Chris your amusing comparison proves, to a great extent, my view that there is no great (important, influential) composer out there. You see with your "randomish" comparison how even good (not great) composers made it at a fairly early age. The reason is because they had something tangible (great melodies, splendid orchestrations, great symphonies, original ballets, spectacular works for piano, superb vocal works etc.) to offer. Subsequently, audiences almost all over the world could regognise and embrace their work and identify their idiomatic musical language.
When I asked what is the reason someone has to fondly remember "Le marteau" by Boulez, Mark mentioned the "delightful sonorities" therein, which, however, do not seem to be discovered by many more, since the work has been almost abandoned and recordings are so few and almost unavailable. His other "masterpiece", the (in)famous Pli selon pli, have had an even worse fate both in live performance and recordings. If, now, Boulez has found himself compelled to "enter the musical mainstream", I'm afraid very few will notice and, much worse, care about it.
As for your latest "supplementary" question, I still cannot name anyone who has the "features" of a great, important or influential composer. Specific works appear every now and then (I discovered recently Chilcott's Requiem: a very fine work, in quite a few ways, but I couldn't call him a great composer because of this particular work, which, anyway, passed almost unnoticed even in UK).
Parla, thanks for your interesting comments.
One thing that you write I have mentioned several times in various threads without eliciting responses from others, until your last post. That is, until recently all the great composers, whatever other characteristics they had, were also great melodists; they wrote memorable tunes. I well remember having described to a colleague (a fellow scientist) my enjoyment of Birtwistle's opera Gawain at Covent Garden, he accosted me a few days later and said "I never hear you whistling Birtwistle". He's right of course. I bet even Birtwistle doesn't whistle Birtwistle. I believe this question deserves much more discussion.
Like it or not though, to a large extent texture has replaced melody in modern music. No doubt, this is significant for the popularity of modern music, but how crucial is it? One can see the trend already with, say Debussy, and with Bartok. Many of us enjoy music in which the role of melody is much reduced. It is cruel but partly true to say that most modern composers either try rather unsuccessfully to write melodically interesting music, or else wilfully avoid melody. Why?
As far as Boulez is concerned, he is clearly in the latter group and many of us find we can do without melody in exchange for the harmonic and textural delights that his music offers. I think it is clear that Boulez is increasingly appearing as the most important composer of his generation. Note how the responses (including yours) are quite different from other composers who have been suggested. With most or all of the other names, we respond Hm... maybe, or Hm, perhaps not. With Boulez the response is usually YES!! or NO!!!. (Reminscent of Wagner - nobody 'quite likes' Wagner!). Like Wagner, Boulez incites passionate feelings for or against him and his music. That's more than sufficient to qualify him as important. So much music has been influenced by him, either positively or as a reaction.
As to recordings and performances of his music, here I think you are factually wrong Parla. All of his music has been recorded superbly, usually more than once, in definitive performances mostly directed by the composer. Other composers must be jealous of the attention he has received. If there have been not so many recordings directed by other conductors, then the blame lies more likely with the pre-eminence of Boulez's own recordings - think of the works of Britten when he was active as a performer. It takes real courage to compete. And at least in Europe, Boulez's music is more than well represented these days, for example in the major concert halls of London, Luzern, Berlin, Vienna.
I think you misunderstood my 'supplementary' question Parla. I was asking you (and not just you) to suggest, if you don't think any living composer deserves the epithet 'important', just how far you feel we must go back in time to find the last composer who is deserving. At some point there must be an answer! Name the most recent composer who does deserve to be called 'important'. That was the question - sorry if it was not clear!
Well received your post, Chris.
About the melody, I am with you. Definitely, a great composer has to know how to write an at least interesting melody. In my Piazzolla thread, one thing I tried to defend, in different ways, was his incredible ability to compose (apparently so easily) incredibly beautiful, intriguing or even teasing melodies along with all the other significant features of his music. Bernstein, in his musical theatre works wrote some of the most memorable melodies of the 20th century. Stephen Sondheim likewise, among others.
