Thursday, June 4, 2009

Look Can We Just Be Done With This Already

Okay I'm not going to name names. But I've complained about this before, and still you persist: why do people think that their pose of being bored by the great composers is so very interesting to the rest of us? It's bad enough when you can at least say, "I alone am the little boy who sees that the emperor has got no clothes on!" in reference to some little-noticed (or, in most cases, imagined) blemishes in the corpus of some universally revered titan of music. Great, fine, you're a contrarian, you know more than the rest of us, congrats and welcome to your senior year of high school. But the worst is the people who think it's so fascinating to take down a composer with a diss that is, itself, a total cliché. NEWS FLASH: TCHAIKOVSKY'S MUSIC IS OFTEN SENTIMENTAL AND/OR DAINTY. Yeah, so? That doesn't mean that his music it can't also be profoundly rewarding. MENDELSSOHN'S MUSIC IS SUPERFICIAL. Okay first of all not only is that untrue, not only didn't you make it up, but that was made up by some really creepy people with a really big ax (labeled "JEW") to grind. Are you really trying to tell me that Evgeny Onegin is not worth my time? Are you seriously trying to come out hard against the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto? And if we cannot grow up here, people, it would be great if we could at least stop borrowing our talking points from the Nazis. A disproportionate number of the composers it seems so fashionable to dismiss are Jewish or Slavic or otherwise less-than-sufficiently Nordic, or they are being slammed for allowing themselves to be perceived as effeminate. Okay, that's not cool or rebellious or anti-establishment. That's schoolyard-style bullying. Other composers dissed in actual print lately: Handel. Saint-Saëns. I guess Handel I can understand, if you're in England, where they like to pretend he's English and cannot get enough of him, although you are still just wrong. (I hope my Handel-h8in' roommate is reading this and laughing.) But Saint-Saëns? Are you really trying to discourage performances of Saint-Saëns? Saint-Saëns, considering the breadth of his body of work, is an absurdly under-performed composer. Didn't he write like thirteen operas? Have you heard even three of them in your life? I fail to see the point of sniping at that poor dead French faggot. We can do better. Let's show a little brains and a little courage and save our ammunition for the really stupid, ugly music all around us.

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Anonymous pigsnarl said...

Now that's good.

June 4, 2009 at 5:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your room mate often feels that lives in England...several centuries ago...also admits that without Händel we wouldn't have the Pet Shop Boys. By the way , room mate loves Saint-Saens work for organ! :)


June 4, 2009 at 5:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK. "roommate", "Saint-Saëns's".

PS- Never type with claws.

June 4, 2009 at 6:12 PM  
Anonymous ZachWads said...

Agreed on all points, though I vigorously defend my right to diss "Wellington's Victory."

June 4, 2009 at 6:16 PM  
Blogger Grrg said...

And also Meyerbeer.

(Okay, maybe not so recently in CERTAIN BLOGS and NEWSPAPERs. But in general.)

June 4, 2009 at 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Saint-Saëns is perhaps the most intelligent composer never performed. It really makes me sad when critics (past and present) dismiss his music that I love as cold/removed or (worse) tacky and melodramatic.

June 4, 2009 at 8:26 PM  
Blogger Dan Johnson said...

Zach, that's just it. We all have pieces, and composers, we hate to death. I know I do. That's the nature of taste (and of the inevitably uneven qualities of any composer's body of work).

But if, hypothetically speaking, you were to decide, solely on the basis of Wellington's Victory, to devote an entire article to the proposition that Beethoven is an overrated blowhard, I'm guessing you already realize that it would reflect far worse on yourself than it would on Beethoven. So why don't our classical critics (and their editors) realize that?

June 5, 2009 at 3:40 AM  
Blogger Michael Vincent said...

Hi Daniel:

Provocative post ;)

For the sake of argument, it would help point to specific examples to expressions of anti-semitism or homophobia, as it leaves your post as a bit of a tit-for-tat with the buggy man.

Generally, I think that no music should be approved of defacto, and good critical journalism is healthy as long as people realize it is essentially just an opinion, and does not, in itself create or dismiss cultural value on a work of art. The readers do that themselves.

June 5, 2009 at 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Mrblahblah said...

I'm curious to know what incidents sparked this article. The composers mentioned are perhaps the target of criticism on occasion because of a badly written piece. Even so that does not merit maligning a entire body of work. Mendelssohn was by no means a dunce when it comes to composing. Who would argue to the contrary? Tchaikovsky can be rather bloated and silly at times but so was all of the music written at that time fell to problem of excess. His violin concerto is a masterpiece but you have to admit that there are some rather silly moments that he could have re-written.

I do have to part was with you on Saint-Saens, he was in many ways a light weight. Outside of his organ symphony and violin concertos there isn't much of substance that he has to offer. Even in his day the was scoffed at for witting mostly salon music.

I'm at a loss for the attack on Handel, really? What sort of hack would want to diss him?

June 5, 2009 at 2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think he was a lightweight. And Proust loved him so...

June 5, 2009 at 2:24 PM  
Blogger Judd said...

Nice post. I just hope that your choice of Tchaikovsky has nothing to do with the earlier dig at my old, old program note about the man.

June 5, 2009 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Dan Johnson said...

I hesitate to name the individual critics I have in mind, if for no other reason than that these attacks are such obvious cries for attention and should not be rewarded as such, if we can avoid it.

I don't think anybody is intending to be homophobic when they complain that Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky are too shallow and theatrical; I don't think the folks who complain that Mendelssohn is spiritually hollow really hate the Jews. I just think they need to think a little harder, before they regurgitate the old familiar opinions, about how they came to be so familiar.

Judd, I promise it didn't! Aw geez I feel a little bad for bringing that up now. Don't worry, karma will catch up to me, and one of these days I'll be raked over the coals for something I wrote when I was in school.

June 5, 2009 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Judd said...

Phew! Well, anyway, my "critique" of Tchaikovsky would not exactly fall in with the usual homophobic line of attack. And did you know that Mendlessohn HATED MONEY? That's what I heard, anyway. I'm going to go write a piece about it.

June 5, 2009 at 5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love me some Egyptian Concerto!

June 6, 2009 at 9:19 AM  
Blogger Mike Z. said...

Point of clarification. Saint-Saens himself wanted specificity on this issue: "I am not homosexual -- I am a pederast."

June 9, 2009 at 12:50 AM  
Blogger Maury D'annato said...

Oh, I like this entry so much I am thinking of having it tattoo'ed on my ass. What, in tiny letters.

June 11, 2009 at 9:01 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Good points, all. And yet, I find it difficult to find novel ways to justify why I dislike (most of) Tchaikovsky. Luckily for me, I'm not a critic, so I don't go around regurgitating old arguments. If I come across any of his pathetique music, I roll my eyes, day-dream of me slapping him silly and saying Now, Pyotr, get a grip, for fuckssake, and then change the channel.

June 17, 2009 at 8:56 AM  
Anonymous 上海Greg said...

I'm coming to this party rather late: DSJ's blog was blocked by the Great Firewall of China for a while.

DSJ's fine defense of Chaikovsky, Saint-Saens and Mendelssohn has been met with a thoughtful nodding of heads here. I wonder if he'd consider a more provocative version of this same idea: our obsessive attachment to a smaller, more select circle of composers (such as Brahms and Beethoven) ha三 in fact improverished us. Do we pay a price for, say, loving Brahms too much?

June 22, 2009 at 11:55 AM  

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