Monday, November 05, 2007

Twelve-tone who?

The evil twelve-tone establishment is a running trope in Newmusicblogtown. Tempers these days tend decidedly to run hot against both them and their works and deeds.

My own take on this trope has been that, despite a certain prominence in very narrow circumstances and for only a brief time, there were never actually very many of them, and many of those turned rapidly apostate from any twelve-tone orthodoxy in their beliefs and practices. While a few twelve-toners rose to institutional prominence, they'd never really occupied that many seats of power in aggregate and while there were probably a few in those seats who did abuse the power they had, this was probably not done in greater proportion than elsewhere, in other seats with other aesthetic or technical agendas.* I happen to like some twelve-tone music very much, and even think that it's altogether possible that plenty of good music is still to be written in some version of the technique. But generally I find that there is a great distance between a Babbitt, on one hand, with an uneven but sometimes brilliant catalogue, and his camp followers, on the other. But getting to that sometimes brilliant music, is often very difficult because of (a) the atmosphere of intellectual hubris with which it has been smothered, especially the claim -- sometimes implicit, sometimes not -- that twelve-tone technique carried with it a unique musical and intellectual cache and (b) yes, the exclusionary musical politics played (whether in dishing out fellowships, Fromm funds, or BeeMee prizes) was often so loud that you couldn't hear the music.

All that said, here's my bleg: Who, exactly, are the leading or prominent believing and practicing twelve-toners nowadays and from which places of power and influence do they abuse and scheme? I want names. Besides Babbitt, Wuorinen, Roger Reynolds...

*Quoting myself: Tragic but true: when the smoke had cleared, the new music wars had been won not by towners up or down or coasters east or left, but by a rear guard of trained symphonic band composers from big state universities in the middle of the country. The surviving rebels were exiled, retrained, or forced into dayjobs in data processing and direct telephone sales.


TimR-J said...

Nice post - do you know Björn Heile's article 'Darmstadt as Other: British and American Responses to Musical Modernism', twentieth-century music, 1/2 (2004), 161-78? Picks up on lots of related points.

Scott Spiegelberg said...

Bob Morris, Eastman. I wouldn't say he abuses his position, but he definitely is a strong advocate for serialism.

Daniel Wolf said...

Tim -- Heile's article is very good.
Scott -- Morris is duly added to the list.

Anonymous said...

Not so much serialist, but twelve-tone nonetheless, Stuart Saunders Smith.