However, going to the pure Classical period, while Haydn or Mozart were absolutely keen on finding any possible tune, Beethoven struggled and he had to rely mostly on the form. By all means, he created some of the most glorious melodies a man can sing or remember, but, in Mozart case, every line is singable, including the one for the bass.
I think my problem is not that much with the melody only, but generally with the whole concept of the structure, form, orchestration and even the role of the contemporary (Classical) music. At least, Debussy, Bartok and, even more Shostakovich tried to respect and safeguard the continuation and the development of what was given to them as Classical Music tradition. Nowadays, it seems that almost none of them truly cares. Few, who tried to write something more meaningful (like Bob Chilcott), are overlooked for different reasons. So, what is left? Musical theatre, perhaps?
As for Boulez, I still believe that the few recordings of his own works, conducted by himself, do not constitute any possible established success. I've followed every month, for decades, the production of nearly 200-400 CDs worldwide and I've never noticed any amount of recordings of his works. Some fill-ups in some recitals. Very few solo recordings in marginal to obscure labels and very few sales, even in Europe. In my years in Berlin, I don't recall any concert, recital or musical event with his works. In my US years, the same. In any case, I can assure you, he never stirred any serious debate outside his "world" in Europe (and in this thread). As for the comparison with (the case of) Wagner, this is unfortunate, to say the least.
Finally, for the "clarified" question "how far I feel I must go back in time to find the last composer deserves the epithet important", I have mentioned, on various occasions, that Shostakovich was the last trully and fully great one, in the strict framework of what we perceive as Classical Music. In the wider zone of Music itself, I strongly believe Piazzolla fully deserves this epithet as well. In the wider field of Music of any kind, Nino Rota deserves the honour too. In musical theatre, there are still some great composers.
Best wishes for a wonderful weekend,
Parla: I've followed every month, for decades, the production of nearly 200-400 CDs worldwide and I've never noticed any amount of recordings of his works.
I think Chris is right Parla in saying that Boulez as composer is better served in recordings than you suggest. The following Boulez CD's are available on Amazon for a start off; these feature his music not simply as fill-ups, and include some major performers/ensembles, and in some cases major labels.
separate CD's by line of course:
Memoriale/Derive 1 and 2Le Marteau Sans MaitrePiano Sonatas 1-3Boulez-various boxed setRepons etcBoulez chamber and orchestral worksPli Selon PliNotations/Piano SonatasBoulez orchestral and chamberStructuresBoulez conducts BoulezVariations - Webern/Boulez etc..Piano SonatasNew Directions in Music - Boulez/Stockhausen
Boulez is establishment now. He greases the right palms. He plays the game, he gets photographed, he writes articles and he conducts. In return DG regularily release a disc of his noise. They used to do the same with Bernstein.
I've just tried to edit my own most recent post twice and had access denied? Anyone else had this?
Parla I just wanted to add this by Chris onto my last post:
As to recordings and performances of his music, here I think you are factually wrong Parla. All of his music has been recorded superbly, usually more than once, in definitive performances mostly directed by the composer. Other composers must be jealous of the attention he has received. If there have been not so many recordings directed by other conductors, then the blame lies more likely with the pre-eminence of Boulez's own recordings - think of the works of Britten when he was active as a performer.
Uber: one man's Bordeaux Superieur is another man's vodka and petrol slammer, or whatever it's called.
It's called Tequila, it just tastes like petrol.
Mark, if in almost 66 years of compositions, Boulez managed to produce about 14 titles, which you admit - in some cases - involve some major performers/ensembles and major labels (a couple on DG and a bit more on Naive?) doesn't prove how well he has been served by the record companies if we simply compare La follie de Part, for example.
On another note, a composer who managed to "establish" practically only two utterly controversial "masterpieces", Le Marteau sans Maitre and Pli selon pli, cannot be considered as either successful or "important" (and its derivatives). The fact that even these two works have been recorded mostly by him and barely exist in about 4 recordings the former and only two the latter (in his 66 years of composing music and being around) says something...
Of course, those who embrace his music can always enjoy it, but you are too kind to call him "important" (and the rest).
