Friday, July 30, 2010


(For a PDF version of this essay, go to The Worldview Annex.)

Exactly one year, one month, and thirty days have elapsed since the Haydn bicentenary.  Two hundred years ago today (give or take a month and thirty days), the cannons that were pummeling the Austrian capital on May 11, 1809 had long since fallen silent, and Napoleon had long since withdrawn from the Austrian capital his forces, presumably including the sentry he had posted in front of the great composer's house; and the great composer himself had not only died and been buried but had also been exhumed and reburied minus his head.  Meanwhile, back in the merry old third millennium, the classical music appreciation industry, to the lukewarm extent that it ever was in Haydnland to begin with, has moved on to a year much more richly cluttered with composers' anniversaries (and with generally more illustrious ones at that) than was '09: there are Chopin's and Schumann's 200th birthdays, Mahler's 150th birthday, and Bach's 260th deathday, to name just a few.

I, too, have done some moving in the meantime, albeit not so much on as around; that is to say, as much within as without the perimeter of Haydnland.  For as I said in more than so many words on May 31, 2009, filling in the gaps—or, more often, chasms—in one's acquaintance with the Haydnian corpus is work, and over the past year I have indeed been slaving away in the non-Salzburgian salt-mine that is Haydnian personal music library acquisitions to the extent that my Kulturbudget will permit.  The single most important addition to my Haydn collection since May of '09 is undoubtedly Decca's bicentenary reissue of Antal Dorati's early-70s complete cycle of the symphonies.  This is the only complete Haydn symphony cycle I have ever owned, a collection that, until I snapped it up in toto last summer, I had formerly only sampled a few discs—both compact and long-playing—at a time.  Since then, for the first time ever, I have been able to amble a leisurely museum-visitor's way through all 104 numbers of the Hoboken catalogue in sequence (rather than in shuffle from, say, No. 22 to No. 103 and thence back to 47, and so on, a barbarous regimen enforced in virtually every single disc of the Naxos collection) and as performed by a single group of musicians on a single generation of instruments (as opposed to every ensemble from Roy Goodman's historically-informed Hanover Band [who turned every symphony into a de facto harpsichord concerto], to Colin Davis's state-of- the-late-twentieth-century-art Concertgebouw to Flacco Rodriguez's Mariachi Combo de la Ilustración.).  To say that this leisurely cursus has afforded me a revelation or epiphany would scarcely be an overstatement.  What it has revealed or epipphed to me is that from about No. 40 onwards, all of the Haydn symphonies—not just some of them, but all of them—are veritable masterpieces.  I know such an assertion flies in the face of received dumb-dom which, even among the majority of Haydnophiles, holds that Haydn got off to a very slow start in hewing and molding the symphony into the lean (or sometimes fat), mean, dramatizing and expressing machine that everyone has expected it to be since his death; that he found the symphony the mid-eighteenth century equivalent of a digital greeting-card jingle, a sub-trivial, bon-bon sized genre clocking in at a maximum of ten minutes; that for about the first 20 years or 80 Hoboken numbers he was basically content to leave it as he had found it, that even as late as 1780 he was still basically just shitting out interchangeable symphonic turds that were admittedly slightly longer than his early efforts, but scarcely more adventurous in formal or instrumental terms; that he could really be consistently arsed to get off his keister and write a truly memorable modern symphony with a grudging handful of its fixins only upon receiving the commission for the Paris symphonies (Nos. 83-87, from 1786); and that out of his entire symphonic output only some six of the last twelve symphonies (the so-called London set of 1791 to 1795) are actually indispensable to the repertoire.

