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Understanding Phillip Glass
Last post Mon, Mar 12 2018 by Paul McGraw, 42 replies.
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Posted on Fri, Mar 02 2018 23:06
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1013

Minimal music proffers its own aesthetic; you either like it or you don't (same as with serialism, spectralism or whatever). 

Having said that, between the four most famous exponents of the genre (Glass, Reich, Adams, Riley), I'd say Glass is the least learned in the art. This is as obvious as it is incontrovertible. That is not to say that he has nothing to say musically, he does have his own "sound", and although it would not be outrageous to quip that he is the Hans of 'serious' music, it wouldn't be fair to Glass, even though there are similarities.

My listening suggestions would include Reich's Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards, Adams' Shaker Loops, and Riley's Salome Dances for Peace. I don't think anybody could argue that there is no real music in these works. These (and others) are much better than purely experimental, empty works such as In C, and Random Round (both of which I have performed in ensemble situations, ).

Of Glass' more "meaty" works I would include Akhnaten and Koyaanisqatsi. Einstein on the Beach is pure methane.

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Fri, Mar 02 2018 23:27
by kenneth.newby
Joined on Wed, Mar 19 2014, Posts 108

... or pure methamphetamine?  I used to enjoy Einstein on the Beach whilst on driving trips back in my student days.  

The closing aria of Satyagraha is a gorgeous thing, with that rising vocal line and the gradually more ornamental accompaniment.  The rest is more Glass' mannerism.  He has glimmers of creativity, but tends to get stuck. I suppose that's easy to do when one gets a life-time contract with a major record label.

I watched a documentary on him years ago that featured him at work in his apartment, at the piano, explaining how he works.  "It's quite simple really" he stated as he proceeded to write the same figures over and over again on the staff.  I had to laugh out loud, and thought of the King's New Clothes.

I agree with you that he's the light-weight of the founders of the style. Contemporary music as easy-listening.

Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 00:40
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 332
Ken

You speak of Debussy, Bartok etc., in the same level as Glass in the sense that they are all 'modern' as opposed to, I guess Mahler or Beethiven who are 'old fashioned.' While I disagree with this categorization (Beethoven is more modern than any in some of his works....take the grosse fugue for example)....I would question a grouping Glass with Bartok or Debussy.

Here is a simple test. Show me one work of Glass that is 'old fashioned.' Can he write a competent work in tradional harmony? Debussy ravel Bartok all showed many times they can write masterful tonal works. I doubt Glass can do that. But you can prove me wrong. A composer who can't show mastery in the foundations of the form is not a composer to me at all. The best analogy I can give is in painting...Picasso could paint in every genre before he broke tradition.

I suggest that 'minimalism' has been exploited as a way to hide behind lack of knowledge or skill. Minimalism should not mean minimal knowledge!

If you truly want modern, how about Ligeti as William mentioned? He truly creates incredible soundscapes, I've even heard the sound of tearing paper blended with the orchestra.

To me there is only high quality art or mediocre art. I don't care about modern or old fashioned.

Anand
Anand Kumar
Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 02:18
by kenneth.newby
Joined on Wed, Mar 19 2014, Posts 108

Anand,

Where did you get the impression that I had stated either Mahler or Beethoven were "old-fashioned"???? Not my words my friend, but William's.  I've loved Mahler since I first heard the early Bernstein recordings with the New York Philharmonic. I'm of the opinion that Mahler, in many ways brought the symphonic tradition to it's culminating point—a true progressive.  Beethoven... well, let's talk about those last few string quartets of his, not just the big fugue. That was music that was considered to be avant-garde in its day.  Debussy?  Better to compare Debussy to Vincent D'Indy if you want a more useful comparison...  or, as I did, in comparison with his French compatriot, Auric. 

I think it's silly to compare the music of Philip Glass and the other innovators of his time with those of earler eras. Each artist is working with the materials at hand, which are profoundly the cultural conditions of their time.  The American minimalists were responding, to some extent, to the chaos that John Cage had led contemporary music into in the U.S., as well as the chaos of complexity that total serialism had led to in Europe at the time. Both approaches were based on the idea that music can be largely precomposed according to some kind of process, be it throwing dice, mapping musical pitches to a star map, or devising a sequence of numbers that map to every parameter of the music. Steve Reich's response to this, as he wrote in his essay Music as a Gradual Process  http://www.bussigel.com/systemsforplay/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Reich_Gradual-Process.pdf , was that the processes in the music should be able to be heard.  

