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Thread: Hear and Now - 26th November 2011 - British Composer Awards, Skempton's Lento

  1. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by jayne lee wilson View Post
    It was Piotr Zak, S-A, a scam conceived by Susan Bradshaw and the great Hans Keller...

    But Lento doesn't actually sound like pop music does it? When I first got to know it I was moved and impressed by it, I took it as emotionally authentic, a sharply-defined evocation of a single mood of poignancy and regret... on later reflection I think I heard it as "minimalism in a late-romantic harmonic and emotional context".
    Not even late romantic in any harmonic sense, just plain tonic/dominant progressions which Mozart would have regarded as child's play.

    Quote Originally Posted by jayne lee wilson View Post
    S-A, do you dismiss some of John Adams' work for similar reasons? Tromba Lontana say, or the lengthier Common Tones in Simple Time? What these pieces do is create a single or narrow range of mood and atmosphere by varied or not-so-varied rhythmic/melodic repetition... so despite its greater richness of invention I don't think it's too far-fetched to see the Tallis Fantasia as part of the same tradition as Lento.
    I'm not acquainted with those particular pieces, Jayne; some of Adams's music I hear as within the modernist tradition, eg the Chamber Symphony (dedicated to Schoenberg I believe); but the point I would make in comparative favour about Adams's advance on early minimalism is that its sources of influence are at least mostly early 20th century ones, albeit comparatively conservative ones in the context of his and our time, not the 18th century (as Nyman also does): eg Holst, Ravel, Rachmaninov in the main. he just exploits their more measured penchant for sensuous orchestral beauty then drives it to distraction with over use of ostinato. (The whole point, I hear some cry! )

    Quote Originally Posted by jayne lee wilson View Post
    There are classical slow movements - Sibelius' 3rd and 5th symphonies, even Mozart's 40th - which often sound to me like minimalism avant-la-lettre; intensely repetitive, emotionally very concentrated.
    If you object S-A, that Howard Skempton is writing this music too late, too retrospectively, surely music can't always develop via a series of freshly-conceived radical masterpieces, and the greatest music (at least, until WW2) always had a great deal of the past in it... if Lento seems too purely retrospective - and I have some sympathy with that view - then there is much other minimalist music you have to come to similar terms with. The problem for me then remains: the best of it - Adams as well as the more radically inventive Steve Reich - sounds remarkably fresh.
    You're destroying your case by overstatement: it's not a question of "radical masterpieces", freshly conceived or otherwise, whatever that means. Furthermore, I really can't go along with justifying minimalism by retrospective referential application of its reduction and decontextualisation of earlier composer's procedures. In a radio discussion many years ago centering on the Huddersfield New Music Festival (it was either '88 or '89) I recall David Bedford saying that minimalism was OK except that its conventional means prepared one for the event which never happened, namely the big grand theme greeting Tex Avery coming over the top on his white steed. David Bedford could be accused of that too in some of his minimalist-influenced work, though I think he is one of the very few to have made something out of it, since he came to it from an avant-gardist standpoint - as did Ligeti. The point I'm trying to make is minimalism can be used, but as subsidiary to the whole richness the western traditions of concert musioc composition have evolved, which it is sadly mistaken imv to have ditched as "elitist". After all, isn't that what we're objecting to in a related field when it comes to RW's motivation in doing what he is doing to Radio 3?!

    To me, the thing about minimalism is that nearly all its techniques can be found unreducio ad absurdam in earlier works - the daybreak movement from "Daphnis"; the first of the same composer's Mallarme settings; Satie's Entr'Acte Cinematographique - as subsidiary elements within broader canvases. And in jazz: the unchanging or near-unchanging backdrop to Coltrane's "My Favorite Things", to name but one example. In all these earlier instances, something else of greater interest than mere repetition, especially in some reductively banalising mechanised manifestation, holds the interest. In early minimalism it was improvised superlayering (In C); progressive abstraction (Its Gonna Rain) phasing by means of rallentando/acellerando (Drumming) - in each instance cited from many other possible choices offering an alternative form of listening shorn of preconceptions. To jump from the sublime to the ridiculous, Lento does none of these things; in no way can its deliberate return to diatonic basics represent a challenge to listener expectations; that could only take place in a fantasy world in which tonic/dominant tonal relations have long been expunged from the communal musical memory; in a world dominated by commercial music it represents complete capitulation to them - and that's what I intended to mean by my pop music analogy.

