apologias, and Boulez's adamant frustrations and innovative "Perspective Encounters" series, Zubin Mehta's tenure has been tame and discouraging. Mehta's characterization of the two "young composer" pieces as tremendously difficult, and his flippant generalizations about composers who have no idea what their pieces sound like, show a dangerous disregard for anyone's image but his own. The bulk of the orchestra personnel are stubbornly conservative, old-fashioned, and practical; their visible demeanor suggested grudging tolerance when Jacob Druckman came on stage for his bows after the performance of his "Aureole."
But when it comes to image, Mehta is the master manipulator. A big event, seven concerts and four "symposia" in fifteen days, a guaranteed media blitz with an implied catch-word (neo-romanticism), are these a substitute for devoted and constant nurturing of a receptive new music audience? No. Do Zubie and the NY Phil enter the ranks of Dennis Russell Davies and the American Composers Orchestra, Lukas Foss and the Brooklyn Philharmonic, BAM's Next Wave series, the New York Consortium for New Music, the Gregg Smith Singers and Occasional Singers, etc.? Of course not. Mehta gets credit for one thing: letting Jacob Druckman do what he wants.
The biggest image problem that new music has is contained in the word "inaccessible" (which shows why Mehta's characterization was so dangerous). This word sends off sparks that provoke the oddest behavior and ideas. One audience member refused to read the program notes, proclaiming that if a piece couldn't stand on its own then it was bad (he obviously never heard of conceptual music or graphic scores!). Others clung to vague notions about tonality (as if dissonance existed anymore). The New York Philharmonic advertising campaign promoted the idea that "a new romanticism" might mean the ability to walk into the concert hall after thirty years of Brahms and start liking this newer music. Nonsense.
What does accessibility mean? Can a piece be inherently inaccessible? Actually, all great music has levels of inaccessibility to it. Doesn't everyone have memories of being bored to tears of classical music as a child? Then familiarity bred appreciation, and repetition bred fondness. Even after years of listening to a piece, however, the musically literate know that the score itself will hold many more surprises. Even after studying the score, and the period, and the composer's life, and his other compositions, and different performers' interpretations, still a piece holds more mysteries that could be called inaccessible. Any piece worth listening to is worth listening to because there is something to hear. As to first hearings, Goethe made an excellent observation in his "Maxims and Reflections" (as translated by Bill Hopkins in Karl Heinrich Wörner's "Stockhausen: Life and Work"):
It used to occur and indeed still happens to me that a work of fine art displeases me at first sight, because I have not grown towards it; however, let me once suspect it of any merit, and I will seek to gain access to it, finding then no lack of the most gratifying discoveries; I become aware of new properties in things and of new faculties in myself.
In the movie theatres, on television, at dance concerts, even in Muzak, audience members are exposed to more modern techniques than they realize. Avoiding new music concerts, refusing to read helpful program notes, and complaining about tonality are all childish behavior.
Charles Wuorinen, that affable spokesman for new music, whose own music uses every unpopular modernist trick while still intangibly impressing a need to communicate, did his best to give the audience the feeling that new music composers are intelligent, sensitive artists who want to connect with audiences, but must stay true to themselves. Classical composers, unlike other composers, dare to be uncompromising in order to achieve greatness. Jacob Druckman did a good job, considering the circumstances. Strangers to new music who dared to enter Avery Fischer Hall in early June were at least taking a step in the right direction.
THEME: If, at any moment in history, you play 27 recent pieces by 27 living composers, you are bound to hear a lot of mediocre music.
Pick any year you like, sweep back fifteen years, and name 27 great pieces by 27 different composers. Its impossible. Unfortunately, the inexperienced listeners in the audience, primed by hype and elaborate program notes, expected 100% success, not 50-50.
A. Elder Masters
1. Luciano Berio, "Sinfonia" --- Luciano Berio is a genius, "Sinfonia" is a masterpiece, the performance resulted in a hearty prolonged ovation, and even the most famous composers turned humble before Mr. Berio in the Green Room after the concert. Like "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," "Sinfonia" sits right on the divide between modernism and the new trend.
