Archive Page 2

29
Feb
12

A matter of taste

De gustibus non est disputandum – proverb

“Taste” is a tricky concept. It’s easy to countenance differences of opinion when the object of those opinions is something of little import, like T-shirt color. At the other end of the spectrum, where life and limb may be at stake, opinion has no place in the discussion. What we want in those instances are hard, objective facts about the proper way to proceed.

Certainly music is not a matter of life and death. But neither is it as trivial as T-shirt color. Very many people seem content to live life sans the pleasures of visual art or literature (nothing against those endeavors – I’m simply making an observation). But almost no one is very far for very long from their “tunes.” It seems to me music provides a more visceral enjoyment, and is the object of a more primal desire than the other arts are. But that’s a topic for another post. The point is that we have found music to be of some importance. Exactly where on the continuum it falls may not be clear.

Complicating the issue is the question of how to distinguish between matters of taste and matters of more objective superiority or inferiority. Person A may prefer Brahms. Person B may prefer Bach. Both are excellent composers, and we may not be able to discern which is superior. It’s probably silly to try – a sort of “apples to oranges” situation. But certainly we can say that Bach is superior to, say, Johann Gottfried Walther. There is an undeniable greater degree of logic and solid architecture in Bach’s work. We may not have the capacity to measure which peak on the musical landscape is highest, but we can certainly discern the peaks from the valleys. There comes a point at which one is not dealing anymore with “like vs dislike” but with “skilled vs unskilled.” Taste cannot, therefore, be the sole arbiter in the evaluation of a composer, or of an individual piece. We must take into account the intellectual content of the music, the skill with which the deep structure has been elaborated upon and transformed into the surface structure.

Brahms was getting at precisely this when he wrote in 1876:

In some of these you seem to be too easily satisfied. One ought never to forget that by perfecting one piece more is gained and learned than by beginning or half-finishing a dozen. Let it rest . . . and keep going back to it and working over it, over and over again, until it is a complete, finished work of art, until there is not a note too much or too little, not a bar you could improve upon. Whether it is beautiful also, is an entirely different matter, but perfect it must be.

“Whether it is beautiful also, is an entirely different matter, but perfect it must be.” This is such a profound insight. Superficial attractiveness is not sufficient. Conversely, a piece with no superficial hook or gimmick might be much more well-written than a piece full of attention-demanding flourishes and curlicues.

Now, in most cases, the perfect is identical with the beautiful. A piece’s perfection is what makes it beautiful. But even if you find yourself not particularly moved by the surface events in a piece by one of the masters, you have to acknowledge the quality of the writing, of the musical thought, going on at a deeper level.

So I was surprised to see a composer colleague admit that, after years of “not getting it”, he had finally come to respect Palestrina, and that perhaps this meant that respect for Robert Schumann might be forthcoming. Of all people, shouldn’t a composer be able to see the quality present in the music of Palestrina and Schumann, even if the music doesn’t always sweep him or her away? I’ll admit, Palestrina’s music might not be super catchy. But there is an unassailable logic governing the way the voices proceed. And I’m mystified by the Schumann remark. Consider this piece, for crying out loud!

13
Feb
12

The case for voice-leading

It’s 2012. Why would I waste time and effort considering a musical idiom that’s seen its day, as far as most contemporary composers are concerned? The avant-garde writes music in which pitch is either of little importance or absent altogether. Voice-leading is an obviously inapplicable notion in such a context. On the other hand, composers who use pitch more traditionally, and who might even adhere to tonality, seem to feel that ignoring voice-leading is licit simply because of the date. Time marches on, and as it does (the argument goes), it removes, one after another, previously established standards.

In the case of the former, I’d argue that things like this, or even this, are not actually music. Sometimes you see music defined as “organized sound.” I’d refine that a bit and say music is organized pitch. Pitch is an essential element in music. Trying to create music without pitch would be like trying to create food without flavor. Pitch is the substance with which one works. Is the chef not judged by how well or how innovatively she manipulates and combines foods with different flavor profiles? What would you say if you took a bite of something and tasted nothing? Texture (the tactile experience when eating) isn’t enough by itself, just as unpitched sound itself is not enough. If pitch is present, but its temporal location is not explicitly notated by the composer (having been left to chance), then in what meaningful sense can we say that the composer has actually composed the piece?

