28 April 2016

From the Archives: Pre-concert Talk - "Inspired by Jazz"

This talk was given on 16 July 2015 before the Auckland Philharmonia's "Inspired by Jazz" concert. The programme was the overture to Gershwin's Girl Crazy, Copland's Clarinet Concerto (with soloist Julian Bliss), Bernstein's Prelude Fugue and Riffs, and Russo's Street Music: A Blues Concerto (with harmonica soloist Corky Siegel). 


Classical music and jazz might seem to many to be irreconcilable opposites, chalk and cheese, black and white. One is thought of as being spontaneous, improvised, the other laboriously worked out and written down; one aspires to teleological long forms, the other usually employing short circular, repetitive forms, or series of “changes”; one swings, the other doesn't. These are the perceptions, often used to justify the superiority of one over the other. But with the explosion of musical styles in the twentieth century, classical and jazz have come into contact an awful lot. Those intersection points take all sorts of forms – collaboration, juxtaposition, antipathy, conflict, fusion. Tonight we'll  hear a lot of that, and hopefully too we might also have our prejudices shaken, on what jazz, classical, music can be.

I'd like to take a minute to acknowledge the wonderful job of the APO's artistic team, putting together another very creative and engaging concert programme. Far from being a variety show or potpourri of orchestrated jazz numbers, this evening's concert does what a good programme should: allows the listener to draw connections, and take away some questions to ponder.

George Gershwin might be the very first name one associates with jazz in the concert hall: Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris – we all know exactly what Gershwin sounds like, effortless tunesmith and skilled entertainer that he is. Gershwin's overture to Girl Crazy is pumped full of adapted vocal hit tunes from the musical, and rather than strictly being influenced by jazz, it's Gershwin reaching the other way, intensifying his Tin Pan Alley textures with classical forces.

Gershwin's style sits easily with the orchestra because of its lyrical origins and the pragmatic orchestration, leaving the driving syncopations to the brass and the sweeping tunes to the strings. Like many of Gershwin's orchestral works it's a medley, a series of connected episodes rather than a fully integrated long-form movement.

The original Broadway production of Girl Crazy not only made overnight sensations out of Ethel Merman and Ginger Rogers, but the pit orchestra included a number of what would become the great bandleaders of the following years – Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.

The tunes in the overture include Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, But Not For Me and Bronco Busters. It's not dissimilar in its railroad rhythms and soaring strings to Gershwin's breakout hit, Rhapsody in Blue six years earlier. Although we won't hear Rhapsody tonight we will hear more than once that definitive clarinet glissando, or “smear” that opens the work:

Rhapsody in Blue opening

American conductor Kenneth Woods says of Gershwin, “I suppose what really sets his classical pieces apart is the extent to which he is able to straddle the worlds of jazz and classical music so masterfully. I think he and Bernstein were the only composers who could do that consistently, and people have been trying to equal them for many generations without much success.”

It can't be said convincingly that this is what Aaron Copland was attempting when he wrote his Clarinet Concerto in 1949. In the same way perhaps that Charlie Parker's coruscating solos and eye-wateringly fast bebop tempi could be said to have something of the manic mechanistic modernism of Edgard Varese, so too Copland here has the spirit of latin jazz; Copland himself describes it as “an unconscious fusion” of elements of American music and his own vernacular style. But it's not a deliberate attempt to meet halfway between two quite distinct languages.

Of the four works on tonight's programme, Copland's is the one who treats its medium, i.e. the orchestra, with the most care and craft, subtly adapting the body of strings to both lyrical and percussive effect. There is certainly the colour and spirit of jazz at the fringes but also a keen awareness of the fundamental difference  - not only in timbre and texture but most significantly in articulation and phrasing – between a string orchestra and, say, a Benny Goodman swing band. Copland could be said to be just as much influenced by Mahler and Stravinsky as by jazz. Nevertheless there are a couple of important connections between him and Gershwin.

One is that glissando we heard earlier –

The second is the commissioner and intended soloist, Benny Goodman. You'll remember Goodman played clarinet in the original pit orchestra for Gershwin's Girl Crazy, and by the 1940s he was one of the leading clarinettists and bandleaders in the United States. Having been immersed in the swing scene, Goodman was introduced to bebop in the mid 40s, where he saw Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and co pushing the boundaries of the art form, perhaps jazz's equivalent of Schoenberg and Stravinsky's modernism three decades earlier. Although Goodman didn't go down the bebop path, he was interested in expanding and developing jazz, and sought out many of the leading classical composers for commissions. Along with Copland, Goodman commissioned new pieces by Bartok, Poulenc, Hindemith, Arnold, and re-learned to play the clarinet with a classical embouchure.

Benny Goodman said of the Copland commission, “I made no demands on what Copland should write. He had completely free rein.”

A third connection between the first two composers on the programme is the reception they received from the American public. While Gershwin tapped into a vein of popular support with his orchestral colorations of Tin Pan Alley, Copland was chastised for trying to jazz up his music. Invoking Richard Taruskin, Zach Wallmark describes the phenomenon: “Critics placed Copland and Gershwin on different points in the racially-tinged spectrum of high vs low art. Where Copland was seen to sully the good name of concert music by contaminating it with the lowly “animalistic” sounds of jazz, Gershwin – in his elegant treatments of Tin Pan Alley forms that never strayed too far from their original – was perceived as the great redeemer of jazz by elevating it to the level of concert music. The messy sociostylistic problems of Jewish composers appropriating African-American forms for the consumption of predominantly WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) audiences was, indeed, a delicate dance that required extreme finesse to really “sell”. In this respect, Copland seemed to have had two left feet.”

Although there's certainly a disparity between how the two composers were perceived in relation to jazz, and perhaps also a disparity in their commercial nous, Gershwin and Copland did have something in common. Both were able to adapt the various folk musics of their age into their own unique musical style, styles which were both enormously influential on American music-making in the 20th century.

Copland's clarinet concerto itself is a masterclass in balance and pacing – two entirely contrasting movements linked by a dazzling cadenza. The first movement with its aching, arching lines, expressive yet never sentimental, is the perfect foil to the offbeat squareness of the second, which has an infectious groove even though it perhaps wisely never really tries to swing. Imagine Benny Goodman stepping up to the podium for what seemed like a delicately beautiful yet undeniably fairly straight elegiac piece, before pivoting on that cadenza into a bristling display of musical fireworks. You can hear in the sparkplug cadenza and the finale that grows from it the seeds of Bernstein's musical language: Latin rhythms, clean, sharp syncopations, almost to the point of caricature, and a flair for the theatrical.

