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Big name conservatives


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Showing 1-25 of 36 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 6 Apr 2013 12:22:51 BDT
enthusiast says:
We have discussed great pioneers and radical composers who broke the mould and forged the future. But what about the big name composers who were the opposite? They might have been totally distinctive but perhaps they seemed also to have been looking backwards rather than to be inventing new musical languages. Did it matter that they were conservatives? Is it wrong to see their music as great and deep?

It it easy to identify examples in the last 120 years - Sibelius, Elgar, Shostakovich (perhaps) - but surely other centuries had great conservatives as well as radicals too?

Posted on 6 Apr 2013 12:33:59 BDT
Last edited by the author on 6 Apr 2013 12:34:26 BDT
Mandryka says:
What about Bach and Brahms? Did they "[look] backwards rather than to [invent] new musical languages? Is it [hence] wrong to see their music as great and deep?"

Posted on 6 Apr 2013 14:50:46 BDT
I don't see the development of music as following a linear timeline. To me the great composers' music was absolutely not "backward-looking" but timeless, and its enduring appeal testifies to that. So no, it's emphatically not wrong to see their music as great and deep. On the contrary, what's wrong in my view is to deny the music in question the status of greatness merely because it built on what was there instead of seeking radically new pastures. Novelty pure and simple is NOT some kind of objective standard for greatness in music.

Posted on 6 Apr 2013 18:58:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 6 Apr 2013 19:00:53 BDT
JayJayDee says:
I like the dichotomies presented by this thread.
I agree to a limited extent about the 'timelessness' of great works of art...but I also feel that Bach and Mozart would have been negatively critical of most of the 'progress' if suddenly exposed to the 'new music' of TwelveTone after the rhythmic shock of The Rite of Spring. Simply because they could not have had a chance to adapt to the intermediary changes (Berlioz, Liszt, Mahler, 2nd Viennese etc) since their own music was created.

By complete chance, today, I spent a lot of time listening to A Musical Joke (Mozart) firstly with the preconceived view that nowadays we should not see the wrong notes as discordant. It remained painfully dis-chord-ant, while an earlier dose of Norgard's Piano Concerto had not appeared unduly so. The Norgard piece effectively destroyed the magnetic north point on the moral compass of discordancy. Thereafter, of course, the Mozart 'jokes' were only recognisable as discordant because the remainder of the language is conservative.
The dleliberately misplaced chords inserted by Mozart would not appear amiss in many a 'modern' work that has eschewed prettiness in favour of newness! Similarly a piece of cubist art looks way out of place if displayed amongst a set of Rembrandts, but would attract no raised eyebrows within a mid-late 20th century exhibition.

I agree with enthusiast that the very greatest composers (including the aforementioned Elgar, Sibelius and Shostakovich) have successfully straddled the previous and forthcoming generations and allowed a long march forward away from limited ranges of expression that were prevalent in western music pre (circa) 1780.

To deliberately seek change or shock, for its own sake, is not necessary for the presentation of great music. It reveals a shallow mentality. This is quite possibly the case in many areas of life. An open neck shirt in the Boardroom can have a greater impact than a kaftan and a set of sandals....though it could be argued that the kaftan, beads and sandals as an extreme option has made the open neck shirt a comparatively attractive form of liberalisation.

Progress throughout human history has usually featured two forward steps and one back. Sometimes the one who steps back is actually opening the way for the next leap forward. And sometimes it is necessary for three steps to be attempted forwards because there has been too much back-tracking!

Posted on 6 Apr 2013 19:17:19 BDT
Last edited by the author on 6 Apr 2013 19:23:00 BDT
Mandryka says:
And remember that some of the composers who were most forward looking are sometimes not acknowledged as important. I'm thinking of Gesualdo or CPE Bach. And backward looking reactionaries like Strauss are loved.

Another case is Monteverdi, with his recitative based operas. That sort of through composed recitative seems to have been rejected really by all subsequent composers until Wagner wrote Rhinegold.

Wagner may be a key for understanding what's going on. It was Wagner who started to write music as intensely chromatic as C P E Bach and Gesualdo. I have no idea whether he knew their work, or whether he knew Monteverdi's for that matter.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2013 19:26:58 BDT
Last edited by the author on 6 Apr 2013 19:30:03 BDT
JayJayDee says:
I'm not sure whether it actually matters to me whether a composer is considered a conservative (for his era). As long as I like the music!
Apparently Walton was horribly out of date, but I love his spiky music. Just because his First Symphony was written thirty years after Elgar's 2nd I don't expect it to be from a different planet, though some musicologists (I understand) were very negative about the Walton Second Symphony taking us no further forward. For me it's just an older man's work.

Saint Saens was another notable conservative. But ultimately it's done him little harm.

