John Adams violin concerto

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ratsrcute
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John Adams violin concerto

Post by ratsrcute » Sun Jun 05, 2016 7:29 pm

Just listened to a recording of the John Adams violin concerto with Gidon Kremer and Kent Nagano.

My opinion is--yuck. Just yuck. This piece is interesting because it represents Adams moving beyond his trademark minimalist techniques in both rhythm and--especially--harmonic vocabulary. I'll comment on the first movement. The harmonies are plain ugly to me--and not "sexy ugly" like the Rite, just "ugly ugly." The different rhythms harmonies don't jell. I.e. the orchestra and violin seem up to entirely different things in an incoherent way--that would be vertical non-jelling. And the sequence of rhythms in the violin don't fit together--horizontal non-jelling.

Worst of all, the violin is just noodling. The music feels uncomfortable, like it doesn't know if it wants to be stock Adams minimalism (you get that sense from the repetition of rhythms) or whether it wants to be something new (a sense you get from the complex harmonic vocabulary).

Well, I'm sure some people like this piece.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by stenka razin » Sun Jun 05, 2016 8:28 pm

From Music Web International:
Violinist Chloe Hanslip's performance on Naxos is reviewed below:


'The opening of his Violin Concerto has been compared to the drowning scene in Berg’s ‘Wozzeck’, but with the fluid undulations in the orchestra being extended over the whole of the first movement it is more of an aquatic flying lesson than an agonising sinking feeling. The second movement is a moving Chaconne, with discreetly added bell sounds - some real, some synthesised - from within the orchestra. Polytonal counter-melodies and woodwind filigrees make this an attractive movement, even though its nearly 11 minute duration means it has more of a meditative effect rather than an intensely gripping one. The final Toccare has minimalist touches of ostinati: ticking woodblocks and both tuned and un-tuned percussion effects in a rhythmically demanding whirlwind of joyful Americana. It does come off in this performance, but you do have the feeling that everyone is playing by the seat of their trousers, sorry, pants.'


Not my favorite Violin Concerto, but quite typical of Adams's style. I give the work 3 stars. Good, but not great.

Regards,
Mel 8)
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Sun Jun 05, 2016 8:32 pm

I have posted this before, but to my ears, many composers found their greatest creative outlet in the form of the violin concerto. To put it another way, it is difficult to think of a bad one. On that list I would include Tchaikovsky (short of the ballet music), Sibelius, Elgar, Roger Sessions, and many others if I were not too lazy to list them all. Heaven only knows why that particular form brought out the best in so many composers. I can't make an assessment of the Adams concerto without having heard it, but I look forward to the opportunity. Certainly I have no use for Adams in general, but then I have no use for Sibelius in general.


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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by John F » Mon Jun 06, 2016 1:46 am

jbuck919 wrote:To my ears, many composers found their greatest creative outlet in the form of the violin concerto. To put it another way, it is difficult to think of a bad one. On that list I would include Tchaikovsky (short of the ballet music), Sibelius, Elgar, Roger Sessions, and many others if I were not too lazy to list them all.
That's controversial, of course, as I'm sure you know. As one who thinks Tchaikovsky and Sibelius are great composers, I'd say each of them composed three great symphonies, some other great orchestral works, and one nice violin concerto. Elgar's masterpiece by common consent is the Enigma Variations; I listen to it far more often and willingly than to the violin concerto. I don't know Sessions's music well enough to have an opinion.

As you say, it's difficult to think of a bad violin concerto, at least from a major composer. Spohr's concertos, his one remaining toehold on the fringe of the repertory, are pretty flat; Paganini's, particularly the first and most popular one, are pretty lowdown, a bunch of tunes and pyrotechnics. No doubt there are plenty of other showpieces by violinist-composers, like Wieniawski and Vieuxtemps, pleasant but undistinguished, that only a violinist can love, but it's not worth the effort to seek them out. jbuck919 may point out that these composers found their primary creative outlet in the form of the violin concerto. To which I say, feh. :)
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by ratsrcute » Mon Jun 06, 2016 3:28 am

stenka razin wrote:
Not my favorite Violin Concerto, but quite typical of Adams's style. I give the work 3 stars. Good, but not great.

Regards,
Mel 8)
Well, it's not typical of his pre-1995 style. Like Harmonielehre or Nixon in China. I recall that he wrote the violin concerto in the late 90's and it sounds like he was trying to branch out. Many composers have a "shtick" and can't seem to get past it.

Well, consider rock music for a second. I don't like it, but I have a friend who listens constantly so I have some exposure. Some bands seem to create a variety of stuff, while others sound like they are making music on autopilot. Typically an "autopilot" band will have some musical feature, like moving between the 5th and 6th scale degrees in the minor key in a certain pattern, and you will find this pattern in all their music.

I put pre-1995 Adams in the category of limited shtick.

I get the feeling that "autopilot" composers/musicians do everything by intuition, but haven't integrated thinking/analysis into their work. They do what their ear tells them, but they have no method of exploring alternatives to their first idea.

Adams and Morten Lauridsen are examples of composers who have their "autopilot" music.

