The “symphony of a thousand.” At the premiere in Munich, 1910 there were apparently 1,0030, counting the conductor, Maestro Mahler. I haven’t counted last night’s forces, swelled by very big choruses, but it might not be a thousand, and of course it often isn’t and it doesn’t need to be. Punkt! Big: yes, very.
I was anxious to have Ann, my wife hear it, and though I didn’t really hear it very well, even though “enhanced” by the big loud speakers a few yards from our seats, still, it communicated a great and fabulous glowing sound.
What was this Jewish composer, who converted to Catholicism before becoming artistic director of the famous Vienna Imperial Court Opera under the Hapsburg emperor, doing in setting, in Part 1 of the symphony, a ninth-century religious hymn, “Come, Creator Spirit” and in Part 2, the final scene of Goethe’s two-part, “Faust” poem? Very god-infested, yes it is!—(and why that from the humanist, cosmopolitan, Goethe? I don’t know.)
Well, Mahler called it an allegory of what cannot be spoken of. A good defense! He was a well-read intellectual, interested in ideas, progressive aesthetically and helpful to, for example, the young composer, Schoenberg who befriended him. That’s a good story.
Back to Ann who, not knowing the music as I do, coming to the event fatigued and ready for bed, was revived and full of enthusiastic appreciation. She said: “A superfluity; staggering, complex; moments when a kind of screaming enters from the side like a blue-note.”
That’s a complex review, probably not what Mahler consciously intended. As Theodore Adorno says in his excellent short book, Mahler, a Musical Physiognomy, “Mahler was a poor yea-sayer.“ So the Eighth Symphony is a kind of anti-phobic answer to a difficulty in his psyche. Fine! It works and the marvelous, doleful, dark shadings, in the beginning of Part 2, and in Part 1 with the verse that begins “Infirma” —“[strengthen] our weak body”—we get the wonderful part of Mahler who can’t say “yes.” And we know that he continued not to say “yes” persuasively in the Ninth Symphony, some of Das Lied Von Der Erde, and the uncompleted Tenth Symphony. We don’t really like false positive-ness! Quite amazing, also, that neither of these three amazing works did he hear in his lifetime.
He was obsessed with death (well documented in marginalia), and in fact, though vigorous and athletic, was struck down by endocarditis at 51, an infection of the heart, now easily treatable with antibiotics. Heart! But there was more to it. He’d lost one of his two daughters to a childhood disease. And he’d also very late in life lost his beloved Almschi to a lover, the architect, Walter Gropius. Lots to cry about. He was bereft, finally, and sick, even while conducting the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera as a European star! At the same time composing his Ninth and Tenth symphonies, mostly in the summer, back home in the Austrian countryside. He was recognizably “modern,” 20th Century even with his rich, opulent, essentially late 19th Century musical language (thank you, Barry Goldensohn, for this accurate adjective: opulent).
So in Mahler-time, he races through a huge amount of material in an hour and a half. It’s efficient, with no lovely dallying as in the “Night Music” of the Seventh Symphony. We get to the last line of text, “the eternal feminine leads us up” sung by the Chorus Mysticus, and that’s it. Terrible pre-feminist politics: masculine is striving, ambitious, heroic; feminine is nurturing, comforting, satisfying. But hey, he sort of lost his loved one. And also, how could he contradict his beloved, German, Goethe (he hated Austrian culture, was a Germanophile)!
At the same time he suffered from the standard anti-Semitism of the time, saying that being Jewish was like going through life with one arm shorter than the other; yet having to identify with the dominant Christian culture which repeatedly hired him to more and more prestigious positions. We are luckier living among the diaspora in New York, not in Budapest and Vienna of his time.
