[Chat with Rose L – a Cambridge friend.]
Rose L: How did you enjoy your evening at the Holland Festival?
Geoffrey King: An entire evening of Varèse? I was happy to witness this extraordinary skill, both on the part of the composer and on that of the performers. I was sitting opposite to where you were, so I got a good look at you. You seemed pretty fed up to me.
Well, the music is all a bit the same, but that in itself is no criticism. Amériques moved on to different territory I thought. It was all very well done and Peter Eötvös is a good conductor, don’t you think?
I haven’t seen so many Boulez gestures since I last saw Boulez. I was surprised by that and thought he could easily step into the older man’s shoes, just as soon as they become vacant. Not a very nice or respectful thought, but there we are……
I don’t expect you think he’s actually looking forward to Boulez kicking the bucket, giving up the ghost.
No, of course not and I wouldn’t make that accusation at any particular individual. But let’s get real here! Old Boulez popping his clogs? The man soaks up a lot of work, so it’s only natural that he has some competitors out there who are, shall we say, expectant……The son loves the father, but the son also wants to inherit. This is natural.
What did you make of the accompanying videos? Did you hear that woman shout out “weg met de video!”
Yes I heard her. The videos were a non issue for me. They could play or not and it wouldn’t make any difference from my point of view.
I thought they were nicely done, though, as you say, redundant.
For me it was an evening of musical violence leaving me very negative, bitchy and unsettled.
Maybe that’s what Varèse intends. Could be. But the music is not usually described in these terms. It’s described abstractly. He’s the “father of electronic music” because of his emphasis on sound. People talk about an emphasis on colour and rhythm.
I haven’t heard so much bloodcurdling music since I went to see the new Birtwistle opera in London – the one with all the shrieking. (He just keeps rolling out these “horror operas”, I can’t understand why, unless it is to create a sensation). The horror aspect of several 20th century composers is to be questioned, especially where those individuals hide behind talk about abstract qualities like rhythm and sound. There is also the “self-hatred” aspect in all this exoticism – hello, what about our OWN culture?
Exoticism is a very big subject. You can say that’s a remarkable thing about educated white people in our culture. They can be anything they like – peasants, Jamaicans (you saw perhaps that white lady there with the dreadlocks, heh-heh), Indian holy men, or just plain vanilla white – whatever they want. You could call it (if you were being ironic) flexibility. And if you want to be bitchy you can say that the only fixed thing about us is the good medical care we get. We usually have teeth well into our 80s.
I am not a music professional like you. I take the music as it strikes me and I haven’t even read the “spin” about it, let alone believed it. But a ten year old could hear the violence during the Varèse evening, it’s not a difficult thing to understand. That is what I draw attention to. It’s necessary to open up a discussion about that and, from my point of view, protest about it. That’s my target.
Well, you may as well give up before you start. The audience was very enthusiastic and it was not JUST some professional clique there – there were tons of music lovers, like yourself.
I’m sorry, I don’t buy that. Actually you mean “music snobs” rather than “music lovers”. These people will clap what they’re told to clap. Reflect that Varèse’s music has very high prestige yet is precisely as I describe it. As you saw, the concert was one of a pair of concerts featuring ALL his music. I had never heard nine of his pieces in a row and I was actually very surprised to see how truly wretched it was. This stuff needs to be countered. I didn’t bother with the second concert. There’s only so much punishment………
Varèse’s ear is fabulous. You talk about the music being wretched. I see a clear contradiction there.
If he had supreme skill, why didn’t he put it to good use? What was his usual inspiration………….the rituals of human sacrifice? He has two ideas. One goes shriek and the other goes thump. They appear together or apart and he likes things happening at the extremes of the scale. He seems to me to have written the accompaniment to rituals that we read about. “They cut the chests open. Ripped the hearts out. Tossed the bodies down the steps. Then cooked them and ate them”. He’s written the musical accompaniment to that. That’s what his music sounds like ALL THE TIME. Why was he busy with this? And why is this violent music acceptable? Why is it a pillar of 20th century music? Because Varèse has a “fabulous ear”? Bullshit!
Certainly there are echoes of a fictional pagan world. Primitivism is an important aspect of Modernism. But Varèse was also very forward looking and very inspired by the New World.
You mean like Mondrian in New York, doing his Boogie-Woogies?
Yes, that sort of thing. Varèse was a genius. And by the way, as you also slight Birtwistle’s music here, I’ll add that I admire this composer tremendously. Maybe the sheer quality of these composers is just passing you by. You are deaf to it.
I’m not deaf and I’m not daft either. I will admit that I was in a very bad mood because I hated the building. Jerry-built excuse for a hall – in an ex factory – a gasometer, of all things. Entrance the size of a telephone booth so people had to queue up to get in and out and it took ages. What is it with cultured types and factories? They certainly don’t want to WORK in them. What’s the attraction then?
They like the costume of the proletariat, just as they like beads and incense from the East. That doesn’t mean they want to get up at 5 in the morning and do the work, nor that they want to live like some Africans and shit in latrines/ on the highway.
You’re possibly right there. I think probably I don’t have respect for any aspect of this wank. And can I point out that during the evening, which certainly explored musical material from non Western cultures (almost an “ethnic celebration” of an evening), there wasn’t one single black face to be seen. Not on the platform. Not in the audience. Just one exception, a black guy (and very cute he was too) who’d been hired to serve drinks. Thanks for that “Holland Festival”.
Well it’s a “white celebration” isn’t it. If you want to see an “exotic crowd” of blacks and browns, you need to go Sloterdijk Station at 6.30 in the morning and watch the people traveling to the early morning factory shift. You won’t see them at a concert of exotic based classical music.
Yes whites celebrating…..what exactly? Posing as what exactly? The answer to that is complicated I’m sure, but some things are very simple – have you seen the Wiki photo of Varèse? – is that a pose, or what? I understand we’re dealing partly with show-biz here, but, really, tell me, why are people taking this music seriously and financing huge expensive events like this…………?
Well I’ve tried telling you, again and again, but you are not buying it.
No I’m not and I’m digging much deeper than YOU. Artists like Varèse, they seem to like expressing violence in their work, I am targeting that. And white folk and their love of exoticism, I’m targeting that too. It seems that the only thing we educated ones truly DON’T like is our own history. We travel to the remotest places on earth to breathe in THAT atmosphere. Or we “time travel” to the remotest epochs in order to breathe in THAT atmosphere. I call it self-hatred.
Well you know what, I think you are an amateur psychologist just as much as you are an amateur musician. You can date “white” fascination with exotic travels and imaginings back to the Renaissance. And didn’t Mozart write in Turkish style sometimes? Just how much of our culture (which you ask us to treasure) are you are attacking here?
Well start with the treasure: J.S.Bach. Nothing exotic about that and it tells us about who we are, far better than the “bow and arrow” stuff of Varèse. The horror of people of taste in this environment is a school carol concert or “meat and two veg”. A chat with the local vicar or receiving a Christmas card with a robin on. The sight of the Queen Mother in a petal hat. Put it all together, you know where I’m headed.
You’re like a playful kitten with a ball of wool. Like a scratchy bad-tempered kitten I should say, because you are just creating confusion and chaos and mischief. You are tangling up many different threads here. Some of what you just mentioned is simply English kitsch with absolutely NO relevance to the discussion you started.
Creating chaos? You mean unlike Varèse who is, by contrast, putting a radiant light out into the world…….?
Oh Rose, put a sock in it! And do some study. In silence. Thank you.