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From: Chad Wozniak, USA

With all due respect to Mr Hinton, I offer the following reply to his rejoinder to my comments. I trust Mr Hinton will notice that I refrain from personal deprecations (of him, that is) in my reply to him.

Some clarifications are in order: first of all, I certainly agree that there have continued to be composers resisting abandoning tonality, all through the dark night of the serial-aleatory dictatorship in academia, the publishing houses and criticism. I am one such composer myself, and there are others: Rodrigo, Ward, Schickele, just to name three of the better known (far better known than myself, needless to say). Even the tightest totalitarian regime leaks a little bit. But the dictatorship has unquestionably stultified and even ruined careers, discouraged broad musical education, prevented much new music of worth from receiving attention, and above all -- has largely alienated the listening public, not least because of the sort of contempt for that public that is implicit (and sometimes rather more than implicit, as the examples I cited in my previous message indicate) in serial and aleatory 'composition.'

Second, with regard to the onus and blame I place upon Schoenberg and Cage for the loss of public interest in art music, this is merely the distillation of my observation of the non-specialist but usually well educated sort of people who, as I referred to in my previous posting, have historically constituted the core audience for serious music. I have personally observed these people's reactions to serial and aleatory (and minimalist -- again part of why I include minimalism in the category of failed modernisms) material. I have heard them say they avoid premieres of or symphony programs featuring new music, lest their ears be assailed. And if one should think this is mere philistinism, I have heard these same people identify tone rows and distinguish aleatory from serial in pieces even I, with a reasonably well-trained ear, had difficulty with in making this distinction. I have also seen these same people having no difficulty with Bartók, Ravel, (pre-serial) Stravinsky, Janácek, even Ives. They mind not their ears being stretched, as Ives would put it, but they do not want them attacked with intent to give offense.

In short, serialism and aleatory have directly, observably alienated people who otherwise would be attending classical music concerts. It has certainly reduced, if not killed entirely, their interest in new serious music -- and the death of that interest in new music must surely lead to a loss of interest in all serious music. Classical music is just as dependent upon a continuing fresh supply of new and appealing material as pop or any other form of entertainment, on any level from the lowest to the highest, from the most inane to the most loftily intellectually demanding.

And again, who were the prophets of this interest-killing material? Schoenberg and Cage. Hauer is all but unknown, and yes, Busoni and Ives both looked at the fundamental ideas behind serialism and found them wanting, years ahead of Schoenberg (one recalls Ives's comment about 'composing with a ruler'). As for Cage, I attended a 'lecture' of his during my undergraduate days, and even as a college freshman I was able to see the utter flippancy and infantilism of the man and of what he was producing acoustically (I can't say 'musically,' as that would be a falsehood). What could possibly be a better example of the naked emperor than that piece of unplayed non-music called 4'33"? I will always marvel at the gullibility of anyone who could actually believe that this bit of theater of the absurd is 'music.'

So yes, I blame these two primarily. They started serious music on its road to ruin. They have not been alone, to be sure; they have had many willing helpers, as did Hitler in effecting the holocaust. But they were the leaders, albeit it defies explanation that they should have had so many eager followers -- but again, that a supposedly civilized and advanced nation like Germany should have provided so many willing executioners (to borrow Daniel Goldhagen's phrase) to serve a subhuman monster like Hitler is hardly more inexplicable.

As for Schoenberg's making his reputation in lieu of making music -- his comment about his system's maintaining the superiority of German music for the next century is sufficient proof of that, I should think. By all accounts, the man was possessed of an incredibly inflated ego -- certainly reminiscent of, if not actually overtopping, Wagner's. And I might add that his sometime excursions back to tonality would seem to offer further evidence that he knew his system was a sham. Therefore -- I stand by my conclusion as stated.

As for Ives being the greatest composer of the 20th century -- again I think his music speaks for itself, its incredible eclecticism and unification of diverse styles, but above all its grounding in appealing melody, compelling harmonic progression (certainly unconventional at times, but always in evidence even his most astringent material) and clear organic form. As for Berg -- he suffered first of all from the weakness of allowing himself to be led by such a poseur as Schoenberg -- and his Violin Concerto, so often cited as a piece of 'accessible' serialism -- reveals an unnecessary marring of what might have been a worthy piece by its needless submission to and conformity with the failed idea.

With all due respect, Mr Hinton, I beg to disagree on the foregoing points.

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Copyright © 10 September 2005 Alistair Hinton & Chad Wozniak, UK&USA


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