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Greatest Imaginary Compositions; or, Counterfactual Music History

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Posted on May 31, 2012 6:25:30 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 31, 2012 7:12:20 AM PDT
Autonomeus says:
My sense is that Eisler might have tried to use more accessible folk/rock than Einsturzende Neubauten (New Falling Buildings in German). He befriended and mentored a young East German folksinger, for instance, Wolf Biermann, who became an important dissident. (

I think it's in the Vargas interviews where Xenakis mentions his antagonism with Boulez -- Pierre got huge sums of $$$ from the Cultural Ministry, while Xenakis got enough for a small computer music research operation, tiny by comparison to IRCAM.

Xenakis was always the outsider, while Boulez confidently strode (and continues to stride) the corridors of power.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 3, 2012 12:47:29 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 3, 2012 1:02:07 PM PDT
scarecrow says:
in this respect one's environment does affect, effect how you approach a subject,
how you are or are not drawn to it;
in the late Sixties, Paul Dessau, (then musical bureaucrat in the DDR) asked many composers to write street songs,
and Luigi Nono was asked,
Nono was a frequent visitor to the Communist DDR, no surprise there;
Well he wrote an atonal unusable song;terrible, no one could sing it;
same with Cornelius Cardew, he could not write good, pop, revolutionary, street or otherwise songs,
all that musical knowledge seems to disturb the process,
same with Christian Wolff and Frederic Rzewski,
they are smart enough to know they really do not know how to write effective songs; so they borrow;, then they know what to do,
Cardew borrowed as well, brilliantly, as his Piano Album (1973);
Eisler was one of the best songwriters of the 20th Century, I'd go as far as call him profoundly the "Schubert of the our Time"; but then when it came to larger forms, he was not as successful. He remained a Song-writer; fragment writer;
\Mikis Theodorakis is another great example of brilliant powerful Songwriter,millions still sing his music today;
but when large scale musical forms are engaged, problems arise;

All that money Boulez got, to what end? He hasn't written anything effective since "repons" and that work had problems.
IRCAM did know how to create "clones" of Boulez;composers who have been successful working at IRCAM are those who are pretty much already formed, as Kaija Saariaho, Brian Ferneyhough. . .Boulez you knw cleaned house very early at IRCAM
He fired all the brilliant founders first as Vinko Globokar.
Well in the end, Xenakis remains the most influential composer,I think, much more than Boulez and/or Stockhausen as well. . .perhaps not John Cage. . .

Composers today follow the"" Stockhausen musical dynasty"" because they, themselves don't have a pathway, a means, materials to use to write music, So if you begin there, that's OK, but some never leave it; for it solves all the creative problems for you;

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 3, 2012 12:53:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 3, 2012 12:58:49 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
scarecrow wishes for a solo cello piece by Mendelssohn -- His two existing sonatas for cello and piano aren't enough, plus transcriptions, &tc? Isserlis has an entire cello CD of Mendelssohn.

And Shostakovich was brave enough to write his "Rayok", which could have got him killed. It's recorded. His settings of Jewish folk poetry and of Yevtushenko texts was also very brave for that time.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 3, 2012 1:14:47 PM PDT
scarecrow says:
Honorable Piso--- now now, you missed it, using piano is cheating, it's gotta be a solo, a solo solo; no ump pah's. ump Pahs' for accompaniment;

Yeah I don't know what's the matter with me;all these negative comments on Shostakovich--
by comparison try reading the Samizdat Register;Russian underground writers, they did get themselves done in for what they wrote,that never happened to Dmitri, perhpas he was was clever enough to know the boundaries,
I think more to the point He had a apparatchik sugar -daddy in the Stalinist bureaucracy to check things out for him, let him know what was coming down the pike-, what he could get away with, if writing Jewish Songs was safe,;
It's useful to read Boris Kagarlitsky,Boris Groys or Roy Medvedev for a good context on art and the Stalin years;
Shostakovich was quite a safe guy by comparison--- he really never took any chances, and he had good stock on the books with all the music the Stalin-Guys loved; and Dmitri was good propaganda all the way around;

Posted on Jun 3, 2012 1:27:18 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 3, 2012 1:29:02 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
I think we are reading different books, scarecrow. Shostakovich wasn't safe at all, he was in fear of his life and suicidal. Khrennikov and others tried to destroy him and nearly succeeded. His propagandist work was limited to his second and third symphonies, the two cantatas, and some film music he wrote fto put bread on the table when his music was banned and he was fired from his academic posts. The music is what matters, but context is alwys of interest, if only peripheral, and in his case it was much more than that.

