Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Library Book Sale CD Trove XI


This is the 1000th Michael5000 post, if you count all four blogs.


Yet still reviewing my CD finds from half-price day at the Friends of the Multnomah County Library Annual Booksale.

Salve Antverpia; Romantic Symphonic Music from Antwerp

Choose one of the following.

1. Out of the incomprehensibly huge library of music written over the past few centuries, there is of much that is very good but hardly ever listened to. The reason for this is simple: it is overshadowed by a relatively small body of work that is exceedingly excellent, and has grown to be recognized as such over the course of time through an informal dialogue among music student, performers, listeners, and marketers. For those of us inclined to listen to a little music from 220 years ago, there is little point in listening to the excellent music of Salieri when we can listen to the distilled genius of Mozart. Those of us inclined to listen to a LOT of such music might listen to a little Salieri, a little Benda, a little Cannabich, whatever, but only a serious scholar would dig into the research library archives to find the doubtless perfectly competent music of yet more obscure composer. And that’s not even to mention the scores of composers (get it? get it?) whose work has literally vanished from the Earth.

So it is with this collection of perfectly pleasant, perfectly well-crafted music from the Low Countries. There’s nothing wrong with the music of Flor Alpaerts, Jan Blockx, Jef Van Hoof, Lodewijk Mortelmans, or Daniel Sternefeld. Quite the contrary. It is charming music, with moments of suspense and release, the occasional surprise, and the occasional splash of drama. But neither is there anything truly remarkable, anything to make you feel like the musical ideas of this stranger from the past are still owed your attention. You could listen to the good music of Salve Antverpia, and this might be interesting if you were from Antwerp, say, or had a specialist’s interest in the specific region and period represented. Otherwise, you could listen to the comparable but much more perfect music of Beethoven, Brahms, and Dvorak, or even Weber, Respighi,and Smetana. Life is short, and you are only going to spend so much time listening to music of the past. Why not listen to the best?

2. There is a kind of cultural brainwashing that goes on, a careless but insidious collaboration among those who teach, write about, and sell music. It convinces us through the sheer force of repetition that a narrow range of material represents the great work of our culture. We learn one way or another that Mozart’s last few symphonies are “great,” and we hear them and hear them again until they become so familiar that they are engrained in our bones, and thus we come to agree that they must indeed be “great.” And thereby we become radical conservatives, wanting like children to hear the familiar again simply because it is familiar, or if not at most something that is like the familiar – perhaps some Salieri instead of Mozart if in a daring mood.

Thus it is quite impossible for a person of our times to give a fair hearing to this collection of Romantic orchestral music from the Low Countries. We may grant that the composers are competent – they make no noises that offend us, and some noises that remind us of passages in pieces we have been made to think of as “great” – but unless we were to devote months or years to making the work of Alpaerts, Blockx, Van Hoof, Mortelmans, and Sternefeld as familiar to us as their contemporaries Beethoven, Brahms, and Dvorak, we will inevitably see them as pretenders, people who tried to make great music but fell short of the standard of excellence. Children raised in an isolated colony from which the music of the A-list composers was carefully excluded, raised on the music of Salve Antverpia, might very likely see things differently.

Prognosis: You can have my copy if you want it.


Jennifer said...

3. There is a happy medium between accepting other people's recommendations (including the collective judgments of the past and present) and being open-minded to the possibility of serendipitously discovering an artist whose work makes your soul sing but who is not widely judged as great, whether it is Veracini, whose work I have been really liking ever since you wrote about him here, or Remedios Varo, or, yes, John Fletcher.

Of course, I expect everybody would say they're open to the possibility, but how effective can that be outside the rarefied arena of specialists you discuss if works by artists who aren't considered great simply are not available in fundamental ways?

Also, I do believe--as, I expect, do you--that you don't have to be raised by wolves in order to acquire a different perspective on art. We're not talking about teaching somebody to prefer a lump of mud to a Rembrandt, to borrow David Richter's terms. A little education (including that simply gained by breadth of experience) can go a long way towards shaping our feelings about art, and that process generally tends to expand the field of what art we enjoy. (If not--if it makes us so discriminating that we enjoy less and less--I'm not sure what it's good for.) And the equation more knowledge=more joy is pretty powerful.

Speaking of joy, your blogs have definitely brought me a lot of it over those 1000 posts! Congratulations on hitting this milestone!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

1,000 posts? For real??

I have no comment on classical music because I'm an uncultured slob, but congrats on the 1,000 posts!!