I already had thoughts there about tonality because of the Chopin and Ligeti I heard in the competition. But hearing the first movement of Sibelius 4 today brings it to mind again – especially in regard to dissonance. First let me dispense with the issue of whether this word is applicable in our times. It is. But what was curious today about hearing the Sibelius was that it so much reminded me of some recent English music. It has clearly provided a model for this, whether intentionally or not. So what is this English music like to which I refer? Well, put baldly, what it has taken from the Sibelius is rhythm, form, colour, even gesture. Quite a lot then. But what has been left behind are the pitches.
Oh dear, you say, in surprise. And rightly so, because that delicious tonal language of Sibelius (may his name live for ever) has been replaced by grey dissonance.
Never let it be said that I hate dissonance. I like it and at its most disjunct too. No one has ever heard me complain about Stravinsky’s Movements for Piano and Orchestra. That is angular and dissonant from beginning to end. And I love angularity. Sometimes I listen to an entire Mozart aria just in order to get the thrill of those incredible leaps he puts in towards final cadences.
Well our situation is no different now than it was before. There were rules for the handling of dissonance in the Renaissance and there are limitations now to how you can handle it. Note please that I say limitations and not rules.
I’ve never been a Ligeti fan. He’s one of the very, very few composers that I am actually allergic to (Verdi is another). In Venice, hearing some of the Etudes for the umpteenth time, I noted again my distaste, though they were brilliantly executed and indeed they are brilliantly composed. I think it’s very good that he did those pieces more or less in some sort of contemporary style, yet making them distinct from Romanticism. It’s a good addition to the repertoire, as they say. But coming after Chopin and Liszt, you have a similar problem to the Sibelius one – you’ve reclaimed something but you’ve lost something in the process.
My teacher was a little offended when I described the Verdi Requiem as absurd. Sitting in the nave of San Marco I compared it to some of the Renaissance-style mosaics you see there. These are replacements of earlier ones and made using cartoons by Titian and Tintoretto, amongst others. However, the flaw lies in the attempt to reproduce three-dimensional effects of Renaissance painting in the medium of mosaic. Daft. And comparable to the Sibelius issue I drew attention to.
I wouldn’t suggest erasing anything. I think we just have to live with absurdity. I dare say I’ve added to it myself.