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Farmer, Cline, & Campbell

Classically Speaking

Classical music in West Virginia and Beyond

Just Joking (Not Really!)

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By Jim Lange
 · June 14, 2013

minimalist joke
Pablo Helguera
NPR Classical had this cute cartoon. It is a blatant shot at the so-called "minimalists" -a name not embraced by Glass, Reich, Adams, Riley, et al.

While I'm sure the majority of NPR listeners are fans of contemporary classical music, there are certainly people who have a very narrow focus as to what is or isn't part of the canon of approved classics.

Dare I call them out?

Philip Glass is especially volatile on our airwaves. After airing what I thought was a delightful symphonic piece by Glass, I was asked by a listener why I liked Glass and since I did, was there something wrong with my mind? I have been threatened with broken fingers (A joke of sorts) if I dare air another Glass piece. I have one loyal listener, despite how many time we have discussed (in a very respectable and civilized manner) why he thinks Glass is a charlatan and my counter argument to all that. I have also been told that I wasn't to threaten people with promises of playing more "long-haired music." Huh? The point of that comment eludes me.

The real truth is I don't care what anyone else thinks about Reich or Glass. I like it (and millions worldwide agree as well) and that's that. Taste, as the Romans so long ago pointed out, cannot be argued.

I have come to realize that classical listeners are glacial when it comes to accepting new things. They want what they already know and I'm fine with that. I am here to please, not to torture you.

The kernel of truth that lies within the NPR cartoon is twofold. First, the early works of Reich and Glass are very repetitive. I get why that bothers people, but Glass and Reich are so far removed from their early works. They have evolved their approach and fans have followed. Besides, I like repetition in music. Always have, always will.

Secondly, this joke represents the "all cards on the table" openly degrading attitude that some classicists have about this style of music. As if to say, even a parrot can produce this style of music. Tsk, tsk, I say.

We cannot fast forward 50 years and I could say, "I told you so!," but I am firm in my convictions that history will realize the value of this music, even if some listeners do not share that opinion now. I am right and I know it.

Composers of a new style are always (without exception) met with hostility. Here are some real examples (Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective):

Anton Bruckner

"We recoil in horror before this rotting odor which rushes into our nostrils from the disharmonies of this putrefactive counterpoint. Bruckner composes like a drunkard!" 

Claude Debussy

"Debussy's music is the dreariest kind of rubbish.   

Richard Wagner

"Heartless sterility, obliteration of all melody, all tonal charm, all music... T 

Even poor Ludwig takes one on the chin-

  • "Beethoven’s Second Symphony is a crass monster, a hideously writhing wounded dragon, which refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect." 
  • And as to the topic of "long-haired" music, I leave you with this picture of a young Franz Liszt. Should we exclude him? 

    long haired franz liszt
    Young Franz, isn't your long hair just a bit too much?

    Philip Glass is God!
    Posted by: Kenneth Wright at 6/14/2013 9:45 PM

    My husband introduced me to Glass several years ago, when we were dating (though unbeknownst to me I had already heard his work in the soundtrack of the movie, The Hours.) Glass is a listening "staple" in our house, and I have, in turn, introduced him to Arvo Part, a composer I first heard on public radio. I'm sure that the radio audience doesn't always find my favorite early music (late medieval/early Renaissance) to their taste, but I'm glad to hear it played on occasion. It can't always be Bach, Beethoven, and Brahams on the airwaves.
    Posted by: Jane Wright at 6/15/2013 9:26 AM

    Yea to all of the above. I know public radio thinks it can't get too far out there because they want to please the donor audience, which I suppose supports the old standbys of conservative (and sometimes boring as heck) programming. I, too, would like more diversity.
    Posted by: Larry Bowers at 8/18/2013 4:11 PM

    Then speak up when pledge time comes. Speak up when you hear something different or daring.

    If you don't tell us, then we never know. If you don't support us, then we suffer from the lack of dollars.

    I have always believed in and trusted my audience to make up their own minds with the diversity of choices on classical music.

    Let's keep exploring, yes?
    Posted by: Radio at 8/18/2013 4:31 PM

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