Author Topic: Rochberg's Rowhouse  (Read 6425 times)

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jlaurson

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Rochberg's Rowhouse
« on: June 19, 2009, 12:26:00 AM »
I took the release of Rochberg's autobiography & WETA's "American Music Month" as motivation, if not stipulation, to read up on Rochberg, listen to Rochberg, and write about Rochberg.

Result is here: American Music Month: George Rochberg

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2009, 02:32:08 AM »
I enjoy the Rochberg I have (3 Naxos' worth). However, I have a problem with this composer - he sounds more like a good imitator of other composers than a distinctive voice of his own. Thus, the 5th Symphony sounds a lot like Mahler, Shostakovich or early Schoenberg; the 2nd Symphony sounds like mid-century symphonists a la Benjamin Frankel; Black Sounds sounds like Varese; Transcendental Variations sounds like Brahms or other late Romantics; Imago Mundi sounds like any number of exotic "non-Western" color pieces. Where's Rochberg himself in all of this?
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

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jlaurson

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2009, 02:41:06 AM »
I enjoy the Rochberg I have (3 Naxos' worth). However, I have a problem with this composer - he sounds more like a good imitator of other composers than a distinctive voice of his own. Thus, the 5th Symphony sounds a lot like Mahler, Shostakovich or early Schoenberg; the 2nd Symphony sounds like mid-century symphonists a la Benjamin Frankel; Black Sounds sounds like Varese; Transcendental Variations sounds like Brahms or other late Romantics; Imago Mundi sounds like any number of exotic "non-Western" color pieces. Where's Rochberg himself in all of this?

Rochberg is the Kaleidoscope. The problem with the emphasis on overt originality is that you have to arbitrarily reject so much in terms of harmony, structure, rhythm only so as not to appear derivative, that truly original (as in: how the composers' soul or conscience dictates) composing becomes almost impossible.

I don't necessarily disagree with your assessment (except for Symphony No.2, which came before any symphonic work Frankel wrote... so if anything, it's Frankel who sounds like Rochberg here), but I'm not sure if I am lead to the same conclusions.

Offline edward

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2009, 05:02:22 AM »
I'd generally agree with Spitvalve's comments: to me the comparison between Rochberg and Schnittke is somewhat telling--Schnittke generated a very distinctive style of his own from the musics of the past; Rochberg seemed more willing to just to echo them.

Having said that, I do think the 2nd symphony is an extremely fine work (I'm rather attached to the uncut violin concerto too). I also do have a suspicion that alternative performances might bring out more than the Naxos recordings have so far: for me the NYPO/Torkanowsky 2nd symphony on CRI blows the Naxos version away in terms of expressive immediacy.
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
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jlaurson

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2009, 05:05:45 AM »
Having said that, I do think the 2nd symphony is an extremely fine work (I'm rather attached to the uncut violin concerto too). I also do have a suspicion that alternative performances might bring out more than the Naxos recordings have so far: for me the NYPO/Torkanowsky 2nd symphony on CRI blows the Naxos version away in terms of expressive immediacy.

That's funny... you should read what Rochberg has to say about Torkanowsky. I wish there was a recording of the premiere of that work with Szell & the Cleveland O.

Somehow I'd be reluctant to 'blame' Rochberg for having integrated many styles more homogeneously than Schnittke. But that's not to contradict the fact that Schnittke does a lot more for me, as a composer. Except that those string quartets of Rochberg _are_ awfully good and more enjoyable listening than Schnittke's, which I, too, admire.

snyprrr

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2009, 09:15:26 AM »
I think I had the Concord Quartets on Lp many moons ago, but I've been hesitant to re-investigate this rep. on account of I'm thinking it's going to sound "quaint". Unless I can get em for under $5, haha!

I know No.3 is the "biggy", but with these SQs, maybe to hear ABOUT them is better than to hear them???

Any 25 words on the SQs?