Of course Ligeti... but again, to compare his music to that of the so-called "minimalists" is to compare frogs with grandmothers.  Better to compare his music to his fellow composers of the Darmstadt school... Boulez, Nono, Stockhausen, Berio, Kagel, etc.  That makes sense and is actually pretty interesting if you look at Ligeti's standing in that group at the time and who's music is still left standing in the present. And if you don't like their music, fair enough. But let's not take the attitude that we can flatten history out and compare the Gregorian Chants of Perotin to the string quartets of Brian Ferneyhough and come to the conclusion that one is "better" than the other.  They're not. They're the product of their time—their music is the way each composer thought about music in a creative way—both innovators in their own right. I can say I prefer to listen to Perotin over Ferneyhough for a variety of reasons... use of consonance, voice vs. instrumentation, level of complexity, their respective place in the history and evolution of European art music, etc., but to come to the conclusion that one is better than the other?  I don't think so. I can only say I enjoy one more than the other and try to understand why, hopefully in a way that can inform my own musical creativity. 

About your test. Which tonal tradition are you speaking of? Since when does one have to be proficient at the harmonic practice of a particular era to be given the stamp of approval for music being made now?  Functional harmony? Palestrina? Bach? Haydn?  Or the triadic harmony articulated by Riemann that seems to better describe the chromatic practices of the late Romantic composers?  Do we need to be able to reproduce a sculpture in a Hellenic style to a bona fide sculptor?  I think it's interesting to consider that Glass was taken on as a student by Nadia Boulanger in Paris. She was not known to suffer fools gladly, or take on just any student, having refused Astor Piazzola among others.  

Somehow people get the idea that Glass is some kind of untutored hack. I think you should be careful before judging the level of education and musical knowledge a composer has.  He, apparently, wrote a substantial amount of "traditional" music in his youth which was destroyed precisely because it lacked an individual voice. And please consider, for instance, the following text shows some of Glass' thinking about the harmonic relations in his Einstein on the Beach work:

"Glass describes one of the main harmonic ideas of the work is taken from the closing section of “Train.” He states that this particular progression resembles a traditional cadential formula, though presented with an altered chord in the middle that serves as a pivot chord, ultimately leading to a resolution of the cadential figure a half step lower than expected. The harmonies of this thematic idea are F minor – D-flat major – B-double flat/A major – B major – E major. Thus, the progression begins in the key of F minor and ends in the key of E major, with the B-double flat/A harmony serving as flat- IV in F minor and IV in E major.27 This particular analysis of the pivot chord in this progression is taken from Glass’s own writings, presumably to show how this particular harmony would function if the context remained in the realm of F minor. However, since this harmony never appears in the exact form of B-double-flat major, only as A major, a better understanding of this harmony in terms of F minor is that it is a chromatic mediant in this key. As the progression moves forward, its new E major context becomes clear, so that this A major pivot chord can also be heard as IV in the new key."

So, perhaps he's not describing the harmonic structure of one of Handel's oratorios, but you've go to admit, there's a level of sophistication in the thinking here about harmonic structure—an awareness of the way tonality can be manipulated, its ambiguities leveraged.

If you're interested in knowing more about this you should read the whole piece. It's a good read:

https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=musicstudent

Anyway... I don't know why I'm defending the music Philip Glass here. I don't really much of it, but I wish there were a higher level at which the dialogues on music could be shared here. Not with people throwing out misinformation, putting words in other's mouths, and using language like "bullshit" to describe the work of others.  If we have something useful to say... we should say it, in an intelligent and respectful way. Back it up with evidence, not just hearsay and "I know what I like" subjective statements. That's the issue with the sorry state of our post-modern era. It all comes down too often to "what I like" instead of taking the time to understand how we got here and how we might move forward based on that realization of the deeper meaning of such a divine thing as music.

OK... I'll shut up now (for the moment)....  ;-)

Kenneth.

Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 07:48
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1013

Ivry Gitlis said something interesting a few years ago; he opined that all music should be viewed and performed as 'modern' and 'contemporary', as Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Wagner, Debussy, etc. were all considered 'modern' and 'contemporary' in their own time. On the other end of the spectrum the names thrown here and in other threads, like Ligeti, Ferneyhough, Kagel, Stockhausen, etc., these composers also are old news, so far as the 'modern' composition world is concerned. Even Ferneyhough and Glass -who are still alive- are part of history, in the same way that Verdi and Saint-Seans were not part of 'modernity' in 1900 and 1920 respectively. It doesn't matter that a Ferneyhough page looks (and sounds) like if through some printing error four pages of music were printed onto one, this is still 'old' music; older than the crap Ades and Golijov are churning out today, even if Ferneyhough composed it yesterday. Strict chronological contemporariness isn't relevant.

Is this an important point? Hugely in my opinion, as people tend to consider composers in film that are very much current and relevant (mostly to disparage them), but have somehow stopped the clock in the 60s and 70s (occasionally 80s), when it comes to 'serious' music (almost 40, 50, and 60 years ago respectively!). That is an enormous period of time that is ignored, and is indicative of the compositional desert we have been traversing these past few decades, compared to the past (again, I exclude historical composers that due to their good fortune reached very old age and are still with us, or were until a few years ago). I would argue the same about film music, and pop music. Collins, Anderson, Sting, Waters, May, Gibb, McCartney, Jagger, Lynne, Diamond, Simon, Bacharach, insert names of preference, are all very much alive today and most still release music, but who would claim that they are part, representative, or relevant in 'modern'/'contemporary' pop musical creation?

I exclude 'serious' computer music from all this (no, DJs or Jean Michel Jarre are not part of this world), but wonder whether this swamp of an artistic impasse is common with other arts. I do keep only half an eye on what's happening in visual arts and architecture, and don't consider myself expert enough to be confident of my opinion.

At any rate, when I hear around academia "This is an exciting time to be a composer", I laugh out silly. Yeah, very exciting times, when one can make a living from 'serious' composition ONLY if one is part of academia, so only if one teaches it. We have come down from all the major orchestras in the world pleading with Sibelius for an 8th symphony for decades, and completing supposed sketches of it 70 years later, to orchestras (not major) doing us a grudging favour workshopping our works (these can rarely be called performances even when in concerts). And so it should be as most people's music today transforms music manuscript into (used) toilet paper...

If these mutants find anything "exciting" today, is that anybody can claim to be a "composer".

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 10:59
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 184

I suppose the cause of the serious composers' lot today is the language barrier between him/her and an audience and the retreat of serious music to behind the university/conservatory ramparts of academia. I tend to agree with John Adams implications about so called academic music and how alienating and de-personalised it can get at times, especially when rhythm becomes complex. (Adams calls rhythm a great unifier!) - as a composer however, I reserve the right to venture forward uninhibited. Obviously it does not always have to be so divisive, especially if one can write with hooks (not literally musical, although, yeah, that too) for the audience to hang their hats on when listening - a tenuous connection to the past at the very least perhaps. The danger is that the more you align yourself with previous practice, the more successful and probably irrelevant you might be in art music. We have to decide.

The drive to move forward in all aspects of our life might play a part in demoting stlyistic trends in short time frames and deeming them irrelevant, and now the atonal genie has been unleashed, is it any wonder there is a limbo as well as  a plethora of stylistic reaction to Darmstadt and Webern. One could conceivably blame Darmstadt for Errikos' desert because ever since, composers' have had to struggle with an existential justification for what they write, which has to be conducted against a back drop of angst related to acceptance by a wide audience. How much this compromises or fuels the writing is a key question for anyone serious about their utterances. 

Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 11:54
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1013

Darmstadt definitely takes all the blame that composers must carry (there are socio-political reasons for the current state of affairs as well). However I would say that even that behind-closed-doors academic music is hardly the stuff of Pythagoras and his closed circle of initiates. I know and understand the principles and aspects of current academic music, and it's not Ligeti or Xenakis or Lachenmann by any stretch of the imagination. It often apes such composers (badly), in the same way lots are aping Hans in Hollywood (better). Just because something is atonal, rhythmically difficult to impossible, and uses every possible way to play an instrument rather than the way it was originally designed to be played, it doesn't necessarily make it a good, or even an interesting piece of music.

