Saturday, 11 July 2009

Amis on Carter & Birtwistle

John Amis is not a natural curmudgeon, and there is no doubting his musical credentials, so it is gratifying to cite him in defence of my impressions of two of the doyens of modern music. In the course of a report from Aldeburgh, he writes: "[Elliott] Carter was present and warmly acclaimed – he is 101, the oldest composer around, a genial lovely guy. But his music is not very listener-friendly, not a melodic fragment within hearing distance, too cerebral ever since his excellent Cello Sonata and first String Quartet composed some sixty years ago. There was also an interesting film shown about him and his music; Boulez and Barenboim testified to his greatness; so I listened hard, but alas without even a soup├žon of pleasure or comprehension. 15 works of his were played during the Festival (I was there June 12 – 23) and there was a similar number of works by Sir Harrison Birtwistle which meant that listeners who like a melodic fragment or two were disappointed. I remember Sir Harry saying on the radio once: 'I’m not in the entertainment business'. True, he aint. But the audience applauded and it was great to have him there. The only piece I enjoyed was his orchestral work An Imaginary Landscape (1971), wild, exciting, with a few scraps of melody and accompanied by a hefty storm raging outside. But note the date; a fairly old work."

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