Posted on 6 Apr 2013 20:56:33 BDT
MacDoom says:
Bruch is the non-reformer that immediately springs to (my) mind. I've never cared much or indeed anything for a composer being forward-looking or not. If it was of interest 100 or 200 years ago, at the time of writing, then maybe, yes. But now, with so much water under the bridge, I don't really see why it should matter that Bruch's enormously attractive music should be disparaged simply because it wasn't new at the time.

No doubt one of my many defects.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Apr 2013 23:34:14 BDT
John Ruggeri says:
Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti - the Bel Canto Big 3 were conservatives.

Verdi did not start any new musical school BUT wow how he changed internally form his first opera:
Oberto, 17 November 1839
Falstaff, 9 February 1893

Richard Strauss was conservative who was influenced by Wagner but again did not start a new musical school.

All of the composers I mentioned are among my favorite Opera Composers

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Apr 2013 14:30:33 BDT
Paul B says:
Obviously one of mine too MacDoom. I've only just recently discovered Bruch's Concerto for two pianos. Written in 1915, it could be from 50 years earlier quite easily. Its still a very worthwhile piece.

Posted on 7 Apr 2013 17:13:23 BDT
If you don't know it already, might I also suggest Bruch's concerto in E minor for clarinet and viola?

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Apr 2013 04:30:13 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Apr 2013 04:46:42 BDT
Larkenfield says:
I have a different take on the relationship between the radical and conservative in music. For example, I consider Elgar's great Cello Concerto as a modern not conservative work emotionally and psychologically because of its depth and complexity. It's as psychologically deep as Freud to me, and I consider that few have gone as deeply as he did inwardly (which can of course be argued about with regard to composers). Elgar's psychological awareness strikes me as being advanced and progressive even though on the surface his music seems to be looking to the past. That's what can be deceptive about the use of certain descriptive terms.

I feel the same way about Sibelius's 4th Symphony and its sense of emotional isolation, perhaps alienation, it's barren starkness - all of which I feel he was being very contemporary and modern in exploring, breaking new ground in the 20th Century, and he was as modern inwardly, though perhaps stylistically seeming to look to the past, as someone like Stravinsky or Schoenberg were stylistically modern outwardly.

That Elgar was able to dig into himself as deeply as he did to take his great psychological journey that was apparently related to the evolution of his entire life seems like the same journey the entire world would be taking in order to come to terms with itself because of war and other consequences, and why I admire him greatly as, well, a psychological pioneer, so to speak, and I believe his courage has either been missed or undervalued. Stravinsky seems to be emotionally selfish and immature, behind in his development, when compared to Elgar and Sibelius.

I believe British composers are greatly misunderstood, particularly at home - they represent something very much different from the music of the continent, and their music points to the future more than it seems on the surface, as they present inward qualities that are often deeply connected to nature, beauty, harmony and spirituality that the world could use in greater abundance. The first thing I'd do to shift the perspective on British composers is dump the habitual use of the pejorative term *Cow-Pat*. I find its use demeaning and, imo, it's not descriptive at all of the composers' intentions. ♬

Posted on 8 Apr 2013 09:47:30 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Apr 2013 09:48:58 BDT
Bruce says:
I agree that I am very glad that I have had the chance to fully explore the music of Bax, Havergal Brian, Walton, Britten, RVW, Holst etc. without thinking that they are anything other than great composers! :-)

Whereas, if I had been born into a different country, then my view would probably have been biased against them.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Apr 2013 13:23:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Apr 2013 13:24:30 BDT
Mandryka says:
There's a record which Elgar himself made of the second symphony which almost has me believe that what you say about British music is right. Same for Turn of the Screw.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Apr 2013 09:06:12 BDT
JayJayDee says:
I like the reference to modernity being measured not only by musical devices but by psychological and emotional content. I remember reading somewhere that DSCH is a musical conservative and that his Quartets breach no boundaries, but he did, however, take their expressive capacity onward to an entirely deeper level.
Same goes for his Symphonies and Concertos for me.
Musical notation and the devices that have been developed are surely only a language and I don't see why it is obligatory to create an entirely new language to say bigger and better and more profound things. To that extent, Beethoven was a musical conservative who said things no differently from Haydn, but said greater things.
And Mahler was a musical conservative who said greater things with the current language than (say) Liszt or Wagner. Ditto DSCH. To me he said far more profound things relevant to the present epoch with a 1920 language than most composers have struggled to express by creating subsequent Esperantos.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Apr 2013 09:39:23 BDT
Last edited by the author on 9 Apr 2013 11:20:13 BDT
Bruce says:
That made me think about an interesting analogy - so writers like James Joyce and William Borroughs invented new means of expression - almost new languages and they are rightly lauded.

Today though, we still have great authors writing in conventional language and still delivering great works of art, but not many write like Joyce or Burroughs.