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2009, 01:26:19 PM »
Interesting article, Jens :)

I have just re-read the lengthy conversation between Rochberg and Robert R.Reilly which was published in 'Tempo' magazine in January 2002(Issue No.219). in the conversation Rochberg reflected on the reasons for his rediscovery of tonality and his reasons for believing that serialism was bankrupt. The vilification of Rochberg for this 'conversion' was deplorable. As he says in the interview the reaction in 1972 to a performance of 'Ricordanza' in Darmstadt(of all places...red rag to a bull, I know!) was explosive. "How dare that man do something like this. This is a traitorous act. It is worse than slumming. It is infamous. It is a disgrace." Regarding the reaction to the Violin Concerto Rochberg says "I was called everything from forger, to counterfeiter, to panderer, to ventroloquist."

Very sad really! I very much admire the later Rochberg I have heard(the 5th Symphony and the Violin Concerto in particular). But I can appreciate the first two symphonies as well. And I actually happen to think that Rochberg may well be a better composer than that other famous(or infamous) convert Penderecki!

jlaurson

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2009, 03:11:23 PM »
Interesting article, Jens :)

I have just re-read the lengthy conversation between Rochberg and Robert R.Reilly which was published in 'Tempo' magazine in January 2002(Issue No.219). in the conversation Rochberg reflected on the reasons for his rediscovery of tonality and his reasons for believing that serialism was bankrupt. The vilification of Rochberg for this 'conversion' was deplorable. As he says in the interview the reaction in 1972 to a performance of 'Ricordanza' in Darmstadt(of all places...red rag to a bull, I know!) was explosive. "How dare that man do something like this. This is a traitorous act. It is worse than slumming. It is infamous. It is a disgrace." Regarding the reaction to the Violin Concerto Rochberg says "I was called everything from forger, to counterfeiter, to panderer, to ventroloquist."

Very sad really! I very much admire the later Rochberg I have heard(the 5th Symphony and the Violin Concerto in particular). But I can appreciate the first two symphonies as well. And I actually happen to think that Rochberg may well be a better composer than that other famous(or infamous) convert Penderecki!

I think I agree with you re: Rochberg / Penderecki. And I'm glad to read that you read RRR's interview with Rochberg. Everything Reilly wrote on Rochberg (and it's lots!) is worthy reading. My opening quote comes from one of Reilly's pieces on Rochberg. Reilly was among the first to publish on Rochberg after he had fallen below the radar and if I know anything about Rochberg from a source other than the auto biography, it all comes from Reilly.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2009, 11:27:48 PM »
And I actually happen to think that Rochberg may well be a better composer than that other famous(or infamous) convert Penderecki!

I find it hard to compare them as their styles are very different. Penderecki is an experimentalist and exhibitionist with a strong vulgar streak. Rochberg seems much more traditional and formal in his way of thinking.

I'll take this thread as a reminder to listen to the Violin Cto., which I've only heard once.
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

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Dana

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2009, 08:18:26 PM »
Is there a transcript of that interview on-line somewhere?

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2009, 04:24:09 AM »
I'll take this thread as a reminder to listen to the Violin Cto., which I've only heard once.

I took my own advice, and listened to the VC again. It is certainly am impressive piece and I would jump at the chance to hear it live. On the other hand, I can understand why Stern asked for cuts. It is quite heavy to get thru at a single setting, and I can only imagine what sort of strain it would put on the soloist at 50+ minutes. Structurally too it doesn't seem to have any points of repose; although it's divided into 5 movements, they contain many internal tempo changes, so that the whole thing feels like a continuous flow (almost like a Pettersson symphony).
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2009, 12:51:49 PM »
Is there a transcript of that interview on-line somewhere?

Unfortunately, I don't think so.

jlaurson

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #12 on: June 21, 2009, 01:47:48 PM »
Is there a transcript of that interview on-line somewhere?