Case in point of this received dumb-dom: Norman Lebrecht's February 18, 2009 La Scena Musicale column entitled "How to get a handle on Haydn."  Before encountering this column towards the end of last year I had regarded Lebrecht as an ally of sorts in my fight on behalf of Haydn against the virtually uncontested supremacy of Mozart; indeed, I had derived much of my moral courage to write "Haydn Seek" (along, possibly if inadvertently, with the whole of its title) from two of his earlier columns dating from the Mozart jubilee year of 2006—the first  bashing Wolfgang Amadeus more unabashedly than perhaps anyone since Archbishop Hieronymus Coloredo of Salzburg had dared to do, the second rallying his readers round the standard of Haydnophilia three years in advance of the festivities in the hope of making 2009 the best Haydn anniversary year ever.  So, as I was sort of saying, towards the end of last year, I dropped in on Lebrecht's La Scena page to see how he was, erm, handling the big year, and was distressed to alight upon this column, a veritable Dear John letter terminating our four-year old Haydnophilic romance; a screedlet that revealed him to be a true Mozartophile's Haydnophile, a Haydnian dilettante's dilettante, a traitor to the Cause of Causes; a sheet of electronic bum fodder positively blackened with glib misinformation, cavalier calumnies, speaker cone-shredding howlers, and wig-uncurling untruths about my beloved Papa Haitch.  "Haydn," reports Lebrecht, "tried to make his symphonies more sellable by giving them names.  The 92nd is titled Oxford because he conducted it there for his honorary doctorate.  The Surprise (94) administers a polite little shock, and the Clock (101) goes tick-tock."  Largely wrong: the only Haydn symphonies, as far as I know, that were publicly nicknamed by the composer are the frankly programmatic Nos. 6, "Le Matin," ("Morning"), 7, "Le Midi" ("Noon"), and 8, "Le Soir" ("Evening"), collectively intended as a sort of triadic-cum-diurnal analogue to Vivaldi's Four Seasons; and No. 69, the "Laudon," christened in honor of an Austrian military officer.  A few others (e.g., Nos. 55, "The Schoolmaster," and 64, "Tempora Mutantur") derive their sobriquets from the marginalia of Haydn's original manuscripts, or of the instrumental parts for the Esterhazy orchestra (parts that were indeed handwritten, but by some other hand than Haydn's).  The rest, including the "Oxford," the "Surprise," and the "Clock," owe their monikers to the same person to whom is owed a good 90 per cent of all musical AKAs, Mr. or Mrs. Unidentified Nineteenth-Century Music Lover of Some Musical Backwater Like Königsberg or Poughkeepsie.  Elsewhere, Lebrecht writes, after a promising start in which he credits FJH with being the "inventor of both the symphony and the string quartet" (basically true but not incontrovertible): "Haydn, though, was not content to create the moulds.  He went on to fill them with 104 symphonies and 68 quartets, adroit and diverting but seldom edge-of-seat gripping"; then, later: "Anyone who works his way through a batch of Haydn scores will soon recognize that he is not a composer who, like Mozart or Beethoven, shows consistent novelty and strength of will.  For much of his life Haydn led the orchestra in a country house at Esterhazy, writing to amuse the idle gentry in long winter evenings.  His requirement was to produce new works but not demonstrably to innovate.  The Hungarian aristos who paid his keep did not want to have their conversations disturbed by anything out of the ordinary. […]  He was a conservative artist, charming and conventional.  Recordings of the London symphonies by Antal Dorati, Neville Marriner and Nikolaus Harnoncourt are as lively as Haydn ever gets."  First to the bit about consistent novelty and strength of will: that Beethoven did evince such qualities, and in greater abundance than did Haydn, I freely grant (in condign heedlessness of such counterexamples as Wellington's Victory and The Mount of Olives).  But it must be remembered that Beethoven produced only a total of about 160 pieces of music, as against Haydn's more than "5,000 items" (paces galore, Norm); the price he paid for his hyper-consistent novelty was many long stretches of non-production.  For a composer who (in Lebrecht's words) "could write three [works] in a week" in antipodal contrast to the "frugal" Arnold Schoenberg, who "never wrote more than one opus a year," Haydn is pretty darned consistently novel and strong-willed, certainly by comparison with the comparably prolific Mozart, on the score of whose upteaming with Ludwig van as a breathmate, one cannot but exclaim to Norman, "Come now, son, don't be p-p-preposterous!"  