Both Adams and Lauridsen write other things, but it always sounds uncomfortable to me, like they can't make it work. Especially Adams. The music sounds like a restless, uncomfortable creature that doesn't know whether it wants to be minimalism or maximalism.

This is an opinion of course. Other people could hear it completely differently.

Mike

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by Modernistfan » Mon Jun 06, 2016 7:59 pm

I have always liked the Adams Violin Concerto. To me, it sounds like the "Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 3," which doesn't of course exist. It is one of the works that showed him definitely moving away from his earlier, stricter minimalism.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Mon Jun 06, 2016 11:33 pm

John F wrote: Elgar's masterpiece by common consent is the Enigma Variations;
I'm not interested in the common consent about the enema variations. I've had to endure the sappy Nimrod too many times in organ arrangements. There will doubtless be another one in some program at OHS at the end of the month, perhaps at the Atlantic City organ. IMO the violin concerto is his greatest work.


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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by ratsrcute » Mon Jun 06, 2016 11:54 pm

Speaking of composers who did their best work in the violin concerto form, I am greatly moved by the Barber Violin Concerto--I don't really have the experience with Barber to say it's his "very best" but it has some amazing Romantic themes, truly amazing.

Modernistfan, just in case you were wondering if I called the Adams vln. conc. "ugly" because I'm averse to all forms of dissonance, I like Boulez and Elliott Carter. I don't like everything by them, but at the least I always respect their technique. I also think early Adams wrote with deep feeling, and Harmonielehre made a great impression on me in 1991. I have since come to be annoyed by it, after developing a more evolved sense of what I like to listen for, but I try never to forget early musical impressions. Maybe my 1991 self knows something I don't.

Also, Modernistfan, so one of my objections to the first movement of the Adams is that the orchestra and violin seem to be doing noncompatible things in an unpleasant way. (Unlike Carter who pulls that off deliberately.) I am curious how you hear this---do they actually jell in your ear, or is he pulling off a "Carter" and making this clash into the point of the movement (or portions of the movement)?

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by John F » Tue Jun 07, 2016 2:07 am

jbuck919 wrote:I'm not interested in the common consent about the enema variations. I've had to endure the sappy Nimrod too many times in organ arrangements. There will doubtless be another one in some program at OHS at the end of the month, perhaps at the Atlantic City organ. IMO the violin concerto is his greatest work.
You're certainly entitled to your opinion, and I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. But just because a piece has become overfamiliar doesn't diminish its quality. I don't need to hear Beethoven's 5th symphony ever again, but of course I recognize its greatness nonetheless.
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 07, 2016 5:34 am

John F wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:I'm not interested in the common consent about the enema variations. I've had to endure the sappy Nimrod too many times in organ arrangements. There will doubtless be another one in some program at OHS at the end of the month, perhaps at the Atlantic City organ. IMO the violin concerto is his greatest work.
You're certainly entitled to your opinion, and I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. But just because a piece has become overfamiliar doesn't diminish its quality. I don't need to hear Beethoven's 5th symphony ever again, but of course I recognize its greatness nonetheless.
It is not the same thing. I have always found the Enigma Variations meretricious.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by John F » Tue Jun 07, 2016 7:36 am

jbuck919 wrote:It is not the same thing. I have always found the Enigma Variations meretricious.
Ah, but it is the same thing. However you may feel about the Elgar, the rest of the world (slight overstatement :) ), including me, finds it to be a masterpiece.
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by diegobueno » Tue Jun 07, 2016 10:46 am

John Adams has written many works that I admire greatly. The Violin Concerto is not one of them. I am even less impressed by his concerto for electric violin The Dharma at Big Sur.

So far, I am much more favorably disposed towards his new effort Scheherezade.2. The whole thing is available on Youtube, but I'll post this clip of the last 2 movements because it's the 3rd movement has caught my ear at the moment.


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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jun 07, 2016 12:05 pm

ratsrcute wrote:Speaking of composers who did their best work in the violin concerto form, I am greatly moved by the Barber Violin Concerto--I don't really have the experience with Barber to say it's his "very best" but it has some amazing Romantic themes, truly amazing
.

The Barber concerto is a stunning example of exactly what I was referring to. Mark (diegobueno) put us back on track with his excerpt of something else by Adams, which I will listen to today. It may shock him, but after all this time being on opposite sides of the fence, I still take his opinion seriously.

Here is a famous excerpt from a violin concerto by the greatest prodigy of all time. (It was not Mozart, folks.)


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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jserraglio » Wed Jun 08, 2016 2:48 pm

BRITTEN


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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jun 08, 2016 3:18 pm

diegobueno wrote:John Adams has written many works that I admire greatly. The Violin Concerto is not one of them. I am even less impressed by his concerto for electric violin The Dharma at Big Sur.

So far, I am much more favorably disposed towards his new effort Scheherezade.2. The whole thing is available on Youtube, but I'll post this clip of the last 2 movements because it's the 3rd movement has caught my ear at the moment.

