Sunday, August 05, 2007

More modern music

I sincerely doubt that Terry cares anymore, but I'll continue to give my readership - such as it is - helpful suggestions for modern music. Even though the Bartók predates Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln, though they come from different planets - stylistically.

György Ligeti. Musica ricercata (Aimard, Sony 1996)
Luciano Berio. Sinfonia (Boulez, Erato 1986)
Hans Werner Henze. Das Floß der Medusa (Henze, DGG 1968)
Pierre Boulez. Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna (Boulez, Sony 1976)
Dimitri Shostakovich. Cello concerto no. 2 (M. Shostakovich, Philips 1985)
Béla Bartók. Piano concerto no. 1 (Boulez, EMI 1970)
Bruno Maderna. Quadrivium (Sinopoli, DGG 1979)

I make no secret of the fact that I really like Rituel, and I've mentioned it before. Given that phase of Boulez' career, and his seeming propensity to revise and to withdraw, it is astonishing that he "finished" it then and has left it finished. He seems to have one major issue of the piece (the Sony set, coupled with Eclat/Multiples - a work then-unfinished, by the way), and that might be the only Boulez-led version. It is relatively accessible, and a good place to start with Boulez. It might be the canonical "middle period" Boulez piece. You should give a listen to Maderna's Quadrivium, ably conducted by his student, Giuseppe Sinopoli. It provides another perspective on Darmstadt.

Berio's piece is worth a listen, too. It might be the more important, more interesting, piece on here - though it is difficult to overestimate Bartók. It is probably "the" example of real postmodern music. It has a real sense of play, and is deeply allusive. The quote of Boulez' "Don," for example, is beautifully and wittily handled. It deals with Mahler, especially in the third movement, in a very sort of postmodern way. Berio's own notes, dedicating (mon Dieu!) the piece to that paragon of the avant-garde, Leonard Bernstein, are illuminating to a fairly high degree, though you'll probably want to do some research of your own. This is an important and (unsurprisingly) "important" - yes, there is a difference - work, conducted in what has become the reference recording by Pierre Boulez.

The other stuff on my list is, to my mind, a fairly good second helping of 20th century music. More Ligeti, showing his somewhat more ominous side. Shostakovich, of whom I'm still not sure what to think. Bartók, which reminds me again that I need to get some of my thoughts down about him before I get busy. Henze. There should be a post on Das Floß, but don't hold me to it. All I'll say is this: Das Floß needed more than a raft itself. In any event, these are a few more suggestions. The great and terrible thing about 20th century music is that there are so many directions that no one set of recordings will suffice.

10 Comments:

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Henry Holland said...

Shostakovich, of whom I'm still not sure what to think

Resist! Resist the Cult of Shostakovich, the cult that insists his string quartets are better than Beethoven's (not in this universe) and that his symphonies are the equal of Mahler's (hahahahahaha).

I loved how years ago, Esa-Pekka Salonen announced with great fanfare a Shostakovich cycle. 3 symphonies per season, with the numerically corresponding string quartet to be played by members of the Philharmonic in the lecture area of the Dot. I *think* he lasted through one season and it was guest conductors after that--he was quoted as saying "Well, I think the music is...interesting". Translation: it sucks and I'm not going to waste my time with it any more.

Daniel Barenboim was asked about his music and he said something like "Oh god, I was hoping you wouldn't ask me about that. All those quarter notes, page after page. If a piece needs a description of what it's depicting to make sense, then that piece has failed". Too right.

Others are not impressed either:

http://tinyurl.com/2gzxjf

Hmmm, who's this Henry Holland fellow in the comments? He doesn't seem to be a fan either! :-)

 
At 10:47 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

No worries. Only Bartók can compete with Beethoven, and - even then - I don't think Béla wins the race. Shostakovich's symphonies are nice, but Mahler said infinitely more than Shostakovich in a shorter time frame. Can one have a better lament for a hero struggling against immutable fate than Mahler's 6th?