2. Lukas Foss, "Baroque Variations" --- This is one of the last great modernist pieces, with elements of neo-classicism, aleatoric devices, Beckettian silences, and mathematical games. It's a 1967 work, so it falls cleanly on the modernist side of the Great Divide. The crashing percussion improvisations that end the piece suggest a musical metaphor for the end of modernist music.
B. Transitional Masters
1. David Del Tredici, "All in the Golden Afternoon" --- Del Tredici's music is cold, icy, and intellectual, but it's also daring, environmental, and possessed. Like a middle-aged Stravinsky, Del Tredici knows that a false but successful PR campaign that does not interfere with the integrity of the music is just good business, so his "Okay, I'm pandering!" proclamation is to be taken with as much salt as Stravinsky's "Music is, by its very nature, essentially powerless to express anything at all." Of course, applauding "All in the Golden Afternoon" because you like Strauss and Wagner makes about as much sense as applauding "Pulcinella" because you like Pergolesi. Eventually, the public will realize that Del Tredici's atonality will never go away, just as Stravinsky's "wrong notes" ired the public fifty years ago.
2. John Adams, "Grand Pianola Music" --- There is a difference between the early minimalism of "In C," "Drumming," and "Music for 18 Musicians," and the late minimalism of "Octet," "Tehillim," and Adams's recent work. "In C," afer all, is aleatoric, "Drumming" is atonal, and "Music for 18 Musicians" is austere and static, modernist qualities all. Disciples of Milton Babbitt (who is now like a decadent Mahler clinging to his legacy) hate all minimalism, and a large group of them booed "Grand Pianola Music," which is a delightfully extroverted, exuberant, exhilarating piece, starting with a gentle Reich spoof and ending with a fake Big Tune at the end which was nothing more than another prominent pattern avoiding its 4/4 moorings. Of course, extroversion, exuberance, and exhilaration are not modernist qualities.
3. Barbara Kolb, "Chromatic Fantasy" --- Though this piece is a light chamber work, it beautifully accomplished the goals set for itself. The music was entertaining but not vacant, appropriate but not condescending, simple but not simplistic. Compared to the bombastic bombardments of many of the other works, it was refreshing, delightful, and moving.
C. New Masters
1. Nicholas Thorne, "Symphony from Silence" --- The shackles of modernism are nowhere to be found in this grand, virtuosic, pseudo-piano concerto. The piece moves in large post-minimal sweeps, while complicated post-serial figures swirl and collide throughout the big orchestra. The harmonic language is fiercely modal, the tone religious and transcendent. This is what Druckman was talking about.
2. Aaron Jay Kernis, "dream of the morning sky" --- Many of the same adjectives that fit the Thorne piece are appropriate for this work also: large, post-minimal sweeps with swirling post-serial figures, grand, transcendent. Here, a lush post-romantic full orchestral sound predominates, rather than a strict modal language, and a twelve-part rhythmic canon reaches Ivesian heights in power and effect. These two pieces formed the real cornerstone of the festival, yet they were billed as part of a freebie, and not fully rehearsed. For shame!
II. VERY GOOD
A. Bad performance or bad piece?
1. Peter Maxwell Davies, "Ave Maris Stella" --- So much of this piece was so intense, yet it seemed to fall short of perfection. It could have been a faltering performance, but it's probably a faltering composer, crushed under the weight of a modernist vocabulary.
2. John Harbison, "Violin Concerto" --- Same problem here. The piece is so good at times, but something is gnawing at the composer, distracting him into temporary fits of mediocrity. Maybe both composers need a good music editor.
3. Joseph Schwantner, "Sparrows" --- Again, the performance was lacking, but the piece itself was too much of a hodgepodge to cohere. Also, was the music supposed to express the words, express the composer's reactions to the words, or what? It didn't always make sense.
B. If Only...
1. Jacob Druckman, "Aureole" --- As noted elsewhere, Druckman can be frustrating because one foot is firmly planted in modernism, while the other is not. His clipped phrases and pseudo-Beckettian silences cut off his impulses at every juncture. The impulses were not modernist; the alienating musical stranglers were.
2. Charles Wuorinen, "A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky" --- This piece is in three sections: an identical first and third section composed largely by Stravinsky and orchestrated lousily by Wourinen (The woodwinds! The woodwinds!), and an original middle section by Wourinen with the orchestrational stops pulled out. The "Can You Top This?" result was unfair to both composers.