Excellent. Thank you, Mark.
Last edited by jbuck919 on Thu Jun 09, 2016 11:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Jun 08, 2016 4:01 pm

jserraglio wrote:BRITTEN

Another example of what I mean. Britten had musicianship spanning an ocean, but most of his compositions are mediocre. Why should the violin concerto be so excellent, and so different?

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jun 09, 2016 6:27 am

jbuck919 wrote:Why should the violin concerto be so excellent, and so different?
Excellent, yes -- different, no. In my view, Britten's music is consistently excellent.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by John F » Thu Jun 09, 2016 7:27 am

jbuck919 wrote:Britten had musicianship spanning an ocean, but most of his compositions are mediocre.
That's an astonishing view, and I couldn't disagree more. I have to wonder by what standards of excellence you believe Britten falls short. Of course not every work is a masterpiece, but no composer has ever met that standard, or been held to it, and he produced more of them than most composers of his generation. (Sez who? Sez I.) And to tell the truth, I wouldn't put his violin concerto among them.
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by maestrob » Thu Jun 09, 2016 12:27 pm

John F wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:Britten had musicianship spanning an ocean, but most of his compositions are mediocre.
That's an astonishing view, and I couldn't disagree more. I have to wonder by what standards of excellence you believe Britten falls short. Of course not every work is a masterpiece, but no composer has ever met that standard, or been held to it, and he produced more of them than most composers of his generation. (Sez who? Sez I.) And to tell the truth, I wouldn't put his violin concerto among them.
Britten's greatness lies in his famous operas, IMHO. Again, his orchestral and choral compositions (except Prince of the Pagodas, which is a theatre piece by definition, being a ballet). Britten's Great Work is Peter Grimes, which we all know intimately. The Piano Concerto, by contrast, is mediocre stuff, even when championed by Sviatoslav Richter. The Violin Concerto in no way measures up to, say, Shostakovich or Prokofiev, or even Barber.

So there :) .

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jun 09, 2016 2:00 pm

I retract nothing. I would perhaps attend a performance of Peter Grimes kicking and screaming if the ticket was free.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jserraglio » Thu Jun 09, 2016 7:15 pm

jbuck919 wrote:I retract nothing. I would perhaps attend a performance of Peter Grimes kicking and screaming if the ticket was free.
Even Britten's second-tier operatic works, like Lucretia, The Little Sweep, Midsummer, and Albert Herring are powerful musically and dramatically. I've heard all four operas live and had to be dragged kicking and screaming out.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by ratsrcute » Thu Jun 09, 2016 7:36 pm

Some composers have uneven technique but they have a feeling quality that is just magical and I would never want to be without them. I put Britten, Vaughn Williams, and Copland in this category.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 10, 2016 12:07 am

ratsrcute wrote:Some composers have uneven technique but they have a feeling quality that is just magical and I would never want to be without them. I put Britten, Vaughn Williams, and Copland in this category.
You have made a good point, but at the same time you have shot yourself in the foot. All those composers are seriously compromised. Their best known works are appreciated only because they (the works) are famous. Technique has nothing to do with it. Copland is probably the worst example. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and could have been a serious composer. Instead, he chose to write cowboy music to make money, not that I blame him for that.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by John F » Fri Jun 10, 2016 2:46 am

jbuck919 wrote:I retract nothing. I would perhaps attend a performance of Peter Grimes kicking and screaming if the ticket was free.
I don't ask you to retract your opinion but to explain it if you can. Differences of taste are not debatable, but to say that most of Britten's works are mediocre is a critical judgment, and as such should be arguable.

maestrob has rightly pointed to Britten's operas, but his first undoubted masterpiece came before "Peter Grimes." It's the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, composed when he was 29. Everything about this song cycle is original and masterful, from the selection of fine English poems on a unifying theme (night) to the unique and brilliant use of the French horn as co-equal with the singer, to the distinctive expressive profile of each song, to countless details of word setting within each song. The expressive range of the poems and songs is comparable with Schumann's "Dichterliebe" if not even wider; the music for the medieval "Lyke-Wake Dirge" is as frightening as the poem. These are some reasons why I call the Serenade not just good music but a masterpiece, the greatest song cycle since Mahler. If nonetheless it's your considered judgment that it is mediocre, then what does the word mean?

I'm sure you've heard it, if only once, but just in case:



I won't go on to name more works that justify Britten's reputation as a great composer, though there are many. Unless we're clear about the terms of the discussion, there's no point in continuing it.
ratsrcute wrote:Some composers have uneven technique but they have a feeling quality that is just magical and I would never want to be without them. I put Britten, Vaughn Williams, and Copland in this category.
What do you mean, "uneven technique"? Britten lacked nothing in compositional technique, and I find no signs of defective or insufficient technique in the music of Vaughan Williams and Copland as well. They chose a more traditional harmonic palette than, say, Schoenberg, but that's an artistic choice, not a sign of "uneven" technique.
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by mikealdren » Fri Jun 10, 2016 3:06 am

and it's not just his vocal works, the Frank Bridge variations and the Young Person's guide are among his finest works. The Simple Symphony and Strings quartets are well worth exploring and Soirées and Matinées musicales are fun.

