Tuesday, July 03, 2007

In the Wake

Once more about Sibelius and Ross: Adam Baratz has a great follow-up item here, in which he questions the drive for innovation. I have to disagree with Adam, as I believe that innovation is important, but with the caveat that innovation does not necessarily form a single narrative inscribed along a single dimension of music -- it's not just about pitch usage, or rhythmic practice, or complexity in one parameter or another, it's about a polyphony of narratives, without a rigid arrow of development or evolution, and always in reserve is the potential to respond to increases in complexity with radical re-beginnings which may be materially spare but are never simple states of affairs.

Music history is usually written in terms of big ideas and their repercussions, their wake. So if one decides on an alternative set of big ideas, the wake starts to sound substantially different. William Austin's history began with Debussy (so, too, did Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn's MusicTexte series), and others focus on the Schoenberg-Stravinsky divide, or its larger analog in German/French traditions. There are also schemes based upon European/American or classical/vernacular distinctions. But what exactly happens if we put a Sibelius or a Skryabin or an Ives in the center? With a Sibelius in the center, the music of a composer like Hovhaness begins to take on a completely different profile, and the supposed naivete of Hovhaness's modal practice and loose counterpoint doesn't seem so naive anymore. Likewise with Skryabin, it's impossible not to immediately call up Messiaen in his wake, and the music of a Boulez (connected to Skryabin via both Messiaen and Wyschnegradsky) can be heard in a surprising and revealing context. By changing the point of departure, we pay attention to a different landscape, and end up in other places.


Anonymous said...

...and without beethoven, there is no brahms
...and without bach there could be no mozart

OMG, do you think perchance, like i always said, it could be composers all the way down?? =)

-- Mr. Turtle

Adam Baratz said...

I think you misunderstood me a little. I have no problem per se with innovation (any interesting creative artist is going to push the bounds of his received language in some way). It's the "monophonic" idea of history where you only get one set of Big Ideas. I think in Alex Ross's attempt to rescue Sibelius from the Big Idea that hurt his reputation, he just came up with a separate Big Idea that made him look better. However, without the context of the rest of The Rest Is Noise, it's hard to tell if Alex was truly trying to establish a new single Big Idea, or just suggest a Different Way of looking at things.