3. Meredith Monk, title unknown --- I don't know how a portable Casio organ came to be planted in Meredith Monk's lap at the last symposium, but at a strategic moment moderator Daniel Windham asked Ms. Monk for a demonstration, and out it came. Her short piece combined a Gregorian understructure with a highly-serious, microtonal pseudo-wail in the voice that was effective but thrown at the audience without context. Deprived of the rituals of preparation and unveiling, the piece came as a shock, but it's nice to know that another minimally-based piece was snuck onto the festival. Monk's theatre pieces are, of course, stupendous.
C. Out of Place
1. William Schuman, "Three Colloquies for Horn and Orchestra" --- This is American conservatism, and nationalistic or ethnic conservative music has always stood outside of the major musical trends, stealing what it wants, drinking the bath water while throwing the baby out the window. You don't listen to Schuman's music, you absorb it by playing a recording ten times until the music is part of you. In the concert hall, this music is superfluous, and as part of a new music festival, insulting.
2. George Rochberg, "Imago Mundi" --- Mr. Rochberg is too lucid for his own good; he practices what he preaches consciously, which can kill the compositional process. This piece could have been written fifty years ago. Mr. Rochberg can do what he likes; he can consciously rip himself away from his own musical experience if he wants to. But that's a trip backward, not forward.
3. Tison Street, "Adagio in E-flat for Oboe and Strings" --- Another trip backward, this time all the way back to real romanticism. How do you compare a piece like this to the others, let alone judge it? If they ever re-make "Gone with the Wind," this score will do.
A. In a few years...
1. Morton Subotnik, "Ascent Into Air" --- The audience was very open to understanding the technology, but the result was disappointing. The electronics did nothing that a full orchestra couldn't, unless the listener was expected to know which parameter of the wired celli was being monitored at any instant. The total effect quickly got monotonous.
2. Leonard Rosenman, "Foci I" --- Mr. Rosenman has very strong ideas, but they're not fully developed yet. The technique he uses suggest Ligeti and Penderecki, while his intentions are more abstract. His music needs more emotional bite, not less.
B. Better luck next time
1. Bernard Rands, "Canti Del Sole" --- His "Canti Lunatici" is a much better piece. If Mr. Rands knows why, why doesn't he hide this one?
2. Marc-Antonio Consoli, "Afterimages" --- This goes to show that being born in Italy is not a guarantor of greatness. What a rotten way to open a festival.
3. Toru Takemitsu, "Far Calls, Coming Far!" --- Takemitsu has done much better than this. A stupendously boring piece.
A. The men who knew too much
1. Donald Martino, "Triple Concerto for Clarinet, Bass Clarinet and Contrabass Clarinet" --- The epitome of bad academic modernist composing. Some pieces die; this one was never alive. (Shame on the Group for Contemporary Music groupies for cheering this piece long after the audience stopped its polite applause.)
2. Fred Lerdahl, "Chords" --- At least Martino is good at being bad. This piece is the antithesis of "Chromatic Fantasy"; the same intentions, the wrong solution.
3. Gunther Schuller, "Concerto for Orchestra No. 2" --- It's not that everyone sounds like Schuller, it's that Schuller sounds like everyone else. Not a single original idea. Stick to orchestration.
B. Should have been stopped at the pass
1. Frederic Rzewski, "Le Silence des Espaces Infinis" --- Everyone was hoping that Rzewski would prove it's possible to be political and good at the same time, but this piece was simply incoherent, muddled, and childish. Modernist paper music is modernist paper music, no matter what is written on the paper.
2. George Crumb, "A Haunted Landscape" --- Like Erik Satie, George Crumb has staked out a little semi-private piece of the music world, and he ferments there. With him, there is a fine line between a small masterpiece and "just another George Crumb piece." This one seems to be on the wrong side of the line.
3. Sandor Balassa, "Lupercalia" --- What connection might there be between Druckman and Balassa to cloud his judgement so? The worst piece of the festival.
THEME: New music is emerging from the death of modernism into a new era of myth-makers.
