Monday, June 25, 2007

Webern's Legacy

A friend of mine recently dashed off a quick email asking for my thoughts on Austrian composer Anton Webern. I told him I need to a few days to collect my thoughts and I would get back to him as soon as possible.

It's at least a month later, and I've been mulling over what to say. It's not that I've been trying to come up with something profound to say about the man's work. In fact, my thoughts on Webern are pretty much the same ones I've held since my early teens, but I've always hesitated in expressing my views because I never saw similar assertions in existing commentary. Funny how age makes you care less and less about how fashionable your thoughts and feelings might be, isn't it?

Anyway, here it is: Webern's legacy has little to do with his serial structure, pointillistic textures or his dramatic use of silence. Webern simply invested the whole of his creative life in, if you'll allow me to borrow from the world of literary criticism, the lyric rather than the epic.

Perhaps he felt Mahler could not be outdone in the building of epic structures, and perhaps it is because the constituent parts of such large structures became in themselves almost complete, that Webern felt that they could exist on their own, untethered from a supporting dramatic edifice to hold the up. If the 19th century was concerned with the whole human body, the discovery of the nucleus of a cell was enough to capture imagination for the totality of his compositional output. Yes, there were miniatures by composers of preceding generations, but these rarely let go of the epic thrust which informs much of Western music, in fact, it may be the single most defining characteristic of that genre, and why composers such as Cage, Feldman and Takemitsu were so taken with his work. Interestingly, Webern's rediscovery in Europe after the war was followed by a generation of composers who sought to create works of an epic nature from Webern's example. I suppose traditions die very, very hard. Thank God for amnesia. =)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

City Lights?

Opening my email this morning, I found the above picture sent along with a discussion about the new lights on the CN back in Toronto. It may be a sign of age, but these colo(u)red lights look tacky to me, and while the night sky may be a reflection of the city's after-hours activities, it's no real replacement for the energy, drive and passion of the people living there. And perhaps showing my age again, I don't know why these public works have to be modeled on the Wal-Mart school of design. At least it should be cool, right? Oh Toronto, will you ever win?

Friday, June 8, 2007

Red Hot Chili Peppers - By The Way

Years ago, I remember watching City Limits and seeing True Men Don't Kill Coyotes and thinking, "Who the Hell are these dudes?" But as the years passes, like most folks of my age (35+) the Peppers became a band to watch. Mixing funk and guitar rock was still a novel thing back then, and how could you hate them for making Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground a hit again.

Years later I remember seeing a commercial in Toronto that had a black screen accompanied by a rock song, slowly fading up. I remember jumping up on the couch and thinking, "This is amazing! Who the Hell are these guys!?" And the words flashed across the screen "Red Hot Chili Peppers New Album" and then a date. For some unknown reason, I never got the CD or knew the name of the track. And finally after some very coincidental events, I'm now here watching this video, and realizing that the Chili Peppers were one of the greatest bands of their generation, and I'm seriously bummed I wasn't a bigger fan back then.

The chorus captures some of the trepidation and excitement of meeting your friends at a rock concert, before cellphones and tv reviews let you know exactly how the night was going to unfold. This was all a secret business, especially if the band wasn't mainstream. No one knew the band, no one knew the songs. Only you and your friends were cool enough to find the truth in such out of the way places. The video can be summed up in 4 words: Flea to the RESCUE!!