Lebrecht of all people ought to—and once did—know that Wolfgang Amadeus is or ought to be the very byword of artistic spottiness; that no more than eight of his operas (a set by no means coextensive with his last eight) deserve to be staged or recorded; that his first 20 or so symphonies amount to but so many yards of lineated and annotated loo-paper (which is admittedly not quite as bad a thing as the same amount and kind of "bum fodder"); and that in a world ruled by chamber music-aficionados rather than television-viewers, "Compose the Prussian Quartets" rather than "Jump the Shark" would be the most widely-current argotic synecdoche for "outlive one's creative prime."  For all this, to be sure, Mozart qua individual creative genius is only partly to blame.  After all, he came of age (or, to be more precise, puberty) before the period of Haydn's first efflorescence of fame, during the heyday of Johann Christian Bach, when composers were expected to toss off ten compositions a week, when consistent novelty was assuredly not yet at a premium in the musical world; and consequently he started out by producing a welter of unmemorable material.  In the early 1770s, he became acquainted with some of Haydn's Sturm und Drang symphonies and opp. 9 and 20 string quartets, and was inspired by them to slow down, to refine and elaborate his technique, and—yes—to try to do something new in each new composition, whence the masterpieces of his late teens through early thirties, from which the very last works, including the Prussian Quartets and excepting The Magic Flute, mark a perceptible decline.  Twenty years later, Beethoven, goaded on by Haydn's and Mozart's examples, tried, mostly successfully, to one-up both of them—whence his greater consistency of novelty but also his diminished output.  For Pete's sake, Norm, this is the way the history of music worked from about 1750 to 1920[1]: the harder it got to say anything new, the longer became the gap between finished opera, at least among the most perceptive and ambitious composers; such that Schoenberg's "frugality" can hardly be chalked up to mere temperamental at-odds-ness with Haydnian prodigality.  Related to Lebrecht's misprision of Haydn's novelty is his viscerally repellent and equally wrongheaded notion of FJH as a "conservative" composer and a kind of one-man Fordian musical bon-bon factory, pouring dollop after dollop of symphonic and quartetic goo into standardized, pre-formed "mo[u]lds."  Regardless of whether Haydn was "required" by the "Hungarian aristos who paid his keep" to "innovate" (and the historical record suggests that the aristo who paid his keep the longest, Prince Nicolaus "The Magnificent" Esterházy, did not care one hootlet about what Haydn wrote for the orchestra or any other sort of ensemble, provided Haydn kept him well stocked with compositions for the baryton, the only instrument the Prince could proficiently play), the fact is, he did innovate, knowingly; and, indeed, that far from blaming his isolation at Esterház for hindering this innovation, he regarded it as the principal stimulus thereunto: "There was no one near me to confuse and torment me," he said, according to his Boswell, Alois Griesenger, "and thus I was forced to become original."  If he was not original enough for Mr. Lebrecht, it was not for want of trying consistently, nay doggedly, to be original according to his own lights; and succeeding according to those of any listener with the atom of imagination required not to think of every recurrence of an Allegro/Adagio/Allegretto Minuet/Allegro tempo scheme as the clone-like product of a "mo[u]ld."  For in truth there are very few of those 104 symphonies, the pre-Parisian ones especially included, that do not contrive to do something that no one had thought to do before in a piece of extended instrumental music, and—what is even more important—do it in a way that makes sense in the setting of the larger argument of the piece as a whole; such that equally very few of them may be termed superfluous to the development of the symphony as a genre.  The best-known of these innovatory symphonies qua essay in pioneering is probably No. 45, the so-called "Farewell." As everybody who has heard of this work knows, it breaks the aforementioned mold, such as it is, by rounding itself out in an adagio instead of an allegro, thereby setting a precedent for such (much) later symphonic adagio finales as those of Tchaikovsky's Sixth and Mahler's Ninth.  What fewbodies consider, though, is the technical finesse Haydn exhibits in this finale in keeping the lines of his melody and accompaniment running continuously from the first measures, in which they have the entire orchestra at their disposal, to the last, in which they must make do with a single pair of violins.  The adagio-for-allegro switcheroo may be quasi-legitimately dismissed as a brainwave-induced gimmick, but this second feat is indisputably a genuine, trailblazing tour de force; a veritable down-thrown gauntlet that was really fully taken up only a century-and-a-half later, by Alban Berg via the disappearing viola line at the end of his Lyric Suite of 1926.  To these apples, and to incontestably devastating effect, Mr. Lebrecht would presumably retort "Gauntlet, schmauntlet," in the clipped, nasal tones of his native London postcode (NW1 is my guess).