Be that as it may, it isn't that all art-composers today write in aural hieroglyphics; in fact a lot of them compose in darn approachable spicy harmonies, using orchestral artifice as modernistic raison d'être, so it's not a matter of the proverbial abyss of inaccessibility, dividing the "enlightened", misunderstood ""genius"" from the plebeian masses, although this kind of abstruse composition is hardly dead yet - it will take many more a spike to nail that coffin. 

I'm afraid that -and I can't elaborate on this- what's missing today from music (most genres of music) is strong character. As if everything has been watered down and homogenized by some mystery agent. I see all these clips where people really know their very sophisticated harmony, and some others really know their very sophisticated orchestration, however when I hear the works... There is no soul(?), I don't know how else to describe it and it frustrates me for I realize the lack of epistemology here. What I can say is that very-very-very-very rarely do I come across a Melody worthy of the capital 'M', even in those genres where melody is the sine qua non ingredient (ex. Opera, Musical Theatre, pop/rock ballads, soundtracks, etc.). And I mean melodies worthy of Tchaikovsky, Rodgers, Mercury, and Morricone; not just barely passable tunes.

Complete and utter vacuum.

We were encouraged as students to read Babbitt's "mighty", "defiant", notorious manifesto "Who Cares if you Listen". That's great Milton, coming from the six-figure security of Princeton University's music faculty, but it occured to me then, and I still don't understand how we can ignore, and who is hurt the most by the obvious rebutter, "Who Cares if you Write".

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 13:51
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 184

Well put Errikos.

Melody or even Theme, is one of those technical "hat hooks" I was thinking about - a focus for the listener, a way to follow the story, a way to elicit emotion. As it happens, I have been re-acquainting myself with Tchaikovskys' 4th, 5th and 6th symphonies and continually marvel (along with his orchestration) at his melodic invention and the sheer beauty and power of his works. But, melody ( at least overt melody which I think you mean) is out of fashion these days and am I right in thinking that it is not encouraged in our conservatories? - it certainly wasn't in mine - in fact, the less you knew about technique, the better! - believe me that was an eye opener for someone who worked like a f---er beforehand to master fugal writing.

I have heard some academic musings and have to agree that character was absent in most of what I heard, but novelty wasn't. It is almost as if the novelty, the uniqueness, is more important than the expression, in an effort to stand out from a backdrop of works infused with the "homogenising mystery agent', which might well be the uncompromising ethic of Babbitt.  A lot of pieces were actually an ordeal for the listener.

Let's not forget though that genius is rare and when heard, it can be unmistakeable.

Richard rodgers - now there was a supreme melodist. Do you prefer him with Hart or Hammerstein? Me I like both.

(Anand, we seem to have digressed....blame it on the Greek..:-)

Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 14:17
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5192

"...when I hear around academia "This is an exciting time to be a composer", I laugh out silly. Yeah, very exciting times, when one can make a living from 'serious' composition ONLY if one is part of academia, so only if one teaches it. We have come down from all the major orchestras in the world pleading with Sibelius for an 8th symphony for decades, and completing supposed sketches of it 70 years later, to orchestras (not major) doing us a grudging favour workshopping our works..." Errikos

"...What I can say is that very-very-very-very rarely do I come across a Melody worthy of the capital 'M', even in those genres where melody is the sine qua non ingredient (ex. Opera, Musical Theatre, pop/rock ballads, soundtracks, etc.). And I mean melodies worthy of Tchaikovsky, Rodgers, Mercury, and Morricone; not just barely passable tunes..." - Errikos

I had to quote these because they are so true and pertinent.  

We are living in a time of complete decadence artistically.  There is no movement "forward".  All forms of art exploded into pieces in the first half of the 20th century and the pieces are flopping amid a welter of blood and gore on the floor of art -  as grotesque, feeble and semi-animate as the twitching body parts of the axed teenagers in the original Evil Dead.

Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 18:32
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1013

Mike: I think Rodgers was a great composer with both Hart and Hammerstein. With Hart I believe he had more depth and colour, but I think Hammerstein's positivity allowed his melodic gift to reach its peak. As hammed as it's always presented, nevertheless You'll Never Walk Alone is Schubert.

With that, I'd like to clarify that I don't consider 'melody' an absolute requirement for the procurement of great music. La Mer and Le Tombeau de Couperin are not exactly treasure troves of whistling material, but the orchestra is singing. And Bartok and Stravinsky... Hah-hah! I suppose it is personal character and integrity, talent, and inspiration that amount to greatness (at least some technique is necessary of course). I just find these missing today.

I'm surprised that you encountered novelty at the conservatory. I follow quite a bit of contemporary writing, and it's all a meandering rehash of years (if not decades) -old instrumental techniques. As Schoenberg put it long time ago: "Such music could be taken to pieces and put together in a different way, and the result would be the same nothingness expressed by another mannerism".

Bill: I agree with your imagery. Evil Dead... A phenomenal and seminal movie for its time and, as Raimi said, it would be nothing if not for Lo Duca's soundtrack.

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Sat, Mar 03 2018 22:22
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 332

Quick response below to some of your points in italic within [.....]  Sorry I dont have much time to write in detail.

Originally Posted by: kenneth. newby Go to Quoted Post

Anand,

Where did you get the impression that I had stated either Mahler or Beethoven were "old-fashioned"???? Not my words my friend, but William's.  I've loved Mahler since I first heard the early Bernstein recordings with the New York Philharmonic. I'm of the opinion that Mahler, in many ways brought the symphonic tradition to it's culminating point—a true progressive.  Beethoven... well, let's talk about those last few string quartets of his, not just the big fugue. That was music that was considered to be avant-garde in its day.  Debussy?  Better to compare Debussy to Vincent D'Indy if you want a more useful comparison...  or, as I did, in comparison with his French compatriot, Auric. 

I think it's silly to compare the music of Philip Glass and the other innovators of his time with those of earler eras. Each artist is working with the materials at hand, which are profoundly the cultural conditions of their time.  The American minimalists were responding, to some extent, to the chaos that John Cage had led contemporary music into in the U.S., as well as the chaos of complexity that total serialism had led to in Europe at the time. Both approaches were based on the idea that music can be largely precomposed according to some kind of process, be it throwing dice, mapping musical pitches to a star map, or devising a sequence of numbers that map to every parameter of the music. Steve Reich's response to this, as he wrote in his essay Music as a Gradual Process  http://www.bussigel.com/systemsforplay/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Reich_Gradual-Process.pdf , was that the processes in the music should be able to be heard.  

Of course Ligeti... but again, to compare his music to that of the so-called "minimalists" is to compare frogs with grandmothers.  Better to compare his music to his fellow composers of the Darmstadt school... Boulez, Nono, Stockhausen, Berio, Kagel, etc.  That makes sense and is actually pretty interesting if you look at Ligeti's standing in that group at the time and who's music is still left standing in the present. And if you don't like their music, fair enough. But let's not take the attitude that we can flatten history out and compare the Gregorian Chants of Perotin to the string quartets of Brian Ferneyhough and come to the conclusion that one is "better" than the other.  They're not. They're the product of their time—their music is the way each composer thought about music in a creative way—both innovators in their own right. I can say I prefer to listen to Perotin over Ferneyhough for a variety of reasons... use of consonance, voice vs. instrumentation, level of complexity, their respective place in the history and evolution of European art music, etc., but to come to the conclusion that one is better than the other?  I don't think so. I can only say I enjoy one more than the other and try to understand why, hopefully in a way that can inform my own musical creativity. 

[Anand: So calling oneself a 'minimalist' gives a composer a free pass and not be judged according anything else? I have tried to listen to Glass, trust me. I am not denying he doesnt have training. I am not saying he is a hack. All I am saying is that he is mediocre. I cannot name one 20th century composer of the 100s I have listened to that I would call mediocre in the same way. So other than personal taste, someone liking Glass's music due to various personal reasons, I dont know why he would be on anyones playlist of classical music of any kind... ]

About your test. Which tonal tradition are you speaking of? Since when does one have to be proficient at the harmonic practice of a particular era to be given the stamp of approval for music being made now?  Functional harmony? Palestrina? Bach? Haydn?  Or the triadic harmony articulated by Riemann that seems to better describe the chromatic practices of the late Romantic composers?  Do we need to be able to reproduce a sculpture in a Hellenic style to a bona fide sculptor?  