Copland concerto 2nd mvmt opening

Benny Goodman was not the only bandleader reaching out to classical composers for new work. Stravinsky wrote his Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman and his First Herd in 1945. Writing for a big band of trumpets, trombones and saxophones, a rhythm section, and a couple of bizarre extras at his own request, Stravinsky claimed to be “unnerved by [his own] lack of familiarity with this sort of thing.” Herman's own first reaction to the work when it arrived was that he found it “grotesque” and awkward to play, but perhaps it is this grotesque awkwardness, this resistance to fusion, that has made the Ebony Concerto an enduring, if indiosyncratic, work of art. Herman recalled later, “after the very first rehearsal, at which we were all so embarrassed we were nearly crying because nobody could read, Stravinsky walked over and put his arm around me and said, 'Ah, what a beautiful family you have.'"

I mention the Ebony Concerto not just because it's a fascinating work, but because it's an interesting example of the difficulties and fragilities of collaboration and “fusion”, and because Herman also commissioned Leonard Bernstein a few years later.

Writing for standard big band line-up, Bernstein's work Prelude, Fugue and Riffs, written in 1949 – the same year as Copland's Clarinet Concerto - presents a more straightforwardly jazz idiom, calling to mind Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Gershwin among others. Bernstein was the Thomas Ades of his time – conductor, pianist, composer and musical magpie. Bernstein famously said of the diversity of jazz as a genre, “it is all jazz, and I love it all.”

In fact it was not Woody Herman and his herd that gave the premiere of Prelude, Fugue and Riffs but Benny Goodman – to whom the work is now dedicated.

The version you are going to hear tonight is a transcription for orchestra by Lukas Foss, a very interesting composer in his own right and a good friend of Bernstein – Foss also conducted the premiere of Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. I have to say I'm not entirely convinced by the Foss arrangement – Bernstein's original movements are titled Prelude (for the Brass), Fugue (for the Saxes), and Riffs (for Everyone), and for me they lose a bit of their edge and  groove in the transition to the orchestral medium. You can make up your own mind – here is a snippet of the original first movement

Bernstein Prelude Fugue and Riffs 1st mvmt

Along with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, a third influential clarinettist-bandleader, Artie Shaw, had already been experimenting with fusing classical music and jazz in the 1930s. This is his Interlude in Bb, featuring solo clarinet with strings and rhythm section

Artie Shaw Interlude in Bb

This was an embryonic form of what later came to be know as the Third Stream; neither classical, nor jazz, but something in between. Gunther Schuller, who coined the term, described it thus - “It is not jazz with strings. It is not jazz played on 'classical' instruments. It is not classical music played by jazz players. It is not inserting a bit of Ravel or Schoenberg between be-bop changes—nor the reverse. It is not jazz in fugal form. It is not a fugue played by jazz players. It is not designed to do away with jazz or classical music; it is just another option amongst many for today’s creative musicians.”

While it's unlikely you could get away with calling Gershwin, Copland or Bernstein Third Stream composers, seeing as their works involve little or no improvisation and they're not attempting a conscious fusion of classical and jazz, one composer who might fall into that category is William Russo, whose Harmonica Concerto Street Music you will hear tonight.

Street Music: A Blues Concerto was released by Deutsche Grammaphon in 1979 alongside Gershwin's American in Paris and Russo's own Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra, which had been a big hit for the record label. Russo's compositions were championed by Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, who originally suggested to Corky Siegel and Russo the idea of combining blues and classical music. Siegel, whom you'll hear tonight with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, was the original soloist.

Russo's work is centred on the blues but flits between all sorts of musical styles, a kind of rough-hewn musicological document as well as a virtuosic entertainment. Compared to the suave Gershwin or the craftsmanly Copland, Russo's string writing is often awkward, even clunky, but the visceral charisma of the harmonica part holds it up as something unique. Siegel describes the fusion as more of a juxtaposition in a recent interview with William Dart: “"We didn't want a symphony orchestra backing a blues band, or a blues band playing classical music. The aim was to juxtapose our different music and maintain our individual character," he explains. "As I said to Seiji, let's start with Charles Ives' Music for Two Marching Bands and move on from there."

Although each of these compositions may well appeal to different tastes and not all work all the time, it's interesting to look at them as documents of collaboration: Goodman and Copland, Siegel and Russo and Ozawa. Compare the respect and the awareness of the difficulty of true collaboration here with our current obsession with cross-over, and especially with attaching a faded pop superstar to a classical project in the hope of broadening audience appeal, or improving “accessibility”, whatever that means. Thus large arts institutions have got into a habit of ignoring the leading composers of the day and in their place commissioning Paul McCartney to write a ballet called Ocean's Kingdom or Rufus Wainwright to compose an opera that sounds like mediocre Puccini in French. Commercial imperatives leading to bad artistic decisions.

Another observation is that fusion performs a kind of musicological role, creating a dialogue between genres, and also documenting the trends and idiosyncracies of our times. In our highly targeted, niche market world, art that crosses genre and precipitate new interactions will I think continue to flourish.

So perhaps rather than trying to pigeonhole and categorise, jazz, classical, Third Stream, fusion, it's best primarily just to listen. Music critic Alex Ross recounts this story: “In Vienna, in 1928, Gershwin met his idol, Alban Berg, who had the Kolisch Quartet play him the “lyric suite”. Gershwin then sat down at the piano, but hesitated, wondering aloud whether he was worthy of the occasion. “Mr Gershwin,” Berg said sternly, “music is music.”

23 April 2016

From the Archives: Pre-concert Talk - "French Twist"

This talk was given on August 20 2015 before the Auckland Philharmonia's "French Twist" concert. The programme was Debussy's "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un Faune", Ravel's Piano Concerto in G, and Prokofiev's Sixth Symphony. The piano soloist was Jean-Efflam Bavouzet and the conductor Andrew Gourlay. 


“Nymphs whose rosy flesh
can spur the drowsy air to dancing -
Did I love a dream?
My, my doubt, the residue of all my nights
dissolves into a maze
merely a budding grove -
Proof that what I took for rapture
was a subterfuge of               roses
Just suppose those women had no other
reality than figments of a faun’s deluded mind.”

