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Subject: Re: Vanessa in Los Angeles; other issues
From: Albert Innaurato <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Albert Innaurato <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 30 Nov 2004 10:00:22 -0800

text/plain (129 lines)

Chris Mullins posted:

> the reviewer in
> question (and questionable!), goes on and on
> about his hatred for Barber's
> music, and proudly describes never having
> finished listening to the opera
> on previous attempts.

Shades of Roberta! But we have somebody posting
here that criticism is an 'art' whatever that
means. So Roberta and the LA reviewer (they
aren't really critics are they?) with the smarmy
styles and easy dismissals are on a par with
Puccini or Barber. As to Barber I wonder if the
LA reviewer could do remotely as well, with a
short song or small piano piece?

> I've read that Barber, swamped by the rising
> tide of serialism and other
> avant-garde musical trends, tried to find ways
> to adapt his basic lyrical
> impulse to the times. The resulting compromises
> can be disappointing, and I
> don't find all that much of his work
> compelling. But the violin concerto
> alone secures him a place in American music
> history.<

There is a lot of wonderful Barber. Knoxville may
be the greatest cantata composed by an American.
The three essays for Orchestra are wonderful and
wonderfully made works. All are generated from
their opening measures and are exceptionally
tight and coherent. The piano concerto is superb.
The second movement's murmurous theme is
accompanied by itself at a different tempo in the
orchestra. There is a terrific woodwind quartet
called Summer music, also wonderfully made and
ingeniously scored. The symphonies repay
attention, especially the first and there is a
fine cello concerto. The adagio is too famous for
reviewers to take seriously but I've been told by
maybe a dozen serious composers of repute they'd
give their eye teeth to have composed it.
There are numerous lovely piano pieces and songs.
Not a bad body of work, IMO.

The operas are perhaps a special taste. I
remember forcing my poor father to get me the
piano score of Vanessa the second it was
available and I would play it endlessly. I still
love it, but it does have a hokey plot and some
inadvertently funny lines. It's also 'derivative'
in much the same way West Side Story and Candide
are derivative, written with a heavy awareness of
music that has gone before. Bernstein could cover
himself by writing a satire in one case, and a
score with jazz, pop and Latin flavorings (all
generated by a tritone!) in the other.

Barber is more exposed but his homages are often
very beautiful in themselves and there are
wonderful stretches in the music (the whole last
scene for example). I think Anthony and Cleopatra
has wonderful music too, the original sneering
was largely a reaction to the press the original
production got, it also has a problematic

If one is making generalizations it might be that
Barber was caught in the middle to start with.
Though he could work on a large scale, he was
most comfortable with shorter forms. The 'big
statement' public work that others could provide
when he began (such as Harris) was really not his
(why he withdrew the not bad second symphony). He
was more "eurocentric" than Copland and less in
touch with jazz elements, less influenced by
Stravinsky, thus he seemed less "American."

Later he suffered the same fate of many
conservative composers as, on one hand, the
academy became more influential on reviewers with
its emphasis on the avant garde and experiment,
and audiences gradually lost their interest in
new music period. It was a fate suffered by many
good American composers who had enjoyed public
favor such as Paul Creston and Barber, and some
who were rather marginal but wrote accessibly
quite enjoyably (Rorem) and it left some
intellectuals in a gray area (such as David

America may be the only country that throws its
artists away. Even Copland kept his music before
the public by becoming a conductor, and later
wrote some self consciously 'radical' scores,
"Connotations" for example, which sounds like
Copland with extra notes, odd chords and
something (the spirit?) missing.

But there's nothing new in the pose of the LA
reviewer. I was listening to Ravel the other day
and marveling at how well made and compelling the
music was, how personal his voice was when I
remember B. H. Hagen (once the intellectuals'
bible on musical matters) dismissing Ravel and
Puccini as 'garbage' not worth an instant's time.

But things turn around gradually. Julian Budden
recently compared La Boheme to the Marriage of
Figaro in its perfection!

Emma Albani

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