Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorials and Petty Celebs

The first few days in May mark the 60th anniversary of the capitulation of Germany and its allies to the American allied forces back in 1945. Only a few now remember a war that had cost millions of lives, caused untold agony, shattering the lives of millions of those remaining, leveled entire cities, and transformed the earth and society. Calendars rarely indicate the event. But, there was a memorial of sorts at the National Gallery (London) that Norman Lebrecht found to be hardly worthy of those momentous war years that inspired such momentous music.

He writes, “no conflict has produced so much art and of such elevated quality as the Second World War… it was Britten’s opera Peter Grimes and Walton’s film music for Henry V; …The great cultural act of remembrance was Britten’s War Requiem, premiered at the reconsecration of Coventry’s bombed-out Cathedral in May 1962.”

Mr. Lebrecht continues, “Even more remarkably, the cultural rebirth contradicted the old adage that when the cannons roar the muses are silent. … If one image prevails it is of thousands of bank clerks, civil servants and canteen staff queuing in their lunch hour to enter a National Gallery, denuded of art and under constant threat of air raids, where the white-haired Myra Hess was to play a piano sonata by Beethoven.

“How pathetic, then, was the travesty that was staged this weekend on the steps of that selfsame National Gallery to mark the 60th anniversary of victory. Pop singers and petty celebs were paraded before rain-soaked veterans in a rose-tinted event, no hint of the creative energies of those great days, no intimation of the numinous. In the anti-elitist mindset of those we have re-elected to govern us, greatness and art are two dirty words.”
(Norman Lebrecht, La Scena Musicale, May 13)

Well said! I have looked at many of our principal cities’ activities and it could apply equally to the “entertainment” on our Memorial Day events.

We despair for ignorance. In the U.S. the May events aren’t even officially recognized. Instead, because we have been embroiled in so many wars since 1775 (10 major conflicts are recognized-not counting the last two), we honor 3,727,423 killed and wounded (!!) in all those wars on a single Memorial Day established in 1868 after the Civil War, on May 30, but later changed to the last Monday in May so that it became a long weekend. In most American cities it has become a seasonal holiday. Its meaning, and “greatness and art” are minimized or forgotten, replaced by sales, races, Curious George, “pop singers and petty celebs”. Unnoticed, a solemn memorial is being transformed into a recreational holiday.

Like Mr. Lebrecht’s lament, much the same could be said of American music born of our wartimes. Look at the productivity of WWII alone, to say nothing of those previous and since that have contributed so much to greatness and art: Barber’s, Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Symphony No. 3 , Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, Bernstein’s On the Town, Copland’s Appalachian Spring, and Symphony No. 3, Diamond’s Symphony No. 3, and String Quartet No. 3, Harris’ Symphony No. 6, Schoenberg’s A Survivor From Warsaw, Grant-Still’s In Memoriam, R.Thompson’s Testament of Freedom, and the list has barely begun. If any one of these is ever performed on Memorial Day it would be a rare and notable event. All this too is forgotten when their greatness and art could enhance the dignity and remembrance of those historic days in May 1945 as well as those of the other nine wars.

“So what,” you ask? “That stuff is unimportant. We need to deal with the now, man... and I happen to like Puff Daddy.”

Well then, let us despair for the present first, then the future.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Cocktail Chatter

Marketing Brahms With Cleavage
"You could say that classical music has sex on the brain, which, as D H Lawrence said, is a very bad place to have it. Bad or not, it makes for something jarringly out of tune with current notions of sexiness. How on earth can you combine the sublimated, secret yearnings of Brahms's chamber music with the up-front sexiness of, say, Bond? The short answer is, you can't. They belong to different worlds. It would be like adding lip gloss to the Mona Lisa."
The Telegraph (UK) 04/21/05

Hear! Hear!

Since music is a language with some meaning at least for the immense majority of mankind, although only a tiny minority of people are capable of formulating a meaning in it, and since it is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods, and music itself the supreme mystery of the science of man, a mystery that all the various disciplines come up against and which holds the key to their progress. Claude Levi-Strauss

Now…What’s the moral again?

What's the moral here? Indie pop is art music. It's not designed for a large audience. Increasingly, you won't hear it on the radio. One radio station that plays has to be supported by its listeners. Indie pop is part of a Pittsburgh festival of visual art. Not that this is anything new to people who know pop. Rock bands were doing non-popular art music as far back as the late '60s, if you count the Velvet Underground. But people in classical music often don't seem to know this. They talk as if all pop was simple-minded junk for teens. While in fact pop has developed its own art music. This is a huge threat to classical music. Do we understand this? We talk about attracting a younger audience. But this younger audience already has art music of its own. Why do they need us? 4.25

…Yeah, and we know where that got him!