Pluralism is a convenient term used to avoid the comprehension of coherence and the use of standards. Yes, when it comes to a particular composer or a particular piece, the use of labels can be as wrong-headed as it is helpful. But in a pluralistic world, the listener takes whatever is thrown at him or her with nothing but "taste" as a guide. Those who promote pluralism are really looking for people with the same tastes.
The challenge of this festival was to look at music's similarities, rather than differences, a commendable philosophy in this age of divisiveness. It is foolish to predict the future, but daring and wise to try to understand the present. This is what Jacob Druckman tried to do, and to a significant extent his thesis was correct.
At the first symposium, Jacob Druckman opened up the score to Thorne's "Symphony from Silence" and read aloud the mood descriptors, asking for intense feelings and emotions from the orchestra at each bar. These emotions, moreover, were not those of despair and alienation, but of hope, birth, and light. The markings would have been ridiculous on a piece by Webern or Stravinsky.
George Rochberg, at that first symposium, talked about how it was impossible to wipe out modernism, but that composers were starting to build on top of it. Having reached a rock bottom stage where music had even divorced itself from sound, many composers were devising new realities of their own to believe in.
At the second symposium, Thomas Willis quoted Roland Barthes: "The reader is the space on which all the quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination." Thus did he touch upon another important characteristic of the new trend: the importance of the listener in the creation of a new piece. Unlike serial music, whose manipulations are appreciated by getting inside of the composer's head, this is a music which, by necessity, exists outside of the composer --- its purpose is to affect and provoke, to stimulate rather than to be. The message is not the message, nor is the medium the message, but the act of receiving and self-translating the message is the message. To quote Mr. Willis:
"Sinfonia" was by no means the only composition to direct attention to the listener in the diversified, turbulent and exceptionally creative musical sixties. That same 1968 saw premieres of Stockhausen's "Stimmung," a haunting, exhaustive investigation of the timbral possibilities of a single, vocally tuned chord, and George Crumb's "Echoes of Time and the River," which moved in ritual procession across near-silent sonic seas. Both made a direct appeal to the meditative and mysterious inner world where tonal architecture seems intrusive and superfluous.
The third symposium, despite its lip service to pluralism, actually revealed the key to the festival. The long presentation of ethnic art was like sitting through a talk on the virtues of musical conservatism. The detailed discussion of "Patterning and Decoration" as a reaction to Minimal Art served to fill the gap left at the other symposia by not discussing minimalist composers' reaction against serialism (note the correlation between minimal art and serialism, not minimal art and minimal music). Political artists were given equal time (though their thesis that all art is political is a self-serving conceit). In the midst of this, Pat Steir, who created the "Horizons '83" posters, decided to describe what she and some younger artists were working on.
They were very interested in myth, she said, and in creating the new, artificial, but affective worlds that implied. After the last symposium, Meredith Monk expressed agreement with the description of "myth-making" for her art. At the final "Meet the Composer" event, Mr. Druckman was asked for a philosophical parallel to his new romanticism, and cited Berio's use of Levi-Strauss and the analysis of myth. Sure enough, in the program notes to his piece, Berio used the word "myth" four times.
Because a myth exists outside of itself, it is artistically useless to analyze its creation, which seems as far from the basic tenet of modernism, of objective but brilliant composition, than one can get. Actually, this is just a new emphasis and new property being added on to modernism. Romanticism stressed the glorification of the egocentric artist, but with a limited artistic vocabulary. Modernism tore down the limits in order to find the roots of art, but did not displace the egocentric artist by one step. The new myth-makers are still staunch individuals with their own style and purpose, and their language is the highly sophisticated language of an intellectual self-conscious modernist, but the transcendent effect of art upon the perceiver, the "relevance" perhaps, to use a sixties revolution word, is now the most important quality of the art.
This is a great theory, the pluralists might say, but where is the proof? For example, what's a modernist? Do Stravinsky and Cage and Webern sound alike?
Admittedly, there is much to be learned from the contrasting of Stravinsky and Schoenberg by Theodor Adorno and others, just as there is much to be gotten from contrasting Brahms and Wagner. But the all-encompassing generalities are insightful, also. The fact is that, except for the conservative composers who for personal reasons choose to stand outside of musical trends, all music after WWI is not tonal. Stravinsky, Cage, Varese, even Del Tredici and Reich, are simply not tonal.
