The primacy of pitch

pitchNo one talks about Webern any more. He’s never mentioned. Yet his music is a hundred times more attractive to me than nearly everything new that I hear, so it’s disconcerting. His use of pitch restores me to myself. Restores my balance, is that it? Because I recall why I became involved in this modern style as a teenager? That there can be pitch structures so attractive to me, though existing without the “gravitational” aspect of old scales, is a wonder. It is a wonder of the European story I think. Stravinsky spoke of “dazzling diamonds” in reference to this music. And indeed I find it noble. Who imagined in 1900 that such a thing might be possible? Anyone?

There is nothing I regret in Webern’s music. Not at all, I can’t. Yet there are things that I wish were otherwise. There is an inescapable bond with Expressionism it seems to me and I don’t like that. This constant human cry petering out in a morendo for example. It does not move me and I want it to stop. I am attracted to something else – the harmonies, the lines and the splintering of beats. I do not regret the nerve-racking task for performers. Do they not have this same exposure in Mozart – nowhere to hide? And who regrets Mozart because it is so difficult to perform? For that music I fall to my knees.

I keep quiet when I hear composers complain about Schoenberg and I wonder if these individuals are simply unable to understand chromatic music and unaffected by it therefore. Schoenberg and his pupils – Berg and Webern – remain for me a standard impossible to reach, yet one that drives me on down the road to the future.

The primacy of pitch II

Is American music “the gift that keeps on giving”? Well, to me, it truly is. I have caught the song “Use Somebody” in several versions as I go about my business. Kings of Leon, the rockers who wrote it, have their recording a tone lower than the cover version by the Dutch singer Laura Jansen. I adore her voice, but it is the pitches that I adore most – the bass with its low F (low G in the Jansen version) and the appoggiatura on E (or F#). Yet, as I watch the video of the Kings of Leon original, I am also reminded of why I found men so dazzling in the first place, and call to mind all the grievances and anger that flowed from that.

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