Music of all the arts has the most influence on the passions and the legislator should give it the greatest encouragement. Bonaparte

Barenboim’s successor

“…Beyond being a superior conductor, a fine musician and a strong leader who's respected by the orchestra, he or she should be thoroughly familiar with how American orchestras function in a changing social and economic landscape. And the next music director should be willing to help the organization stump for funds, a role Barenboim has declined to play but one that has become essential.’" Chicago Tribune 02/27/05-

But, that was shortly before Muti left La Scala. Within days after his resignation there, he was quoted as being propositioned by CSO, which must have shifted their priorities almost overnight, and brought on this comment:

“However, the reputation for aloofness and arrogance that dogged Muti at La Scala is the last thing the CSO needs in a new music director. Running a major opera house like La Scala is much more complex than presiding over any orchestra, no matter how eminent, and La Scala is notorious for its Byzantine political intrigue. The campaign that drove Muti from his post could be painting him with a tainted brush. But the CSO already has a music director with impeccable artistic credentials and a reputation for disliking the socializing and outreach work the orchestra so clearly needs and wants. Another aloof, European-based maestro would be a foolish choice, one that runs counter to everything the CSO says it is looking for in a new music director.

Whether that new landscape calls for high-speed travel is open to debate, however. Striking while the iron is hot has its allures, but the CSO could be in danger of getting seriously burned.” Wynne DeLacoma Classical Music Critic

he most perfect expression of human behavior is a string quartet. Jeffrey Tate

A musicologist is a man who can read music but cannot hear it. Beecham

The English may not like music, but they absolutely love the noise it makes. Beecham

The idea of marketing a musical composition like a tub of lard or a barrel of beer is to me as sad as it is ridiculous. Claude Debussy

Canned music is like audible wallpaper. Alistair Cooke

Extraordinary how potent cheap music is. Noel Coward

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pop, Pap, Rap and Heritage

Almost daily someone writes woefully on the current demise of orchestras and opera companies, shrinking concert audiences, and fewer classical radio stations. Not infrequently there is a blast against music in the schools as being responsible for it all. If it were that simple, it would be simple. But, I will agree, with exceptions, that music teaching in lower schools is awful and that it, with marketing, shoves classical music into the remotest closet corner.

It would need a book to show how profoundly music education in schools contributes to classical music illiteracy and crude musical taste these days and it could be shown that teachers of school music are poorly prepared to teach the subject. Most do not have a background, cannot play piano, they read music poorly, don’t know much literature (certainly not contemporary), can maybe sing the latest pop songs, or play only an MP3 well. Most importantly, they themselves are classically illiterate. Their teaching materials rely on marketer publishers who push pop music in everything from lesson plans to singing books and emo quartos to “quick and easy” instrument methods and ensemble pap. Of course, the kids grow into musical illiterates.

An indicator of the poor quality of music and other teaching in public schools can be found in the spectacular nationwide increase in home schooling. The U.S. Dept of Education census in 2003 tallied 1.1 million students enrolled in home schools. Where I live it has increased 750%! in the past four years. But, as in the public schools, if parent/teachers are immersed and knowledgeable only in pop culture, what else would/could they teach their kids? Again, marketers to the rescue. A look at the music materials sold by commercial houses to home school parent/teachers show them to be woefully inadequate in promoting classical taste.

Charter schools? Since the AZ charter school law was passed in 1994, there are now 495 charter schools at last count, with 75.000 (+-) kids enrolled. Some of these charter schools are an aegis for the arts. I don’t know what they teach or who teaches them, but it points again to the dissatisfaction with the level of instruction in public schools.

But, maybe it’s not all doom and gloom.

Eating Chinese the other evening with my wife, who took a college sabbatical to teach in an elementary school for an experience update in vocal music education, the talk turned to her observations.

One of her more startling statements was, “I have my second grade kids singing do to do and down again, but my fourth graders just can’t do it,” she complained.

The reverse I might understand, so I asked, “Why is that”?

“Because all the fourth graders know is rap. Their CDs are rap. They know every word of every rap song (?) around. Second graders are still singing Sesame Street stuff. But, by the time they get to fourth grade they’ll be singing rap too, with its very narrow, limited range”.

“How could that change?” I asked.

“If I stayed at this school for five years it would change”.

