Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nixon in China

I have written a few times regarding the need for new music, though perhaps not in this blog. I did write concerning the fact that we have no new violin concertos, as of 1948, which have gained a permanent place in the repertory.  Oscar Wilde once said: "If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all." If you think about it, this applies to ALL art. That's why dissonant, incoherent contemporary music has failed so dramatically and resoundingly. Nobody is interested in listening to it a second time. Mascagni's opera, Cavalleria Rusticana, has been performed over 44,000 times since it was composed in the late 1800s - about 350 times per year. By comparison, the modern opera, Nixon in China (by John Adams), has perhaps been produced 10 times and performed 50 times since it premiered in 1987 in Houston, an average of 2 times per year. I believe it may as well be dead. This opera, in fact, is one of the better known works of the Twentieth Century. After Elgar premiered his First Symphony in 1908, it was performed no fewer than one hundred times in its first year. There are over twenty recordings of it and it is still being regularly programmed by conductors around the world. Nowadays, composers write a piece, it is performed a half dozen times and then put away for good. Audiences really do know what they want and what they like. Composers should have been taught to trust and respect the audience's judgment long ago. Instead, modern composers have wanted to teach classical music audiences what is good for them to listen to; the audiences have not been fooled. Music is to the point where it sounds like it was written by engineers and mathematicians. We are back to square one. Perhaps what I hear about the modern concert hall being nothing more than a museum is true. We need new music more than ever - but not the kind we have been getting for the last sixty years.


  1. I think you oversimplify the position. In the 18th century the demand was for new music. Composers made their living by writing new music not by revivals of previously written works. In the early 19th century this continued. Mendelssohn was considered odd in his public revival of Bach although musicians had always continued to study him. The revival of the past began in ernest and has reached unprecedented levels now. Music is readily available from all epochs from all cultures. In this terribly constricted space new composers have to compete. Economic factors very largely dictate what is played and unfortunately music has become even more a consumer item. Incomprehension is the fate of most serious music. Just think of the reception of Beethoven's late quartets. I have heard the Ligeti concerto many times so I think that it at least shows that modern violin concertos can hold their place in the standard repertoire.

    Audiences on the whole do seem to know what they want and this is what they get. Programming in London at least can be so dull. It seems what the audience wants is repetition. How far they are from the audiences of the 18 th century who craved the new.

    I do find your blog interesting but disagree strongly with your views on modern music.