But of the performance at St. John the Divine under its music director and organist, Kent Tritle conducting: what was it like? Well, really not very intelligible to one who knows the music. The cathedral succeeded in muddying the very precise rhythms of the excellent players from the Manhattan School of Music, and making such things as the wonderful bass pizzicati throughout the beginning of Part 2 sound like random dull thuds. A “sound-designer” failure? Probably. And what about the stridently over-amplified, over-vibrato-ed soprano soloists (google the performance for names). It’s a lingering operatic disease from Wagnerian times on: vibrato amplifies the volume of the sound for very well-documented scientific reasons. The justification used to be that the Wagnerian orchestra was always in danger of drowning out the Wagnerian sopranos and tenors. But why now! in a piece of music where Mahler’s superior orchestrational knowledge allows a less strident vocal style? No answer to this persistent question.
And what of Adorno’s disparaging and sarcastic remark about the Eighth Symphony as a “genre chef d’oeuvre?.” (page 138, op. cit.) A genre masterpiece. What’s the genre? Spectacle? Conflation of religion and art? He answers: “To glorify the collective sounding through him as an absolute… That he did not resist, is his offense,” his “false consciousness.” Adorno prefers, and maybe we do too, that part of the composer that looks “questioningly into uncertainty.”
So why given Mahler’s “offense,” and that last night when we couldn’t really hear Mahler in St. John the Divine’s, did we jump to our feet at the end, clapping and cheering with tears in our eyes?
Because we knew he was there! His temporary “Yes” was our temporary Yes.
Hey, Very thoughtful writing, yet again, it would have been a fine night of being surrounded by profound sound, I imagine. Maybe it was the amount of acoustical vibration that got everyone so excited? (Not that there’s any other kind of vibration – but that is a special place to listen.) -g
~composer, Gayle Young, Toronto
I agree. The vibrational thing over-ruled the exact musical thing. Also, I didn’t mention the off-stage trumpets at two points, and the off-stage trombones (which I never located), but were in balconies above the audience. And also making vibrational geschrei was the organ, at key points. The very first sound is a giant Eb major chord from the organ, an instant before you here the first instrumental entries. It switches you instantly into a different mode of listening. I also didn’t say in the essay, but mentioned to Ann that visual grandeur (= the sublime, in some quarters) like a huge cathedral, and auditory grandeur as in a huge orchestra and chorus have different needs: like a really great concert hall in the latter. So I wasn’t exactly a happy camper at St. John’s, but registered it as a moment of the “sublime” in experiential terms, probably for much of the audience. And cheered for that. The great church organist composers (Bach and others) did make both visual and auditory grandeur in the same place. But Mahler symphonies need different acoustics.
Thanks for your comments. Definitely adds to what I felt was going on, but didn’t really have the words for.
Birthday Concert #2
February 12th, 2016 at The Cell, 7:30 PM
Chamber and orchestra works by Daniel Goode
with the Momenta Quartet and Moran Katz, clarinet, and the
Flexible Orchestra conducted by David Gilbert
Clarinet Quintet, for clarinet and string quartet (2015)
Clarinet Quintet – 15:07
Tunnel Funnel (1988)
David Wechsler trombones
Matt Melore strings
Emilie-Anne Gendron, violin (Momenta)
Karen Kim, violin (Momenta)
Stephanie Griffin, viola (Momenta)
Michael Haas, cello (Momenta)
Jay Elfenbein, contrabass
Chris Nappi, mallet instruments
Marijo Newman, piano
David Gilbert, conductor
Moran Katz, clarinet with the Momenta Quartet in Clarinet Quintet
I would like to offer to the Vatican at no charge, the lyrics to my 2007 musical composition, Critical Mass. Here they are:
CRITICAL MASS, parts I & II text by Daniel Goode
A spector is haunting America, a spirit is haunting America, a spirit of secular joy, of peace and community, enough for all, a spirit for us to enjoy.
Non credo in deo, non credo.
Oo-hoo-hoo a-ha-ha oo-hoo-hoo a-ha hoo-hoo-hoo ha-ha-ha hoo-hoo-hoo ha-ha.
Non credo in deo, non credo, non credo.
Oo-hoo-hoo a-ha-ha oo-hoo-hoo a-ha hoo-hoo-hoo ha-ha-ha hoo-hoo-hoo ha-ha.
