A further exchange: The young composer and the older critic

Composing vs. writing; Moalem vs. Coren (contd.)

4 minute read
Stravinsky: 'Awesome example.'
Stravinsky: 'Awesome example.'
Fifth in a series of exchanges about composing music between Dan Coren and Beeri Moalem. This colloquy replies to Dan Coren's previous column, "Composing music vs. writing about it."

BEERI MOALEM responds to Dan Coren:

You say to me: "If I could play the piano as well as you play your instrument, if I had the vision and talent to compose as you do, and if I had the opportunity to have my music performed and recorded, I don't know if I would even bother writing about music."

I think a good composer and musician should be able to write about his craft— as in any field.

Schumann, Wagner, Stravinsky are awesome examples, though they are somewhat notorious for it. I love reading their writings as well as listening to their music.

We have all these clichés about the ineffability of the power of music, the superfluousness of words, music being the universal language, etc. But on the other hand, being able to put thoughts into words—cumbersome as they may be— is an important step in sharing ideas. Isn't that the point of Broad Street Review?

Back to your nits:

— You seriously don't know what I mean by "white jazz"? My jazz harmony professor used this term all the time. It's the kind that can be notated, and usually has fuller harmonies.

— Re Brahms: Yes, Schubert and Beethoven broke the rules also. As did Haydn and Mozart. So what do you use as a model for the rules if the ideal is to break them?

This brings me back to the original claim that Brahms is usually not used as a model in education about form because he is too complicated (which is a shame!). Why don't you use Brahms in your sonata-form guide on this website?

DAN COREN responds to Beeri Moalem:

— Re: "You seriously don't know what I mean by "'white jazz'?"

No, really, I didn't know the term. My ignorance, apparently. Live and learn. My apologies for my misinterpretation of your intent. By the way, a Google search for "white jazz" yields the title of a crime fiction novel by James Ellroy, but nothing of a musical nature.

— Re: "Why don't you use Brahms in your sonata-form guide on this website?"

Good question. When I started the series, I planned to bring Brahms in later because he's so complicated. But as you may have noticed, the series isn't working out quite as I'd planned. In fact, it's on the road to becoming something of a chaotic mess.

I started with the hopeful idea that there's a fairly large audience of music lovers who'd like to know more about music theory but have been intimidated by jargon, and that I could offer a cure without resorting to music notation or obscure terminology. I've since come to suspect that my imagined target audience may not exist, and that those most interested in what I have to say learned music theory a long time ago. I've had a hard time expressing sophisticated musical concepts without resorting to exactly the sort of language and terminology I've been trying to find a cure for.

Also, BSR's ground rules— a maximum of about 1000 words— make it very hard to express much in a single article. I think I'd probably do much better in a classroom situation, or perhaps with my own blog.

Nevertheless, I will carry on. I've been wrestling with that return to D-minor/major in the first movement of Beethoven's Ninth for what seems forever now. And, yes, I hope very much to get to Brahms eventually. His Academic Festival Overture, one of my very favorite pieces, is the most wonderfully complicated sonata-form movement I know.

— Re: "Being able to put thoughts into words— cumbersome as they may be— is an important step in sharing ideas. Isn't that the point of this website?"


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