That problem/solution seems to be that it needs a good, (note I did not say qualified) committed vocal music teacher (and instrumental) throughout the grades. Not many schools have that. And how long before the marketers get to the second graders too, if there’s any money to be made?

“Well, you judge at the Heritage festivals and hear the best school choirs around. Are they that good?”

“Oh, they are very good. The U.S. produces the best school choirs in the world with few exceptions-Finland, maybe Sweden. But, you have to remember that the Heritage finals festivals attract only the top choirs, only a very small percentage of them all.”

Maybe it’s always been that way. Only a few float on the puddle. I wonder how many in these choirs were home schoolers? But, that prompts deeper questions. Like I said, it needs a book.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Pope. - New Music?

Music for Roman church use was once the main occupation of composers who, at the behest of the clergy turned out myriads of masses, chants, motets, and organ compositions. Protestantism dampened the output somewhat, but music for concerts significantly changed things. The best of composers wrote for concert hall performance. The texts remained the same but the intent had changed from the sacred to the profane.

The Church, with some exceptions, seemed not too concerned, for it possessed and used its wealth of historical music. It became militant only when the concert type of religious music wormed its way into the liturgy. Then various pronouncements ordered that profane music was unacceptable. For example, before Vatican II, church musicians were instructed that the famous Ave Marias of Schubert and Bach-Gonoud were theatre, not church music and should not be permitted during liturgical functions. Similarly, it admonished the performance of the famous wedding musics of Mendelssohn and Wagner. They were done anyway.

Church composers at that time had to submit their manuscripts to a liturgical commission who ruled on the permissibility of the composition for use in the liturgy and thereby qualified it to be performed and published. Composers found that such commissions were frequently made up of non-musicians or musicians with little competence to judge, particularly if the music were in a non-traditional style. All this promoted mediocrity as evidenced by the mountains of Caecilian type music ground out by hacks, as well as the absence of meritorious works by good composers.

Vatican II, the “breath of fresh air” was hailed by some composers as a new opportunity for their creative efforts. Alas, they were buried by bland psalm compositions, trite pieces with guitar, folk and ethnic masses, folk arrangements, etc. that were seen by publishers to be much more profitable. Many hailed all this, waving their banner of “the past is prologue” – usually by amateurs who did not know the past. English was in, Latin was out. Choirs were out, congregational singing was in. Palestrina was out, Gelineau was in. Professional choir directors and organists were out and amps found their way into the sanctuary along with guitars and bad folk singing.

After almost 40 years of this renewed liturgy, some clergy questioned these practices and wondered if there wasn’t something better and began to seek professional competence. In America and in many other countries the euphoria of the liturgical movement had been replaced by disillusionment. The members of the clergy often tried to attract the interest of a bored generation with entertaining initiatives. New pap was still being promoted by publishers and with the advent of inter-denominational worship, it was further diluted by the use of contemporary “Christian” cocktail lounge music that was, and still is, popular with church goers. The ancient rites and liturgy that had been accompanied by music from the greatest musical minds of a millennium had become hollow tombs and the rites themselves had been blended and diluted into ceremonies not unlike bland Protestant services.

Of course there were bastions and citadels. Some cathedrals and monasteries and a few die-hard conservative Roman Catholic parishes in America and elsewhere continued using Gregorian chant, Latin masses and motets, as well as traditional rites that had faded elsewhere. Msgr. Richard J. Schuler and the Church Music Association of America, among others, including Cardinal Ratzinger, assiduously fought for the Motu Proprio of Pius X, and also for what they believe was the true intent of Vatican II.

Now comes Benedict XVI who has professed an interest in music and specifically, music in the church (see his bibliography below). In his book Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998), then-Cardinal Ratzinger reflects on the atmosphere surrounding discussion of the sacred liturgy during Vatican Council II, and, like Msgr. Schuler, deplores the subsequent developments which distorted the Council Fathers' intentions. In the Cardinal’s view, classical music is an “elitist ghetto” for specialists; pop music is the “cult of the banal”; and rock music is the “expression of elemental passions” that opposes Christian worship. (His stand on birth control, pedophilia, women, homosexuality, theology and liturgy, and politics in the Church is equally archconservative.) If so, then of what should the music of the church consist? If church music has been so wrong since Pope John, whither the path? Back to the Caecilians, Gregorian chant, the canticles, the psalms?