Non credo, non credo, non credo, non credo.
Hoo ha ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha Hoo ha. Non credo in deo, no, no, no!
“Credo in us.” Thank you, John Cage! Credo in us!
A spector is haunting America. “[A]merica.” Thank-a-you, Lenny Bernstein. A spirit is haunting America, a spirit of secular joy. Joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, joy, j, j, j, j, j, j, j, j, j, j, j, j, oooo! a spirit of sexual joy, sec, sec, sec, sec, sec, se-cuh-la, se-cuh-la, se-cuh-la, se-cuh-la, oooo!
Non credo in deo, non credo. No, no, no!
A mass for us, a mass for all, for us, for peace and community, planet, our home. Non credo, non credo in deo, non credo, non credo in deo. O, O. Let’s meditate. Open the gate! For all, for us. Thank you, Pauline.* Sing any note, open your throat! Ah… Ah… Ah… Say any thing, then make it sing! Open your throat! Sing any note. Ah……
We believe in We believe in We believe in We—oo-ahh-ee-oo-ahh. Non non non credo-do-do-do-do-do, non credo in deo—ahh-oo-ee-ahh-oo.
We believe in We believe in We believe in We.
The suffering’s real, but death you don’t feel, shed your fears, then your tears, we are here, so are you, dear.
They say they speak in tongues, then why do they support the guns? We’ll show them where we put our tongues: aye-ee, ee-oh, you-ee, oh-aye, oh-wah, oh wah, ya-you, wah-ee.
It’s guns that kill people, not people, not people, it’s guns that kill people plus people plus people, oo-ah-oo-ah-oo-ah-oo-ah-oo. People plus people plus guns that kill people, it’s people plus people plus bombs that kill people. It’s guns, put them down!—oo-ah-oo-ah-oo-ah-oo-ah-oo. Thank you, Meredith Monk, oo-ah-oo-ah-oo-ah-oo-ah-oo.
Now it’s your turn to thank some one, come on! come on! come on! come on! Thank some one! Thank some one!—oo-ah-oo-ah-oo-ah-oo-ah-oo. Thank some one on any note…
The suffering’s real, but death you don’t feel, shed your fears, then your tears, we are here, so are you, dear.
Endlessness forever is all we can divine. If that’s divine, that’s fine.
We are alone with each other, there is no other. If that’s divine, that’s fine.
Love, then experience, then: make the world a better place to live. That’s where we live and thrive.
There is no proof that any one has ever gone to heaven or hell.
Faith, they say, is proof, but to them we say: oh poof, oh poof! Oh poof, oh poof, poof poof poof poof poof poof poof poof poof poof poof.
Air is divine. In and out, breath! Air is divine, is fine, is fine.
Let in the thought of what is sought. Hm, hm, hm, hm.
Bring on the dance, let in the trance-ce-ce-ce-ce. Bring on the dance, let in the trance-ce-ce-ce-ce. Let in the trance, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce. ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce, ce.
* “Pauline” is composer, Pauline Oliveros who composed Sonic Meditations
c 2005 by Daniel Goode
I’m offering to the European Union at no cost, my new “Hymn from the One Word Opera” to replace the current European Union hymn, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. It’s time for an update! So here is the score and a sound file for your enjoyment. I lowered the key in the score for easier singing. I think it’s both beautiful and appropriate. Hope you do too.
Somewhere in his ground-breaking book, “The Tuning of the World” R. Murray Schafer wonders aloud why music tends to be an anchor to the familiar, rather than an antenna receiving new exciting information from “out there.” There could by a one-word answer to Schafer’s question: ‘lullaby.’ But instead, let this whole essay be an answer.
