Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Not everything needs to be renewed

Last night, sprawled on the livingroom couch, I channel-hopped between EinsFestival's tribute to Ernst Krenek (including his 1966 opera for television Der Zauberspiegel) and a news channel's rebroadcast of the funeral services for Frère Roger, the founder of the ecumentical community at Taizé. I watched the Krenek broadcasts out of some sense of duty -- I had met him a few times when I was a teenager in California Deserta (composers there were few and far between and I was happy to meet any one) -- and was struck again by his music's odd combination of the worst clichés in vocal contours, exaggerated dynamics, arbitrarily assigned, and forced changes in scoring patterns that made me even less nostalgic for this particular "look back at the future". Music history has its share of cul de sacs, particularly those which assert "this is the music of the future". Varese is another, similar, case, but Varese's music always remains striking while Krenek's is just too much of the same. (I had wondered if his vocal music worked better if one could understand the German. My German is now competent enough to conclude that the answer is no.)

The contrast to the requiem music at Taizé could not have been greater. The music at Taizé is unashamedly derivative, simple, accessible: qualities that have no certain inherent potential for quality or lack thereof, but certainly carry a great deal of risk. It is music for amateurs. The technical interest is minor. The performances are rough. But it works fine for its intended liturgical use. Much of the music sung is based on models of some antiquity and music-cultural range (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox), but I suspect that it will continue to be sung for a long time to come, and be ever more widely received, a future very different to that Krenek's music can expect.

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