This is a tiny sliver, a moment of Mallarmé's poetic monologue, the Afternoon of a Faun, translated by Richard Howard. You can hear in it the languid, transgressive, musical qualities that must have initially attracted Claude Debussy, inspiring the delicate haze of a musical scene we’ll hear tonight, which in turn provoked the notoriously suggestive choreography of Vatslav Nijinsky.

Debussy saw in the symbolist poets and Mallarmé in particular a conceptual but especially a musical connection. He believed, and I quote, “that the poetic work of Monsieur Mallarmé remains today the best model that exists of the music of words”. Initially Mallarmé and Debussy had planned a collaboration, a theatrical reading of Mallarmé's poem The Afternoon of a Faun, with incidental music by Debussy, but the project fell through, and Debussy continued alone, using Mallarmé's poetry as a springboard for a purely musical exploration.

In describing his approach to the work, Debussy regaled a critic with this musing:

“Is it perhaps the dream left over at the bottom of the faun’s flute? To be more precise it is the general impression of the poem. If the music were to follow it more closely it would run out of breath… All the same it follows the ascending shape of the poem as well as the scenery so marvellously described in the text, together with the humanity brought to it by thirty-two violinists who have got up too early! As for the ending, it’s a prolongation of the last line: ‘Couple farewell, I go to see what you became.”

The idea of prolongation, suspending a moment of dream, an erotic reverie, is an important one – Mallarmé effused to Debussy after the first performance that “the music prolongs the emotion of my poem.”

Rather than a literal “word-painting”, rather than being simply a “tone poem”, Debussy takes the essence and energy of the poem and enlists it in a musical exploration that goes far beyond the narrative of the text. Debussy not only evokes the erotic transgressiveness of the poem but develops his own kind of purely musical transgressiveness in new kinds of harmony and form. Pierre Boulez called it the beginning of musical modernism, the real turn of the century.

Nevertheless the text has a lot to answer for – the opening flute solo, our point of entry into the work, is also Debussy’s point of entry into the literal stuff of the poem. From Mallarmé’s line “A single line of sound, aloof, disinterested” Debussy extracts a now-iconic sliver of solo flute.

PLAY opening of Prelude l’apres midi

Inviting Mallarmé to the premiere, Debussy wrote – “I need not say how happy I should be if you were kind enough to honour with your presence the arabesque, which, by an excess of pride perhaps, I believe to have been dictated by the flute of your faun.” The flute melody, or arabesque as it is named here, returns periodically, a kind of melodic refrain, a structural pivot around which Debussy weaves his harmonic and textural magic. The ambiguity of that opening line allows for a whole catalogue of harmonic possibilities, resolutions and non-resolutions, trajectories and misdirections.

But it’s not so much the harmonic language, beginning at Wagner’s Tristan chord and slipping off into new directions, but rather it’s Debussy’s fluid treatment of form and timbre, that gives the work its radical modernity. Boulez calls it a “mobile expressiveness” – and the flute solo might be what we could think of as the central pivot of a musical mobile, returning from different angles each time, spinning its shapes, adjacent harmonies and colours dangling from its delicate structure, as we lie beneath it, transfixed, perhaps like the nymph’s veil beneath the titillated faun. What was special about it to Boulez was its flexibility and instantaneousness – instead of a huge Wagnerian teleology, a grand arch towards ecstasy, Debussy had built a shimmering musical object that at any individual moment could be observed moving or frozen, twisting in the breeze, not beholden to any strictly linear narrative.

Perhaps it is this mobile expressiveness, along with the erotic subtext of the scene, that lends it so well to dance. Almost twenty years after the orchestral premiere, Nijinsky choreographed and performed it with the Ballet Russe, and it’s worth quoting at length a review of that original ballet production from Auguste Rodin.

“Nijinsky has never been so remarkable as in his latest role. No more jumps - nothing but half-conscious animal gestures and poses. He lies down, leans on his elbow, walks with bent knees, draws himself up, advancing and retreating, some-times slowly, sometimes with jerky angular movements. His eyes flicker, he stretches his arms, he opens his hands out flat, the fingers together, and as he turns away his head he continues to express his desire with a deliberate awkwardness that seems natural. Form and meaning are indissolubly wedded in his body, which is totally expressive of the mind within... His beauty is that of antique frescoes and sculptures: he is the ideal model, whom one longs to draw and sculpt.”

Ravel said of his Piano concerto in G: “it’s a concerto in the truest sense of the word: I mean that it is written very much in the same spirit as those of Mozart and Saint-Saens.” At its essence it’s a divertissement: a sparkling vessel for virtuosity and entertainment. It might not have the formal contortions and harmonic slippage of the Debussy but it has an incredible classical clarity and lightness, and its own kinds of harmonic and formal invention. It’s not pushing the boundaries of the canon perhaps in the way musicologists think a canonic work ought to - but it’s a masterclass in melodic diversion, proportion, and especially in orchestration.

PLAY opening of Ravel Piano Concerto in G

It’s worth picking out some of those striking orchestral colours. Numerous wind entries approach perilous heights: both bassoon and horn solos in particular are pushed to high extremes of register where their very timbral identity starts to become ambiguous and malleable. Ravel is a kind of magician here, turning one sound into another: the scratchy tone of the low piccolo resembles a medieval fife; the treacherous horn solo I mentioned a moment ago - to my ears at least - sounds like a kind of brassy flute; in the finale a pair of bassoonists become the coruscating left hand of a pianist – right at the edge of performability, flickering figurations that splash piano idiom into the orchestra. Throughout the concerto are some of the most iconic solos in the orchestral repertoire – Ravel manages to capture and transform the spirit of each instrument, and most of all the brilliantly percussive, iridescent piano solo. Trill glissandi, blues harmonies, percussive paradiddles; this is the virtuosity of a mechanical industrial world: hard-edged, shiny, clear and bright.