If you insist on unaccompanied cello in Mendelssohn, I guess you could leave the piano out. as in Music Minus One. Then you might end up with something like more tuneful Kodaly, Hindemith, or Reger (God forbid!).

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 3, 2012 1:37:03 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 3, 2012 2:12:48 PM PDT
KenOC says:
scarecrow writes, "Shostakovich was quite a safe guy by comparison--- he really never took any chances..." with his 9th Symphony? Or his 13th?

"He had a apparatchik sugar-daddy in the Stalinist bureaucracy to check things out for him..."

The only "angel" DSCH had was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky, far more than an appparatchik. Tukhachevsky was tortured and executed by a single bullet to the back of the head in 1937, on Stalin's orders. His wife and both brothers were then shot and three of his sisters were sent to penal camps. No, no reason for Shostakovich to worry!

Oh well, I must be reading Piso's book instead of yours.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 7:06:09 AM PDT
Evan Wilson says:
After the purges of the 1930s, I think it's fair to say the NO ONE in the Soviet Union, let alone a prominent artist, was safe. I suspect that it's really difficult for people in the West to understand the level of fear and paranoia that ran through Soviet society during the reign of Stalin. People who thought they were safe were frequently killed and everyone knew someone who had disappeared. It's how Stalin was able to reign for so long.

In the end, though, Stalin also paid the price for the cult of fear he created, when he had a stroke at his dacha and NONE of his household staff would call for help because they were afraid of the consequences. The best guess is that Stalin suffered for perhaps 4 or 5 hours as a result of the stroke before he died. (A fitting end for such a butcher, if you ask me.)

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 4, 2012 8:52:23 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2012 1:31:01 PM PDT
Edgar Self says:
Evan Wilson -- According to one report, after watching movies with friends on the last night of his life, Stalin went to bed, but as usual in a different room every night, nobody would know which one. There was confusion when he didn't appear the next morning because no-one knew which room he was in. But when he was found, Maria Yudina's LP of Mozart's 23rd piano concerto was on his bedside table phonograph.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 1:15:24 PM PDT
TGT says:
Didn't Charles Ives have some sketches for a "Universe Symphony" (a fifth symphony) that he never got around to writing? I have an Ozawa/Boston Symphony recording of Ives' Fourth Symphony. What a beautiful symphony! It's too bad that Ives stopped composing long before he died; apparently, he felt creatively spent and "written out". There's no telling what great musical ideas died with him.

Posted on Jun 4, 2012 7:43:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 4, 2012 7:54:36 PM PDT
David M. says:
Obviously I'd like if all my favorite composers lived 10 years longer, but the most painful "what ifs" are the ones who died young. Mozart, Lekeu, Schubert, Smit, Gershwin, Fine, Mendelssohn, Arriaga, etc. I spend too much time wondering how Chopin would've transitioned to symphonic writing.

Posted on Jun 5, 2012 3:36:42 AM PDT
I would trade in a whole lotta great music for Beethoven's 10th symphony.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2012 5:31:53 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 5, 2012 5:54:00 AM PDT
scarecrow says:
it' silly to argue, if you don't have a good context for Soviet history, read "Let History Judge" by Roy Medvedev, he also has excellent books; as I mentioned Boris Kagarlitsky is an incredible writer; Moshe Lewin, Charles Bettelhiem, Robert Conquest,Richard Tucker ( western sovietologist), and Stephen Cohen is brilliant. . .
Biographies of composers are the last place to start to find an historical context;and or Documentaries, they always leave out many unpleasant things,context, references, evidence;ask Ken Burns;

Shostakovich was never imprisoned nor tortured, as say Mikis Theodorakis or Isang Yun,or the numerous folk artists and poets in Central and South America;who were summarily executed. . .

Shostakovich was worth more alive than dead to the Stalin-Guys, the bureaucracy,
He was good propaganda=maker all the way round,. He had no aesthetic ambitions to find his voice within the vigours modernity,12-Tone stuff! as the bourgeois composers of the West as Boulez,Babbitt, Copland, Stockhausen.And
For the West he was the token "suffering" composer, a victim of soviet tyranny---he was one of the reasons why we should continue to fight the Cold War Reagan would have said. . . , the Eagle and the Bear, to bring democracy there, like we did in Iraq, remember?