Following from John F's comments, what marks Britten out for me is his distinctive voice, he may not have been avante garde but he was truly original.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by ratsrcute » Fri Jun 10, 2016 3:59 am

John F wrote:
ratsrcute wrote:Some composers have uneven technique but they have a feeling quality that is just magical and I would never want to be without them. I put Britten, Vaughn Williams, and Copland in this category.
What do you mean, "uneven technique"? Britten lacked nothing in compositional technique, and I find no signs of defective or insufficient technique in the music of Vaughan Williams and Copland as well. They chose a more traditional harmonic palette than, say, Schoenberg, but that's an artistic choice, not a sign of "uneven" technique.
If it wasn't clear, John, it's just an opinion. Remember that as a composer I have developed pretty specific idea of what I like in a composer's technique. It's not that their technique is "defective," it's just that to me, they don't very often sustain the potential of their ideas throughout the entire work. When I listen to one of their pieces, often my first reaction is "Magical!" I love the potential of their ideas. Then I develop expectations of what can be done to sustain the magical mood. Usually they do something that breaks up the mood in an unfortunate way. Maybe they introduce an idea that feels incompatible with the rest of the piece (to my ears). Maybe they drop the ball--it loses focus for a minute.

Copland was my favorite composer as a kid, and he pretty much kept me alive during a difficult childhood. By the time I got around to writing him a fan letter, he had passed.

Mike

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jun 10, 2016 5:36 am

jbuck919 wrote:[snip}]Copland is probably the worst example. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and could have been a serious composer. Instead, he chose to write cowboy music to make money, not that I blame him for that.
Appalachian Spring is cowboy music. Saddle up, buckeroos!

Last edited by jserraglio on Fri Jun 10, 2016 5:46 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by John F » Fri Jun 10, 2016 5:45 am

ratsrcute wrote:It's not that their technique is "defective," it's just that to me, they don't very often sustain the potential of their ideas throughout the entire work. When I listen to one of their pieces, often my first reaction is "Magical!" I love the potential of their ideas. Then I develop expectations of what can be done to sustain the magical mood. Usually they do something that breaks up the mood in an unfortunate way. Maybe they introduce an idea that feels incompatible with the rest of the piece (to my ears). Maybe they drop the ball--it loses focus for a minute.
When I was a kid, I used to be disappointed that a symphony had a slow movement, which certainly "breaks up the mood" of the piece. Listening to a record, I'd skip the slow movement and go directly to the scherzo or finale. And of course each movement has new themes and new forms; in that sense, it doesn't "sustain the potential" of its initial ideas but exhausts them and moves on. If a symphony clung to the same ideas and forms through all four movements, we'd be bored to tears.

But I doubt you mean anything like that. It seems to me that you aren't really talking about the music but about your feelings when you listen to it. This piece pleases you in a particular way; that one doesn't. That's unfortunatel But how can you blame it on the composer's technique? You're assuming that the composer hasn't written the music he really wanted to write. But what really happened is that he didn't write the music you wanted him to. As a composer yourself, you must see how unfair it is to blame this on his technical inadequacy.

Let's turn it around and think of a piece of your own music, which is exactly as you want it to be. Your technique has been completely sufficient to realize your musical ideas in the way you want. Then somebody says they're dissatisfied with the music and, not knowing how you wrote it, blames it on some shortcoming in your technique. How would you react to that?
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by John F » Fri Jun 10, 2016 6:03 am

jserraglio wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:[snip}]Copland is probably the worst example. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and could have been a serious composer. Instead, he chose to write cowboy music to make money, not that I blame him for that.
Appalachian Spring is cowboy music. Saddle up, buckeroos!
You and jbuck919 are thinking of the ballet scores "Rodeo" and "Billy the Kid," not "Appalachian Spring," which is Shaker music.

Of course Copland wrote for money, as did Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Stravinsky, and all other composers who have written music on commission. And when the commission came from a performing organization such as a ballet company, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky and Copland produced music that fit the commissioner's requirements. Tchaikovsky was given minutely detailed instructions by the choreographer Petipa for each number in "The Nutcracker"; the ideas for Stravinsky's ballet scores from "Firebird" to "Agon" came from impresarios and choreographers from Diaghilev to Balanchine; Copland was commissioned by Martha Graham to compose a ballet with "an American theme." All of these composers did as they were asked, cashed their checks, and the music outlived the occasions for their commissions to become classics. What's to complain about?
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by ratsrcute » Fri Jun 10, 2016 6:20 am

John, I didn't use the words "inadequate," "defective," etc. You introduced those words. I never said the technique was "bad." Techniques comes in all shapes and sizes.

You seem to believe that musical phenomena are either objective (such as technique), or "just feelings" with a kind of deprecating view of "feelings" about pieces. I believe if you were to make some music as a performer or composer you would discover this is an impossible view to sustain. You insist on getting me to explain myself in terms that fit your world view, but I don't subscribe to your world view.

As it happens, there are objective phenomena in Copland's music, and Vaughan Williams' music, that I don't like. It perhaps was not the best choice of wording to call it "uneven" technique, although I think that does express some of it, but obviously is not politic when people who love them are in the discussion.

