Saturday, August 20, 2005

Local kid does well

I once reckoned that there were about as many composers of serious music in the US as incorporated towns or cities. Unfortunately, composers tend to clump together in a few of the bigger cities, competing with one another rather than distributing themselves more widely. I used to toy with the fantasy that composers would be assigned more equibly among communities, assuming local roles not unlike those played by the town musicians or Kapellmeisters of days gone by. Of course, such a plan would probably be spoiled by the politics: can you imagine the intrigue that would ensue over who would "get" Manhattan or San Francisco or Honolulu or Boston? On the other hand, who knows what an imaginative musician might do in Yankton or Biloxi?

Most composers and musicians have local reputations, and many of those who have remained local figures are the equals of their colleagues who have gained international esteem. Some have larger reputations outside of their home countries. Other composers have been overlooked because their chosen instrument or genre fell out of high regard. The lutenist Sylvius Leopold Weiss, a J.S. Bach contemporary, is a good example. I once attended a musicological conference and witnessed every single tenured professor leave the hall before a presentation by the world's leading Weiss scholar. It was the best presentation of the conference but Weiss was apparently the "wrong" composer for their valuable time. (J.S. Bach's high opinion of Weiss apparently was not shared by the local professorate.)

This is an excellent website concerning the carilloneur, recorder virtuoso and composer Jakob van Eyck. Although recognized in the Netherlands as a major musical figure, his profile abroad was probably diminished by prejudice against his genre: virtuoso sets of diminutions for solo soprano recorder.

1 comment:

Stefan Kac said...

While there are no doubt many "local heroes" that go unappreciated or underappreciated in many cities, I still have trouble with the "buy local" line being applied to composers, as if the musical landscape was a collection of agribusinesses and farmers markets. It's far easier, less expensive, and less polluting for a Floridian composer to e-mail me a piece than it is for them to ship me a crate of oranges, and if no one here in Minneapolis can any more write the piece that I want than they can grow oranges in their back yard in January, I can't think of a good reason that I should resign myself to making due with a lesser piece.