In the case of the latter, I’ll admit that the march of time and the change attendant to it are unavoidable, and often to be welcomed. But not on the basis of whim, or worse, of incompetence. It sometimes happens that dictionaries must acknowledge technically incorrect word spellings or usages, simply because so many people get it wrong. This is what has happened to voice-leading in contemporary tonal music.

The problem is that many contemporary musicians are unaware of how and why voice-leading guidelines came about. They were not imposed, top-down, by some individual who dreamt them up from whole cloth. They evolved, or perhaps more accurately, they emerged. They emerged from close listening, and consideration of harmonic/contrapuntal implications, by composers across the ages. One can observe how voice-leading guidelines gradually coalesced as monody gave way to organum, which gave way to ars antiqua, then ars nova, stile antico, and eventually culminating in the complex machinations of composers like Johannes Brahms. It was at this point that most composers felt some new means of generating content was necessary. Imagine, however, if scientists were to have said at some point: “the scientific method has been exhausted; we need some new means of producing reliable knowledge.” A keen observer might detect that those campaigning for the “new method,” in either discipline, had simply found the “old method” too challenging, intellectually, and were hoping to institute a more relativistic system with fewer standards. One certainly can’t argue that the “old method” led to scientific or artistic stasis. Just look where the scientific method has gotten us! And then look at the difference between Palestrina and Brahms! Yet the basic principles governing the production of content in both composers’ work are the same! As Schenker often said: “Semper idem, sed non eodem modo.” Not realizing voice-leading’s organic raison d’etre, contemporary composers suppose it can be unthinkingly dismissed as a superficial fashion of centuries past, an unnecessary conceit.

In most disciplines, practitioners usually try to proceed in the best way possible, and usually attempt to derive the best way possible in as objectively sound a manner as possible. Yet, even in mathematics, in order to make any progress, some things must simply be agreed upon, not necessarily because there is absolute proof for them, but because we agree they are more-or-less self-evident. These “first priciples” are called axioms, and in music, voice-leading follows from these two axioms:

1) Redundancy is to be avoided as much as possible.

2) Unqualified ambiguity is to be avoided as much as possible.

Inasmuch as we want to define a composition as skillful and obviously deliberative manipulation of pitched sound, these axioms are necessary to distinguish the composition from unskilled or completely random collections of pitched sound. Most instances of successive parallel perfect intervals breach both of these precepts.

I should hardly need to explain how parallel octaves, in two discrete voices, represent redundancy. Parallel fifths are redundant because the upper voice will really be nothing more than a doubling of the lower voice’s second partial. J. J. Fux had this in mind when he wrote, in Gradus ad Parnassum, that avoiding parallel motion is the primary way to achieve variety amongst the voices.

Parallel fifths are also ambiguous. As Schenker explained, one of the two voices will leave the key established by the other voice. For example, imagine this cantus firmus: C, B, C, E, G, F, E. This is an obvious and strong unfolding of a C-major triad. A voice in parallel fifths would proceed thus: G, F#, G, B, D, C, B. Our sense of C-major has been undone, and C-major is now competing with G-major. Which tonality is it?

At this point, it’s important to remember that avoiding parallel motion only in the surface-structure of a piece, that is, concerning oneself only with the motion from one note to the immediately subsequent note, is not sufficient. One of the primal functions of our brains is to seek pattern. Those who pay close attention when listening to music will relate not only immediately adjacent events, but also important events separated by spans of varying size. These important pitch-events, these harmonic and contrapuntal pillars (what Schenker would term the “middleground”) should also proceed according to the two axioms above.

In addition to the proscription against parallel perfect intervals, the axioms also prescribe a manner of writing that involves the setting-up and fulfilling of goals. Schenker famously wrote: “without a goal, there can be no content.” Indeed, a piece with no discernible direction, that isn’t about attaining harmonic or pitch goals that have been intentionally established – a piece that isn’t heading somewhere – doesn’t compel the listener to keep listening. Aimless meandering will disintegrate into redundancy, often accompanied by a decent helping of bad and unintentional ambiguity. Of course, the ability to establish goals rests primarily on the harmonic implications of the overtone series and the major triad which is derived from it. But that is a topic for another post.

Now, all this having been written, there’s no need to worry that the composer is locked into proceeding in just one, very specific, unimaginative way. On the contrary, there are many ways one can write legitimate parallel perfect intervals without transgressing our two axioms. And the reason the second axiom calls for the avoidance of “unqualified” ambiguity is that not all ambiguity is bad. Indeed, one of the tests for compositional skill is the ingenuity with which a composer can seemingly flout “the rules,” while beneath it all actually maintaining them.

