Iain Cameron's Diary
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2006-08-07 - 5:58 p.m.

If Adorno is such hard work why do I bother with him? Especially if he was wrong about jazz and thought Stravinsky was infantile.

Someone who pulls together all the things that he tries to pull together, deserves a decent hearing, I suppose – to try to explain the 2nd Viennese School as a symptom of rationality gone wrong in the 20th century.

There is also something captivating about his biography – the escape from the classic central european intellectual milieu to North West LA – to hang out in the area favoured by Schoenberg, Huxley and Stravinsky and write the Dialectics of Enlightenment, Minima Moralia and the Philosophy of the New Music all in about 4 years. Then to give post war Europe another shot but to become a victim of the 60s student unrest – of which he was one of the theorectical forefathers. (Walter Benjamin who was one of the central european chums met a similar but earlier fate in the Pyrenees.)

Yesterday in the garden, I read his essay on Webern – written in the 50s I think. He makes a big thing of Op 20 – and suggests that in what comes after Webern doesn’t quite have the capability to match his own stringent ideals – quite a damning judgement really. The implication is that the free atonal pieces leading up to Op 20 are those where the personality is more successfully linked with the music produced. Like other commentators he reads the instability and tensions in Webern’s personality back into the success of the extremely short pieces.

I also had a go at the article in the same collection on Schoenberg’s free atonal pieces especially the Op 16 Orchestral Pieces, especially the first one and I listened through with the score but failed to really pull it together, Its much easier to ‘get’ this stuff when there is less varied soundscape eg solo piano, piano and solo instrument or string 4tet or trio. Both Schoenberg and Webern wrote their set of pieces for large scale orchestra in the same year. The Webern pieces have a srong ‘grieving’ context and it has even been suggested that they might represent stages in grief. Schoenberg Op 17 is Erwartung where there is also a clear psychological programme from the libretto. Op 18 is something called the Lucky Hand – which I don’t know but which also attracts Adorno’s comments. In fact Schoenberg had something to say on this piece:

‘At the beginning, you see twelve light spots on a black background: the faces of the six women and six men. Or rather: their gazes. This is part of the mime performance, a medium of the stage. The impression under which this was written was approximately this: it was as if I perceived a chorus of stares, as one perceives stares, even without seeing them, as they say something to one. What these stares say here is also paraphrased in words, which are sung by the chorus, and by the colors which show on the faces. The musical way in which this idea is composed testifies to the unity of conception: in spite of the diverse shaping of some Hauptstimmen this whole introduction is, as it were, held fast in place by an ostinato-like chord. Just as the gazes are rigidly and unchangeably directed at the Man, so the musical ostinato makes clear that these gazes form an ostinato on their part.’

Tempting.
Talking of stares brings to mind the paintings that Schoenberg did at this time, some of which were even exhibited alongside Kandinsky. We went to see the K show on Saturday – it was very crowded. At this point K distinguished improvisation from composition. In fact I thought the paintings got better when K was forced back to Moscow. Interestingly he, like Schoenberg, felt the impulsion at this stage to rely more on system and less on intuition.

I hadn’t realised that K took an active role in politics immediately following the revolution – holding administrative posts. There was some material in the bookshop about the links between poets and artists at this point which I was rather tempted by. On the literary side Zimyatin was a major figure who went on to collaborate with Shostakovich on The Nose – which I was lucky enough to see in Lichfield about a month ago. Apparently some think the Nose is influenced by Berg’s Wozzeck.

Talking about Stravinsky being infantile – there is a good article reviewing a new biography at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/19193 but this too will have to wait.


Vita gets back from India on Thursday – but I am already back in Leamington

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