    Hope that clarifies my position!

    S-A
    Last edited by Serial_Apologist; 29-11-11 at 00:22.

  2. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by heliocentric View Post
    It resonates to me as the kind of casual sexism that would have passed without comment forty years ago. How does it resonate to you?
    As a jibe at a patronising kite. If her name had been Gordon, I'd likely have referred to him as:

    a patronising cock
    Would you and jayne lee be making noises about the sexism of that remark, do you think?

    I put it you, heliocentric, that you and jayne lee have neglected to remember that meaning is something you bring to what you see. It's not (even) simply intrinsic.

    But if either of you are able to and wish to submit some persuasive private correction to me, I shall read it with care.
    Last edited by hackneyvi; 29-11-11 at 00:12.

  3. #23
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    To me, the thing about minimalism is that nearly all its techniques can be found unreducio ad absurdam in earlier works - the daybreak movement from "Daphnis"; the first of the same composer's Mallarme settings; Satie's Entr'Acte Cinematographique - as subsidiary elements within broader canvases. And in jazz: the unchanging or near-unchanging backdrop to Coltrane's "My Favorite Things", to name but one example. In all these earlier instances, something else of greater interest than mere repetition, especially in some reductively banalising mechanised manifestation, holds the interest. In early minimalism it was improvised superlayering (In C); progressive abstraction (Its Gonna Rain) phasing by means of rallentando/acellerando (Drumming) - in each instance cited from many other possible choices offering an alternative form of listening shorn of preconceptions. To jump from the sublime to the ridiculous, Lento does none of these things; in no way can its deliberate return to diatonic basics represent a challenge to listener expectations; that could only take place in a fantasy world in which tonic/dominant tonal relations have long been expunged from the communal musical memory; in a world dominated by commercial music it represents complete capitulation to them - and that's what I intended to mean by my pop music analogy.

    Hope that clarifies my position!
    Ah, so to put it in nutshell, Lento fails to conform to the expectations you arrogate to yourself the right to impose upon it.

  4. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by french frank View Post
    But the Piotr Zak case simply poses a question: if that work was a 'scam', why would it mean that another work, in some way apparently comparable, was also a 'scam'?

    I was talking to someone last week about the paintings of Vermeer where you have an analogous situation, or a reverse situation. If a van Meegeren forgery could not be distinguished, even by experts, from a Vermeer, would it be of comparable artistic worth (I don't mean market value)?

    You then have fact: the Zak was a hoax; the Skempton I think there is no reason to think was a hoax, scam or hoodwink (I'm astonished - I've never heard that suggested before). That said, I mentally put Lento and A Farewell to Stromness in the same category ...
    Somehow I don't think Peter Maxwell Davies would!

    is there another work comparable with the Piotr Zak? It's a question of the presentation of the work, isn't it? No one could repeat that scam again, could they? The only alternative to making a lot of meaningless noises to today's sensibilities is to write something which, as Boulez would probably put it, is the aural equivalent of a piece of 18th century reproduction furniture, and pretend it is "modern". (At the end of the 70s there was a punk band that called themselves The Ordinaries, who dressed up as public schoolboys. I think most people won't remember them). People pay a lot for that kind of stuff, especially the rich; the equivalent sounds (of Lento) confer similar respectability of the most bourgeois kind on listener appreciation. I have reproduction Cesannes and Matisses on my walls; even without the presence of the pigments something of their power and genius comes through. Is it possible to compare the rarity value of music (which may not often be performed live but is reproducible too) with art's rarity value in monetary terms? Haven't worked that one out satisfactorily for myself yet; I am drawn to the "pavement art" value implications of improvised music, however; ironically speaking, I enjoy listening to some of it over and over again!

