Thursday, October 13, 2011


"[Stockhausen] sighed: 'One can't write like that any more today.'...I wondered whether this remarked portended some new doctrine. Were we again to be given guidelines? What did 'today' mean in questions of art? Who was meant by 'one'? And what did these hostilities portend? I would find out soon enough. It seemed to me strange, not to say absurd, that composers, as messengers of a higher spirituality, should want to make life difficult for one another in a way that now became quite common, taking away each other's livelihood, fighting each other like business managers and forming cliques and lobby groups. I found it repulsive, unethical and inartistic -- another reason for preferring to remain alone and refusing to conform. The new arbiters of German music, who were really no more than jumped-up officials and civil servants...were all people I found profoundly unsympathetic."
-Hans Werner Henze

That quote is from Henze's Bohemian Fifths, his insightful memoir (in the full quote, Henze is paraphrasing what Herbert Hubner told him about Stockhausen). I think it is important to remember, as a new generation of composers contextualizes themselves within and against the past, that the postwar period was not all abstract, scientific, or hypermodern. The Zero Hour did not sweep all of Europe -- not even all of Germany -- and the lyricism and subjectivity of today's contemporaries have plenty of antecedents.

Anyway, that was just a springboard to talk about how much awesome stuff is going on in places I'm not, and how much of that is, fortunately, streaming online. I've been using Spotify (the free kind) a ton recently to listen to Haydn (I hope FJH doesn't get mad about royalties). But NPR/WNYC/WQXR/Q2 are doing an awesome job of keeping up with what's going on in the post-Esterházy world. I've been listening quite a bit to the new My Brightest Diamond album -- streaming on NPR -- featuring the-best-thing-ever, aka yMusic. I wasn't familiar with her music before (besides Sarah Kirkland Snider's Penelope, written for her voice), but the songs have a spooky snappiness to them, enhanced by the delicate instrumental accompaniments. It's good stuff. For comparison, WNYC also has a New Sounds concert streaming from earlier this year, so you can see how it all sounds live. And if you're a Naxos Music Library member, you can stream yMusic's own album there, they've got the whole New Amsterdam catalog.

Q2 has been my soundtrack this week (cheating hint: since I lack a smartphone and like to listen to music detached from my computer, I use a stream ripper to download their shows after-the-fact). We've got two new Corey Dargel things -- an electric guitar quartet plus him piece from MATA and then a piece on last night's Brooklyn Phil concert, which I'm listening to now and is, as usual, great. I'll let you know how the Mos Def stuff sounds when I get to it (Sacred Harp! yay!).

Some more streaming things that should be awesome -- tonight, a preview event for Nico Muhly's upcoming Dark Sisters at LPR with the composer at the piano and plenty of really incredible stuff (when was the last time you heard Sibelius songs? Side note: the Dark Sisters website is how everyone should unveil a new piece of music; lots and lots of podcasts). And then on Sunday, the lethal combination of Les Arts Florissants, William Christie, and Cavalli's remarkable Didone on Medici TV. This Saturday, Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil unveil Jonathan Harvey's Weltethos on the Digital Concert Hall; Pablo Heras-Casado makes his Phil debut the week after; and in early November, Rattle pairs Mahler's Ninth with Lachenmann's Tableau -- it's all here.

When someone (possibly me) writes the history of our chapter in music, it should be as much about the institutions that have granted these fertile, crossgenre (or no-genre) musical possibilities. People like John Schaefer, Jane Moss at Lincoln Center, Deborah Borda in L.A., Le Poisson Rouge, and Q2 are shaping 21st century music as much as any of our very talented musicians. Old histories of music placed the major shifts of the past fully within the powers of the god-like composers. It was Beethoven who paved the road for Romanticism, for the composer as autonomous, freelance agent, servant to no one. In reality the picture is a bit muddier -- the breakdown of the court system and the rise of individual patronage helped ignite the embers of the autonomous musical work as much as any individual composer did. We then move away from wishy-washy ideas of Zeitgeist and begin to talk about how music and musical styles were disseminated as much by institutions -- the churches, the courts, the aristocracy -- as by individual geniuses. We assume that every good young composer is doing this indie-rock alt-classical fusion thing, that this is becoming the dominant style of how music is composed today. Of course it's not. But the institutions programming music, performing music, and spreading music are (rightfully so) supporting this new movement and shaping today's narrative. Their role should not be ignored.

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