We are attracted to these surface elements: we love the sensuality of Ravel’s colours and harmonies, his control, his precision. But more than that what makes the concerto is a synthesis of emotion and intellect, surface and substance. On the surface it’s percussive, syncopated, bristling with energy, but there’s melancholy underneath, and for the pianist all sorts of different touches are required. Not least for the second movement, with its seemingly endless melodic line that never repeats itself, continually recycling and reinventing, and of course its wonderful gentle polyrhythm. In the left hand a slow 6/8, two groups of an accompanying waltz pattern, against a doubly slow 3/4 cantabile line in the right hand. It’s perhaps one of the most iconic slow movements in any concerto; Ravel himself was drawn to the Mozart clarinet quintet as a model, perhaps more than any superficial jazz influence.

Here’s Ravel again: “What is being written today without the influence of jazz? It is not the only influence, however: in the concerto one also finds bass accompaniments from the time of Bach, and a melody that recalls Mozart, the Mozart of the clarinet quintet, which by the way is the most beautiful piece he ever wrote.”

Like Ravel himself, musicologist Michael Russ suggests that the jazz influence is often overstated, that “many of the harmonic preoccupations which we call ‘jazzy’ [actually] followed on from Ravel’s own innovations.” Ravel embraced his compositional lineage and place in the world, and alongside Mozart and Bach you can hear Gershwin, Stravinsky, and the music of Ravel’s native Basque region. Each one respectfully, without the slightest sense of parody.

Not everyone looked kindly on this kind of eclecticism. Stravinsky’s arch-propagandist and right-hand man Robert Craft was dismissive of Ravel’s later music, and especially of his incorporation of these diverse influences. Craft on Ravel: “he never regained his path after the War, when he became the influenced rather than the influencer.” Not only uncharitable, but simply untrue. While at the time it may have been Stravinsky that was leading fashion, one could argue that Ravel had a sizeable influence on the course of music making throughout the twentieth century. His advanced understanding of timbre made him the spiritual ancestor of spectralist music and some might say the godfather of modern orchestration. And aside from all that these surface influences were all just part of a synthesis into Ravel’s own voice, so succinctly captured in this slow movement.

PLAY opening of 2nd mvmt Ravel

As a younger person playing in Auckland Youth Orchestra on a tour to the United States, I was lucky to experience the Ravel Concerto in many performances with John-Paul Muir as a soloist. John-Paul was brilliant, of course, and I loved the concerto – but in my adolescent arrogance I didn’t think Ravel understood syncopation – I didn’t like the fact that my ear was confused, that I couldn’t lock into a catchy metric pattern – at that glacial tempo I thought the sense of polyrhythm was totally lost, wasted.

But actually it has its own soft kind of swing. And it’s the rhythmic ambiguity and fluidity that makes it shine and swing above all the brilliant noise of the outer movements, that gives it its floating quality, but also its weighty emotional heart. What seems effortless in its continuous lyrical flow Ravel actually slaved over more than any of the flashy mechanics. The composer referred to it nostalgically: “That flowing phrase! How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!”

Far from Debussy’s languid sonic bath, or Ravel’s suspended Mozartian lyricism, Prokofiev’s sixth symphony is music of angular motion, anxious risk, brief skittering episodes of brutality and nostalgia. The tempo and texture change restlessly. But like Debussy, Prokofiev is full of misdirection, albeit in a far more agitated manner; a slippery harmonic blur in Debussy becomes a jolt in Prokofiev; in a pinch a pastoral character transforms into a funereal, or a martial one. And the Second World War looms large, but Prokofiev generally resists the straightforwardly militaristic; his are the quiet patterings of discontent rather than the volleys of machine-gun fire. This is Prokofiev after all, not Shostakovich.

Michael Steinberg calls the sixth a symphony of conflicting and unresolved emotions. Following on from a relative box office hit in the form of the Fifth Symphony, the sixth is sceptical where the fifth seemed triumphant. As in the Ravel there is a tension between the sharp, bright musical surface and what lies underneath it. When we think of Prokofiev we think of his wit, his craft, his inventiveness, but under all the compositional play and presentation there’s something darker and more unsettling. And as in Ravel the heart of the music is at its temporal centre, in its central slow movement. But where Ravel’s melancholic lyricism is tinged with eccentricity, coloured with bluesy modal mixture and surreal episodes at the fringes, Prokofiev’s is framed with heavy, harsh strokes. Steinberg is not being melodramatic when he makes the claim that Prokofiev had not written such lacerating music as the opening of the second movement in more than twenty years.

PLAY Prokofiev 6th Symphony, 2nd movement opening

Beginning and ending the second movement is this music of grating anguish, intense, screaming stuff. Woodwinds grind in chromatic parallel motion against a stubborn bass pedal, over which a piercing lament… but these outbursts are fleeting, dangerous, taboo – quickly passed over but etched in the memory. From these dizzying, angular heights it’s quite a leap to the apparent optimism of the finale. Superficially it seems upbeat, but it has a forced, manic quality, and the threat of violence is never far away. One can’t escape the sneaking suspicion that it’s the optimism of a pop star singing at a mafia wedding, the fear lurking behind a brittle façade of craft and professionalism.

As a listener the Prokofiev requires a different sort of approach from the Debussy and Ravel. At face value the lurching tone might seem bewildering; but it’s the conflicts and discontinuities between phrases and textures that I think are the key to getting the most out of this work. As Arnold Whitall puts it, there’s a continual opposition between exuberance and melancholy, and between the familiar and the unexpected – out of context each one seems straightforward but the lurching of tone calls that into question. It’s a kind of power struggle, an argument, one of the last great statements of the marginalized artist under Stalin. Take a deep breath and enjoy the concert. Thank you.

13 April 2016

From the Archives: Pre-concert Talk, "Inspired by Exoticism"

This talk was given on August 27 2015 before the Auckland Philharmonia's "Inspired by Exotica" concert. The programme was Nielsen's Aladdin Suite, Sculthorpe's Earth Cry, Jack Body's Melodies for Orchestra, and Khachaturian's Gayane Suite. The didjeridu soloist for the Sculthorpe work was William Barton. 


“The lack of a common cause and the self-interest of many have drained us of much of our energy. A bogus national identity and its commercialization have obscured the true breadth of our culture.”

So said the late Peter Sculthorpe in describing the background to his Earth Cry of 1986.

There is a huge scope of what one could talk about tonight. We’re presented with a programme perhaps largely unfamiliar to most of us – works by a Dane, an Armenian, an Australian and a New Zealander. Bizarrely if we know any of these pieces it’s more likely to be the Dane or the Armenian than the Australian or the New Zealander.