We should all be silent in the presence of an expert on his subject.
Hi Parla. The list I gave is only what is readily available on Amazon. There are of course other Boulez recordings. My local library, in the days when it had a proper music library which it doesn't sadly anymore, used to have the Calouste Gulbenkian Argo recording of Boulez, Messiaen and Koechlin.
Chris is right that texture, and I might add timbre, seem to have replaced melody in much 20th Century Music. There is also the issue of complexity and accessibility of music, which this thread raises. Like it or not Parla, the simplified melodic and harmonic style of the holy minimalists is perhaps a pointer to the fact that many people welcomed such a refreshing change in compositional style. You will remember Parla at the time we debated this genre that I wasn't totally sure myself why the simplified sanctity of this music is so appealing. An interesting development.
Is minimalism popular because the language of music has been exhausted? I hope not! Or maybe the language of avant-garde music has been. At the proms in 2007 I heard the piece 'Book of Hours' by Julian Anderson - a young composer (born 1967) - for 20 players and live electronics. Though the piece wasn't particularly to my liking the possibilities this type of music presents are also of interest. I was more taken with Knussen's own Requiem on the same programme.
PS Parla - It doesn't matter how prolific or not a composer is. Havergal Brian could knock out a symphony in rough draft in 4 days, where as I said Knussen spent 6 years on and off on the completion of his 3rd symphony.
Chris is right that texture, and I might add timbre, seem to have replaced melody in much 20th Century Music. There is also the issue of complexity and accessibility of music, which this thread raises.
All the composers of the past wrote for performance. The 20th century avant garde decided that the artist was above performance. That true art, pure art, needed no compromise. Beethoven knew compromise and through it produced the greatest art mankind has ever known. Mozart knew compromise. Only the 20th century avant garde artist has ever been above above compromise, and can't you hear it. Have I told you the story about the young a mexican puppeteer...
Hi Mark, Parla, Uber!!
I'm back after a quiet post-free weekend to see you have all been busy!
Thanks Mark for your documentary evidence of Boulez's recordings. Readers of the Guardian and the Telegraph will also have seen plenty of (positive) discussion of Boulez over the weekend. But enough of him, before he hijacks the thread!
Anyway it seems that there is some consensus that the death of classical music was brought about in 1975 by the birth of Uber Alice and her twin siblings.
Perhaps this was the last straw that broke the camel's back as "the language of music has been exhausted" (Mark)?
We are always hearing (with much justification) that after centuries of assuming that the natural resources of the earth would be everlasting, they are rapidly dwindling, occasional new finds of oil and gas notwithstanding. Perhaps it's the same for the reservoir of possibilities for music in the way it has been understood for centuries. Is there any logical reason why the reservoir should not be of finite capacity? Are the 'new ways' of Boulez and others an escape route, or just the equivalent of the last discoveries of buried oil! Or are we on the threshold of a great new, as yet unrevealed discovery.
If it's really the end, we now know it's all Alice's fault.
Time for another Haydn string quartet.
Have I told you the story about the young a mexican puppeteer...
Not heem agen. I don't want see hees performance ever. Is a load of bolaths. I demand my pesos back afterwards.
Mark, if I can finish the "Boulez hijacking" (as Chris put it), I wish to clarify that I don't blame him for not being "prolific" but for not having established, in almost 66 years of composing, a few good works that may have created a sort of universal appeal or even recognition and, subsequently, relevant amount of recordings.
I don't think the language of music has been exhausted, necessarily. I tend to believe that the "inspiration" (even the talent) has been dried up. I still believe "holy minimalism" is not a "refreshing" change in compositional style. It's simply a change and, quite often, of "minimal" (musical) interest.
Chris, your metaphor of the "reservoir of possibilities" in music and the "dwindling natural resources" might be an answer or a speculation. In any case, I don't think, if we have to stick to the existing rules and values, that we can agree that there is a truly and well established great living composer.
P.S.: Chris, this "time for another Haydn string quartet" sounded so "poignant" (in a way). We haven't seen a single sample of a potential String Quartet of a certain value and interest after Shostakovich!