Sunday, December 17, 2006

Rosenberg's modern Top 35

Donald Rosenberg, the classical music critic and correspondent for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, gets the cover of the arts section Sunday with a primer on classical music, an article about the "beloved staples" which form the foundation of classical music. The headline graphic lists the usual suspects -- Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach.

The big shock is when you turn the page and see a huge graphic accompanying the article listing Rosenberg's picks for a representative sampling of the repertoire. Rosenberg lists just three works from the Baroque period and only four from the Classical period. The Romantic period lists 19 works, but for the 20th Century, Rosenberg lists 35 separate composers and works, including Ligeti, Lutoslawski, and Messiaen. It's a really impressive effort on Rosenberg's part to educate readers about modern music. Subversive, almost.

Of course, the fun part about such lists is being able to argue with them. I would have dropped Charles Ives from the starting lineup and inserted Arvo Part, with perhaps "Tabula Rasa" as the representative work. But Rosenberg's list is really well done. The list of recordings is heavy on Cleveland Orchestra efforts, but it's kind of hard to quarrel with his choices, such as Pierre Boulez conducting Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring."

I checked out Margaret Brouwer's "Light" CD from the library recently -- she is possibly Cleveland's most significant composer -- and noticed that Rosenberg penned the liner notes for the album.


Seth Gordon said...

Intertesting... though periods don't coincide with nice 100-year boundaries, so classifying the entire 20th century as one "period" I always found a bit daft - as if Elgar, Ives, and Berg were all part of the same movement. Even if one were just thinking in terms of historical periods rather than full-fledged movements, the last century might be better broken into pre- and post-war.

All that aside, his 20th Century choices are hardly "modern" by any stretch. He points out that music from "recent decades" aren't part of the standard rep and thus aren't included - but I kind of doubt that. Granted, maybe it's hard to find one given piece by John Adams that's become "standard rep" - but isn't he the most performed living composer? I could be wrong about that, but I thought I heard it somewhere... regardless, I would guess there have been more performances of Adams' works in general in the last few years than, say, Faure. And really, how often does one see Michael Tippet performed? He's far from a staple. Nothing against him, mind you.

I'd have included Part as well - but certainly not at Ives' expense. Like him or not, Ives is one of the most influential composers of the century. I'd throw in Glass, Adams, and probably Babbitt or Boulez even though I don't much care for either of them, but that "scene" ought to be represented. And Gorecki probably deserves a spot, just for having had such huge crossover success.

The choices he makes for the 20th Century - with the exception of the three you mentioned (Ligeti, Lutoslawski, and Messian) - are by and large pretty conservative ones. Even the Ligeti is kind of questionable since it's the piece from 2001, and thus (while great) on that many people are already familiar with. I couldn't call it subversive, or even out of the ordinary. I mean, it's not especially shocking to see Ives, Copland, Gershwin, Schoenberg, etc. on such a list. The only thing particularly shocking is that he went with Barber's Knoxville instead of the ubiquitous Adagio.

Jeffrey Quick said...

It's about orchestral music, and really, the 20th century was the first in which composers really mastered the orchestra as an instrument. Seth beat me to the comment about standardness/tameness (because I didn't get around to dicking with getting a Google ID until now.) but I'll second it. And everybody on the list is DEAD!

Rusty Banks said...

I, too, am subversively promoting modern music by stealth. My (100+ seat music) appreciation class will focus mostly on music after 1920. Read more about it here:

Viva Revolution!
Rusty Banks

Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

I agree with Seth and Jeffrey that that Rosenberg's choices for the 20th Century are conservative, but Rosenberg did specify that he was concentrating on works which have entered the repertoire (yes, Rosenberg probably should have included John Adams). That said, I agree with the approach of exposing a general audience to relatively conservative material. The interested ones will move on to the "harder stuff."

Drew80 said...

Did not Berlioz, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvorak and Rimsky-Korsakov master the orchestra as an instrument?