They are quite a diverse bunch of pieces. But I think what draws them together is a desire to reveal that true breadth of culture that Sculthorpe refers to, and a desire to extend and transform our experience of the concert hall in the Western Art Music Tradition. Whether through transcription, as in the case of Jack Body, or by combining indigenous music and contemporary classical music, as Sculthorpe has done in Earth Cry, these composers are exposing us to new types of musical encounters. Where else have you seen a didjeridu dialogue with an orchestra?

More than just composers though, these men were various combinations of transcribers, arrangers, musicologists, facilitators of cultural exchange. And they were no longer “The Composer” in scare quotes. By celebrating world musics they challenged the idea that the composer is the sole author, the authority, to be worshipped and interpreted painstakingly, as if each composition were a last will and testament, to be observed to the letter. These composers are not sole authors but collaborators, participants in a dialogue with tradition and innovation. The composer here has an interpretive role as much as a generative one.

This concert is titled inspired by exotica. Flicking through an APO brochure or scrolling down the website one might be intrigued or even a tad confused about what Exotica signifies here. Wikipedia tells me: Exotica is a musical genre, named after the 1957 Martin Denny album of the same title, popular during the 1950s to mid-1960s, typically with suburban Americans who came of age during World War II. The musical colloquialism exotica means tropical ersatz, the non-native, pseudo experience of insular Oceania, Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Amazonia, the Andes and tribal Africa. Denny described the musical style as "a combination of the South Pacific and the Orient...what a lot of people imagined the islands to be like...it's pure fantasy though." While the South Seas forms the core region, exotica reflects the "musical impressions" of every place from standard travel destinations to the mythical "shangri-las" dreamt of by armchair safari-ers.

Thanks Wikipedia. Rather than impressionistic exoticism - fantastical collages of oriental effects - the works on tonight’s concert are very much tied to the qualities and traditions of particular places: Australia, Indonesia, Greece, India, Armenia. The only exception is Carl Nielsen’s Aladdin Suite, whose language is a more generalised orientalism, with titles of movements such as “Chinese Dance”, “Hindu Dance” and “Negro Dance.” The other three works though, by my reckoning, seem concerned with getting us close to the thing itself, facilitating a cultural exchange and education.

Tonight I’m going to focus my attention largely on the composers we might know least well, that is, the late Jack Body and the late Peter Sculthorpe. I think with some insight into Body’s practice and his relationship to the music of other cultures we can begin to see all the music on the programme differently. Rather than neatly summarising each musical work and what it sounds like, it’s my intention to talk around these pieces, draw some links and perhaps raise some more general points of discussion.

Body and Sculthorpe, both recently deceased, are respective icons of their home countries, at least within their chosen field of composition and perhaps within the wider arts scene too.
Jack Body was only a couple of years ago composer in Residence with this very orchestra, presenting a huge extravaganza of a performance in the form of his cabaret evening Songs and Dances of Desire, based on the life of Carmen Rupe. There he mixed Maori and Spanish folk traditions with a Chinese countertenor, drag, stage direction from the late Warwick Broadhead and a symphony orchestra. Such a striking collage was by no means uncommon in Jack’s music; as I see it every piece of Jack’s set up a kind of encounter between self and other.

Jack’s practise is a lens through which we can view this whole concert: not “Inspired by Exotica” but inspired by an engagement with aspects of global culture, and a desire to expand the concert hall outwards, to create connections across traditions. Let’s begin with a little of the work of Jack’s you’ll hear tonight, the opening of Horos Serra from Melodies for Orchestra. This is based on a Greek fiddle tune, and was one of Jack’s first transcriptions.

PLAY DISC 1 Track 1 Melodies for Orchestra mvmt 1

A few weeks ago at the NZTrio’s concert at Q Loft, featuring their latest commission by Chris Cree Brown, I met a friend of Jack’s. Actually there were dozens of friends of Jack’s at the concert; Jack knew everyone. But I mention one in particular, a friend, student and advocate of Jack’s, Shen Nalin, who is currently a professor at a major Chinese university. He mentioned as a sort of off-hand comment that his university had just purchased 60 new Steinway Grands.

But perhaps more interestingly Shen Nalin is organising a Jack Body Conference in December with performers from all over Asia, including our own NZTrio and New Zealand String Quartet. Such is the significance of Jack in that part of the world that the entire conference is dedicated to his music.

John Psathas describes Jack’s influence on Asian composers in an interview with the man himself: “The extent of this cross-fertilization was brought home to me recently when you and I were having dinner with Tan Dun. Toasts were being raised to the various ‘fathers’ and grandfathers’ of Chinese and New Zealand composition. It was an amazing moment to witness this table of world-famous composers and performers from Asia raise their glasses and toast Jack Body as the uncle of Chinese music.”

Whenever one travels abroad as a New Zealand composer, the first and usually the only name other composers mention is Jack Body. In Asia particularly he has a kind of legendary status. Through his transcriptive works and tireless energy for organising outlandish musical projects, Jack brought all sorts of people together and encouraged composers to celebrate their musical heritage and voice in individual ways. Here’s Jack again: “I have found that some contemporary Asian composers have expressed enthusiasm for my transcriptions as suggesting different perspectives on how they might relate to their own traditions. The arranging and orchestrating of folksongs is a feature of musical nationalism in many countries, particularly China, and composers are often frustrated by the clichéed conventions imposed on them by audience expectations or by the bureaucracy, and are looking for alternative approaches.”

We’ve heard the word Transcription a few times now – so perhaps it’s worth explaining what exactly we mean by that term. Composer and lecturer Dugal McKinnon describes it in an article on Jack’s practice as “the basic tool of ethnomusicologists and involves the “translation” of a field-recording of a performance into a notated form.” Jack himself described it rather more fancifully, in typical fashion: “Transcribing is like putting on a mask, taking on a disguise, and has now become an important part of my compositional practice. Transcription to me is a kind of travelling, exploring other musics and sensibilities. Modernism, which has its roots in the Renaissance, places great value on individual originality, and this is what our training as composers instils in us. And yet what does ‘being original’ mean? When I listen to a lot of the music of today I hear distinct influences, even in the most ‘original’ and ‘avant-garde’ scores. Today’s music of fashion, be it Lachenmann, Scelsi, Adès, whoever, becomes tomorrow’s stylistic cliché.”