If someone were to point to objective phenomena about my music that they didn't like, it wouldn't bother me. There's a chance that I and my detractor agree on the existence of the phenomena! He just happens to dislike it, while I like it. Why should everyone like my music? People like very different stuff.

I like Bach and dislike Albinoni and I think there are some VERY clear objective differences between these two composers. But some people dislike Bach and like Albinoni. Although "preferences" are somewhat subjective, we may find reasonable objective explanations. Albinoni's phrases are more stereotyped. Every phrase begins and ends in a standard manner. Every phrase telegraphs its ending. This is annoying to people who want to the box blasted apart, but very satisfying to people who need some "handles" on the musical process to make sense of it. At least, we can posit this theory. We can investigate this theory by running experiments or conducting interviews.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by ratsrcute » Fri Jun 10, 2016 6:27 am

By the way, John, I don't think any musician thinks everything they do is of equal quality. A pianist I know likes to record himself in concert, and then a few months later he comes back to the recording and decides if it's good. There is no reason to think ANY composer views all their work as equal in quality---and if they did, it might be a bad sign, showing a lack of critical discernment. Bach and Mozart have the highest conceivable technique, yet I have my guesses which pieces they would think, if they could come back to tell us, were not their best work. I have objective reasons for this, although that does not mean I am right about my guesses.

You have this kind of idealized view of the artist as an inspired being, in which everything they emit while in a inspired state should not be questioned. But the artists themselves are questioning it! I think you would realize this quickly if you performed or composed some music.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by John F » Fri Jun 10, 2016 6:58 am

ratsrcute wrote:You have this kind of idealized view of the artist as an inspired being, in which everything they emit while in a inspired state should not be questioned.
I certainly do not! My acquaintance with music is broad and deep enough that I couldn't possibly believe that, and my comments in CMG are such that you shouldn't believe that of me. Anyway, that's beside your point. If we're talking about technique, that's about skill which can be objectively analyzed and assessed, not inspiration which is elusive. Inspiration comes in, if it does, in the way a composer puts his technique to use.

You used the word "uneven" referring to a composer's technique. If that means anything, it means that the technique is deficient in some way. What else can it mean? But that is definitely not true of the composers you named. Maybe what you really mean is that their inspiration is uneven. That's a quite different matter. All the fugues in Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier" are technically masterful, I believe, but to my ears some are more inspired than others. We might say, then, that Bach's inspiration was uneven, and that would be no serious blot on his reputation. To say that his technique was uneven would be damaging if it were true, but it isn't.
John Francis

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by diegobueno » Fri Jun 10, 2016 8:34 am

ratsrcute wrote: Copland was my favorite composer as a kid, and he pretty much kept me alive during a difficult childhood. By the time I got around to writing him a fan letter, he had passed.

Mike
You've got good taste, Mike. Copland's is one of my favorites among American composers, and I think he's a great composer all around. It pleases me that my place of employment (The Library of Congress) contains a rich collection of Copland's manuscripts and personal papers. I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Martha Graham dance company perform Appalachian Spring here, with the original choreography and set design on the stage of the Coolidge Auditorium where it was first performed.

(sketches for Short Symphony here)
https://www.loc.gov/resource/copland.sket0010.0/?sp=1

One of the orchestras I play in is preparing his modernist masterpiece from 1932, the Short Symphony. Not much in this piece to strum a guitar to while sitting around the campfire, but rhythmically the Short Symphony is a real bucking bronco, ready at any moment to throw the unwary musician out of the saddle and on to the ground. Exhilerating stuff.


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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jun 10, 2016 10:18 am

John F wrote:
jserraglio wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:[snip}]Copland is probably the worst example. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and could have been a serious composer. Instead, he chose to write cowboy music to make money, not that I blame him for that.
Appalachian Spring is cowboy music. Saddle up, buckeroos!
You and jbuck919 are thinking of the ballet scores "Rodeo" and "Billy the Kid," not "Appalachian Spring," which is Shaker music.
I was joking. We are familiar with Shakers (Shaker Heights) and Appalachia here in Ohio.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 10, 2016 10:34 am

ratsrcute wrote:John, I didn't use the words "inadequate," "defective," etc. You introduced those words. I never said the technique was "bad." Techniques comes in all shapes and sizes.

You seem to believe that musical phenomena are either objective (such as technique), or "just feelings" with a kind of deprecating view of "feelings" about pieces. I believe if you were to make some music as a performer or composer you would discover this is an impossible view to sustain. You insist on getting me to explain myself in terms that fit your world view, but I don't subscribe to your world view.

As it happens, there are objective phenomena in Copland's music, and Vaughan Williams' music, that I don't like. It perhaps was not the best choice of wording to call it "uneven" technique, although I think that does express some of it, but obviously is not politic when people who love them are in the discussion.

If someone were to point to objective phenomena about my music that they didn't like, it wouldn't bother me. There's a chance that I and my detractor agree on the existence of the phenomena! He just happens to dislike it, while I like it. Why should everyone like my music? People like very different stuff.

