The Failings of American Modernist Music

I've made enemies by appearing to side with John Rockwell, so I need to clarify some things.

I worked with Gunther Schuller at Tanglewood in the 80s. I got calls from Richartd Ortner at Tanglewood, intturrupting a summer job to come to Tanglewood for guitar parts, since there were no guitar fellows. And coached with Leon Fleisher throught he Theater Chamber Players, which he co-directed with Dina Koston.

Schuller, Orntner, and Fleisher were all fired by Seigi Ozawa. At the Bridge Records recording session for Fleisher's All The Things You Are CD at the Curtis Institute (a project funded by the RSF), Fleisher told the a funny story. He asked Ozawa what was missing. Ozawa said, "tabsco sauce".

That's all we need. It's not a logical thing. We can all add to that. I'll add here the David Amram story. Amram studied horn with Schuller. The way Amram recounted to me, in a conversation, Gunther's version of the Tanglewood story. John Rockwell convinced Fromm that there should be an all-Glass concert at Tanglewood. Schuller said he never does one-man shows. He's happy to program Glass. The Tangewood programming always was very diverse. That got Schuller fired.

What is a mannerist phase? A pathological misplaced concreteness.

My concession to Rockwell is that when he and some others made their decisive moves against it, modernism was deep into a mannerist phase that continues now in the EU. What is a mannerist phase? A pathological misplaced concreteness. There are mannerists and modernists I'll defend with my life. Shakespeare and Dowland were mannerists. Mannerism in the sense of a shallow caarrying on of certain manners is a negative criticism. The modernists I'll defend with my life and the modernists who merely mimic surfaces may be indistinguishable to many, but to me there's a world of difference.

Moreover, why the celebration of obscurity? The Symbolistes who the power of what is veiled and obscured and we can feel something like that in early Webern and Berg. That's a dangersous thing to imitate and it's deadly to turn that into a movement.

This is both new and simple and charming --

And the last work, arriving after Rockwell's coup, by our favorite modernists is now a treasure trove of stranded assets --


I like Davidovsky's Synchronisms, but they have a youthful, antisocial, maverick quality, but his later works, I believe, in some de-Rockwelled world, would pose a mild challenge to the bourgeois center that would reward any bourgeoisie willing to spend a bit of time with it.

You'll doubt me, but Milton Babbitt's Swan Song No. 1 is daunting in the heady middle of the work, but enticing in the opening and heart wrenching at the end --

ta-da! (winds) -- bump bump (cello pizz).