Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why do I read?

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, December 31, 2008
NOT MUCH TO DO beyond read, these days, read and socialize. The party was over yesterday, so the reading resumed.

It was discouraging, as I've noted elsewhere, to finish reading Sense and Sensibility and find at the bottom of the last page the notation 12/29/95 — the date I'd previously finished reading it. I had no recollection of the book: neither the book itself, nor of the process of reading it.

I guess I'm not surprised: I read it that December while recovering from abdominal surgery. I probably should have picked something a little less — well, subtle, I suppose. Will I remember this reading in nine years? Who knows. That's not the reason to read, nor is it the reason to live.

Yesterday I read a very different book, John Muir's My First Summer in the Sierra (New York : Modern Library, 2003). Muir knew how to live, and this book, his first, celebrates The Moment. Having recently recovered from a serious eye injury, and having warmed up by walking a thousand miles from Indiana to Florida decided then, in 1868, thirty years old, to go to California, where the next summer he took a job following a flock of two thousand fifty sheep into the high Sierra, ostensibly to keep an eye on their shepherd.

He didn't like the sheep much. Some of the funniest and sharpest passages in the book record that judgement, one of the few negative judgements Muir was to make. But he fell in love, or rather was confirmed in his love, for the high Sierra. "Love" is not too strong a word; he uses it often himself; and although his father was a preacher, and he himself had memorized the New Testament and much of the Old, he doesn't hesitate to identify the whole of Nature as an expression of love:
How boundless the day seems as we revel in these storm-beaten sky gardens amid so vast a congregation of onlooking mountains! Strange and admirable it is that the more savage and chilly and storm-chafed the mountains, the finer the glow on their faces and the finer the plants they bear. The myriads of flowers tingeing the mountain-top do not seem to have grown out of the dry, rough gravel of disintegration, but rather they appear as visitors, a cloud of witnesses to Nature's love in what we in our timid ignorance and unbelief call howling desert.
As you can see, Muir's prose is ecstatic: but it is also aware, accurate, and detailed. Page after page records observations of botany, geology, the climate. And while Muir is alone much of the time his notes on the personalities he meets — Portuguese, Indian, tourists; and also squirrels, houseflies, bear, not to mention the tedious sheep — enliven the book and bring his ecstasy back to earth.

Having walked among alpage sheep-pastures last summer I was perhaps particularly enthralled with My First Summer in the Sierra: I would like to reconstruct Muir's journey, his book in one hand, a GPS in the other. It's the sort of thing you dream about in winter, on the last day of the year.

A VERY DIFFERENT MATTER is Willem Elsschot's Cheese (New York : Granta Books, 2002), today's read, also a Christmas gift. It paired well with Muir: urban rather than rural; centered on business, not Nature; resigned, not ecstatic; it's a novel that brings to mind Svevo and early Pirandello, even Queneau and Beckett.

The story is simple: a humdrum clerk in a shipyard falls into a cheese-distributing job; his personality swerves into quite a different world. The book may well be a parable: Elsschot's afterword (which artlessly spans literary criticism, surreal poetry, and philosophical speculation) warns
The reader should gradually be seized by a feeling of uneasiness, making him turn up his collar and think of his umbrella while the sun is still out in all its glory.
(I should add that the book first appeared in 1933, and that Elsschot, whose real name was Alfons-Jozef De Ridder, was a Belgian advertising man.)

Cheese is a very funny book, but a tender one, even moving. Very economical, it brings Depression-era Belgium to life, portraying a lower-class bourgeois family intimately and sympathetically with virtually no sentiment. An interesting achievement, it reminds me of how little we know about European literature: here's another Flemish-language writer to pursue in the year to come.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Screen with Variations

SCREEN WAS AMONG my first and remains, I think, my most successful “graphic” score: notation which relies completely on drawn elements, rather than conventional musican notation. It was one in a number of “quartets” conceived as a series of experimental pieces investigating the concept of string-quartet playing, not as the playing of stringed instruments, or even the interpretation of that marvelous repertory of music from Haydn down through Lutoslawski, but as the act of listening to others and one’s self, playing in the moment while considering the long span, hearing and being in several places simultaneously, focussing consciously while leaving the intuitively expressive gesture free.


I made the piece on May 11, 1969, on my drafting table, dividing the page into six horizontal bands demarcated with dashed lines; then drew thick lines to indicate sounds (placed high or low to indicate pitch, of varying thicknesses to indicate loudness, of varying length to indicate duration), and connected these with thin straight lines to indicate voice-leading, two melodic lines to each band.

The instrumentalists can play from left to right or from right to left; when any system is completed, they pause or do not before beginning any other. The performance begins and ends as seems right.