Jack’s music foregrounds the fact that aspects of it are borrowed, reframed. His award winning CD Pulse includes two discs, one of Jack’s transcription-based compositions or arrangements, and the second of the original recorded source material from which he transcribed them. Thus he makes completely transparent that one comes from the other, but that the one can never be the other.

Here is the second movement of Melodies for Orchestra, as it will appear tonight. The recording is a performance by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kenneth Young.

PLAY (Pulse) Melodies for Orchestra mvmt 2 DISC 1 Track 2

This was a transcription from a solo saluang, a type of flute from West Sumatra. The music is largely monophonic even in this version but I think the orchestral textures are used cleverly to capture some of the colouristic complexity of the original recording, which we will hear now. The flute solo is preceded by a short spoken introduction.

PLAY (Pulse) Singgalang DISC 2 Track 2

Despite the care and skill of the orchestration, there are some aspects of the music that can’t be captured. Rather than being a hindrance, Jack saw this as a positive aspect of his transcriptive method. In an interview with Michael Norris, he said “the transcription process, […] exposes the limitations and cultural bias of Western notation and performance practice, and the ethnocentricity of our modes of listening. I’ve found it very instructive working with students over many years, comparing their different notational interpretations of the same music.”

Considering Jack’s output as a creative artist it might be worth thinking about his transcriptions as a series of encounters: between different traditions of music, between different notational systems and performance practices, between a composer and an unfamiliar sound, between the instrument, the ear, the pen, the page, the instrument and the ear.

When you think about it, composing is one of the most indirect of creative acts: a composer hears a sound, a combination of sounds, in their mind’s ear or in their environment, and puts it on the page as best they can as a kind of blueprint. They’ve spent hundreds of hours figuring out how to best represent the sound they want to be produced in notation, and how best to achieve the sounds in the technique of performance. They give this blueprint to a performer, hoping for it to be realised in an expressive or interesting way. The performer translates the notation into sound, and the listener interprets the vibrations. It all seems so impersonal, disconnected, indirect. In a way the score on its own, unperformed, is the ultimate useless artefact. And yet, when the sound is produced, the sensuality and magic of it is unmistakeable. It’s a kind of alchemy.

Here’s Jack again, on that alchemical process of composition: “This idea that the creative act took one beyond the rational, beyond the known, the familiar, into a fantastic, sometimes dangerous territory, is something that has reappeared in several of my works over the years. The electronic piece Kryptophones (1973) was inspired by listening to a shortwave radio on a beach in Greece. Suddenly music and voices from all of Europe, Africa, the Middle East flooded in, the air was filled with a whirlwind of sound. I realised with a shock that I these sounds were around me constantly, but that, without the aid of a radio receiver, I could not hear them. But what if I could? Is this not so different from a schizophrenic condition, being able to hear voices that no-one else can hear? How could one communicate one's experience? One would be considered mentally ill, surely. And yet history is full of visionaries who heard secret voices - Joan of Arc, Jesus.... What is the difference between a prophet, a shaman, a fool, a madman?”

To me Jack’s great strength and influence was in his attunement to the short-wave radio of culture, his ability to be himself a radio receiver, a prophet even, for the musics of Asia and beyond.

Like Jack Body, Peter Sculthorpe was also drawn to Asia for inspiration, and like Jack Body, Peter Sculthorpe considered his home country a part of Asia. It’s to Australia we turn for Sculthorpe’s Earth Cry, which presents a rather intense kind of engagement with the static quality of the Australian landscape. It’s monolithic, uncompromising music – the music of old rocks and ancient traditions. Sculthorpe described his attraction to this sound world:
Early on I found I was using long-held drones in my music and later of course I realised that what I was doing was imitating the didjeridu. In mirroring the flatness of the landscape I was adding a kind of didjeridu sound to my music. For that reason when I started adding the didjeridu to my music I found I could add it to almost everything I’ve ever written.”

Earth Cry of course features the spectacular talents of didjeridu soloist William Barton. For want of a better word the work is a didjeridu concerto, although for me this doesn’t capture the sheer force of the encounter. Unlike a concerto where the soloist represents a virtuosic extreme of classical music, accompanied by a classical band, here Barton’s extreme virtuosity expresses a whole other individual tradition of music. The two forces are juxtaposed and then fused in a remarkably visceral concert experience.

I want to return for a moment to the quote I began my talk with.

“The lack of a common cause and the self-interest of many have drained us of much of our energy. A bogus national identity and its commercialization have obscured the true breadth of our culture.”

On hearing that quotation out of context though one might extrapolate it to any contemporary capitalist nation: our own, for example. With a work like Earth Cry Sculthorpe is attempting to draw our attention to our sense of place, our relationship to the land. The land that our society puts great store on dividing, selling, extracting and exploiting. Whether in fact a work of music, a collection of sound waves interpreted by the listener, can be interpreted politically, whether it can carry a message, is moot, but I would argue that perhaps that’s less important than being able to simply encounter the music, to feel the ancient vibrations of the didjeridu.

PLAY Sculthorpe Earth Cry Track 1

8 April 2016

Pre-concert Talk: "Degenerate"

This is a transcript of a talk given Thursday 7 April for the Auckland Philharmonia's "Degenerate" programme: Stravinsky's Scherzo a la Russe, Schoenberg's Violin Concerto, and Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony. The violin soloist was Michael Barenboim.


Tonight, three works by composers banned under the purview of the Reichsmusikkammer: Mendelssohn banned for his Jewishness, Stravinsky for his suspected Jewishness, and Schoenberg both for his Jewishness and degenerate modernism.

We tend to know him by his Jewish name, Felix Mendelssohn, but during his lifetime he was known as Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. Bartholdy was not a family name but one chosen by Felix’s uncle Jakob through a property he owned. Jakob had encouraged the whole family to convert from Judaism to Lutheranism, at a time of increasing anti-Semitism in Germany.  

So Felix was raised as a Protestant, and in 1829, the year he began the Reformation Symphony, his father had encouraged him to adopt the name Bartholdy and drop Mendelssohn altogether. "There can no more be a Christian Mendelssohn than there can be a Jewish Confucius". Mendelssohn stubbornly kept his hyphenated name, but the forthcoming symphony was written as a statement of his Lutheran faith.