The first “workaround” is that a composer may write parallel octaves and/or fifths with the understanding that the parallel notes all represent one voice. This is easiest to see in the left hand (bass) of almost any piano composition. The left hand is constantly required to play parallel octaves; but those octaves represent one voice – the bass. A similar phenomenon occurs with a style known as “planing”, for which Debussy was famous. For instance, the parallel octaves and fifths, for both hands, in the Sarabande from his suite Pour le Piano are not intended as individual voices. The injunction against parallel motion applies only to voices which are intended to be discrete. This is why organum was comprised entirely of parallel perfect intervals. Composers writing in that style were still thinking in terms of monody. The addition of a perfect fifth was not intended as an addition of a separate voice. No, the problem, which is all too common in contemporary tonal music, is when two or more voices proceed appropriately for a while, then suddenly engage in parallel motion which can’t be explained as a unisono or a tutti. 99 times out of 100 it’s because the composer was not in control of what he or she was putting on the paper.

Ambiguity can actually be a source of great beauty, provided the context makes it evident that a) it was intentional, and b) it doesn’t obfuscate the (hopefully present) perspicuity of the composer’s other intentions. The opening of the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th symphony is an example of good ambiguity. The harp and strings sound only “A” and “C” for several seconds. We aren’t sure if we’re being fed the tonic and third of an A-minor sonority, or the third and fifth of an F-major sonority. When the violins ascend the tetrachord beginning on “C” and wind up asserting the tonic pitch “F”, via a heart-wrenching retardation on “E”, we melt. The ambiguity was brought into sharp relief and made all the more effective because it was dealt with: it was resolved. Ambiguities that are ignored, that are not resolved, are indistinguishable from ambiguities that are unintentional. (I feel I should add, here, that I’m not a particular admirer of Mahler. Much of his music is more gimmick/effect-driven than content-driven. But the opening of the Adagietto was undeniably a good and beautiful idea.)

I’ll close with another analogy. Even if you want to achieve a fresh sound, it behooves you to understand the medium with which you’re working as thoroughly as possible. Composers who don’t know how and why voice-leading guidelines came about, or worse, don’t know what those guidelines are, do not embark auspiciously on their careers. Here’s the analogy: world-renowned scholar and virtuoso organist Jacques van Oortmerssen remarked in a master-class that freedom with tempo means nothing if you, the performer, aren’t thinking of what the unfree, metronomic pulse is. The listener must be able to discern that you are approximating freedom from something. Carte blanche whim is no freedom at all. As philosophical free will deniers and incompatibilists respond, when confronted with the argument that quantum indeterminacy might salvage the classical notion of free will: randomness is not freedom. You have to know where music has been if you want to be involved in where it’s going.

05
Feb
12

Gesualdo

I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read anything, by anyone, professional or otherwise, that didn’t express amazement at the work of Carlo Gesualdo.

Well, I’m not amazed (which should go some way in demonstrating that I don’t simply think old = great).

What is it that amazes everybody?  Singular ability for organic and logical architecture?  A knack for manipulating, while at the same time satisfying, our subconscious and visceral expectations (i. e., setting up and achieving goals)?  Clever or captivating motivic development?

I can’t detect any of these hallmarks of greatness in his music.  No, people seem to be completely twitterpated over the simple fact that he employs much more chromaticism than his contemporaries.  His music is unusual, and for some reason, most people have decided that “unusual” and “good” are synonymous.

His madrigal, Moro, lasso, al mio duolo, is typical of his style.  Chromaticism, all by itself, is not hard to achieve.  Just put it in there!  Chromaticism that means something, that will have consequences for the other parts and for what happens further along in the composition, requires much more compositional skill.  Gesualdo’s chromaticism exists completely on the surface.  He constructs only tiny little islands of relationship, often as tiny as two adjacent harmonies.  The result might be called “complicated but not complex.”  Despite the crazy veneer, there isn’t really anything in his work to sink one’s teeth into.

Now, all that said, chromaticism done right can be very effective.  There’s nothing wrong with unusual.  I only take exception to the way many musicians, in my experience, equivocate between “unusual” and “good.”