Screen is intended as a sound-curtain through which something else might be heard — another composition or two, or ambient sounds, or internal songs. Screen should therefore not be too insistant. It should be fairly slow and quiet. Not too much needs to be made to happen. It is unassertive, like any linear statement. It is cool, a little formal, rather conservative, but not plain or cold. The several systems can be played forward or backward, each taking about a minute. I prefer Screen played by three to six instruments, weighted more toward violas than violins, including contrabasses too if possible. (I would like to hear it performed by a capella chorus one day, or by an ensemble of trombones.)

Variations was composed six years later, in 1975, again a graphic score, this time based on a star map that had been used on a poster advertising an exhibition at the Oakland Art Museum. Here again I relied on an intuitively pleasing visual appearance to guide me to a pleasing sonic resolution; this time the size of the circles indicated loudness; the placement on the page indicated pitch; and since I was thinking of nonsustaining instruments like harp and percussion there was no reason to extend the lines to indicate duration.

I'm sorry the scores do not reproduce better here. You can hear Variations played on the harp, superimposed on a performance of Screen by a string quartet, here, as recorded in a live concert thirty-two years ago in San Francisco.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The thing about the thing itself

SILLIMAN'S BLOG STEERS ME to a note (from five months ago) about Wallace Stevens's poem Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself. I've always admired Stevens, and I particularly respond to this poem; when my mother died I used it in a version of the Requiem that I wrote for chamber choir with solo oboe.

I've rarely read a discussion of a poem I disagree so strenuously with as Nada Gordon's discussion of this. She reproduces the text in full on her blog, freeing me from the temptation to do so here, and then she writes
It’s a confusing poem, probably deliberately so, and I felt after reading it and discussing it that it doesn’t transcend its own contradiction: the cry “seem[s] like a sound in [his] mind” but he maintains, in that weird conditional tense (and with a potentially ambiguous pronoun reference) “It would have been outside”.…
The poem seems perfectly clear to me; it's about the coming of death, the ultimate "thing itself"; death whether literally or as the embodiment of any realization of the complete whatness of something. The poem is no more "confusing" than the difference between seems and is; and "would have been" is not "conditional tense" [sic] but laconic spoken English. Wallace Stevens is so readily thought a mandarin that his most direct discourse is analyzed into opacity; it's an example of the danger of reading intellectual complexity into material that is, in fact, perfectly straightforward.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reading Lolita in Tehran

THERE'S NOT A LOT I can write about this book that hasn't already been written many times over, I'm sure — it's among the top hundred most-read books on LibraryThing, where it's garnered nearly a hundred reader reviews; a Google search of the title yields 136,000 hits. Wikipedia notes that "it has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over one hundred weeks and has been translated into thirty-two languages."

And it was published in 2003, five years ago; and I'm late getting to it. (And I owe Lindsey thanks for recommending it highly: she knows what I will wind up liking.)

The book recounts conversations among teacher (the writer, Azar Nafisi) and students (all young women) during classes, at two Tehran universities and in private, devoted to English-language literature. The four sections discuss Lolita, Pnin, and Invitation to a Beheading (Nabokov); The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald); Daisy Miller and Washington Square (James), and Pride and Prejudice (Austen), always counterpointing the discussion of the texts against that of daily life in Iran as it developed during the classes (from the last year or so of the previous government through the revolution and well into the present theocracy).

Reading Lolita in Tehran has been roundly criticized as Orientalist, propaganda, not credible. I suppose the chief objections to the book voice two points of view: either that it misrepresents contemporary Iranian life (and government, and society, and religion); or that it irresponsibly conflates fantasy with realistic depictions of social reality. I can't speak to the former objection, except to note that both Reading Lolita in Tehran and, presumably, social life in present-day Iran are far too complex to be reduced to ideological argument.

To many the second objection will be the more disturbing, because it is less immediately evident. Nafisi subtitles her book "a memoir in books," and that's just what it is — in books and in discussions of books. She uses her class notes (and those of a student, it eventuates) and her thoughts on these novels to organize the development, as she lived it, of her awareness of the impact of life in Islamist Iran on her own personal life. Along the way she develops what seems to me to be a keenly perceived, close-held, and articulately expressed kind of literary criticism; she's made me think about The Novel as I haven't, really, since school days, since reading Forster and Wilson and such.

To reduce her ideas to a ridiculous skeleton, she finds Nabokov treating, in his books, of the theft of identity, or rather (and worse) of the possibility of ever developing an identity. Fitzgerald's theme is the asserted right to a life of the imagination. Jame's is courage. Austen's is precisely the denial of colonialism and imperialism, through the assertion of private life and private pleasure.