While I like Shostakovich's two cello concerti and his first violin concerto, I am largely inclined to side with Boulez. Were there not a glorious and tragic Stalinist element to the story, fueled by later hagiographers and a spurious biography, no one would care. Shostakovich reminds me not of third-pressing Mahler, but of third-pressing Wilhelm Furtwängler. In Furtwängler's symphonies, you can find a superior expression of the idiom.

That is, I believe, the first time that sentence has ever been used.

I don't dislike Shostakovich, but I think he gets more credit than he deserves. Certainly more than Prokofiev, who was the better composer. If sad stories made great composers, then Franz Schmidt would be in the first rank of the first group.

 
At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Karl Henning said...

Well, the idea that Shostakovich's string quartets are "better" than Beethoven's begs the eternal question of how we "weigh" music. But I'll dare the unorthodox view that Shostakovich's cycle is in no way "worse" than Beethoven's (are the Beethoven string quartets "better" than Schoenberg's, for instance?). The two composers were about different things with their string quartets; and that of itself makes 'comparative evaluation' of them a questionable endeavor at the outset.

FWIW, I find myself listening to (and reaching for) the Shostakovich string quartets much more frequently than I do Beethoven's.

Shostakovich's symphonies are nice, but Mahler said infinitely more than Shostakovich in a shorter time frame.

Ouch!

With apologies to Henry here, I am no cultist; but just in terms of voting with my ears, listening time and pocketbook, yes, I am firmly of the opinion that Shostakovich's symphonies are in no way the equal of Mahler's. In my view, Shostakovich's are far better.

And even if we line up the choral finales to the Shostakovich Second or Third, together with that popular whipping-boy of a piece, the opening Allegro of the Seventh, and throw the Eleventh The Year 1905 and Twelfth The Year 1917 into the bargain: Shostakovich never wrote anything as disgustingly garish as Part I of the Mahler Eighth. That is music which only a Mahler cultist could love, IMHO.

Henry is probably seldom so amusing, as when he presumes to tell us what's going on in Esa-Pekka Salonen's mind.

I don't dislike Shostakovich, but I think he gets more credit than he deserves. Certainly more than Prokofiev, who was the better composer. If sad stories made great composers, then Franz Schmidt would be in the first rank of the first group.

Well, we ask again, And how can we weigh them? -- I couldn't say with anything like that ease, that either of the two composers was better than the other. Although I've warmed at last to the Prokofiev Fifth Concerto, I think it demonstrates that Shostakovich was at greater ease 'playing' with large formal designs. The Prokofiev Third & Fourth Symphonies don't quite 'succeed' as symphonies, which is not a complaint I could lodge against any of Shostakovich's fifteen. (Could we at least agree that the younger of the two was clearly the better composer of string quartets?) As many operas as Prokofiev wrote, none of them matches the overall accomplishment, the brilliance, the sheer stageworthiness of Ledi Makbet. I don't mean at all to seem to run Sergei Sergeyevich down.

On a purely non-musical plane, I agree entirely that the human interest of Shostakovich's story is (to some extent cynically) used to drive interest. But in my view, the music really is great, on its own; interest in the music does not depend on the biographical allure.

Cheers,
~Karl

 
At 1:41 PM, Anonymous Karl Henning said...

Can one have a better lament for a hero struggling against immutable fate than Mahler's 6th?

In a way, you've made my point for me. Don't look for that in any of the Shostakovich symphonies. Why? Because Mahler was hung up thinking about himself as The Hero, The Genius, The Heir to the Ages. Perhaps this is why I prefer Shostakovich's expression to Mahler's: the Austrian strikes me as indulging in equal parts navel-gazing and pity-party. Shostakovich mourns others, and he mourns a culture under assault from Stalin. Personally, I have not found much to admire about Mahler as a person, and I find his music spotty. Shostakovich had his personal weaknesses, and he was remarkably non-self-pitying, but his heart was large with compassion for the victims.

Cheers,
~Karl

 
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