But what really drives me up my goat about Mr. Lebrecht's unacknowledged Haydnian palinode is his linking of Haydn's supposed failure to innovate and supposed desultoriness of inspiration to the supposedly no less-pernicious defect of insufficient "liveliness," of his failure to "grip our seats" with his music.  (Incidentally, I believe that according to established idiom it is the listener or spectator himself rather than the theatrical or musical piece attended to that grips or omits to grip a seat during a performance; but after all, the first casualty of journalistic word-count limits is syntax.)  Not that I would assert that Haydn's instrumental works generally possess this sedi-adhesive quality in uniformly copious abundance from first note to last; and indeed, a goodly portion of the increase in heft that I have extolled in Haydn's middle symphonies is owing to an increase in the length of the adagio or slow movement, of that module of the symphony that makes absolutely no pretense of wanting to make the listener grip his seat, and whose Haydnian version Hans Keller has distinguished under the name of the decidedly sedi-repellent quality of "reposefulness."[2]  Nor does it come as any kind of news to me that certain people are bored by this intermittent sedi-repellent quality in Haydn's music.  I recall reading not many years ago that during his time at Philadelphia Riccardo Muti had had to contend with a steadily diminishing audience during a performance of the Seven Last Words.  And just the other week I caught no less rabid a Haydnophile than the latish H. C. Robbins Landon conceding, in the pages of his zoning-law defying Symphonies of Joseph Haydn that "emotionally [the slow movements of Haydn's symphonies of 1771-1774, a subset of the middle-period swathe whose magisterial quality I have newly discovered] require tremendous concentration on the part of player and audience["…/and that "f]ull of delicate emotion and intricate passage work for the violins, they are often of great length, leaving the listener exhausted."  No: what bothers me about Mr. Lebrecht's particular boredom registration card is its suggestion that boringness, even in moderate doses, on its own suffices to disqualify a piece of music from admission into the pantheon of proper, first-rate, grade-AAA masterpieces; for if such a cultivated, intelligent man as Mr. Lebrecht, a man who has after all done more than his fair share of cheerleading for unpopular, non-edge of the seat gripping music, can be brought to maintain such a position vis-à-vis the corpus of a composer of Haydn's stature, what hope is there not only for such other hall-clearing musical corpora as those of Bruckner and Schnittke, but for anything or anyone worth twice a look or listen on this goshforsaken ball of dust?