In tonality, every note either denotes arrival at a tonal center, or serves to transport from one tonal center to another. There is no surplus, no new chords, no equality of sound, and so on.
In music since WWI, the analysis of harmony would be so useless as to prove futile. Planes of sound shift or overlap or splinter into pieces. Is there a connection between the harmonic tonality of Bach chorale and the non-moving modality of minimalism, or the non-dissonant pseudo-tonality of neo-classicism? There is none.
Of course, music's dissociation from its overtone roots was the big break of the twentieth century, just as art's embracing of the non-representationally abstract and dance's emphasis on the mass and weight of the dancers' bodies served to turn other past assumptions upside-down. Did these transitions occur overnight? Of course not. "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun," a modernist romantic masterpiece with one foot in each camp, was written over twenty-five years before "Pulcinella" and "Wozzeck."
Just as minimal art and abstract expressionism were final limits for modernist art, so were post-Webern serialism and aleatoric music final limits for modernist music. Minimal art was as non-representationally abstract as one could get (geometric shapes, black paintings), whereas serialism took the ear out of tonal music; both relied on mathematical simplicities for their construction. Abstract expressionism, with its rules for flinging paint, was still non-representational, and how could aleatoric music be thought of as tonal? Modality is not tonality! Of course, to the uncultured layman, Mondrian makes as much sense as Pollock, just as Webern and Cage are both classified as "noise."
In his presentation at the third symposium, John Perreault said that, "through a great deal of effort," some artists managed to break away from minimalist art into the beginnings of "Patterning and Decoration." What were we shown slides of? Flowers and sunbursts! Representational forms! Similarly, early minimalists had to work very hard to escape the academic purity of distilled serialism and aleatoric music. What is the most striking characteristic? Tonality! (Also pulse, though we have not talked about the development of arrhythmic characteristics as a parallel stream in modernist music.) Of course, the flowers and sunbursts are still abstract, just as the harmony is too statically modal to be thought of as tonal. Also, the academic worlds in art and music are having a tough time dealing with both.
(I will here drop the art world analogies since I simply do not know enough about particular artists.)
We do not automatically reach myth-making through minimalism, however, though the misnomer "Trance music" would indicate that part of the composer is certainly there. The real myth-makers, after all, are using all of classical music as their base. Since a picture can explain better than tons of description, here is a diagram of influences. Everyone on the outside is a modernist, whereas at the center we find the myth-makers:
Everyone on that transitional triangle is very much still with us (John Cage is still around, also, but lately he's been writing poetry and calling it music, a modernist gesture but irrelevant to our discussion since it is devoid of influence). There are also some late-modernists around, just as late-romantics kept composing well after their influence had ceased. Most of the myth-makers are in their twenties and thirties and are therefore, in the "Horizons '83" sense, undiscovered and unknown.
What is myth in musical terms? It is the creation of a sound world from the bottom up, an entire world of the composer's devising. Unlike the sparse, microscopic worlds of modernism, these are vast, all-encompassing worlds of rich textures and colors, long phrases, drawn-out crescendi, and clear but complex rhythms. The listener is swept away in a mass of continuous sound. Arrhythmic? To some extent. Atonal? You could call it that. Melodies? Not in the conventional sense. Modernist? Not exactly.
The most terrifying aspect of this analysis is the conclusion that, from the viewpoint of romanticism's downfall, we are either just on the verge of a world war or just past it. Unfortunately, both scenarios work.
Suppose World War Three did occur, and half of the world's population, including most of the metropolitan-based composers, as well as countless scores and records, were suddenly gone. To continue this ugly vision, let's say the northern hemisphere was uninhabitable, but the southern hemisphere was both inhabitable and economically survivable. A leader in the post-holocaust world would do his or her best to save certain technologies and to preserve culture. Composers would be asked to reconstruct and recreate masterpieces of the past, and to create new lasting documents that would uplift and encourage the depressed populace. These composers would certainly be myth-makers in every sense of the word.
The nicer scenario is that we're sophisticated and self-conscious enough, i.e. modernist enough, to have already passed through our cultural revolution (the sixties) without blowing ourselves up, and myth-makers are already amongst us. Russell Hoban's "Riddley Walker" and Norman Mailer's "Ancient Evenings" may be our "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake." Meredith Monk is creating her multi-media myths today, not in some post-WWIII environment.