[Anand: YES ABSOLUTELY! The greatest composers from Bach to Stravinsky demonstrated a mastery of every style of classical form that existed before them. I dont want to waste any more time justifying this.  They are the proof. If you dont agree, well, I know who is on my side.]

I think it's interesting to consider that Glass was taken on as a student by Nadia Boulanger in Paris. She was not known to suffer fools gladly, or take on just any student, having refused Astor Piazzola among others.  

Somehow people get the idea that Glass is some kind of untutored hack. I think you should be careful before judging the level of education and musical knowledge a composer has.  He, apparently, wrote a substantial amount of "traditional" music in his youth which was destroyed precisely because it lacked an individual voice. And please consider, for instance, the following text shows some of Glass' thinking about the harmonic relations in his Einstein on the Beach work:

"Glass describes one of the main harmonic ideas of the work is taken from the closing section of “Train.” He states that this particular progression resembles a traditional cadential formula, though presented with an altered chord in the middle that serves as a pivot chord, ultimately leading to a resolution of the cadential figure a half step lower than expected. The harmonies of this thematic idea are F minor – D-flat major – B-double flat/A major – B major – E major. Thus, the progression begins in the key of F minor and ends in the key of E major, with the B-double flat/A harmony serving as flat- IV in F minor and IV in E major.27 This particular analysis of the pivot chord in this progression is taken from Glass’s own writings, presumably to show how this particular harmony would function if the context remained in the realm of F minor. However, since this harmony never appears in the exact form of B-double-flat major, only as A major, a better understanding of this harmony in terms of F minor is that it is a chromatic mediant in this key. As the progression moves forward, its new E major context becomes clear, so that this A major pivot chord can also be heard as IV in the new key."

So, perhaps he's not describing the harmonic structure of one of Handel's oratorios, but you've go to admit, there's a level of sophistication in the thinking here about harmonic structure—an awareness of the way tonality can be manipulated, its ambiguities leveraged.

[Anand: You want me to be impressed that he has the harmonic knowledge at the level of a senior conservatory student? OK! Is that qualification to be a 'leading' composer of any kind of Genre? ]

If you're interested in knowing more about this you should read the whole piece. It's a good read:

https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=musicstudent

Anyway... I don't know why I'm defending the music Philip Glass here. I don't really much of it, but I wish there were a higher level at which the dialogues on music could be shared here. Not with people throwing out misinformation, putting words in other's mouths, and using language like "bullshit" to describe the work of others.  If we have something useful to say... we should say it, in an intelligent and respectful way. Back it up with evidence, not just hearsay and "I know what I like" subjective statements. That's the issue with the sorry state of our post-modern era. It all comes down too often to "what I like" instead of taking the time to understand how we got here and how we might move forward based on that realization of the deeper meaning of such a divine thing as music.

[anand: I dont think my statements are subjective,...I cant recall one classical composer about whom I feel the way I do about Glass. I simply dont see any spark in the music, atleast to the extent his fame would warrant. Thats why I like the term 'mediocre'. Just as I write this I am listening to "Americal Four Seasons".  I find this utterly boring and devoid of any form. Its not even formless. You can tell me I dont undertand it enough. Maybe. But I can enjoy Esa Pekka Salonen more than this. There is much more going on there. But Glass sounds like a sophisticated Yanni to me...nothing much going on...and once in a while a fake crescendo. This music doesnt seem to come from the same 'source' as anything I have heard in classical music. Its more popular music in its nature, but just with an orchestra,]

OK... I'll shut up now (for the moment)....  ;-)

Kenneth.

Anand Kumar
Posted on Sun, Mar 04 2018 11:48
by mh-7635
Joined on Wed, Aug 04 2004, Posts 184

Errikos,

You'll Never Walk Alone is a wonderful song, although when younger and belting it out on the Kop terrace amongst Lager and pee, the last think I thought about was Schubert!!! Favourite by Hart and Rodgers could be 'With a Song in my Heart', especially the Ella Fitzgerald songbook version were she sings all verses Hart wrote.