I like Bach and dislike Albinoni and I think there are some VERY clear objective differences between these two composers. But some people dislike Bach and like Albinoni. Although "preferences" are somewhat subjective, we may find reasonable objective explanations. Albinoni's phrases are more stereotyped. Every phrase begins and ends in a standard manner. Every phrase telegraphs its ending. This is annoying to people who want to the box blasted apart, but very satisfying to people who need some "handles" on the musical process to make sense of it. At least, we can posit this theory. We can investigate this theory by running experiments or conducting interviews.
If you are referring to this John, in the first place. unlike many here, I am a performer. Your lengthy elaboration of the obvious is still wanting. I presume, without ever having heard any of it, that whatever music you write is uncompromised in principle. The same cannot be said of Copland, who intentionally wrote mediocre music to make money. To compare him with Bach as the other John did, even in this respect, is beyond ridiculous.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jun 10, 2016 11:06 am

jbuck919 wrote:[snip] The same cannot be said of Copland, who intentionally wrote mediocre music to make money.[snip]
Copland's intentions are unknowable. But since his most popular pieces are commonly rated good to masterful, maybe his intent was to write the best stuff he could.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by diegobueno » Fri Jun 10, 2016 1:42 pm

jserraglio wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:[snip] The same cannot be said of Copland, who intentionally wrote mediocre music to make money.[snip]
Copland's intentions are unknowable. But since his most popular pieces are commonly rated good to masterful, maybe his intent was to write the best stuff he could.
Most musicians I know, myself included, regard Appalachian Spring as a masterpiece.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by maestrob » Fri Jun 10, 2016 2:24 pm

ratsrcute:

I cannot think of a single work of Copland's that I would call weak or second-rate. Not one. MHO of course, but there it is.

I won't go into further detail, because the idea that Copland wrote second-rate music anywhere at any time is absurd.

diegobueno:

The Short Symphony (with or without organ) knocked my socks off when I was a teenager, and continues to do so. A masterpiece.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by diegobueno » Fri Jun 10, 2016 2:43 pm

maestrob wrote: diegobueno:

The Short Symphony (with or without organ) knocked my socks off when I was a teenager, and continues to do so. A masterpiece.
All the symphonies knock my socks off. The one with the organ, by the way, is No. 1 (also in a version without organ, as you observe).
No. 2 is the one also known as the Short Symphony, though it could also take the title Symphony of 1000 Meter Changes. It is very tricky to put together.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 10, 2016 3:59 pm

You all have to be kidding. Writing music that Agnes De Mille could choreograph does not constitute writing a masterpiece. In contrast, Elliott Carter was born to money, which enabled him to compose freely as he wanted.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jserraglio » Fri Jun 10, 2016 4:19 pm

jbuck919 wrote:You all have to be kidding. Writing music that Agnes De Mille could choreograph does not constitute writing a masterpiece. In contrast, Elliott Carter was born to money, which enabled him to compose freely as he wanted.
If we are to exclude composers who were employed to write music, there might be a lot fewer masterpieces to listen to, starting with those of Bach, Haydn and Mozart.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by diegobueno » Fri Jun 10, 2016 5:19 pm

jbuck919 wrote:You all have to be kidding. Writing music that Agnes De Mille could choreograph does not constitute writing a masterpiece. n
Not necessarily. But he nevertheless did write a masterpiece in Appalachian Spring (which was written for Martha Graham, by the way, not Agnes de Mille).

Furthermore, by your logic one could say that writing for Serge Diagilev doesn't constitute writing a masterpiece. You know where I'm heading with this one.
Writing music that the Margrave of Brandenburg could have played at his court doesn't constitute writing a masterpiece.

And so on.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Fri Jun 10, 2016 6:58 pm

diegobueno wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:You all have to be kidding. Writing music that Agnes De Mille could choreograph does not constitute writing a masterpiece. n
Not necessarily. But he nevertheless did write a masterpiece in Appalachian Spring (which was written for Martha Graham, by the way, not Agnes de Mille).

Furthermore, by your logic one could say that writing for Serge Diagilev doesn't constitute writing a masterpiece. You know where I'm heading with this one.
Writing music that the Margrave of Brandenburg could have played at his court doesn't constitute writing a masterpiece.

And so on.
No Mark, apples and oranges. I intentionally left Stravinsky off the list, as I did Tchaikovsky. There is no doubt that their ballet music is in the class of great masterpieces. I cannot comprehend how you place Copland in the same category. Maybe it's another time to agree to disagree.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by lennygoran » Fri Jun 10, 2016 7:48 pm

maestrob wrote:
Britten's greatness lies in his famous operas, IMHO. Again, his orchestral and choral compositions (except Prince of the Pagodas, which is a theatre piece by definition, being a ballet). Britten's Great Work is Peter Grimes, which we all know intimately.
Billy Budd-superb work and the Met's production is great! Have only seen Grimes once live-at the Met-a very bad production--fortunately someone gave me a laser disc of the work done right-Vickers was Grimes-truly special-I don't even care what Britten himself thought of how Vickers handled it! Regards, Len :lol:

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by diegobueno » Fri Jun 10, 2016 7:50 pm

jbuck919 wrote:
No Mark, apples and oranges. I intentionally left Stravinsky off the list, as I did Tchaikovsky. There is no doubt that their ballet music is in the class of great masterpieces. I cannot comprehend how you place Copland in the same category. Maybe it's another time to agree to disagree.