Musically, we may have already arrived. "Shaker Loops" by John Adams can recreate 18th century northeastern colonialism within the listener's mind, even though a specific analysis of the score may yield little to justify the association. Likewise, Nicholas Thorne evokes an Indian world of sitars and ragas in his "Symphony from Silence" by explicating scales, while Aaron Jay Kernis glorifies the purely musical myth of the infinitely expansive orchestra by juxtaposing complex but potent instrumental phrases. These seem to fit the criterion of post-modernist myth-making quite well.
This is our present. The future is anyone's guess.
Postscript (2004 update): Several versions of this article were written in 1983 and 1984 in an attempt to get it published, but there were no takers. In 1999, I chose this longer version - I thought it the most cleverly structured and complete - to post as part of my Internet book, "A Musical Contrarian" (that link is for those of you who might have surfed their way in via a search engine - I encourage you to follow it!). A few years later, Yahoo! Geocities started making available site statistics for member pages, and I discovered that this "Symphonic Analysis in Three Sections" was amongst the most popular and visited sites on my website. Around the same time, I started getting approached by young musicians who recognized my name and cited the article, confirming its popularity.
Although I had some experience with a true Internet hypertext article (my 2001 "hyperhistory" of American Music Theatre for NewMusicBox), I had never gone out of my way to create one myself. Although as far back as 1999, in my Introduction to "A Musical Contrarian," I had foreseen the potential of the Internet as a multi-media environment for a new way of writing about music, it wasn't until my publication of "Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex: The Handelian Ring" that I began, myself, to harness this potential (actually, my FIRST step was the MIDI realization of Harry Ruby's out-of-print and never recorded "Indelible You" on the Harry Ruby Memorial Page).
The fact is, both musicians and non-musicians get a great deal of their musical education through recording (what my teacher, Laurie Spiegel, would call "loudspeaker music"). Back in 1996, when this website was first created, we were all on 33K dial-up modems, the only speaker anyone had with their PC was the crappy one embedded within their desktop case (Stereo? Don't make me laugh!), and putting even a single graphic on a webpage could kill your chances of being successfully surfed. A few pages of "A Musical Contrarian" had graphics, but none had sound. I have ALWAYS wanted this website to be available and accessible to the poorest Internet denizens with the lousiest connections.
Although I had myself moved to broadband, a few months ago I had a series of reacquaintances with dial-up, and discovered the thirty-second samples on Amazon.com. I found myself using them more and more in my own research, and with my children. Sample pages from books were available, as well. I dipped my toe in the water with my popular essay on Thomas Ades' "Powder Her Face" - I put a link at the bottom to Amazon.com, where surfers could hear little thirty-second excerpts from the opera. This was in contrast to that NewMusicBox hyperhistory, which contained links to homepages, which might or might not (with a little surfing) contain samples as well (although some might be 3MB MP3 downloads). To contrast, Amazon.com gives you samples in three formats, which are short and very accessible by dial-up, maybe some buyer feedback, and, of course, a chance to purchase the full recording, if you are so inspired. We don't all live in a major metropolis, and, even if we did, we can't all gain access to live performances of every piece we'd like to hear. And what's so wrong about hearing just a little of a piece before deciding whether to buy a CD, or attend a live performance, anyway?
I reread this essay, and realized that, for a younger generation, I might be referring to a host of composers, writers and pieces that an "educated person" of my generation might be expected to know, but that an information-saturated reader who had not lived through it would be encountering for the first time. So I've put a lot of effort into creating my own style of hyperhistory - links not to homepages or biographies or recordings, but to Amazon.com listings, with the assumption that these latter links are much more likely to stay alive than the former type. Except in the second section, I've tried to stick to the "first citation" rule, so as to not clutter up the article with multiple links to the same page.
If you think that this means I've gone commercial then I'll remind you that, damn it, Not Nice Music is a business and you just read my article for free. There are a few places on this website where I encourage shareware - if you enjoyed this, why not send me a couple of bucks? I've got news for you - no one has ever sent me a dime. Damn open-source and shareware and peer-to-peer copyright violations - if, after reading this essay and listening to a sample on Amazon.com, you decide to buy a recording or book, so what?
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