At work we’re about to move premises, which has inspired a flurry of decluttering. (Although not perhaps quite as much a flurry as the organisers of the move would like.) This kind of behaviour is infectious, and has prompted some decluttering at home as well. The other motivation was the arrival of Richard Taruskin’s five-volume History of Western Music for Oxford, which made me realise that I needed to clear some shelves or buy some shelves.
I’ve not been as successful as I’d like, mainly because it’s too easy to be distracted by oddities unearthed. Like this number from 1968:
They don’t publish Teach Yourself books like they used to…
“It helps not at all towards a true understanding of his music to be told that Mr. X is a serialist with neo-Romantic leanings, that he was born in Argentina, that he lives in Clapham Junction.”
“It is a characteristic of our age to take to pieces, to analyse. Yet what is remarkable is not that so much contemporary music is not understood, but that the listener should feel the necessity to understand it. No art exists primarily to be understood; it exists to be admired: to be a source of beauty, not of knowledge.”
And a quotation from Milton Babbitt’s 1964 description of Stravinsky’s Movements:
‘This compositional variety is mediated by a highly redundant set structure a second-order all-combinatorial set, each set form is hexachordally equivalent to or totally disjunct from fifteen other set forms, so that one-third of all the available set forms belong to a collection of sets which are hexachordally aggregrate forming, that is, hexachordally identical.’
You’ll be pleased to know that Mr Routh gives Mr Babbitt the benefit of the doubt. (And in fairness the source is an academic journal.) All the same, he’s right to point out how unhelpful this sort of thing is to anyone seeking to understand Stravinsky’s purpose.
And the composers? That’s always telling. Routh begins with Busoni and Debussy, followed by: Stravinsky, Messiaen, the Second Viennese School, electronic music and later serialism, Vaughan Williams and Tippett as well as “the English scene”, Ives, Copland and Varèse (and “the American scene”). The really interesting bits remain the appendices, setting out programming patterns for the BBC and selected British orchestras in the mid-1960s.