Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"some safe, undecisive [sic] pc mush mouth ..."

Due to a posting elsewhere, the previous post has earned some criticism from an poster on one of my increasingly infrequently frequented message boards, which criticism, as best as I understand such a typical response from someone who can be called charitably "not a contender for the Fields Medal," is the title of the post.

While the interested can track down the discussion, I won't get into the debate over how music can be dangerous. Like all abstractions, it is nothing until put into action, and it is remarkably hard to put music into action in such a way that would cause actual peril. Of course, if one accepts the proposition that ideas and trends of thought have their own lives, then it is possible for another, contradictory, vein of thought to create a danger. That would, of course, anthropomorphize abstractions and render them somewhat less abstract.

As to the remainder of the "critique," such as it was, I can only say that responding to stereotypical criticism is roughly akin to using a pancake to fix a Diesel engine. It might work, but it's probably more for your benefit than the machine's. That aside, my views on Boulez (ever-evolving as they are) are fairly clear: it's obvious, in 2008, that dodecaphonic atonal music didn't win the battle for the hearts and minds of the musical cognoscenti. Boulez' own music, for what it's worth, didn't even win the battle for preeminence, which is to say the token programming spot. He is a talented conductor, but, even then, he isn't universally beloved. When he gets it, he gets it, but when he misses, the results aren't pretty.

When I say that Boulez' music and conducting work for me, that's what I mean. There are plenty of folks on the other side of that divide who would vomit at the suggestion that they listen to Pli selon pli. That, in and of itself, is not a probative point of much other than de gustibus non disputandum. It is, for me, the fact that Boulez and his musical cohorts ran rampant for, at best, 15-20 years. Looking at the recorded output for that period on major labels, there was still a lot of stuff from the "main sequence" of the European canon. Indeed, the Mahler renaissance (such as it was) got started in earnest around the same time that the post-Webernian serialists and their fellow-travelers were in high swing. What do I mean by that? Largely I mean that the phenomenon was academic. No lasting phenomenon can survive in the anemic, anoxic halls of the academy without making some allowances to the environment.

These aren't new criticisms, but that doesn't mean they're not valid. The problem, of course, is that I like the music on a visceral (and, to a certain degree, intellectual) level. So, responding to criticism that most of my devoted readers probably haven't read, I stand here vis-à-vis Boulez at this point: I like his music, but his music has passed its prime and its relevance.


At 5:16 PM, Blogger Karl Henning said...

I don't think that it rose to the status of critique, really.

Interesting post in response, thank you.


At 6:41 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

One must be mindful that it is, indeed, Advent, and, in so being mindful, one must occasionally be charitable, even if it is to one's own detriment.

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