There’s some irony here that Mendelssohn’s Fifth was banned under the Third Reich when this was a work that specifically celebrated the Protestant Church and Mendelssohn’s faith as a Lutheran, rather than as a Jew.

The Symphony was intended to be premiered midway through the following year, 1830, but it was put off —the celebrations were cancelled due to the political tension spreading across Europe. Then a performance was planned in Paris in the spring of 1832, but that too was cancelled after just one rehearsal because the musicians found the score unplayable. One player described it as “much too learned, too much fugato, too little melody.” Perhaps listen out at the interval for similar things being said about Schoenberg…

In the Symphony, Mendelssohn deliberately depicts the Reformation of the church: the old Catholic Church is represented by ornate, beautiful counterpoint in the lower strings at the very opening of the Symphony. That fugato the player complained about was actually Mendelssohn complaining about Catholicism. He contrasts this contrapuntal writing with simple wind chorales and later straightforward clarion calls in the brass. Thus we can listen to the work very simply, as a dialogue and conflict between two different types of music – an almost renaissance polyphony, and a stripped-back, almost puritan, homophony. In the last movement you’ll hear a celebration of Bach’s chorale “Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott” which translates to “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”.

Here is the opening of the symphony, with that Catholic counterpoint in the low strings. Performed by the New Philharmonia Orchestra with Riccardo Muti conducting.

                                    PLAY TRACK 1 (first 2 minutes)

Stravinsky’s music might have been banned by the Third Reich not because it was Avant-Garde, but because it was considered savage, primitive, and containing elements of Jazz, anathema to the racist establishment. But it was actually banned, labelled as degenerate, on the suspicion that Stravinsky was a Jew.

Far from being Jewish, Stravinsky was a well-known anti-Semite, and strongly protested his inclusion in the 1938 Düsseldorf exhibition of “Entartete Musik.” He lodged a formal complaint with the German Bureau of Foreign Affairs: “My adversaries even go so far as to make fallacious insinuations…implying that I am a Jew, [ignoring the fact] that my ancestors were members of the Polish nobility.” Richard Taruskin writes that his campaign to rehabilitate himself with the Nazis was successful: by 1939 Stravinsky had been informed that his standing in Germany was “entirely restored.”

Written towards the end of World War 2, Scherzo a la russe started life intended as music for a Hollywood pro-Soviet propaganda film, The North Star. When the project fell through and Aaron Copland ended up writing the film score, Stravinsky used the material to finally write a work for Paul Whiteman’s jazz orchestra, who had been waiting patiently for a Stravinsky piece since 1925. Performers will tell you this is typical composer behaviour.

APO Subscribers may remember last year’s concert of music Inspired by Jazz, and this is a work that could have easily fitted into that concert. Whiteman had previously commissioned Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and his only demand to Stravinsky was that the new work be “easy listening”.

As the Reformation Symphony was for Mendelssohn, this was opportunity for Stravinsky to nail his colours to the mast: his allegiance to jazz and to populism. Here’s the opening of Stravinsky’s Scherzo a la Russe, performed by the Berlin Philharmonic and conducted by Bernard Haitink.

                                                PLAY TRACK 2 (first minute or so)

Schoenberg was not only Jewish, like Mendelssohn and Mahler, but also the self-appointed leader of the modernist Avant-Garde. Any and all art of the Avant-Garde was perceived as a threat to the Nazi project, and Schoenberg’s music was singled out as particularly strident in its degeneracy.

Not only by the Nazis, though – Stravinsky himself was railing against Schoenberg and his fellow modernists through the 1920s. Here’s Stravinsky again in what can only be a dig at Schoenberg: “I don’t want to name names, but I could tell you about composers who spend all their time inventing a music of the future.” He goes on to say that such composers “only intend to provoke the bourgeoisie and to achieve what pleases the Bolsheviks.”

Similarly to Mendelssohn, Schoenberg had converted to Lutheran Christianity as a young man in 1898. For Schoenberg as it was for Mendelssohn’s family, this was a mechanism of self-defence in another period of anti-Semitism, little over half a century later.  But unlike Mendelssohn, Schoenberg returned to the Jewish faith, in 1933 no less, the year of Hitler’s rise to power, and the year Schoenberg was forced out of Germany to live in exile. He was on holiday in France when he received word that it would be unwise for him to return to his home country.

Shortly after leaving Germany he applied for a position of teacher of harmony and theory at the New South Wales State Conservatorium in Sydney. It may be surprising to learn that The Director of the Conservatory, one Edgar Bainton, rejected him on the grounds that he was Jewish and for having "modernist ideas and dangerous tendencies". 

Schoenberg himself was avowedly apolitical throughout his life: his art was not suppressed because he was a dissident – but in that climate, modernism itself was a kind of dissidence. And I think Schoenberg’s music, no matter how abstract you consider it, is fundamentally at odds with nationalism, militarism, propaganda, and the obedient heroism of the Hitler youth. Although Schoenberg had no interest in “pleasing the Bolsheviks” as Stravinsky would put it, he was firmly committed to his music of the future, no matter how hostile its reception. So it’s no surprise that Schoenberg was banned under Hitler and Goebbels. Modernism in all its forms had to be silenced.

But it is perhaps more of a surprise that the suspicion and suppression of Schoenberg’s music has lasted well beyond the fall of the Third Reich. It wasn’t until 2012 that the work you’ll hear tonight, the searingly brilliant violin concerto, was first performed (by Michael Barenboim) in Vienna. Vienna the birthplace of Arnold Schoenberg. Vienna, arguably the centre of Western Art Music and of musical innovation in the last three hundred years. Why does Schoenberg’s music continue to hold such dread for even educated musical ears? And is that dread justified, or simply an unpleasant remnant of cultural censorship?

Here is the opening of the Schoenberg Violin Concerto, performed in this recording by soloist Hilary Hahn with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

                                                PLAY TRACK 3 (first minute or so)

Although Schoenberg remains a Bogeyman to many music lovers, some works have been deemed acceptable by the institutional powers that be. Early tonal works like Gurrelieder and Verklarte Nacht have entered the canon, and even some of his early free atonal music like Pierrot Lunaire is widely performed and enjoyed.

But the Violin Concerto has really struggled to gain acceptance in the mainstream repertoire, unlike, say, the Sibelius Violin Concerto, or even the Berg Violin Concerto, which one could argue are similarly challenging to the listener. Are there good reasons for this? Or has the Reichsmusikkammer project succeeded in some way? Is the tag of degeneracy, of entartung, an indelible one?

