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The Rise of the Concerto and the Fall of the Symphony in Britain


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Author Topic: The Rise of the Concerto and the Fall of the Symphony in Britain  (Read 986 times)
ahinton
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« Reply #15 on: January 05, 2013, 03:38:37 pm »

If one allows oneself to contemplate the notion that anything from history is now - or can now be or has somehow become - an anachronism, one is allowing oneself to fall into a large trap of one's own making. "Pastiche" has been mentioned, yet I sense none of that in the symphonies of Maxwell Davies, (David) Matthews or John McCabe, three living composers with 23 symphonies between them to date. Anthony Payne has never written a symphony (of his own!) and has said in unequivocally forthright manner that he never will write one, despite his work being steeped in traditions and despite his having as much idea about symphonic writing as anyone alive, as his work on Elgar 3 well demonstrates. Personally, I do not see that there is "no point" in writing symphonies today, fore that is surely a matter for each composer to decide for his/her own reasons. I have not written one (well, I have written one work that I wanted to be a kind of c.40-minute four-movement symphony condensed into a single one of around a quarter of that duration and called it Sinfonietta) but I have no objection in principle to the notion of writing symphonies, either on a basis of perceived anachronism or indeed on any other grounds; I just don't feel that I am likely to write even one work to which I could give the title "Symphony" (let alone "Symphony No. ×") despite having written works that are reliant on what might loosely be described as symphonic thought. So - it's each to his/her own, methinks; certainly, the symphony is no more dead than the string quartet!
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #16 on: January 05, 2013, 03:41:44 pm »

I respect dyn's views but if he is of the opinion that a modern British composer like Robin Holloway is to be criticised for "being stuck in a museum of the past" and write that George Rochberg is one of his "least favourite" musical thinkers then I rather doubt that we shall find much common ground Smiley

Holloway is a composer I am determined to get to grips with, having willfully ignored his music for too long. I recall reading the (probably) famous interview with Rochberg published several years ago in "Tempo" magazine in which he attempted to justify his change of musical direction. Dyn obviously disapproves(probably not the right word!) of Rochberg's thinking but, since it clearly made sense to him and since the result was music with which I am more than comfortable, it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I could agree with him.

Were I a young (or even youngish) composer I MIGHT think differently. I might wish to strike out in a different direction. But I am not. I am an orchestral music lover(I cannot claim to be a "specialist" Grin). I know what I like but (a) am of an exploratory nature within the broad scope of such music and (b)-I hope-that I can be educated to be a little more
adventurous in at least investigating a number of composers I had, probably wrongly, regarded as outside my "comfort zone".

Beyond that...........no. I do not seek to denigrate or demean those whose musical experimentation takes them into other "realms". There are plenty of people who can follow them there and they have every right to do so and to sing the praises of such music.

All I can do is to continue to express my own enthusiasms in the hope that others who share my tastes can enjoy the pleasure I have derived from music over the years.
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dyn
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« Reply #17 on: January 05, 2013, 04:39:42 pm »

If one allows oneself to contemplate the notion that anything from history is now - or can now be or has somehow become - an anachronism, one is allowing oneself to fall into a large trap of one's own making. "Pastiche" has been mentioned, yet I sense none of that in the symphonies of Maxwell Davies, (David) Matthews or John McCabe, three living composers with 23 symphonies between them to date.
i've only ever heard one of Davies' symphonies, which seemed like an attempt to "update" Sibelius with more "universal" techniques (european modernism & touches of the cultural tourism prevalent in so much music nowadays). he has a reputation for being quite the thorny modernist, so i ought by rights to enjoy his music, but i just can't get into it  Huh Wink i have the Matthews 1, 3 and 5, which haven't made a significant impression of substance on me, but i have enjoyed some of Matthews's music so maybe i should listen again. McCabe is an unfamiliar name to me.