I understood what you meant by melody, perhaps 'line' would be a better term for what is sometimes lacking in new music. Line is so important, especially what is sometimes referred to as the long line. It is one of the engines for achieving direction and trajectory.

I meant novelty too, but that is no arbiter of quality and always seemed to be a substitue for a paucity of flow and technique - in fact in general,  the more novel, the more suspicious I become about wool and eyes and pulling over....

Posted on Sun, Mar 04 2018 14:46
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 332

Folks,

somehow I suddenly felt terribly embarassed about calling Philip Glass mediocre on a public forum. I have changed my orginal post title and contents. 

As much as I dont appreciate his music, I am unqualified to judge him. He is an accomplished veteran composer with a large body of work while I am an amateur who has produced nothing.

Others here are surely more qualified to judge and there were a lot of amazing posts that I need to take time to read and digest, For instance I didnt know about Auric...and need to listen more to Glass, maybe.

Cheers

Anand

Anand Kumar
Posted on Sun, Mar 04 2018 17:45
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5192

You're very modest Anand!  Anyway I like hearing ideas from a musical physicist. 

Along with either melody or line, one could add harmonic progression which in a way is the same thing as "line" in a composition that does not emphasize longer melody.  Bad music often has no harmonic progression which could be described as the inner structure of a piece that is more felt than noticed. Though also some good music has no harmonic progression and is attempting to create a state of mind perhaps mystical. For example there is no harmonic progression in Holst's Neptune which I happened to be thinking about recently.  It is more like a series of complex changing colors that do not "progress" but simply exist.  It is obviously related to extra musical ideas of Zen-like states (which of course Holst was studying).  Scriabin's work almost written at the same time is very similar in that regard.   

Posted on Sun, Mar 04 2018 19:54
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 332

William it's easy for me to be modest. I have truly produced no complete musical work, although I sure hope to and sure will some day. Before I do that it is arrogant of me to insult other music esp.when they are by an old established composer who can't defend himself on an Internet forum...not that he would give a damn (well if it's about HZ I will still do it! LOL)

But I will continue to blabber among professional musicians pretending that I know something... the Internet is great! :)

So here I go again...

your points about harmony are fascinating. As you may well know Schoenberg taught that harmonic progression is everything. According to him all melodies have an underlying progression, so once we have the harmony set, many types of melodies can follow. In fact harmony gives music a structure so that too is taken care of. All we need is to write melodies, and he thought melody writing was the easy part!. I don't mean to start off on another thread here...I know many people here...including the highly articulate and talented Errikos have educated opinions about Shoneberg, but i've found much truth in shoenbergs point through my own composition exercises and also the way I hear the music of greatest composers....

About minimal harmony, Neptune is in fact one of my favorites....I guess it's power is in the orchestral coloring.

Another example that comes to mind, although not classical, is 'The End' by The Doors. A simple drone carries the entire piece, which I feel is very powerful, perhaps helped by Jim Morrisons voice.

Anand

Anand Kumar
Posted on Sun, Mar 04 2018 20:34
by kenneth.newby
Joined on Wed, Mar 19 2014, Posts 108

Hi Anand,

If you want to get anything from Philip Glass that might come even close to the "test" you proposed earlier you should definitely stay away from his film music which, as I implied earlier, is among his most manneristic work and deserving of the brand of mediocrity you initially suggested. It's certainly about as bland as musical statements get. Also... don't go near his solo piano works, particularly if he's the pianist. There he might be approaching what William dubbed the musical version of the "utter vacuum" :-)  

But... do check out his partitas for solo violin and solo cello... he's been studying Bach it seems. Not that he's there, but then again, who is?  That, of course, is another subject for an interesting discussion... who writes the best polyphonic music?  In several places in these pieces Glass achieves that lovely multi-part quality on a solo instrument that always blows me away when I listen to Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin.  And he's writing to a certain level of virtuosity for the players that he used to do in his earlier work by means of ensemble speed/tightness in the execution of ever-changing rhythmic patterning.  Check out, in particular the Chaconnes of the violin partita.  I enjoy this new approach much more as it still speaks to his own style of figuration but looks back to a master on whose shoulders to stand on and work his own ideas through. In a curious way it works.