By way of accounting for that wild leap from a very few things to a very many things at the end of the previous sentence, a brief review of our nursery school metaphysics is perhaps not amiss here:  We humans are finite beings that exist within and at the behest of that  implacable old mule-driver, Time; as are and do all of the objects and phenomena by which we are surrounded and permeated—from fire engines to petunias to rainbows to—yes—Haydn symphonies.  Now, Time being not only implacable but also sadistic has seen to it that only very rarely do any two given entities have the same amount of him at their disposal at the same, well, time; whence, the inevitability of recursive if transient boredom—for boredom is simply the irritation occasioned at any given moment by the sense that the person or thing currently demanding your attention has more time at its disposal than you do.  If I am in an especial hurry to get somewhere or to do something, my threshold of boredom will be very low, and if I have nowhere in particular to be or nothing in particular to do until, say, next Christmas, this threshold will be very high.  You, DGR, may be the most gifted raconteur since Oscar Wilde or Soupy Sales, you may be the sort of person who can, as they say (or should say), mesmerize perspective-defying table-lengths of auditors with an anecdote about his latest trip to the supermarket; but I am likely to be literally albeit prosaically bored to distraction by the most fire code-floutingly top-shelf of your anecdotes if I myself have to make a trip to the supermarket in the next ten minutes, on pain of breaking my fast tomorrow with a spoonful of dry, stale Grape Nuts.  Tell me the same story tomorrow over platefuls of the bangers, mash, scrapple, chitterlings, etc. that I will, it is to be hoped, have managed to secure by then, and I will be all ears—until, that is, I realize about ten minutes into it that this narrative bears an uncanny resemblance to a yarn you spun for me a few months ago.  "Last night," I shall say to myself, "you had me fooled because the supermarket in question was a Sainsbury's whereas in the earlier story it had been a Tesco's.  And now you think you have me fooled because the item mis-marked 2/$2.95 is a Cuban sandwich whereas before it was a po-boy.  But I can see well enough that the entire point of this Erzählung, just like that of the other сказ, is going to be a misplaced one of the decimal variety, regardless of whether the discoverer of the misplacement turns out to be a Dominican stock-lad (as in the last one) or a Pomeranian charcutier."  And at this point, assuming that I am too polite or forgiving or cowardly to interrupt you, I will begin to exercise my boredman's prerogative of attempting to put my time to some better use; I will begin to fill in the present interval with daydreams about my next trip to the supermarket, or about the menu of my next breakfast, or perhaps even about that middle-period Haydn symphony that has been, as they say, in heavy rotation on my turntable this week.  From this corny but serviceable little thought fable-cum-experiment one can see, first of all, that although it is perforce always experienced in the present, boredom is at least as much an affair of one's general trans-temporal disposition towards an object, as shaped by one's accumulated memory of it and related objects, as it is of one's present attitude towards it.  In averring "This anecdote bores me," the first time round, on the night of my exigent shopping deadline, I would merely have been registering how I was feeling then; in uttering the same string of words the second time round, I would also have effectively been making a prediction, a prediction to the effect of "This anecdote will never interest me again."   By the end of the second retailing of the anecdote I had learned, as it were, to be bored by it.  This brings me to the second moral of the thought fable-cum-experiment: suspense(a. k. a. that quality which induces "edge of the seat-gripping")  is the most perishable—albeit also the most immediately potent—of all antigens to boredom, and rarely survives even the most cursory or inattentive acquaintance-making session with an object.  Such that whoever or whatever you are, to the extent that your aim is to be un-boring over the long haul, you had better have more going for you than a flair for eliciting the question "What is going to happen next?" As for Moral Number Three, it is illustrated by the sub-episode centering on the boredman's prerogative, and reads as follows:  Thanks to the operations of the miraculous faculty of memory, one need not be in sensuous proximity to an object in order to be interested in (i.e., un-bored by) it.  Finally, and most comprehensively, I present Moral Number Four: Between failing to keep other people gripping their seats and failing to be kept gripping our own seats by them, along with their various non-personal fellow attention-seekers, the admittedly comparatively tepid non-sensuously-immediate interest of Moral No. 3 is about the only form of non-boredom that we can even dream of inspiring in others or reliably depend on to enjoy ourselves—whence my seeming hysteria over the fate of "anything or anyone worth twice a look or listen."