  5. #25
    heliocentric Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by Serial_Apologist View Post
    Lento does none of these things; in no way can its deliberate return to diatonic basics represent a challenge to listener expectations
    But I don't think it's a "return" to anything at all. Skempton's music has always encompassed a wide range of degrees of harmonic complexity from the impenetrable to the familiar. What interests me about Lento isn't the harmony as such but the timbre, the not-quite-primary colours of its voicing and orchestration. Actually I find most contemporary tonal music uninteresting, with Lento as a luminous exception. Not all would agree of course, but I find the imputation of dishonesty really quite incomprehensible and unnecessary.

  6. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bryn View Post
    Ah, so to put it in nutshell, Lento fails to conform to the expectations you arrogate to yourself the right to impose upon it.
    I'm not imposing anything on anything - it takes some kind of twisted logic to put it that way! We all make judgements about music we listen to, don't we? Can't see anything wrong with that! I'm just articulating why I dislike that piece, as opposed to merely saying, "I don't like it, and therefore it is bad".

  7. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Serial_Apologist View Post
    Am I alone in feeling Skempton's "Lento" to be one of the biggest scams ever perpetrated by a composer on his or her naive and unsuspecting public?

    S-A
    I wonder, SA, were you meaning 'scam' in a looser sense meaning that it's emotional effects are achieved by mimicry rather than being individual and sincere?

    I don't feel the same way about it. Where most "mimimamalism" seems emptily repetitious to me, this does have the strain, the tension of genuine passion to me. But equally, such protracted effusions are maybe a bit "garment-renting"; could be accused of ostentation?

    How does this sort of misery music help? Who does it help and why? It can be heard as rather shrilly declamatory, I suppose.

    I do admire it but I don't play it.

  8. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by heliocentric View Post
    But I don't think it's a "return" to anything at all. Skempton's music has always encompassed a wide range of degrees of harmonic complexity from the impenetrable to the familiar. What interests me about Lento isn't the harmony as such but the timbre, the not-quite-primary colours of its voicing and orchestration. Actually I find most contemporary tonal music uninteresting, with Lento as a luminous exception. Not all would agree of course, but I find the imputation of dishonesty really quite incomprehensible and unnecessary.
    It's a return to diatonic basics without any question. Can timbral qualities be self-sufficient? Depends on the listener's requirements. Stravinsky did something far more interesting with timbres in Symphonies for Wind Instruments, in the way they are matched to the harmonic thinking, I think, at any rate.

  9. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Serial_Apologist View Post
    Stravinsky did something far more interesting with timbres in Symphonies for Wind Instruments, in the way they are matched to the harmonic thinking, I think, at any rate.
    I agree, though basically what Stravinsky did is something different and whether one finds it more interesting or less is a personal matter, and Lento certainly isn't one of my favourite Skempton pieces. But you were accusing him of perpetrating a hoax, which I think is completely unwarranted.

  10. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by hackneyvi View Post
    I wonder, SA, were you meaning 'scam' in a looser sense meaning that it's emotional effects are achieved by mimicry rather than being individual and sincere?

    I don't feel the same way about it. Where most "mimimamalism" seems emptily repetitious to me, this does have the strain, the tension of genuine passion to me. But equally, such protracted effusions are maybe a bit "garment-renting"; could be accused of ostentation?

    How does this sort of misery music help? Who does it help and why? It can be heard as rather shrilly declamatory, I suppose.

    I do admire it but I don't play it.
    My father once asked me why I always put miserable music onto the record player. We'd just been listening to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony! We all project our inner states onto music wer'e listening to, regardless of the composer's intentions. Nothing wrong with ostentation imv, as long as the music can carry it!

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