If we think of Schonberg and Stockhausen as the Joyce and Borroughs of music - for example - it all makes a lot of sense.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Apr 2013 11:11:44 BDT
JayJayDee says:
Indeed. It's probably all to do wiith confusing (or celebrating) the medium as distinct from the message, as McLuhan so eruditely observed!

Posted on 9 Apr 2013 11:13:21 BDT
Last edited by the author on 9 Apr 2013 11:22:55 BDT
JayJayDee says:
As for Big Name Conservatives I'm just back from the Wizard of Oz street party with a well-earned hangover that Tom would be proud of.

[Edit] The problem being that the real hangover has lasted for over twenty years in the industrial heartlands and now we have only 'Financial Services' (like the despicable Wonga mob) as a replacement economy.

Posted on 9 Apr 2013 11:21:16 BDT
Bruce says:
Tramp The Dirt Down ?

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Apr 2013 12:55:36 BDT
Paul B says:
Harry. I will thanks. I've been very unkind to Max Bruch in the past due to the VC No.1.reaching saturation point, and am now beginning to realise this might have been a tad misplaced. I bought the EMI gemini twofer with the symphonies and double PC and am enjoying it rather a lot.

Posted on 9 Apr 2013 13:48:13 BDT
Paul: ditto re Max Bruch. I still don't enjoy the ubiquitous VC1 as much as (say) the Scottish Fantasy, which I've always preferred, but I've mellowed towards it and, as you're already finding, there's a good deal else of value in Bruch's output.

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Apr 2013 15:43:42 BDT
MacDoom says:
Hurray to that!

And we need to remember that, if the first violin concerto hadn't taken off the way it has, Bruch might well have ended up completely forgotten by now. The how and why of the popularity of number one is beyond me - two and three are at least the equal in my estimation, and the Scottish fantasy as well. Two very enjoyable string quartets, two piano quintets (one of which I haven't heard yet), a piano trio, a string quintet and string octet and a septet for winds and strings are worth checking out. There's a choice of oratorios/cantatas for those so inclined (which I am on occasion) like Moses, Odysseus, Christmas Night, Song of the Bell, and a tremendous and immensely powerful (though regrettably short) fantasy for two pianos. A clutch of miscellaneous works for cello and orchestra of which Kol Nidrei has garnered at least some fame, and a number of quite exquisite choral works. But a heaven-storming innovator? Not at all. And I don't mind a bit.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2013 16:33:29 BDT
Last edited by the author on 10 Apr 2013 16:35:20 BDT
scarecrow says:
It's curious how British composers vaulted over completely the strains of modernity, well the more nihilistic dimensions, those who deal with it, live in exile as Brian Ferneyhough, Birtwistle as close as one gets to hardcore modernity, it's why Maitre Boulez likes him has a special attraction to him. I recall that demonstration years ago round the premiere of Birtwistle's "Sir Gawain", placards "DOWN with MODERNITY', Modern music is pornography"
Maxwell Davies is another case in point, it's modern but very lyrical un comfortable with the very idea of modernity, so he has desires that skip round it-plays- played at it, like he's in a foreign land uncharted. . .

Posted on 10 Apr 2013 19:42:50 BDT
JayJayDee says:
The creation of a good tune/theme is nice/pleasant/rewarding.
Development and resolution of a (nice/pleasant/rewarding) theme/tune is intellectually rewarding.
The ideal combination satisfies both the emotion and the intellect.

The creation of a musical entity in the absence of a good theme/tune, however well developed it may become, is doomed to be a rather sterile intellectual exercise. (?)

Absence of a theme and absence of a development thereof becomes inevitably obtuse and a sterile pastime and doomed to become an intellectual or mathematical pursuit. (?)

If there's not an attractive theme; and if it is not developed constructively, then why the hell are we listening to it?

Just a thought!

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2013 19:56:14 BDT
enthusiast says:
I don't know the answer to that, JJ, but I do know that some sounds and riffs and other devices can catch fire in my mind so that music that seemed abstract can suddenly seem full of meaning. So I am fairly sure that a tune is not essential to making great music - music that transports me.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Apr 2013 20:00:44 BDT
Bruce says:
There are other ways of composing and music doesn't have to be nice/pleasant - it can be exciting, gripping, intense, original and surprising. It can catch your ear as something that you couldn't have imagined or predicted.

Some people like music to be "safe" and to feel at home with the predictability of it - others like music to shake them up and show them something new and exciting that they have never heard before.

Some people want to stay at home and be comfortable, but lots of people like a bit more excitement and that's why rollercoasters are popular, along with white-water rafting, skydiving, mountain climbing etc. ;-)
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Participants:  12
Total posts:  36
Initial post:  6 Apr 2013
Latest post:  3 Jun 2013

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