But never mind anything or anyone else worth twice a look or listen: let us stick for the moment to applying the above morals to Haydn, and specifically to the adagios of those middle-period symphonies that I have come to admire so much.  Now, I concede, on the evidence of my own listening history, that the seat-gripping quotient of these adagios is pretty near to zero; I concede, that is, not only that they "require tremendous concentration" and that "they leave the listener exhausted," but that, having little patience for being left exhausted by anything, I am generally not up to these requirements and that, like a charity marathon runner who does not scruple to walk the entire course, as a first-time listener to a Haydn symphony I do not even make the feeblest effort to meet them.  Indeed, during these initial test-drives, I am more than content to listen by default, and, as it were, reflexively, with all the drooling, witless curiosity of an unregenerate seat-groper, allowing the adagio to wash over and into me like a protracted ear-douche qua preliminary to the inevitably much more exciting allegro or presto finale.  If I were confined to listening to these adagios in the conditions imposed on Haydn's original audiences (i.e., on average one time per adagio, and in counterpoint to the muted strings-outdrowning chit-chat  of my fellow "aristos") it is highly likely that my appreciation of them would end here; and I can even imagine it not going much farther if I were obliged, as H. C. Robbins Landon doubtless was in the 1950s, to hearken to their [Quarter Note] = 60 pianissimo strains against a burden of 33 or 78 RPM surface noise crescendoing from mezzo-forte on the first listening to triple fortissimo on the twentieth.  But as I, like all other inhabitants of the early 21st century, may listen to anything I own a recording of at will-cum-ad infinitum, and with no loss of fidelity from repeated playings, I am correlatively liberated from the shackles of mandatory seat-gripping-oriented listening; such that upon the third or fourth listening, a given recorded performance of a Haydn symphony ceases to seem like an event and begins to seem more like a place, one whose principal landmarks I can easily distinguish but whose intervening geography I am as yet only partly able to trace.  At this point, too, my recollected experience of the work begins to overtake my immediately perceived experience thereof, such that I find myself thinking about it many times as minutes as I ever could have possibly spent listening to it.  In a way this is nothing more esoteric than the familiar phenomenon of being unable to get a tune out of one's head, with the difference that whereas the tune, having originated as the only salient component of one of those monolithically amoeboid musical organisms known as a pop song, can do nothing but pace back and forth inside one's skull like a bored zoo inmate, and hence induce nothing but boredom in the zookeeper, the symphony, in generally entering one's mind in little paired scraps of melody that may lie many measures—sometimes even several movements apart—will invariably set one off on a decidedly unbored search for a connection between them.  And as an impetus to such a search, a scrap from a grip-repellent adagio will generally have the advantage of a scrap from a comparatively grip-attracting allegro, in that having been less intelligibly assimilated to the lie of the surrounding land at listening-time, it requires more attentive step-retracing at recollection-time.

