Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Down with Cio-Cio San! Well, why not?

In Music magazine, August 2011, published astonishingly by the BBC – main conspirator in the myth that all classical stuff is masterly – comes the article I have been waiting decades for. Ten leading critics describe with relish the pieces which bore them rigid.

Fiona Maddox of The Observer (a newspaper I read) trashes Strauss’s Don Quixote (Hurrah, say I.), all Vivaldi operas, solo oboe and flute music and Boccherini, while homing in on Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas despite its sublime “When I am laid to earth”. Doesn’t like the screechy sorceress, the sailors (especially when sung with rural accents) and the endless, repetitive, mawkish choruses. Oh cor!

Michael White (The Daily Telegraph) would rather endure dental surgery than listen again to Tristan and Isolde, resenting the interminable wait for something that resembles action and hating Tristan “moaning in delirious competition with that bleating cor anglais.”

Other equally qualified critics take the axe to Vivaldi’s Gloria (“Its opening flourish – nine Ds in a row – aptly warns of the banalities”), Bruckner’s seventh symphony, Madame Butterfly (Hurrah again, from me.) and Brahms’ Requiem (Now that’s rather harder for me to take.). Plus others.

Why my glee? Don’t I like so-called classical music? Yes, but I have antipathies and I’m reassured when the musically literate reveal theirs. Also, a well expressed antipathy may tell you more than predictable plaudits. Good on the Beeb.

NOVEL Now called A Stall Averted. Huge progress (88,794 words) as a result of rising at 6.30 am so I can loll during the afternoon, watching the Tour de France. A 5641-word chapter as Jana tremulously starts to imagine she’s in love. Yes, that fascinates me just as much as ATC chat.

7 comments:

The Crow said...

Re: Jana - Would this be her first love affair, or the one of true love?

marja-leena said...

I always say that we each have individual reactions to each art work, whether visual or musical. With the musical, the performance and staging may vary greatly and can affect one's response, hmm? I often find that certain individual parts of long operas may delight and other parts irritate. Maybe that's why we often listen to those parts rather than the whole. So, I tend to take the critics proclamations with a grain of salt. Of course, it's gratifying when their pronouncements happen to agree with one's own, but what if they did not?

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: Not the first. Could be the latter but who knows? She has suffered greatly in the past and it may be necessary for her to suffer again in order to delight the author. Can't say more, hope you'll read the book. Just passed the 90,000-word mark. Originally the target was the 106,000 words I achieved with Gorgon Times. This may run longer.

M-L: What makes the article special is that the opinion is directed against the music itself, nothing to do with individual performances, etc. Music that the contributing critics don't like. Of course this is subjective but it is unusual when a professional music critic says he doesn't like certain war-horses like Madam Butterfly. Taking critics with a pinch of salt is all very well but most of us are musical amateurs and find it difficult to articulate our likes and dislikes. A technical knowledge can usually be presumed in a critic (and it's usually fairly easy to check) and trust in his or her judgement can be established by reading them regularly. What I object to is the assumption that because a piece has been around for decades or centuries it's automatically a masterpiece (which, as I say, is the principle on which the BBC's Radio 3 station is based). I am particularly suspicious when introduced to a "neglected" work; the subsequent broadcast is often proof that neglect can be a worthwhile practice.

Plutarch said...

Sometimes repetion is the source of boredom in a piece of music. Constant repetion of Vivaldi's Four Seasons often in the form of piped music seemed to induce something close to a hypnotic state when it was played day and night in The Sixties (or was it the Seventies?) Who knows it might have have been a pleasure to listen to once.

Hattie said...

Well, I am partial to Vivaldi, because I played some of his work in my younger, violin-playing years. Alas, violin playing sounds like screeching to me these days, thanks to my faulty hearing.
Could be that some of these music critics have hearing loss and don't realize it.

Anne said...

My 2 pet dislikes of classical music (which is mostly what I listen to) are Ravel's "Bolero" and Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee". The radio station I listen to plays those pieces frequently. I know they are both short pieces but when they are being played I feel as though they will never be finished.

And I agree about M. Butterfly. Not a pleasant opera.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: Repetition has its uses. Mrs BB and I attend three or four concerts a year at Birmingham Symphony Hall. Often we've used these visits to listen to unfamiliar stuff; I can remember in particular hearing and enjoying Barber's piano concerto. On the other hand, given the tendencies of programme makers, there's usually a war-horse available too. War-horses are relaxing.

Hattie: No, that's not it. There's no worldwide consensus that Vivaldi is a great composer, only that a tiny part of his output is familiar. The theme I was trying to develop is that dislike - provided it is well expressed - can be instructive. What's more, well expressed dislike of, say, Mozart can be far more educational than knee-jerk praise.

Anne: Throw in Sabre Dance and Carmina Burana and that's an unholy quartet. I agree that the Butterfly story is unpleasant but I didn't like the music either. The Humming Chorus evoked a piece of rotting meat and a swarm of flies.