Can't find the interview (but will have it with you, later this week, if it still exists).

Here, meanwhile, are Robert Reilly's pieces on Rochberg for InsideCatholic.

New American Classics
http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5716&Itemid=48

What You Need to Know About Modern American Music
http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2400&Itemid=48

Spring Floods (minimal mention)
http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3765&Itemid=48


Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #13 on: June 21, 2009, 10:16:51 PM »
Having read the second of the linked Reilly articles, I am left wondering about a couple of things.

1. Is it possible to evaluate Rochberg without engaging in the ritual dumping on atonality that is depressingly characteristic of this type of article? It makes me wonder if Reilly (and other critics of his ilk) actually likes Rochberg's music, or if he just likes the idea of Rochberg.

2. If we take his point that Rochberg represents a return to everything good and righteous in classical music, then here's a question I'd like to see him answer: why, then, are there not lots of Rochberg performances by our orchestras every year? Why are there not loads of Rochberg recordings out there, rather than a handful of discs on a couple of labels that like to record obscure music?

The Naxos liner notes for the 5th Symphony state that the symphony had been performed once - by the Chicago Symphony in 1986 - and then never again until the recording was made some 15 years later. If the symphony is a neo-tonal masterpiece that resonates with audiences (unlike the music of evil noisemakers like Schoenberg and Varese), why is it never performed? The same question can be asked for any number of Rochberg pieces. Meanwhile, large numbers of fans showed up for an all-Elliott Carter festival last year. Is Reilly aware of that?

Please note, I'm not trying to crucify Rochberg, whose music I enjoy for what it is. But I think some critics are misusing him for their own musico-ideological purposes.
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

jlaurson

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #14 on: June 21, 2009, 11:44:51 PM »
Having read the second of the linked Reilly articles, I am left wondering about a couple of things.

1. Is it possible to evaluate Rochberg without engaging in the ritual dumping on atonality that is depressingly characteristic of this type of article? It makes me wonder if Reilly (and other critics of his ilk) actually likes Rochberg's music, or if he just likes the idea of Rochberg.

2. If we take his point that Rochberg represents a return to everything good and righteous in classical music, then here's a question I'd like to see him answer: why, then, are there not lots of Rochberg performances by our orchestras every year? Why are there not loads of Rochberg recordings out there, rather than a handful of discs on a couple of labels that like to record obscure music?

The Naxos liner notes for the 5th Symphony state that the symphony had been performed once - by the Chicago Symphony in 1986 - and then never again until the recording was made some 15 years later. If the symphony is a neo-tonal masterpiece that resonates with audiences (unlike the music of evil noisemakers like Schoenberg and Varese), why is it never performed? The same question can be asked for any number of Rochberg pieces. Meanwhile, large numbers of fans showed up for an all-Elliott Carter festival last year. Is Reilly aware of that?

Please note, I'm not trying to crucify Rochberg, whose music I enjoy for what it is. But I think some critics are misusing him for their own musico-ideological purposes.

Yes, it is very possible to appreciate Rochberg without the ritual dumping on serialism. I appreciate Rochberg, for example.

You have to consider the audience for which Reilly is writing to be fair to him. Or read more of his writings. He's by no means as clear cut a serialism-dumper as a quote like "Ugliness is the aesthetic analogue to evil" might have you think.

Your first question is in part answered by the second: One of the reasons for the strong ideological rejection of 12-tone music & the avant-garde is the active and passive suppression of music like that of Rochberg. Like that of Diamond. For the forgetting of masters like Frank Martin. Braunfels. Etc. etc. Funded, not by listeners but grants (not the least through the CIA, interestingly... fascinating chapter in "The Rest is Noise", if you are interested), it managed to squeeze out music like Rochberg's... an effect that lasts to this day. (Although things are getting much better; especially for contemporary composers. We get Saariaho's music, Salonen's music, Lasser's music and no one starts an ideological hate-fest anymore.)
The misuse you speak of had taken place a long time ago, on the other side of the tonal/atonal divide.  I'm not advocating a reversal of that; an eye for an eye (a quaver for a quaver?). Nor do I think that that's what is actually going on. But people like Rochberg will inevitably focus part of that either/or debate, because of his unique musical bio.