04
Feb
12

An analogy

I like peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. I like them a lot. I like them for a variety of reasons.

I also like filet mignon Wellington and creme brûlée.

But I am fully prepared to admit that the preparation of a PBJ is easy. Almost brainless. The preparation of the other dish might quite rightly qualify as culinary art, if well executed. And you’d never get a job as a chef if all you could do was make PBJs.

So why do we defer to the tastes of the masses when evaluating music? I thought educated people understood that argumentum ad populum is a fallacy. The fact that you “like” something isn’t enough to support a claim that it has value which must be universally acknowledged. But for some reason people have enshrined the attitude conveyed in Frank Zappa’s famous quote: “if it sounds good to you, it’s bitchin’!” Which on a certain level is fine, as long as you don’t cross the line into canonizing the mundane and the easy. I think PBJs are bitchin’, but I also think they’re a poor example of culinary skill. You’ll never catch me donating to the Foundation for the Dissemination of Peanut-Butter-and-Jelly-Sandwich-Making Techniques. I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t enjoy peanut-butter sandwiches. Just that we should call a spade a spade.

So here I sit, watching in horror as people snarf down, almost exclusively all the PBJs on offer from bands like Coldplay, or “artists” like Ben Folds. Meanwhile, Bach’s creme brûlée is starting to grow mold. Those who consider themselves “omnivores” are no consolation. How can you equate peanut-butter and jelly with complicated dishes that require lots of knowledge and experience to create?

08
Jan
12

The wisdom of Gardiner

Having just posted about John Eliot Gardiner and the ORR, I’m prompted to write another small post about what he had to say during an interview about the recent Beethoven concert at Carnegie Hall.

The entire concert was rebroadcast by my local classical station today, and between each piece, we were treated to snippets from Gardiner, as well as from the local host, Allison Young. Young naturally spent most of the time talking about the ORR, rather than the music. Period instrument ensembles, while gaining popularity, are still new to most casual listeners. Young characterized the ORR’s sound as “brittle.” And Performance Today host Fred Child, when the concert was originally broadcast, said of their Beethoven 7 that it was “not the cleanest performance.”

I think Young and Child are simply unaccustomed to the sound a period instrument ensemble makes (which is a little disturbing; they are professionals in the field of music).

You can hear the individual parts much better when a piece is performed on period instruments. The fact that it doesn’t all melt together into a homogenous blur of sound is a good thing! I want to hear that voice-leading! And Gardiner said as much when it was his turn to speak. He called the sound of period instruments more “raw”, more “vivid”. He said that while modern instruments have the advantage of allowing greater technical fluency and projection of volume, a price is paid in that they also “soften the edges of the music”; they lead to the homogenous blur I mentioned above.

Plus, period instrument ensembles are typically composed of musicians who are also music scholars. Their musicianship is not confined to technical facility.

If you’ve never heard a really good period instrument ensemble, do yourself a favor and go hear one. The brass instruments, especially, are exciting and have lots of bite! Here are a few appetizers:

Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists performing the opening chorus from Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium

Ton Koopman and the Amsterdam Baroque performing the opening chorus from Bach’s Cantata 140

Rudolf Lutz and the Bachstiftung St. Gallen performing the opening chorus from Bach’s Cantata 26 (note the corno da tirarsi)

08
Jan
12

You can’t judge a book by its cover. CDs, on the other hand…

The once popular but now defunct classical music blog Proper Discord used to feature, from time to time, CD covers judged by the author to be ugly, or silly, or in some other way ill-advised.  These features were titled: “What were they thinking?”

I was reminded of this while perusing iTunes for recordings of Robert Schumann’s symphonies.  I came across the recordings made by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revoutionnaire et Romantique, which are astoundingly good (of course, I usually prefer period instrument ensembles, so I may be biased).  I thought the cover was a little on the silly side of snooty.  “Gardiner must have a rather high opinion of himself,” I thought.  But my immediately ensuing thought was “who cares what’s on the cover?”  The image on the cover will not alter the quality of the recording.  Besides, if any conductor deserves to have an ego, it’s Gardiner.

Yet, as Proper Discord illustrates, quite a lot of people do allow what’s on the cover to influence their opinion of a recording.  “But” you say, “PD was just having a bit of fun!  Loosen up, musicalbeef!”  That may be.  But the frequency of the feature, the large number of recordings indicted in a feature, and the popularity of these features, as demonstrated by the number of comments they accrued, indicate to me that superficiality really is the name of the game these days.

