Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A composer responds (in advance)

I'd read this 2001 interview with Tobias Picker before the production, but it's more funny now:
In the '60s and '70s when American modernism was at its height, when 12-tone composers were chic, the critics bashed the shit out of them because they were writing music that was inaccessible. There was a constant stream of vicious criticism and harassment, led by Harold Schonberg and the critics of The New York Times, directed toward my teachers, Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt and Charles Wourinen, who were leaders of the American modernist movement. This has now turned full circle. As soon as composers started writing music that was accessible, the critics starting bashing the shit out of us. It proves that some critics will find no good in anything, and this basically renders most music criticism meaningless.
UPDATE (5:30 AM): Composer-blogger Daniel Felsenfeld asks a related (if more restrained) question.


  1. One thing that's baffled me for the last 10 years or so is this idea that in the 50's and 60's, and even in to the 70's, that if a composer dared to write tonally, they'd be ripped to shreds by the critics--it's one the truisms of the anti-serialist crowd. I never thought that was true at all, as reading reviews from that period attest. It was the avant-garde that got the critical drubbing from critics mostly grounded in the 3 B's. It's only since the rise of minimalism and the New Romanticism that, as like Picker says, the tables turned.

    I can't figure out what the critics want when they whine that a piece isn't cutting edge. As far as I'm concerned, pretty much everything has been done already, unless you're going to be silly and do Chinese hip-hop serialist chamber music or something like that. Harmonically, it's all been done--quarter tone harmony has been around for ages, for example--and I'd contend that sonically, it's all been done as well. It's simply a matter of "Does the composer, within the framework s/he has chosen, make the music work".


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.