Reilly--and I think I can tell--does like Rochberg's music, not just the idea of it. (But I know what you mean.)

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #15 on: June 22, 2009, 12:35:15 AM »
One of the reasons for the strong ideological rejection of 12-tone music & the avant-garde is the active and passive suppression of music like that of Rochberg. Like that of Diamond. For the forgetting of masters like Frank Martin. Braunfels. Etc. etc.

Well that raises other questions. Do you actually believe that the music of Rochberg and similar composers is being suppressed? If so, who is suppressing it? The recording companies (who need to sell discs in order to survive, and can't run their business on ideology)? The orchestras (who need to attract audiences)? The critics? (I read as many critics who promote this music as bash it.)

Is there any evidence that audiences are thirsting to hear the sort of neo-tonal music composed by Rochberg et al.? I can furnish plenty of examples testifying to the fact that some pretty thorny modern composers (Carter, Ligeti, Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Schnittke) have enthusiastic followings among listeners. Can the same be said of the neo-tonalists and neo-romantics?

To let you know where I stand, I enjoy some of this neo-romantic music, but I consider it to be rather marginal in relation to the composers named above. Don't get me wrong, I'd go a performance of a Rochberg symphony if I could. But there doesn't seem to be a crying demand for such performances.

(By the way, I have Ross' book, so I know what you're talking about regarding post-WW2 grants. But that happened a long time ago.)
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

Harry

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #16 on: June 22, 2009, 12:44:22 AM »
I have the three Naxos recordings too, and still enjoy them very much. Such a distinctive voice rarely to be heard.

jlaurson

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #17 on: June 22, 2009, 01:32:51 AM »
Is there any evidence that audiences are thirsting to hear the sort of neo-tonal music composed by Rochberg et al.? I can furnish plenty of examples testifying to the fact that some pretty thorny modern composers (Carter, Ligeti, Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Schnittke) have enthusiastic followings among listeners. Can the same be said of the neo-tonalists and neo-romantics?

To let you know where I stand, I enjoy some of this neo-romantic music, but I consider it to be rather marginal in relation to the composers named above. Don't get me wrong, I'd go a performance of a Rochberg symphony if I could. But there doesn't seem to be a crying demand for such performances.

This is not a topic that can really be satisfactory treated in a few GMG forum posts, but I'll try to answer at least aspects of the fine questions you raise:

"Crying demand". There isn't crying demand for these neo romantic composers, because most of their natural target audience have no idea who they are.
With increased novelty and radicalism, it is not surprising that the following of the avant-garde is more active and enthusiastic than those who wish to be catered beauty.
I would stipulate that the potential audience for Rochberg or Diamond is easily tenfold that of all the Carter, Hoiby, Ferneyhough, Boulez, and Babbitt enthusiasts together, but at least the latter WILL go to a concert when there is one; the former have not had brought the likes of Diamond to their attention and are not, by temperament, inclined to seek them out. They've already got their Beethoven and Ravel, after all. And yet, when one makes a big enough splash and works his way into their attention span, he'll succeed. Rachmaninov, for example. (Talk about [gorgeous] goo-goo eyed romantic slop...)  Or Gorecki, whose one hit was all he needed to be catapulted to the fore.

Who "suppressed", if anyone? Yes, I do believe that such music was suppressed in certain ways. For one, don't underestimate the power of self-censorship. And don't underestimate the influence of a few key people in the industry. Taste-czars like the big, important critics that existed then. Keepers of the flame at the BBC (lots of stories, there!). The individuals that make the programs for orchestras. Twenty years ago it was part of the good tone to pretend getting a rash at the very mention of a C major chord. Nowadays no self respecting critic cringes at the idea of modern tonality. And a few of them won't even become severe when faced with some of the schlockiest music out there. (Ramirez, Rutter, and the like.)