If the preceding paragraph appears to picture the normative mode of appreciating a Haydn symphony as an exercise that makes even so arid a diversion as solving a crossword puzzle seem positively sky-diving-esque; and, moreover, appears to fly in the face of everything I said last year about Haydn's being a dramaturgical as opposed to an architectural composer, I am sorry.  For make no mistake: I still do believe that the best way to enjoy a Haydn symphony is to listen to it straight through, and that such start-to-finish listening is infinitely more profitably directed at a Haydn symphony than at a fugue by J. S. Bach.  But I also maintain that such listening benefits inestimably from more oblique and non-temporally sequential reflection on the work, which (I would also argue) constitutes an inalienable and not necessarily marginal part of one's aesthetic experience of it.  Moreover, in the light of my depreciation of "edge of the seat-gripping" in the present essay, it surely behooves me to issue a corrigendum to my earlier characterization of dramatic interest as consisting in an eager expectation of "what will happen next."  Yes (as I have already conceded) eager expectation does strongly contribute to the sustenance of our interest in a Haydn symphony the first time through, but (as I have already asserted) it can perforce have nothing to do with what keeps us coming back to it.  Why, then, subsequent to our first complete audition of one of these symphonies, once we broadly know what is going to happen, would we not do as well to listen to the individual movements in reverse order, or in random order, or in isolation amid the hurly-burly of a so-called classical party mix, as in the order assigned to them by the composer?  Because Haydn (it seems to me) has placed those particular movements in that particular order for a reason, the reason being that he wants us to experience time at different rates within a given so-called time frame.  The deliberate pace and deliberative tenor of a Haydn adagio, with its initially seemingly (and only initially seemingly!) endless and interchangeable melodic periods punctuated by silences, is a well-placed (or indeed well-timed or timely) reminder, after the teleologically industrious bustle of the Allegro and the frankly unreflective festivity of the minuet, that things do not simply and automatically happen in time, or perhaps that time exists for some purpose other than happening.  On the other hand, to wrest this selfsame adagio from the more outgoing neighborhood of its surrounding movements and listen to it on its own would be to traduce its spirit and assimilate it by default to the ignoble-as-all-get-out autotherapeutic pseudo-traditions of easy listening, meditation, and stress relief.  For the relation between the two[3] modes of time-passage, the industrious or outgoing one and the deliberate or introspective one, is dialectical: they depend upon and reinforce each other by being experienced in sequential juxtaposition.  So at bottom, for me it is the power of Haydn's music to compel us (or, at any rate, me) to live through this juxtaposition that renders it preeminently dramatic as that of no composer before and precious few since has been, and puts paid to the myth of the perennially good-natured, glad-handing "Papa Haydn" more definitively than the discovery of a shed-load of minor-key Sturm und Drang Haydn symphonies ever could do—this not because there is so much as a suspicion of misanthropy in Haydn's adagios, but rather because in virtue of their propinquity to these slow movements even the most exuberantly high-spirited of his allegros are imbued with a poignancy that precludes their assimilation to a worldview of unreflective optimism.  It seems to me, moreover, that such a version of the dramatic mode is the only one befitting beings of our peculiar metaphysical constitution; beings, that is, incessantly and simultaneously compelled to move forward by time, and to look backward by memory, beings who labor under the full metaphysical burden of the epigraph to Haydn's Symphony No. 64:  "Tempora mutantur, et nos in illis."  If this sort of drama seems a trifle anemic, a tad lackluster, a smidge lacking in oomph, to you, DGR, I beg you to (re)consider the only practicable alternative to it, namely an exclusively teleological, one-way, hyperwhiggish, mule driver-humping, perennially blinkered Fleetwood-Mackian edge-of the-seat-gripper's drama, one that in maintaining that "yesterday's gone," "never stops thinking about tomorrow"; the drama of the endlessly sequelable blockbuster movie; of the superhero-centered comic book running into its ninth decade and nine thousandth number, of the football, baseball, hockey, and basketball seasons ("Without sports, there wouldn't be a next year"); of the lottery and the casino; of the Olympics; of the sitcom; of the soap opera; of the quest-themed video game; of the spoiler warning.  If you will but briefly consider the situations of all of these things in the world of the present, DGR, I trust you will find that my anxiety over the fate of "anything worth twice a look or listen" comes to seem at least a trifle less hysterical.         

[1] Since 1920, in contrast, there has been a general dilation of productivity, at least among composers who bother with things like scores and opus numbers; and this dilation has been attended by a corresponding smoothing away of the characterizing contours of individual works.  Alfred Schnittke's corpus is positively Telemannian in size, but each of the three concertos for solo instrument plus orchestra he wrote in the mid-1980s (for violin, viola, and cello, respectively) is as good as any of the others at giving one an idea of his compositional habitus in those years.
[2] See "Haydn-seek."
[3]Or more candidly, "two or more"; for I am by no means certain that minuet time and finale time can even schematically be lumped in with first-movement time and distinguished from adagio time.


bbrg said...

Just for reference - the Lebrecht piece that this is, in part, a response to:

Now, there WAS a Feb 29, 2008... but this is from that date's pseudo-anagram of Feb. 18, 2009.

Douglas Robertson said...

Many thanks, bbrg. I have corrected the date.