I can agree to disagree, certainly. What I cannot agree on is this: For the many years I've been posting on this forum, there is not one time when anyone has mentioned certain composers, Copland chief among them, about whom one cannot speak without you interjecting some sort of negative comment about how the music is no good, it isn't appropriate for a serious discussion, and from then on the whole discussion becomes a fight about the composer's worthiness, rather than whatever interesting might be said about the composer. It's like you think it your sworn duty to shut down any interesting conversation. As you can see from this thread, there are numerous other people here who find Copland's music interesting and worth discussing. There are other people here who find Britten's music interesting and worth discussing. There are other people here who find Elgar's Enigma Variations interesting and worth discussing.

And we haven't even mentioned Gershwin. The last time anyone here dared to mention Gershwin, it was Jacques, and you gave him a stern scolding about posting it on the classical music side of the board. You may have noticed that he doesn't post here any more.

So how about you agree to disagree. If someone wants to discuss a composer you don't like, why not just let them go ahead? It's not your job to police the board to make sure people are discussing the "right" music. Now you recall that the reason we're having this argument is that Mike (ratsrcute) mentioned Copland as one of three composers whose music is "just magical and I would never want to be without them". Well, you couldn't let that go unchallenged, could you?

The answer is: you could let that go unchallenged. You could allow the discussion to run freely about the interests of the other participants. This forum will be a much healthier place if you do.

By the way, I've learned this the hard way, by being the forum argumentative hot-head. I only do positive arguments these days, defending what I think deserves defending, which is probably why I butt heads with you so often.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by ratsrcute » Sat Jun 11, 2016 12:57 am

Alright, so we've got some disagreement.

Just about any statement I make here is an opinion. I think that was clear in my comment on Copland, Vaughan Williams, and Britten. That means anyone is free to disagree and it won't upset me. And I would hope my comments don't upset anyone else, although perhaps I could make it even more clear than it already is that it's an opinion.

We've got colliding viewpoints in this thread regarding not just the opinions, but the nature of musical opinions themselves.

Here's my analysis of musical thinking.

It is neither purely objective nor purely subjective. It is very personal, but at the same time we can find widespread agreement in some areas.

My "meta-opinion" (opinion on opinion) is that it's a mistake to argue too stridently about your opinion because you are never going to change the fact that in the end, other people see it differently. But on the other hand, I don't agree with John F's tendency to dismiss my opinions by calling them "feelings," as if feelings could be separated from musical understanding.

John F, you seem to regard my statement that some composers' techniques are "uneven" as inherently out of bounds. But I don't get it. Let us admit the following statements to evidence.
  • 1. No one is perfect.
  • 2. Even perfect people aren't perfect all the time.
  • 3. Any artist that has their head on straight will acknowledge 1. and 2.
What's wrong with my statement? It was described as coming from my perspective, and I even clarified that further, but you seem after all that to regard it as just as offensive. So I don't get it.

Anyone is free to disagree. But I do like to hear viewpoints supported by evidence as much as possible. I believe that in most cases if I don't like a composer's technique, I could provide the specifics, and explain what I don't like about it. That is not the same thing as evidence in science, for one thing we can't get away from subjectivity as there is no musical phenomena that exists in a purely objective sense, but it's useful nonetheless.

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 11, 2016 1:38 am

diegobueno wrote:
jbuck919 wrote:
No Mark, apples and oranges. I intentionally left Stravinsky off the list, as I did Tchaikovsky. There is no doubt that their ballet music is in the class of great masterpieces. I cannot comprehend how you place Copland in the same category. Maybe it's another time to agree to disagree.

I can agree to disagree, certainly. What I cannot agree on is this: For the many years I've been posting on this forum, there is not one time when anyone has mentioned certain composers, Copland chief among them, about whom one cannot speak without you interjecting some sort of negative comment about how the music is no good, it isn't appropriate for a serious discussion, and from then on the whole discussion becomes a fight about the composer's worthiness, rather than whatever interesting might be said about the composer. It's like you think it your sworn duty to shut down any interesting conversation. As you can see from this thread, there are numerous other people here who find Copland's music interesting and worth discussing. There are other people here who find Britten's music interesting and worth discussing. There are other people here who find Elgar's Enigma Variations interesting and worth discussing.

And we haven't even mentioned Gershwin. The last time anyone here dared to mention Gershwin, it was Jacques, and you gave him a stern scolding about posting it on the classical music side of the board. You may have noticed that he doesn't post here any more.

So how about you agree to disagree. If someone wants to discuss a composer you don't like, why not just let them go ahead? It's not your job to police the board to make sure people are discussing the "right" music. Now you recall that the reason we're having this argument is that Mike (ratsrcute) mentioned Copland as one of three composers whose music is "just magical and I would never want to be without them". Well, you couldn't let that go unchallenged, could you?

