Ghosts: A Folly Beach Mystery

This last section will also offer a hermeneutical reading of Wittgenstein's notion of Excursus on Wittgenstein's Vision of Language. The New Wittgenstein (eds.

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Like Joyce, modern classical music, with its clashing harmonies and deliberately inscrutable structure, has become a locus for dissent between intellectual elites and the hoi polloi. Except for Alex Ross, that is. His book manages not just to reach across the vast chasm between classical and popular music, but also to make the distance seem shorter, the depth of the chasm shallower, and the passage across easier. Ross manages the spectacular feat of making this crazy music seem logical by taking a modular approach. As living composers' history was being consumed by evil, their only moral choice was to create a new musical language.

The relics of Romantic convention had to be obliterated. With works like "Polyphonie X," he certainly walked the talk, influencing a host of avant-gardists on both sides of the Atlantic, notably Cage, who said: "I am going toward violence rather than tenderness, hell rather than heaven, ugly rather than beautiful, impure rather than pure -- because by doing these things they become transformed, and we become transformed. Yet during the war, Ross shows, in one dismaying incident after another, that Richard Strauss, Schoenberg and Anton Webern were swept up in Hitler's rage and made vile public avowals of anti-Semitism themselves.

Ross also ventures across the continent and recounts the tortured dance that Shostakovich had with Stalin, one minute finding his music in the graces of the Soviet dictator, the next finding it condemned and censored.

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He takes us inside the raging conflicts and fleeting triumphs in Shostakovich's works and concludes with a compassionate portrait of the august Russian composer's unknowable heart. Ranging across the battlefield of the times, Ross retains a humane bead on the World War II composers. But Ross pauses to see the other side. In one of my favorite anecdotes in the book, Ross relates a story from Schoenberg's son, Ronald, about the end of the composer's life. In the s, the Schoenbergs lived in upscale Brentwood, Calif. Ronald admits his father, the scourge of the bourgeois, the enfant terrible of the 20th century, felt discouraged that Hollywood tourist buses never pointed out his house.

As Ross' narrative wends its way from to , limning the brash and uncompromising, experimental and grimly absurd sounds of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Milton Babbitt, we see the music retreating further from a mass audience. At the same time, Ross, betraying his own tastes in 20th century music, stops to consider British composer Benjamin Britten, whose music enchanted a wide audience. Referring to Britten's opera "Peter Grimes," Ross writes, "The music is poised perfectly between the familiar and the strange, the pictorial and the psychological.

As an aside, I should say that although the chapter on Britten, and a similarly long one on Sibelius, are compelling in themselves, they underscore one flaw in "The Rest Is Noise," which is that Ross periodically interrupts his narrative with, well, New Yorker articles. In the case of Britten, you are forced to ask, hey, what happened to our discussion of Elliot Carter and his break from Aaron Copland's populism? In that discussion, the avant-garde musicians in the '60s looked up from their treated pianos and saw pop culture marching toward them like a giant infantry line.

They felt besieged. Roger Sessions declared that American composers like him had to "abandon resolutely chimerical hopes of success in a world dominated overwhelmingly by 'stars,' by mechanized popular music, and by the box-office standard, and set themselves to discovering what they truly have to say, and to saying it in the manner of the adult artist delivering his message to those who have ears to hear it. All else is childlessness and futility. The unvarnished elitism of Sessions' statement, and the intensely dissonant music it generated, pretty much constitutes the benighted image that continues to hang over modern classical music, especially in populist America.

Looking ahead, Ross makes a stand for the music's persistence in today's shopping mall of cultural niche markets. Referencing Adams and polyglot Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov, he points to how classical music has fused with global sounds, pop music, theater and film -- artistic forms that rule the pop marketplace.

Ross turns the table and shows how rock continues to shape its identity with classical music.

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These are modest claims and Ross realizes classical music will never regain the popularity it had in s Europe or even s America, when Leonard Bernstein regaled a radio audience every week with the splendors of Mahler or Copland. But I am glad to be more than modest and say "The Rest Is Noise" is the biggest cultural boost classical music could hope to receive. With perpetual grace and excitement, Ross reanimates music buried in history and super-obscure record stores, and allows us to feel just how contemporary it can be.

Let your heart curdle with thoughts of the unrelenting nightmare in Iraq, and the men responsible for it. Without harmony, he had to find structure someplace else. Interestingly, Carter often used cinematic models for the form of his music moving through time.

Dude was a film fan all his life, with favorites ranging from Sergei Eisenstein to Susan Seidelman, and took some direct inspirations from movies. Technically, most Carter pieces are a single movement; there are individual scenes but they overlay each other like a superimposition, or start before the other finishes like Scorsese often does. It seems impossible that there are only four instruments playing here. The compositions of Xenakis, Penderecki, or Ligeti have more instruments playing different things, but those composers deliberately blend them into a total sound.

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This disappoints me. Modern classical music became more and more academicized in the back half of the 20th century but as Carter developed his techniques through the s and s, his music gained an expressiveness and energy that was unique. Carter worked steadily in this period, producing only a few pieces every decade, but each one had an impact. Carter imposed the fuck-you aspect of modernism on himself, demanding that each piece be about something new. My idea of awful is, you might say, when everyone plays together. Carter said he became more interested in cooperation among the instrumental characters rather than competition in the Fourth Quartet.

If the First Quartet was Mahlerian, this one shows Carter getting his Beethoven on, big and complex and yet somehow plainspoken:. The other compositions are more interesting, even great. In the early 00s, I saw the Pacifica Quartet perform all five Carter quartets, and the Fifth feels like breathing out after all the incredible density and energy of the first four. The first movement has the energy, joy, even goofiness of his s work; the second movement, though, is glacial, brooding, built on held chords in different instrumental combinations.

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All his previous large-scale works from the Double Concerto onwards have really been chamber pieces on a large scale, where every instrument counts; this is genuinely orchestral writing, based on the impact of the whole thing. He saves that for the final movement, as light and airy and you knew this was coming bubbly as the middle movement was brooding, with squiggles from the high winds tracing all around the orchestral sounds. It was his last great work, and his longest. These pieces were often written on commission, in tribute to old friends and patrons, or song cycles that were settings of poetry by Robert Lowell, Paul Zukofsky, John Ashbery, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and others.

The song cycles were more literary than musical, settings of the poems rather than distinct musical works, and they lack the unity of his earlier works. He also revised or arranged many of his pre pieces in this period.

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However, some pieces near the end of his life— Sound Fields and Wind Rose —go in a completely new direction for Carter. These are both quiet works, based on held tones with no rhythmic interest at all. Carter developed as a composer by explicitly rejecting a lot of compositional practices. Carter could only take the time to develop his music in a professional setting, and he acted in all ways as a professional, working to develop the institutions that gave him his career. Modernism can sink into self-imposed alienation what Kurt Vonnegut called disappearing up its own asshole but it can also use that distance to create things that are genuinely new and exciting.

It is completely unnecessary to read the score to enjoy Carter. Modernism, as the inheritor and end point of the Enlightenment, is a humanistic movement. Modernism prized the individual among all other figures, the unique, distinctive, human voice. His music is what that sounds like, and another way in which modernism is deeply humanistic. Olivier Messiaen serves as the strongest contemporary contrast to Carter. No one else held that post even half as long in the history of the church.

The Rest Is Noise Series: Zion Park: Messiaen, Ligeti, and the Avant-Garde of the Sixties

That gave him his instinct for the vertical and for big, bold chords; some of his pieces came out of improvising on the organ during services. Modernism moved art away from the divine, even away from beauty, and towards the lives of human beings. That alone justifies the project of modernism.