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Anthony Payne has never written a symphony (of his own!) and has said in unequivocally forthright manner that he never will write one, despite his work being steeped in traditions and despite his having as much idea about symphonic writing as anyone alive, as his work on Elgar 3 well demonstrates.
i don't know Payne either. i've seen the score to Elgar 3, which struck me as quite similar to everything else by Elgar and therefore successful in that regard ( Tongue ), but never really listened to it with a comparative ear for the rest of Elgar's work.

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Personally, I do not see that there is "no point" in writing symphonies today, fore that is surely a matter for each composer to decide for his/her own reasons.
well, that's exactly the point. i'd be very curious to hear why composers who write symphonies do so.

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I have not written one (well, I have written one work that I wanted to be a kind of c.40-minute four-movement symphony condensed into a single one of around a quarter of that duration and called it Sinfonietta) but I have no objection in principle to the notion of writing symphonies, either on a basis of perceived anachronism or indeed on any other grounds; I just don't feel that I am likely to write even one work to which I could give the title "Symphony" (let alone "Symphony No. ×") despite having written works that are reliant on what might loosely be described as symphonic thought. So - it's each to his/her won, methinks; certainly, the symphony is no more dead than the string quartet!
indeed. actually, i myself wrote a symphony for string orchestra, when i was much younger... ok, 18. not that much younger. which i viewed as a sort of "culmination" of everything i'd written up to that point, and therefore a cause for stock-taking. what stock i did take made me deeply uncomfortable with the whole idea of writing symphonies and prompted me to throw out all of my earlier compositions and start from scratch, as i'm sure every composer does at least two or three times in their life.

I respect dyn's views but if she is of the opinion that a modern British composer like Robin Holloway is to be criticised for "being stuck in a museum of the past" and write that George Rochberg is one of her "least favourite" musical thinkers then I rather doubt that we shall find much common ground Smiley

re holloway - i am going off his own comments about his own music & that of the present. that of his music that i've heard is actually rather good when he forgets that it's not possible to be original in the 21st century any more and one must write in reference to the past etc etc, for instance in the third concerto for orchestra which he presented in one of the composition classes at cambridge (and spent so long talking about it that we didn't have time to hear the whole thing Sad )—solid & exciting stuff regardless of its "traditional" nature. dude just needs to relax a little more. i don't think i've ever met anyone so neurotic Tongue

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Holloway is a composer I am determined to get to grips with, having willfully ignored his music for too long. I recall reading the (probably) famous interview with Rochberg published several years ago in "Tempo" magazine in which he attempted to justify his change of musical direction. Dyn obviously disapproves(probably not the right word!) of Rochberg's thinking but, since it clearly made sense to him and since the result was music with which I am more than comfortable, it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I could agree with her.

re rochberg - actually, i think i disapprove of rochberg's philosophy for reasons you might agree with. he states that he abandoned serialism because it was impossible to express emotion, tranquility, wit, energy, etc through it. (i state that he abandoned serialism because his serial music was, honestly, pretty lousy. he should have used his first symphony as a starting point instead, it's a much more successful & interesting work) but in his music what we find is intentional pastiches of other composers—in other words, he didn't believe it was possible to express emotion, tranquility, wit, energy, etc without resorting to languages invented by others. there was no such thing as a personal language of emotion, tranquility, und so weiter anymore; and that is something with which i quite strongly disagree. he should have spent more time looking into the music of e.g. Creston, Tippett, Shostakovich, Messiaen, Dutilleux, Vaughan Williams, etc etc all of whom did it quite well without openly paying homage to or unconsciously stealing from other composers most of the time.