The answer is: you could let that go unchallenged. You could allow the discussion to run freely about the interests of the other participants. This forum will be a much healthier place if you do.

By the way, I've learned this the hard way, by being the forum argumentative hot-head. I only do positive arguments these days, defending what I think deserves defending, which is probably why I butt heads with you so often.
Though we are approximately equal in age, i am still greatly your senior on this forum. I ask you to respect that. I will not endure insult however masked, even coming from someone I still respect. I stand by every post I have made, at least within the last five or so years. When I am wrong, I apologize. Gershwin, who is not the subject of this thread, remains in my mind a glorified Broadway musical composer. Aspiration is not the same as achievement. I still cannot understand how someone thinks Copland, incidentally the only composer of fame who I ever met personally, is anything but a cowboy composer when he could have done so much better in artistic terms.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jbuck919 » Sat Jun 11, 2016 2:54 am

To break the discomfort, you must watch the following. The violin part may seem in the background, but it requires an extremely accopmlished violinist.


There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by some guy » Sat Jun 11, 2016 3:18 am

ratsrcute wrote:Alright, so we've got some disagreement.
Which is neither here nor there.
ratsrcute wrote:Just about any statement I make here is an opinion. I think that was clear in my comment on Copland, Vaughan Williams, and Britten. That means anyone is free to disagree and it won't upset me. And I would hope my comments don't upset anyone else, although perhaps I could make it even more clear than it already is that it's an opinion.
But the opinion-ness of your opinions is not the issue. Of course your opinions are opinions. Are they any good? There's a very common pattern in discussions of this sort to at one and the same time treat all opinions as equal and to treat some opinions as clearly superior. Cake and eat it too kinda thing.

So let's go back to the original post of this thread, where your first remark about Adams' violin concerto is that it is "yuck, just yuck." You call that opinion, but it hardly rises to that level. You go on to elaborate, but the elaborations are more or less just restatements of "yuck, just yuck." So that doesn't get us very far. But OK. Let's dignify "yuck, just yuck" by calling it an opinion. Here's the $64,000 question about any opinion, good or bad, supported or unsupported, valid or invalid (yes, opinions do come in different flavors)--the question that so rarely gets asked but is so crucial to the situation--why did you express it?

So you listened to Adams' violin concerto and had reactions to it. But you did more. You articulated those reactions by initiating a thread about them on a public forum. You obviously think those opinions worth articulating. You obviously think those opinions have value, value for other people. Otherwise, you would never have started this thread, eh? So yeah, to finesse that then, after getting some well-deserved flack for some really cloth-eared impressions of an obviously innocuous piece with none of the qualities you assigned to it, by saying "oh, those are only my opinions" does seem a titch on the disingenuous side, no?

You listened to a piece of music. You had reactions to it. You aired those reactions on a public forum. Why then the dodging by denying that you think your opinions important and even normative (or at least useful) for other people?
ratsrcute wrote:John F, you seem to regard my statement that some composers' techniques are "uneven" as inherently out of bounds. But I don't get it.... What's wrong with my statement? It was described as coming from my perspective, and I even clarified that further, but you seem after all that to regard it as just as offensive. So I don't get it.
What's wrong with it is that there's no support for it. That's the thing about opinions. They seem so right, so inevitable, so self-evident--to their holder. But they are none of those things. So they need to be supported. That's for us, the ones you're talking to, the ones who do not, yet, hold the same opinions, the ones you hoped to influence with your opinions, hence this thread.
ratsrcute wrote:Anyone is free to disagree. But I do like to hear viewpoints supported by evidence as much as possible. I believe that in most cases if I don't like a composer's technique, I could provide the specifics, and explain what I don't like about it.
The freeness of anyone to agree or disagree (or to have or not have opinions--or even to be entitled or not) is hardly the point, though, is it? It's not the fact of disagreement (nor the fact of there being an opinion) that is at issue here but what is the basis of either? What is the basis of your opinion that the Adams' concerto is yuck, just yuck. You say, in part, that it is because it is "uneven." But that doesn't get us much further along than "yuck." Where is the unevenness? You only say that it's there. You never point to a particular place that is uneven. You find the harmonies to be ugly. Where?

You never point to a particular place where, as you put it, Adams does "noncompatible things in an unpleasant way."

I listened to the piece just now. I found it completely inoffensive and innocuous. I didn't like it, either, but I heard nothing in it that I could describe as "noncompatible" or "ugly" or "uneven." So where? Where are those things?

You believe that you could provide specifics and explanations. OK. Do it!
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Re: John Adams violin concerto

Post by jserraglio » Sat Jun 11, 2016 6:12 am

Copland is said to be meretricious, Gershwin in thrall to the Great White Way, Elliott Carter untainted by filthy lucre. Thought-provoking, but I have to disagree. Motives aside, the music of all three is mostly first rate.

Going back to the original topic--John Adams's VC--I bought the Naxos recording a while ago and enjoyed it, though not so much as other Adams works like Naive and Sentimental Music, Harmonium, Short Ride.
Last edited by jserraglio on Sat Jun 11, 2016 6:42 am, edited 1 time in total.

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