11
Dec
11

Bach’s Magnificat is Bach’s

It’s the time of year for Magnificats. But first, let me clarify that somewhat cryptic title:

Most serious musicians will know Bach’s large orchestral and choral Magnificat, BWV 243. Fewer know the solo organ piece, BWV 733, usually called “Fuga sopra il Magnificat.” It is based on the tune to which Lutherans of Bach’s day would have sung the Magnificat text. But it is not actually a fugue. Probably “fuga” is a copyist’s error, misreading the sloppily written abbreviation “fant”, for “fantasia”.

Anyway, to continue with my habit of complaining about musical professionals who have no business being professional, the theory has been proposed by musicologists that 733 is not, in fact, by Bach, but by Johann Ludwig Krebs. A lot of people have bought into this, and you can find YouTube uploads of this piece (none of which are particularly good, so I’m not including a link) touting the new “scholarship”.

All I can say is: WTF?! The harmonic and contrapuntal language in the piece is so obviously Bach’s! I have never heard a piece and wondered if it was by Bach. There is no mistaking Bach. And there’s no mistaking when it’s not Bach. No other composer has ever written anything that could successfully masquerade as Bach. If you’re a professional musician, you should be able to hear the difference between, say, Bach and Handel, or Bach and J. L. Krebs.

The piece has a clear and well-advised harmonic plan. Each harmonic area is approached and unfolded in Bach’s usual irreproachable manner. And there is the appearance, toward the end, of organic and well-justified “toni contrarii” (or chromaticism, for you non-early-music buffs), which are such a hallmark of Bach’s style.

The musicologists cite the somewhat archaic stile antico language of the piece as evidence that Bach, who would never have written something so drab, is not the author. But the piece is not drab. And Bach wrote in the Palestrina-esque stile antico all the time! There’s the Gratias agimus tibi from the B-minor mass, the first third of the E-flat major fugue (St. Anne), etc.

Krebs was no slouch, but 733 is not his.

11
Dec
11

Getting critical about theory

Too many musicians these days regard music theory – the in depth study of music’s nuts and bolts, such as that practiced by Heinrich Schenker – as only a very occasionally useful discipline, and think that most of the time it stifles musical intuitions or innate sensibilities (this links to a post in which Jeremy Denk wonders if “endless consideration” throttles music).  Those who try to explain great works of art in terms of music theory are often accused of reductionism.

As a result, too much attention is given to perfunctory and superficial “analyses” that provide little real insight. Too many would-be analyzers and analysis readers alike fail to dig deep. Rather, they dig broadly, where the soil is light and loose. The ability to regurgitate a battery of wide-ranging, but superficial and tangential “factlets” is mistaken for insight. The analytical dimension is missing.

Things like this pass for analysis in the current arts climate. This baffles me. Ross hasn’t said anything explicitly musical except to note that the passage is in E-flat major.

But the problem isn’t only that we have to put up with these long-winded collections of jargon. The bigger problem is that real theoretical and analytical thought suffers because it is supplanted and demonized by the “other way of knowing” exemplified in the above link. Ross’ analytical faculties obviously haven’t been fully developed. Musical understanding eludes thinkers of Ross’ ilk.

To wit: in this post Ross undoubtedly supposes he is going to “lay some theory” on us. Unfortunately he only demonstrates his theoretical shortcomings. Or, at the very least, he demonstrates that he hasn’t read much Schenker, or hasn’t read it for comprehension.

Schenker could not have been more adamant about the idea that not all vertical simultaneities are chords; that is, not all members of a stack of tones relate to each other. Some relate only to tones that come before or after, in the horizontal dimension. This is why one can often find (in music from a vast list of composers spanning the gamut of ability) simultaneities that contain several dissonant pitches. Rossini hardly demonstrates any remarkable gift in constructing one of these.

Here is the so-called chord Ross highlights as evidence of Rossini’s prescience:

Right off the bat we can ignore the “C” pedal tone. The harmonies that unfold above it have nothing to do with it. We can also ignore (and this, I think, is Ross’ big mistake) the “E” in the soprano. It is merely an accented upper neighbor to the “D” contained in the simple diminished 7th that comprises the remainder of the “astonishing chord.” And sure enough, the “E” is resolved, in mundane fashion, to the expected “D” in the ensuing two beats. There is no chord here composed of the tones “C”,  “A-flat”, “B”, “F”, and “E”.