touch vibrato – buzzing in the ear (even damage) – low frequency weapon (WWI) “meditative making out:” RIP Hayman’s kissing/humming action low E on the clarinet vibrates her/his trusting body compare sound frequency to light frequency: you can feel one, not the other: the scale is different rock music is high amplitude, especially the bass which is felt in the body visual art is “cold,” pop music is “warm,” what is classical music? question of modernism and anti-romanticism the pomo reactions the mindless neo-romanticism of e.g., “the derriere-garde,”or movie sound tracks the role of tonality in warmth? There may be, but considering tonality’s widest range from drone music to highly chromatic music in the post-Viennese school or the new complexity music, there is no correlation to anyone’s style tendency of forgetting duplicates of previous styles as if they had never happened serve [as] memory and also mark the spot previously occupied by so-and-so or such-and-such: in that, we are like a “traditional culture,” that only revives, re-stages, replays, but doesn’t innovate consciously consciousness feels like it is in the head, not the torso or the limbs – is that because of voice, ears, eyes?
lack of parallelism between sound (music) and light (visual arts)- there is no touch until infra-red and heat lamps, but then it is not in the visual range
Still, heat rays are too fast to feel as vibration. The warmth of vibrational frequencies is obvious. Both metaphorical and literal. The spectrum of orgastic vibration makes heat.
Vibrating one’s body to keep warm is as rock-bottom as you can get to warmth. Sound begins at the high end of that frequency range. You can get warm by singing. So, harmonic relations probably have warmth encoded within. Quotients (of warmth!) may be measurable. This could lead to a dumb or a very smart critique of serial music (and the “new complexity” type). But not Alban Berg’s, which is why the dumb critique won’t work.
Warmth is not just a direct conversion of physical vibration of something bound into temperature of the receiver’s body. The transmitted, culturally determined melodic/harmonic/rhythmic shapes of a certain tradition (pick your culture) stir the emotions somehow (pick your theorist), and warmth results. Even sadness, maybe especially sadness brings warmth. The constant exercise of emotional organs is what it feels like. Emotional aerobics? Music can stimulate emotional aerobics.
Warmth and tonality:
Given the over-determined causation by both acoustically generated warmth and by historical styles of melodic and harmonic shapes that trigger emotional warmth, it seems an obvious connection to link warmth with tonality. There are strong counter-examples in Schoenberg and Berg, though: that the emotional gestures are there and effective without their being based on tonality. Also strong counter-examples in the “Polish School” of ‘60s tone-color music, and also in the decades of Phill Niblock’s tape music for his films. In both these, and others of similar effect the rubbing of dissonant tones to create “beats” is a source of acoustical warmth not from tonality, though (as Schoenberg might protest these are the result of TONES, so cannot be called “atonal music.”)
Let’s consider what I’d call the “Appoggiatura Mime,” (mime, the short-hand formula, mental “radical” around this musical term). Originating in harmonic practice going back to the Renaissance, and flowering through the Baroque and Classic periods, it emerges in the late Romantics and early 20th Century composers, of Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, Schoenberg as an increasingly intense, complex, and over-arching phenomenon. In this figuration warmth is both acoustic (dissonances rubbing frictionally) and emotional —made up of layers of association with the music that pushes through to the listener with this mime.
A more subtle emotional mime might be the sequence: the melodic-harmonic repetition at successive pitch levels. Many, many passages from Vivaldi through Bach’s Brandenburg concertos (his 3rd has a doozy one), on through Bruckner have a way of building excitement through varied repetition that can lead the listener into a kind of emotional response I’d call restrained frenzy—sometimes to tears. The sequence is the basis of my long minimalist symphony, Tunnel Funnel. Warmth generated.
The connection of music and mimes is the basis of Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game [Das Glasperlenspiel]. It is the idea that discreet units of culture: music or word-based complexes, visual, mathematical formulae (Hesse is brilliantly vague in describing what these cultural modules are exactly) become the “glass beads” in a chess-like game of friendly competition among the intellectual elite. This is the most seductive use of ideas as palpable serious playthings I’ve ever found. And it contains within it, as the novel shows, an elitism that burns out on its own decadence and self-defeat, told in its last page by the death by drowning of the hero who has become the master of the Game.
But if we extrapolate to Minimalism: I once had an imaginary conversation with Tom Johnson (at least I think it never happened, but maybe it did) in which we agreed that minimalist typology could stay implanted in culture as firmly as traditional genres of composition like the canon or fugue or variation procedure.
