03 January 2007

The Dark Horse

What jumps out at me about much of the discourse on the internet concerning contemporary classical music is that there are an awful lot of factions and isms running around loose. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks the other day that there is a personal style that I seem to think I hear echoed constantly in the work of composers presently in their 20's and 30's that has no ism associated with it and is seldom (never) mentioned. It is not that of Webern, Babbitt, Reich or Feldman but that of Varèse.

I'm sure that at least some of this is coincidental, but I find it interesting anyway (if not just for the fact that if I'm wrong about this in any objectifiable way, then it says something rather interesting about me instead). I hesitate to use a phrase along the lines of "hangs over it like a dark cloud" in this situation because for the most part, I like the music of Varèse. Unfortunately, if I intend to make any sort of worthwhile point with this entry, I can't avoid inadvertently trashing him in some respects because by and large, I am usually unhappy when I perceive his influence lurking behind a new work.

Reasons for this? Number one would be that harmony is my favorite element of music, even though I'll readily accept the most liberal definition of what it might be. Varèse pushes me to my limits in this respect, yet one always senses that he knows what he's doing. In appropriating only parts of his style, it would not be difficult to come up with something which could drive me permanently batty. That brings us to number two , which would be that try as we might, we are not all as clever as Varèse, who himself wrote an absolute masterpiece (in my opinion) that is replete with near direct quotes from an even more famous work (I'm referring to Ameriques and The Rite of Spring).

I'm not sure I can remember the last time I read the word "Varèse" on my computer screen, yet I cannot forget all of the pieces I've suffered through at student composition recitals and new music concerts which seem to take Varèse's approach to sound without any discernible (or at least skillfull) approach to pitch, whether his or someone else's. Coincidence, or dark horse?

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