And for Stalin Etc.Dmitri was really writing "Music for the Masses"no pretensions there, and all these "hidden codes" of tyranny, and "Is Stalin inside the Ninth Symphony", those were all ideological games, that had little significance to those who held power in Soviet Union;,the greater fear was the upsurges of the Czech Spring, and Hungary, circa, the late Fifties, for which the October Revolution of the Eleventh Symphony was a subterfuge subject for Hungary;that was quite powerful. . . that revolution should always be advanced within the impossible present. . .not an item for museum-like frozen, freeze-frame quality, how the West serves up Dmitri to concert subscribers;

the Russia and Eastern Europa masses needed his music;Stalin knew it and Dmitri was a" good boy" never chose"unpleasant subjects", that directly exposed the monstrous corruption of the Stalinist cliques,always from a distance, the way the Brecht Ensemble did Shakespeare in what was East Germany DDR. . .
And at one point with his "Leningrad Symphony" he was actually helping the war effort for everyone,(remember we were Allies in WW2);Roy Harris dedicated one of his Symphonies to the Red Army( the dedication has been eradicated now, for obvious reasons, we don't need the Russians anymore)
AND--you all know the famous story of the Symphony in microfilm being smuggled out via Vladivostok to New York, perhaps the longest geographic journey for a symphony; And Dmitri's photo with tin war cap was on the cover of TIME magazine;
And then recall that after Stalin died, Khruschev, in the famous Twentieth Congress exposed most of the crimes of the era perpetrated by Stalin, so the THAW began, Soviet artists, (most) were allowed to travel to the West to ply their wares;
Shostakovich was even here in Evanston Illinois at Northwestern School of Music to receive an Honorary Doctorate;
well not surprising Northwestern University has more money than God!

Posted on Jun 5, 2012 9:42:48 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 25, 2012 5:13:26 AM PDT
R. Kopp says:
Hey scarecrow, KenOC & Piso!

What's the big idea of moving the Shostakovich party to a new underground location & not inviting me & KB? (Sniff.) I'm going to try to be big about this and not take it all personal. I do feel obliged to extract some small measure of revenge, however, by posting on topic. That'll show you!

The Greatest Imaginary Composition that I'm personally familiar with, bar none, is "Pictures at an Exhibition of the Complete 45 Authenticated Surviving Paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder" by, of course, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. This tragically unfinished work runs to about 13 and a half hours in most nonperformances, although Nikolaus Harnoncourt, using period instruments, once didn't perform it in a record 10 hours, 8 minutes and 17 seconds. This is now sadly deleted from Teldec's catalogue.

Although HINPs (Historically Informed Non-Performances) are now the rule, this piece was actually also not performed - at least in excerpts - by many of the greats: Weingartner, Mengelberg, Toscanini, Walter, Montaux, Schuricht, Jochum et al. Especially notable nonrecordings worth seeking out include: "The Tower of Babel" by Dimitri Mitropoulos & the NYP; "The Peasant Dance" by Rafael Kubelik & the CSO, in vivid Mercury Living Presence sound; "Children's Games" by Paul Paray & the DSO; "Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap" by Myung-Whun Chung & the RCO; "The Fall of the Rebel Angels" by HvK & the BPO; and, of course, "The Triumph of Death" by Richard Strauss & the BSOO, although here you will have to make allowances for the poor sound quality.

On July 23rd, 1943, Wilhelm Furtwängler famously led the BPO in a still controversial nonperformance of "The Hunters in the Snow," with Adolf Hitler in attendance.

One eminent conductor who wouldn't touch this work with a 10-foot pole, curiously enough, was Sir Thomas Beecham.

Posted on Jun 5, 2012 9:46:49 AM PDT
I must admit I do enjoy Carlo Gesualdo's original version of the Sinfonia domestica.....

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2012 9:48:59 AM PDT
Edgar Self says:
To broaden the context and provenance, the writers of the books that Honorable Scarecrow names were all colleagues, friends, or relatives of Shostakovich, right?
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In reply to an earlier post on Jun 5, 2012 9:49:59 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 6, 2012 11:12:24 AM PDT
Edgar Self says:
R. Kopp, these things just take on a life of their own. I follow the discussions as best I can, mostly responding to the other posters while drinking cerveza fria, Dos Equis by preference. It is my lonely destiny.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
Participants:  21
Total posts:  41
Initial post:  May 30, 2012
Latest post:  Jun 5, 2012

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