Friday, November 24, 2006

Back to the wilderness, buckoes!

Leonard Bernstein on Aaron Copland (source):

"He was the composer who would lead American music out of the wilderness..."

Well, with all due respect to Messrs B & C, why the hell was leaving the wilderness necessarily a good thing? Much of the best music in the US has belonged and still belongs to that wilderness, happily rough edged, unruly, unapologetically unfit for Carnegie Hall.


Robert Gable said...

I think I've made my peace with Copland and can actually appreciate some of those melodies again because I know the modernism required to get to that point. And I can respect those who want a more comfortable musical life than the wilderness provides.

Bernstein's music on the other hand still confounds me.

Patrick said...

Agreed. I love Copland's music (all periods of it). On the other hand, Bernstein, conductor-composer-music spokesman-human being strikes me as sort of a hacky dilettante.

Daniel Wolf said...

There has always been a comfort zone in the wilderness as well: from Billings to Ives (in his sentimental mode) and on to Cage before the turn to chance, Harrison, Hovhaness. And the west coast minimalists (Cold Blue-ers, Llody Rodgers, Leedy, Robert Erickson).

If you look at the works of Copland which Bernstein mentions, or better yet, those he doesn't mention (the Organ and Short Symphonies) or discounts (the late pieces), you'll find (still) quite radical pieces, often hauntingly beautiful, but none with any need at all to be led anywhere, by compromise or apology.

Bernstein's music, on the other hand, has always left me slightly embarrassed. It's just too aggressive in its mission to impress. The composer just doesn't seem to have approached the project of making music with much humility about the relationship between music and his own body, a recipe for making things go wrong.

Patrick said...

Do you consider the 'comfort zones' of the above mentioned Americans (and American-Armenians) a sort of sell-out or just a natural facet of craggy and wildly eclectic American art music?

Daniel Wolf said...

It's a natural facet of a diverse musical landscape. The music which has adapted itself to the narrow and easily-commodifiable qualities required by the mainstream musical culture (the situationists would have called this "recuperation") is the music which has lost this capacity for diversity.

(One of the reasons I never moved to NYC was the recognition that staking out a professional musical life there meant defining or brandmarking you music very specifically. I couldn't do that, so I kept my semi-pro status and crossed the ocean.)

(Okay, that's not exactly what happened, but it'll do for now).

Danielle said...

Hello Daniel,

I am a producer for Open Source, a daily radio and web conversation hosted by Christopher Lydon, out of Boston. While doing some research for our Thanksgiving show about (and with!) Daniel Barenboim, I came across your blog, which I found to be very entertaining and well written. I thought that you might like to hear the show, which can be found here: (simply click on the link that says "Click to listen to the show", and I invite you to get involved in the conversation taking place right now on our website about it.

I hope you do enjoy the show, and if you have any suggestions for improvements or fuure show ideas, I would love to hear back from you. Until then, take care!


Producer, Open Source

www radioopensource org

danielle radioopensource org

Lulu said...

Wilderness exists in the mind.