Phasing of various parameters
Meditative sound concepts
“Deductive Music” (Tom’s self-description of his style)
These would be on-going genres as confident of continuance as the high Baroque seemed to be.
An aspect of these genres would be their warmth quotient. Not as an evaluative thing, but as one aspect of style.
TWO OBSERVATIONS together only because I wrote them in pencil in the end-papers of a book. (Middlemarch by George Eliot):
These wispy things—clouds—gathering around the hard geometry of the city buildings and their silhouettes. (As seen from my roof.)
Mahler 9th, first movement: The simplicity of the surface-level melody forces the increasing intensities of the orchestra counterpoint. That is, the surface melody is Mahler’s “earworm? Did he have (suffer from) them? How would we know? Just what is an earworm? If he had them, were they vernacular borrowings or original , possibly, or not (interesting—this) inspired by vernacular.
Below is my letter to Dean Rosenthal, composer, a follow-up to my post about Tom Johnson’s new book, Other Harmony:
Well, I think my non-review was really quite simple-minded. Yes, the important issues were raised in very basic terms. But the incredible interweaving of intellect, feeling, aesthetic standards, not to mention history and tradition is very hard to get beyond, thus we have to write theory books, and have to compose (I hate to say write, that’s the nub of it—writing is what we do when we compose, but composing is not about writing).
I see the two poles of minimalism as being something like: trance-music vs. systems music. Minimalism spawned both at the same time. The “counting pieces” of Charlie Morrow (no, never Tom) were in the trance music direction, as much as Tom’s were in the systems direction. True, Tom, if you pressed him, would grant the theatrical reality of the performance, but I never felt he would admit the Dionysian reality of repetition. Freud was certainly correct in trying to incorporate both in his “Id, ego, superego” trio, completely condemned as unscientific by all future scientists of the field. But essentially he was right to “square the circle.” The incorporation of drugs into music was basically an admission that music and intoxication were brother/sisters, and everyone knew that. The early music of Glass and Reich, and many OTHERS was essentially trance music. People in my circle vacillated about trance and system, or tried to just avoid the issue by keeping to technical ground, historical precedent or whatever. But everyone knew that minimalism was “dangerous.” I was fired at Rutgers for practicing “minimal music requiring minimal preparation” by the Harvard trained head of the Rutgers Music Department. (BTW I won my grievance and got tenure because of this man’s dumb move of putting that phrase in writing. Choice of style was sacrosanct even in the academy: it was FREEDOM of SPEECH!)
But he, the head of the tenure committee, knew minimalism was “dangerous.” He even was smart enough to say that it went one step beyond Satie (=repetition) by adding trance. You have to give Wagner credit for knowing that intellect and trance or “swooning” or being transported (as in Dionysian frenzy) had to be combined to get a really great art. (Of course not every piece has to be a masterpiece of swooning logic! What about some little ditty like “This old man, this old man…”).
Even Cage understood, but couched it in kind pseudo-zen: if something is boring, do it for 4 hours. If it’s still boring do it for 8 hours, etc. The music world would never admit into music this Zen saying, either before, during or after minimalism. And I can agree that pure trance without music is not as satisfying as with. Zen was never about artistic satisfaction, or even bodily satisfaction.
My non-review of Tom Johnson’s book also didn’t take on its content. And as of when I wrote my non-review, I still haven’t finished it, though I’ve skimmed ahead to see where it’s going. An actual review of Tom’s book in its own terms would have to be by someone other than me. There probably already is one someplace in the academy.
You [Dean Rosenthal] are the only one who responded to my request for comments, except for Phil Corner who sent me a set of beautiful calligraphic scores. And I wrote back to him this:
‘Your beautiful scores say here and there: “no redeeming musical value.” This seems to buffer you from being thought “music” if it’s “theory” and theory if it’s thought to be music, so you get out of it free—of the controversy. Yes? No?’ He said that was very well put!