Silence and ignorance (in the non-judgmental sense: unawareness) are the worst enemies of most worthy tonal composers of the late 20th century. The fact that new generations have much fewer problems getting played seems to indicate that once fallen into obscurity, it's much more difficult to regain traction than to be able to do it afresh in what is a rather different climate.

Finally, I'd not include four out of those five (or at least three) ("Carter, Ligeti, Messiaen, Lutoslawski, Schnittke") among modern thorny composers. Messiaen is rather sui generis. Ligeti has come a long way from his Darmstadt days, Lutoslawski... I might grant you; and even Carter is the most smiling and civil at the gentle lower edge of the avant-garde. Schnittke is like Rochberg, as someone here has pointed out. Except with the ideas and influences served a la "nouvelle cuisine", not in a blender like with Rochy.  ;)



Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #18 on: June 23, 2009, 12:15:23 PM »
Fascinating discussion!

I think that Jens has made most of the necessary points in his posts and I agree with virtually everything that he has said.

I would only add that the situation in the USA appears to an outsider to be different from that at least in the UK. There do not seem to be the plethora of small or smallish record companies which survive by concentrating their catalogues on largely tonal music. As a consequence, in recent years composers like Rochberg and other conservative or 'neo-romantic' composers have been recorded by Naxos but by few if any other companies. Their British counterparts, on the other hand, have enjoyed the advocacy of Naxos but also of companies based in the UK like Chandos, Hyperion or Dutton. As a result there has been a positive flood of recordings of this type of music in the last 20 years.

In Germany CPO and in Sweden BIS(to name but two other examples) have also issued a very large number of cds of music written by tonal composers.

Now how many copies of their cds these companies sell I wouldn't know but clearly enough to balance the books. I do know that Dutton have been amazed at the commercial success of their Arnell cds which has made it possible for the company to plan more recordings of British music by previously forgotten composers.

People do buy these cds and they do love the music but..........it seldom if ever reaches the concert hall or at least the major concert halls and the programme schedules of the major orchestras. Again, the situation in the UK may be better because BBC provincial orchestras will play this music in the studio for radio broadcast but-again-it is highly unlikely that much if any will be played at, for example, the Proms. Why? Well the answer lies with the people Jens calls the "taste-czars", who include the schedule organizers. I need to be careful in what I say to avoid giving away too many secrets ;D but the former Managing Director of a British orchestra made it quite clear to me that he would not programme music which he personally disliked unless compelled to do so- and that seldom happens.

The other ingredient is that there are certainly conductors who will conduct the sort of music I am talking about(although fewer now with the deaths of Vernon Handley and Richard Hickox) but many of them are not household names and unlikely to be often asked to conduct the London Symphony or the Philharmonia. Certainly in the USA both Marin Alsop and Gerard Schwarz have shown a commitment to American composers but how many other conductors of major orchestras?

Still...not to despair! At least we are getting to hear this music at last. A few years back there was no Rochberg at all on cd :)

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: Rochberg's Rowhouse
« Reply #19 on: June 23, 2009, 08:59:50 PM »
I would only add that the situation in the USA appears to an outsider to be different from that at least in the UK. There do not seem to be the plethora of small or smallish record companies which survive by concentrating their catalogues on largely tonal music.

Yeah, it's pathetic. In a just world, American composers would be recorded by their natural champions - American orchestras and companies. There would be a Rochberg (or whoever) symphonic cycle by the Chicago or Philadelphia orchestra, readily available on a US-based label. But there isn't, and orchestras from such unlikely locations as Saarbr├╝cken and Kiev have to take up the slack, recorded by a German or Swedish or Finnish company. All credit to them, but I wish it were otherwise.
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

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