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Were I a young (or even youngish) composer I MIGHT think differently. I might wish to strike out in a different direction. But I am not. I am an orchestral music lover(I cannot claim to be a "specialist" Grin). I know what I like but (a) am of an exploratory nature within the broad scope of such music and (b)-I hope-that I can be educated to be a little more adventurous in at least investigating a number of composers I had, probably wrongly, regarded as outside my "comfort zone".

that's fair enough. i have no idea how far your tastes extend in either direction, so i won't comment.

personally my night listening playlists include Stockhausen, Mozart, Cordier, Radulescu, Medtner, Zelenka and Cassidy and i spend quite a lot of my daytime listening to music from the last 20-30 years, which happens to include very few symphonies. i imagine you could describe me as an "eclectic" although most of my generation would find my tastes unaccountably narrow for the almost complete absence of anything with a beat >.>

edit: also i am a "she", for future reference
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #18 on: January 05, 2013, 05:53:09 pm »

My apologies Embarrassed

I get the impression that the majority of our members are male. Whether that impression is correct or not and if so, why that should be I could not possibly say.
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Dundonnell
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« Reply #19 on: January 05, 2013, 07:29:02 pm »

I am surprised that dyn has never heard any John McCabe. There is plenty of his music in our British Music Archive. His seven symphonies certainly deserve an integral recording. I completely agree with Alistair that Maxwell Davies, McCabe and David Matthews are three of our most productive and distinguished living symphonists (I would add the name of Patric Standford too).

I suppose that the problem might be that of these composers David Matthews is the youngest and he will be 70 this year. If one looks to a younger generation it is rather harder to find symphonists of such distinction.

I have high hopes though for both John Pickard(born 1963) and Matthew Taylor(born 1964). Both have written three orchestral symphonies and there will, hopefully, more to follow. Dutton has recorded two of Taylor's symphonies and BIS is showing some interest in Pickard.
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Elroel
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« Reply #20 on: January 07, 2013, 06:56:01 pm »

Well 'Lady' dyn, you landed on the right spot here I think.
The list of works your listening to, works for the greatest also for me. Only Stockhausen has (for me) to be left out and Radulescu is variable, some works I like, smoe not.

Elroel
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ahinton
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« Reply #21 on: January 07, 2013, 08:48:08 pm »

I have high hopes though for both John Pickard(born 1963) and Matthew Taylor(born 1964). Both have written three orchestral symphonies and there will, hopefully, more to follow. Dutton has recorded two of Taylor's symphonies and BIS is showing some interest in Pickard.
Indeed so, not least with a recording of his Piano Concerto (which sadly I've yet to hear) played by that most astonishing pianist Fredrik Ullén...
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« Reply #22 on: March 12, 2013, 08:16:01 pm »

I think the issue raised by the OP must to some extent be related to commissioning. Not many composers can afford to indulge in a large project without a commission to pay for the effort. Now, if you are a famous violinist with an interest in expanding the repertoire, what do you do? You turn to a composer you like and say, "Write me a concerto, please". If you are a conductor, you don't say, "Write me a symphony, please", you say, "Write me an orchestral piece, please". Which can be anything. So the scales are weighted towards concertos.
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Gauk
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« Reply #23 on: March 17, 2013, 07:54:43 pm »

Well, with Segerstam you get both, quite often, many of his symphonies having quite bizarre subtitles; ah, well, that's Leif, I guess. As of the end of August this year, the symphonic tally was 258, many of these symphonies occupying precisely the same duration - 24 minutes - and if the subtitle of the most recent one, Enchanted by the famous pigletpettattoes of Viola Segerstam, isn't perverse, I'm not quite sure what is. That said, his conducting of other repertoire - especially that for which he's perhaps best known - seems to me to be anything but eccentric or at least achieves wholly uneccentric and often utterly thrilling and compelling results.

That actually raises another question. Is a symphony anything you call a symphony? Segerstam can turn out such large numbers because each is only six pages of MS, using a system of notation for semi-aleatoric playing. This is why they are all 24 minutes long. With graphic scores, it's even easier. A friend of mine some years ago wrote a String Quartet the score of which consisted of three small drawings, one for each movement. I can do that, gizzajob. Give me enough paper, and I'll do 300 drawings and put "Symphony No. _" at the top of each.
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