Alex Ross may have been joking but he was nevertheless correct in his post Paging Palestrina ( April 20) suggesting that Adorno and Benedict were cut from the same cloth, so to speak. They were post WWII German thinkers on art and society and they complement each other relative to culture industries, commodity fetishism, false individualism and standardization of music products. Later, maybe pulling our leg again, Ross hopes the new pope might commission new works that will combine classical and popular elements. That’s not likely since, in Benedict’s mind, both are unacceptable as liturgical expressions. Benedict writes that music must enhance the word (there goes instrumental music) and properly begins with the psalms. Oddly, that is precisely where the Vatican II flag-wavers began their overhaul of liturgical music forty years ago.

Benedict once wistfully wrote that true reform will "flourish in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council-reform that is not discontinuity and destruction but purification and growth to a new maturation and a new fullness". (That should give everyone pause.)

However, it is more likely that nothing much different will occur in today’s church music simply because the institution has a new musically interested pope. Pop and rock music in churches will not be replaced by male chanting from the Liber Usualis, or a polyphonic choir singing Nanino, however uplifting and gratifying that may be. If I can chant my own mantra: change is not necessarily progress but it is inevitable. Nostalgia is not change. Music and the Vatican, just as its human members and fellow travelers, is moving on a long, winding, scenic, but sometimes difficult road to an undefined and unknown destination. A pope can take a different road but cannot change the terminus.

Joseph Ratzinger on The Theology of Worship and of its Music. A brief bibliography

The basic starting point is H. HOEPFL, Bibliographie Kardinal Joseph Ratzinger : W. BAIER et al (edd.), Weisheit Gottes - Weisheit der Welt = FS Ratzinger (St Ottilien 1987) 2/1*-77*

A. Independent PublicationsJ.R. (tr. G. HARRISON), The Feast of Faith. Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy (San Francisco 1986)

  • J.R. - V. MESSORI (tr. S. ATTANASIO-G. HARRISON), The Ratzinger Report (San Francisco 1985) 119/34, esp. 127/30
    J.R. (tr. Sr M.F.McCARTHY), Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco 1987) 367/93

  • J.R. (tr. M. MATESICH), A New Song for the Lord. Faith in Christ and Liturgy Today (New York 1996)

B. Articles in Journals and collective Works

  • 5) J.R., Zur theologischen Grundlegung der Kirchenmusik, in F. FLECKEN-STEIN (ed.), Gloria Deo - Pax Hominibus. FS Kirchenmusikschule Regensburg= ACV Schriftenreihe 9 (Bonn 1974) 39/62 English in 1) above, pp. 97/126
  • J.R., Kirchenmusikberuf als liturgischer und pastoraler Dienst : F. FLECKENSTEIN (ed.), Kirchenmusik im Gespraech. Ansprachen, Reden, Gruszworte, Diskussionsbeitraege zur 100-Jahrfeier der Kirchenmusikschule Regensburg vom 21.-27.5.1975 = ACV Schriftenreihe 12 (Bonn 1976) 24/7
  • J.R., Theologische Probleme der Kirchenmusik = Kirchenmusik eine
    geistig-geistliche Disziplin 1 (Stuttgart 1978) English = Theological Problems of Church Music, in R. SKERIS (ed.), Crux et Cithara - MuSaMel 2 (Altoetting 1983) 214/22
  • J.R., Liturgie und Kirchenmusik : Musices Aptatio Yearbook 1986
    (Roma 1986) 60/74 English = Liturgy and Church Music, in R. SKERIS, Divini Cultus Studium - MuSaMel 3 (Altoetting 1990) 185/97; Sacred Music 112 (1985) 13/22; Homiletic & Pastoral Review 86 (1986) 10/22. Also in "New Song," no. 4 above, under a new title (invented by the translator ? the editor ?), pp. 111/27.
  • J.R., Biblische Vorgaben fuer die Kirchenmusik : J. KNAPP (ed.), Brixener Initiative Musik u. Kirche : 3. Symposion 'Choral und Mehr-stimmigkeit' (Brixen 1990) 9/21 English = New Song, no. 4 above, pp. 94/110
  • J.R., In der Spannung zwischen Regensburger Tradition und nachkonziliarer Reform : Musica sacra CVO 114 (1994) 379/89 Eglish = Church Music in the Cathedral of Regensburg 1964/94: Betwixt and Between the Regensburg Tradition and Post-conciliar reform : Sacred Music 122/2 (Summer 1995) 5/17; also in "New Song," number 4 above, pp. 128/46 under the new title "In the Presence of the Angels I Will Sing Your Praise" : The Regensburg Tradition and the Reform of the Liturgy."
  • J.R., The Theology of the Liturgy : A. REID (ed.), Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy. Proceedings of the Fontgombault Liturgical Conference 22/24 July 2001 (Farnborough 2003) 18/31
  • J.R., Assessment and Future Prospects : Looking Again, number 11 above, pp. 145/53.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Classical Music in America