Kenneth.

 

Partitas for Solo Cello, Matt Haimonvitz

 

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/philip-glass-partitas-for-solo-cello/1246334842

 

 

Partita for Solo Violin, Tim Fain

 

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/philip-glass-partita-for-solo-violin-tim-fain-plays/978054004

Posted on Sun, Mar 04 2018 22:59
by Errikos
Joined on Tue, Jun 12 2007, Posts 1013

MIke makes a very good point about 'line', although I don't necessarily equate it with melody - I mean Debussy has 'line' over anything else, and so does Bruckner. They are not really melodies.

'Line' on the other hand is what is terribly missing from all these "temporally informed" stringent (and astringent) sounds emanating from conservatoria. Although 'line' is one of my benchmarks when judging a composer, somehow I forgot to include it here and MIke was astute to pick it up. 'Line' for me is the indicator of 'continuity' in composition, and so many people these days are so transfixed about what instrumental 'effect' they are going to incorporate every couple of bars, that they forget about the big picture, and their works are an agglomeration of "ideas". Here's an idea lasting two seconds, followed by an idea lasting five seconds, and so on. No continuity (which also requires good technique), and no unifying thread over a work or movement...

I mean, Hindemith and melody... come on... But he's worth studying for his 'line' alone (i.e unifying and bringing a work to life through cogent continuity).

Bill mentioned late Scriabin, who is very different to early and middle Scriabin, one of the most original and finest melodists ever. In fact I've got a whole book entirely devoted to a comparison between Scriabin's and Rachmaninov's inventiveness, and ascribes talent to the second, genius to the former as far as melodic writing is concerned.

Anand cites Schoenberg's idea about melody and harmony; In fact Scheonberg regarded himself very highly, and did not refrain from often praising his own singular melodic gifts (see Style and Idea). Melody wasn't one of his strengths actually... He was certainly a marvelous teacher of composition, as his numerous precocious students, as well as books (such as Fundamentals of Musical Composition) prove. Perhaps his methods and language are a little dated (be fair, he was born 150 years ago), but he more than knew his stuff. If only he could apply it at that level.

If you can't notate/MIDI it yourself, it's NOT your music!

In these modern days to be vulgar, illiterate, common and vicious, seems to give a man a marvelous infinity of rights that his honest fathers never dreamed of. - Oscar Wilde
Posted on Tue, Mar 06 2018 02:47
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5192

That is very astute to mention Bruckner in this discussion - it is true he does not create what one would call "melody" and yet his work has the most powerful overall concept - I say that because it is not exactly line or harmonic progression yet a combination.  

I did mean later Scriabin - his famous works - but I have to say that Rachmaninoff is arguably superior to even Scriabin because of two works -  the symphonic poem Isle of the Dead and the third piano concerto.  These are perhaps the greatest works in their areas. The mastery of the ultimate pianistic writing - the most difficult ever written -  and masterful orchestration found in Rachmanioff's 3rd, and his use of the orchestra in Isle of the Dead combined with brilliant musical concepts - the entire five-four rhythmic ostinato found throughout and the obsessive motival development of the Dies Irae - probably has no equal in espressivo writing by any other composer.     

We tend not to think of this because of the  bias against Rachmaninoff in the 20th century dominated by academic atonalism.  Now the real accomplishments in music at the time are clearer.

Posted on Tue, Mar 06 2018 23:00
by agitato
Joined on Mon, Jun 22 2015, Posts 332

All this talk of Rachmaninov and 'line' got me to listen to Rach's Symphony 1 again;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1q0t683xaWI&t=112s

I wish this was played more by orchestras. 

Anand

Anand Kumar
Posted on Wed, Mar 07 2018 01:02
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5192

I really like that first symphony but it was trashed by all the critics when it came out and Rachmaninoff was extremely depressed as a result.  Supposedly he required hypnosis to get over it!  

The Rock (not Dwayne but an island) is another great tone poem - he is so well known as a pianist and piano composer, and yet that piece and Isle of the Dead are so purely orchestral and vivid.

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