I’m actually rather saddened when I see this kind of thing. The more we tolerate it, the more we pretend it imparts anything of significance, the less we will see of the real deal. Armchair fantasizing is easy. Powerfully explanatory perception is not. If we allow people to consume/produce incorrect music theory, we can’t be sure that someone, somewhere, will keep the flame of genuine theory burning. Once a critical mass of theory nincompoops is reached, we may be powerless to avert a “Musikdämmerung.”

25
Nov
11

Paging Dr. Frankenstein

Walk into any Best Buy. Compare their inventory of, say, Shostakovich or Stravinsky or even Bach (!) to that of, say, Lady Gaga. They’ll likely have more copies of one LG album than they will CDs in their entire stock of the other three artists.

How does this happen? How does such a disparity between superficial, throwaway “art” and intelligent, meaningful content come to be? Obviously, Joe Consumer plays a large role here. I’m often sickened by what we, society, make possible with the benediction of our dollars. The casual listeners (who vastly outnumber those who take music seriously) are more influenced by peer pressure than by honest evaluation of content. I include even those who suppose they’re being “different” in that assessment. They listen to what they suppose is countercultural because they’ve been told that’s what you listen to if you want to be countercultural!

But fools and their money are only part of the problem. More than a few stitches in the monster that is Lady Gaga and her ilk have been sewn by those who would identify as part of the minority that takes music seriously. These people dizzily fall all over themselves spinning post hoc rationalizations for the eructations of the Lady Gagas and the Marilyn Mansons of the world.

Why do they do this? In part, it’s a frantic attempt to be seen as open-minded. In the current arts climate, which is shot through with postmodernism, nothing sounds so much like a death knell as an accusation of dogmatism – whether or not that accusation is well-founded.

Another reason is that they suppose they’re demonstrating their own cleverness by inventing those rationalizations. “You think there’s not much to this pop tune? Deep down I’m not particularly moved by it, either. But take a look at my grandiose exegesis (read: castle in the sky) of it and you’ll understand just how clever I really am!”

Lucubrations like this are the result. Another example is the piece by Edward Docx I wrote about a few posts ago. In it, he attempts to elucidate the alleged profundity of purposely strange art, such as might be produced by Gaga, or David Byrne. In the Frere-Jones, she makes this bewildering statement: “Some of pop’s most delightful figures endure exactly because we can’t figure out what they are up to.” So we’re throwing all our money and admiration at people and products we can’t figure out? That seems very sensible. Not. The fact that there’s no perceptible logic at work in “what they’re up to” would suggest to me the inferiority of what they’re up to; that even the “artists” don’t really know what they’re doing. The reason Bach always pops up in “best composers” lists is because we can pinpoint exactly what it is that makes his music superior.

The real effect of these monuments to pseudo-intellectual onanism is that legitimacy is conferred to that which doesn’t deserve it.

06
Nov
11

Argument from authority

In my first year undergrad music history course – when I was even younger and more stupid than I am now – I wrote a short essay in which I opined that Beethoven’s orchestration grew worse and worse as his deafness progressed.

This was not my own idea, however. I came across this idea while reading some essays by Leonard Bernstein, who is still revered as a musical authority by most musicians, including the prolific music critic for the New Yorker, Alex Ross.

My professor, who had apparently never read the Bernstein essays, took exception to the claim about Beethoven’s orchestration. She asked me on what grounds I made such a claim, and could I point to examples of obviously bad orchestration? I then spent an evening listening to the 9th symphony and marking all the spots on the score that I thought represented less than ideal orchestration.

In retrospect, what I had singled out as defects in Beethoven’s orchestration were really defects in either the performance or the recording.

Bernstein was wrong on two counts. Beethoven’s orchestration was fine. That’s error number one. Error number two goes deeper. Orchestration is a necessarily imprecise art. There is no one arrangement of instruments that works best for any given piece of music. If that were so, transcriptions and arrangements would be impossible. As long as one writes more or less idiomatically for each instrument, and the music itself makes sense – in the abstract – things should work out.

My professor was absolutely right to question my assertion, but I have to wonder if she still would have, had she been aware of the Bernstein essays.

Being successful, as Bernstein was in a big way, does not mean one’s ideas are unimpeachable.




July 2020
M T W T F S S
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031