I finally got my copy of Classical Music in America and read it with gusto. It is a tour de force, a joy to read, and it has received rave reviews from everywhere. A few reviewers have aimed their barbs, but it remains an important contribution to our understanding of how classical music has come to be what it is today. Horowitz’ subtitle is A History of Its Rise and Fall. Many readers might not see “fall” as what classical music is today. It depends on whether you view it as a business or as an art.

It is not a history, since a lot of aspects of classical music are necessarily omitted- the development of bands, choral music, chamber music, liturgical music, music education, etc., in fact there are no musical examples-but rather it is a selective survey of the development and workings of major American orchestras, opera companies, and composers. His story begins with Patrick Gilmore and the colossal 1869 Peace Jubilee and in a sense it ends there as well. He closes by saying that Gilmore may suggest a future for classical music in America-Gilmore, who mixed high and low, New World and Old World music. Some contemporary composers are already in that arena: Reich, Glass, Adams, and Kremer. But, Horowitz (or anybody else) doesn’t know if such eclecticism will refresh or diminish the residual classical music landscape.

There is a concern that America can’t seem to escape European domination of literature and performers; that American music cannot find its voice. But, in the long view we all know that classical music was introduced into this country by itinerant European musicians performing European music. Most of them were German-over a century of it. During the Great Wars European musicians fled to the US adding to its domination. During and after the Great Wars, with Germany veiled, the musical scene turned to other countries, England, Finland, Israel, et al. Further, most American composers and performers “finished” their training in Europe until fairly recently. Many still do. All this European influence cannot be overemphasized. Small wonder that American composers from Francis Hopkinson to Roy Harris and beyond have worked in the shade of Europeans.

Readers of this book can’t escape from the feeling that classical music in America is all numbers. Success is measured by the size of the budget and how many are in an audience. When audiences shrink, boards panic, and they lay plans to accommodate the loss of income. Advisors speculate about how the classical music landscape can be refreshed, i.e., how to get folks back into the concert hall. What is needed is less formality, allow applause and/or drinks whenever, more/less contemporary music, more/less warhorses, smaller halls, leaner administration, reduced season, fewer players, jazz and pop music, electronic concerts notes and rolling translated libretti, etc. etc.

Horowitz writes that this demise began with hero conductors and performers who supplanted composers. But what did it take to create these heroes? There have always been Barnum type promoters but few could match David Sarnoff of NBC who didn’t really care much about music, except how it could be exploited. He created the Toscanini mystique; the dough rolled in; classical music in America was changed. “NBC’s public relations apparatus, promoted the Maestro accordingly: a skewed barrage of reverence and ballyhoo.” says Horowitz.

One NBC release shouted, ‘World’s Largest Drum Rushed to New York for Toscanini Concert.” This release echoed one issued a century earlier when John Dwight wrote, “ I was amused to read about Jullien’s monster ophicleide exhibited in Broadway, and there is much talk of his monster drum used in his concerts when great, striking effects are required; and played upon, it is said, by a drummer on each end. This has not yet arrived, it will probably take two ships to bring it. But, Jullien has a bigger drum than that at his command; namely the great press drum…one end of it in Europe, the other (now the loudest) in America; and Jullien is the king of the drummers thereon.” Read that Sarnoff.

The pattern was set. Promoters, now called executive boards, could dictate programs, who would be solo artists, the number of concerts in a season, salaries, and so forth. This change was complicated by performers and conductors demanding more money. Boards found themselves in a quandary they haven’t yet solved. And soon audiences tired of hearing the same works of the same composers, led by the same conductors. Boards tried to solve that by having more and more stars do the same old stuff. But, now audiences are getting tired of the “star” syndrome too, and Horowitz believes that living composers, performed by living artists, can stir their interest again.

There’s enough evidence to support this. Orchestras and opera companies all over America have been refreshed by promoting contemporary music. Only time will tell if living composers can breathe life into classical music around the rest of America.

This book should be required reading for conductors, students in classes of American Music, American Studies, and similar courses, and it wouldn’t hurt executive boards either.

Classical Music in America, by Joseph Horowitz. N.Y., W.W.Norton, 606 pp., $39.95.