When Schoenberg first composed the concerto, Rudolf Kolisch, Schoenberg’s brother in law and the leader of the impressive Kolisch quartet, was intended as the first soloist. Kolisch was enthusiastic but also incredibly busy and unable to devote the time necessary to learn the hugely difficult new piece. So Schoenberg asked Heifetz.

Heifetz initially agreed, but the story goes that when composer and performer met to go through the score, the following rather tense exchange occurred.

Heifetz: “Sir, hasn’t it occurred to you that one needs six fingers in order to play this?”

Schoenberg: “Well, I can sit and wait.”

The British violinist Andre Mangeot also presented an analysis of all the supposedly unplayable bits in the concerto in the Strad Magazine in 1939, the same year the concerto was published.

But it turned out the work was indeed playable. Louis Krasner took on the premiere in 1940 with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, to great acclaim from the composer:

“Dear Mr. Krasner:
It is a great pleasure to me to thank you for your great achievement: to play my violin concerto in such a perfect and convincing manner so shortly after it has been written and so shortly after it has been called unplayable. You must know yourself that you have achieved something which must be called “a historical fact”, whether my music will survive or not. Because these difficulties will survive in any case and you will be called their first conqueror.”

Schoenberg is of course drawing rather a long bow when he says “shortly after it has been written”. But although extremely difficult, it’s a difficulty that is violinistic. Hans Keller writes that Schoenberg’s attitude is one of intimate sympathy with the solo part. Keller on Schoenberg: “The music is never written against the instrument, even if it may sometimes seem to go beyond its present capacities.”

Rather it seems to me that Heifetz didn’t mean unplayable literally. He could have overcome the technical difficulties if he had wanted to devote himself to it. But the work didn’t suit him. It didn’t acquiesce to the Romantic soloist as a vessel for his ego and interpretation, as so many of the great concertos do. Schoenberg’s modernist concerto was seen to be fundamentally at odds with Heifetz’s idea of what music was.

I say seen to be, because I don’t think Heifetz was quite right.

When we encounter Schoenberg, do we listen to him with the idea that he is an outlier, a composer who cut himself off from the traditions of western music?
I would argue that it’s a mistake to listen with that assumption. The musical language of Schoenberg isn’t new – Schoenberg was a reluctant revolutionary who venerated Mahler and for a time Strauss as well. The clearest way to listen to Schoenberg is to listen to it like Brahms. It’s layered, linear, and extremely expressive and full of emotion. The harmonic language is different of course, but how the sounds move through time I would describe as Brahms in po-faced drag.

Or in listening you might latch onto the martial qualities, most obvious in the third movement. There’s a sort of awkward squareness and overt military character that seems to me pretty close to parody. Like Shostakovich it smacks you across the face and doesn’t let you get back up.

Here’s the opening of that finale, again with Hilary Hahn and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra

                                                PLAY TRACK 4 (first minute or so)

It requires a degree of commitment to listen to this music, and even more so to perform it.

When Krasner first performed the work with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, the orchestral management refused to publicise the concerto until the week before the concert, and – wait for it – withheld Krasner’s soloist fee. Stokowski was so committed to the work that he paid Krasner out of his own pocket. Perhaps the management might have felt vindicated when the end of the first movement provoked hisses. But Stokowski, after the first movement, and the hisses, before continuing, stepped to the front of the stage and addressed the audience:

“Shall we forever make the same foolish, narrow-minded, unsportsmanlike blunders, upon only hearing a thing once? Certainly Schoenberg is one of the greatest musicians alive today. His music is extremely difficult to understand.  We don’t ask you to like it or dislike it, but to give it a fair chance. That’s American. But to condemn it after one hearing—that simply cannot be done ... Three-fourths of you are open-minded. As for the others, they can’t help it—and perhaps they are right. We won’t know for about 24 years, so we will wait.”

In an interview earlier this week on Radio New Zealand Concert’s Upbeat programme, Michael Barenboim, tonight’s soloist, described Schoenberg’s music as a unique combination of rationality and emotion. It’s as much music of intuition, expression and tension as it is of rational and precise construction.

It’s true that if you can recognise the sequence of pitches and the intervals you can perceive more quickly what’s going on. In this piece the minor second, the interval between the first two notes of the piece, is important, and so is the fifth, and the tritone.

But that’s no difference to recognising the various themes in a sonata form movement of a Brahms symphony, or the Tristan chord in Wagner. It’s not necessary to listen in an analytical way to make your way through the piece or to enjoy it.

Schoenberg himself wrote to Kolisch when Kolisch was preparing Schoenberg’s Fourth Quartet by working out the various transformations of the twelve note rows. 

Schoenberg to Kolisch: “I can’t utter too many warnings against overrating these analyses, since after all they only lead to what I have always been dead against: seeing how it is done; whereas I have always helped people to see: what it is! […] I can’t say it often enough: my works are twelve-note compositions, not twelve-note compositions.”

Schoenberg is a complex figure in the history of music. Michael Barenboim describes him as perhaps the most important composer of the twentieth century, but also a composer even today with a scary reputation.

Schoenberg was a reluctant revolutionary – he would say that he was never a revolutionary at all (Strauss!)– but also I think a proud masochist. He was committed to writing music that he knew might not ever be accepted in his lifetime.

His music has been used at times as a battleground between anti-intellectualism on the one hand, that music should pander to the lowest common denominator of the masses, and snobbery on the other, that music only be accessible to the highly educated.

But we can also listen to it without an agenda, with open ears, and a commitment to engaging it, regardless of our aesthetic preferences.

I leave the last words to Schoenberg the brilliant, egotistical masochist.

 “Is it so much to be taken for granted if in the face of the whole world’s resistance a man does not give up, but continues to write down what he produces? […] Beethoven, when Grillparzer called the Ninth a jumble, or Wagner, when the Bayreuth scheme seemed about to fail, or Mahler, when everyone found him trivial – how could they go on writing?

I know only one answer: they had said things to say that had to be said. Once, in the army, I was asked if I was really the composer A.S. “Somebody had to be” I said, “ and nobody else wanted to, so I took it on, myself.”

Perhaps I too had to say things – unpopular things, it seems – that had to be said.”