Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Music War Defined 9

Let's compare the quiddity music selection of the previous post to some standard publications that review twentieth century music: Robert P. Morgan's Twentieth Century Music and The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross.

Robert P. Morgan mentions Copeland, Mahler, Gershwin, Rachmaninoff in the index of his Twentieth Century Music. That's it.

Alex Ross does better. His index for The Rest Is Noise lists Copeland, Bernstein, Citizen Kane, Gershwin, Mahalia Jackson, David Raskin and his masterful Laura soundtrack, David Lynch, Richard Rodgers, Bernard Herrmann and his Taxi Driver, Tin Pan Alley and Vertigo. His book was a Pulitzer Prize nominee, by the way.

But they both missed the masters of melody who eventually came to revolutionize instrumental music: Dvorak pupil Rudolf Friml, Mahler's pupil Max Steiner, melody master Victor Young and boogie/rock fusion geniuses Mancini and Barry.

The texts above do indeed mention rock and roll, and they pick the intentionally outrageous techniques of Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and others. I'm not going to diminish the accomplishments of Pink Floyd or Frank Zappa, but, since I listened to them as a teenager and young adult, I know that they were aware of their trademark outrageousness and used it to shake everyone up, including people with the urge to over-classify, including musicologists. Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa knew what they were doing, and they were amused by how shocking people found them to be.  I simply suggest that they were mentioned because rock and roll as absurdity is acceptable, whereas mainstream rock and roll (which is about getting on with one's life after losing at love) is somehow not serious enough.

Morgan and Ross stand at the front lines of musical academia. They are giving us the intellectual status quo. A hint of this comes from the need they both felt to discuss Soviet Realism, itself ultimately an irrelevant sidebar to twentieth century art. Another hint is the inclusion of rock that pushes the envelope, because inclusion infers a tolerant narrator, an inference that they desired to apply to themselves. A further hint is the inclusion of the great Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann made the academic list for his soundtracks about craziness: Psycho and Taxi Driver. His many saner and melodic soundtracks weren't significant to the academic mind.  That skewed selection method is an indicator of what we will come to call nuncio.

I grew up with at least one ear glued to the radio, usually an instrumental station, often a classical station. I can anticipate the changes in orchestra section, the climaxes, the mood shifts, the rubato and changes of mood. Sometimes I can identify a conductor with certainty on style alone. I can tell if the piano being played is a Steinway or not. I listen closely.

The music list you got from Amazon.com in the preceding blog post is a summary of much of the very best that I've heard. Yet it has almost nothing to do with the academic standard. There is hardly an intersection between the academic music experts and the melodic boogie loving soundtrack fans like me, though we have come to outnumber them, me thinketh. I am reminded of the music professor who was enraged that I would play boogie woogie on one of the school's student practice pianos. How dare I perform such a forbidden style?

The academic musicians and I live in parallel universes.

And there was something dimly familiar about the structure of these parallel universes. I wanted to find out. I meditated.  I meditated again.  I meditated yet again, sucking all the blood from my arms and legs to use in the brain while shuffling through my memories, searching for analogs. Searching hard. There had to be a comparable experience somewhere.  I slipped into a rare fugue of concentration, something never to be used lightly, a Druidic death trance.

And then the answer fell out all by itself. Eighteen years before, I'd read The Great and Secret Show. The academics appear to be living in Jaffe's universe, while I live with other musical laity in Fletcher's parallel universe.

I got up and stretched and took my dog for a walk.

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