But as I say this is a reductionist presentation of Nafisi's achievement. Behind and above these four writers, and her analysis, and her cumulatively persuasive and troubling account of the repressive state, there is always Scheherazade. The graceful counterpoint of literature and conversation, private and public life, imagination and restriction is conveyed in a constantly forward-moving narrative.

Fiction, the novel, the act of reading — these are endlessly troubling matters to any authoritarian government. Yet one of the sources of that trouble must be precisely the temptation that imaginative narrative presents to the authority: in denying its freedom to others it must deny that freedom to itself; and the human urge to narrative expression is innate and irrepressible.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Noise Within: fall 2008

Eastside Road, Healdsburg, Saturday, December 13, 2008—
WHAT? OH, YES, I should let you know about the plays we saw last week. It was the semiannual visit to Los Angeles to see productions at A Noise Within, a repertory company whose efficient programming allows us to see three plays within a week — or less: next May, for example, within three days.
Every season seems to offer a couple of Shakespeare plays, a 20th-century American standard, a play from the French repertory, and a couple of plays from odd corners of the literature. Last week we saw The Rainmaker, Hamlet, and an adaptation of Oliver Twist: in nearly every case, the last or near-last performance of the run.
  • The Rainmaker is not a very persuasive stage play. N. Richard Nash wrote it for television, as the jerky flow of the play suggests (you can almost hear the Philco commercials between the scenes). It's dated (1954) and it's hokey, relying on the familiar collisions between a romantic social outcast (title role) and dirt-plain everyday America (a farm family beset by drought, in more ways than one). Sure: Nash has in mind the tension between insular pre-WW2 America and the older, more sophisticated Europe it has just liberated. The theme's familiar and has been done better elsewhere.
    But The Rainmaker works; it still plays, at least it did in this NW production; and it's useful to see it to better appreciate the work of, for example, Tennessee Williams. In this production, too, Nash's characters managed to come to life, and if the play recalls others in this detail or that — plays ranging from Of Mice and Men to The Glass Menagerie — at least in doing so it contributes to a fuller understanding of the nature of 20th-century American theater. And, let's face it, it's an honest evening of entertainment. Foxworth and Flanery, the leads, were remarkable, I thought, for the detail and patience they brought to their characterizations.
    Cast and Crew:
    Bo Foxworth (Starbuck)
    Bridget Flanery (Lizzie Curry)
    Mitchell Edmonds (HC Curry)
    Scott Roberts (File)
    Ross Hellwig (Jim Curry)
    Leonard Kelly-Young (Sheriff Thomas)
    Steve Weingatner (Noah Curry)
    Andrew Traister, Director
    David O, Composer
    James P. Taylor, Set and Lighting Designer
    Julie Keen, Costume Designer
    Byron Batista, Hair/Make-up
    Dicapria Del Carpio, Props Master
    Rebecca Baillie, Production Manager
    Kate Barrett, Stage Manager
    Adam Lillibridge, Technical Director
    Michael Pukac, Scenic Artist
    Ronnie Clark, Master Electrician

  • This year's production of Shakespeare's Hamlet was, quite simply, one of the most telling evenings we've spent in this Glendale theater — and we've seen over thirty plays here. Much cut from the usual production, it was based, I heard, on the First Folio text. It was compressed and tight and very much focussed on the title role. Double-casting the two Hamlets — the Prince of Denmark and the ghost of his murdered father — may seem gimmicky, but it very much worked; it breathed new urgency into a very familiar play. I thought Freddy Douglas was fine in the role; Tony Abatemarco (a friend of ours) was a very credible, humane Polonius; Deborah Strang and Dorothea Harahan grew as Gertrude and Ophelia as the play progressed, Steve Cooms was a strong Horatio., Francois Giroday portrayed Claudius as tentative at the beginning, then witless and hesitant. The physical production was dark and intense.

    Freddy Douglas (Hamlet/Ghost)
    Tony Abatemarco (Polonius/Others)
    Deborah Strang (Gertrude)
    Dorothea Harahan (Ophelia)
    Jacob Sidney (Guildenstern/Osric/Others)
    Steve Cooms (Horatio)
    Matthew Jaeger (Laertes/Rosencrantz)
    Francois Giroday (Claudius)
    Mark Bramhall (1st Player/Gravedigger/Others)
    Michael Michetti, Director
    John Pennington, Choreographer
    Sara Clement, Set/Costume Designer
    Peter Gottlieb, Lighting Designer
    Kari Seekins, Composer/Sound Designer
    Monica Sabedra, Hair/Make-up
    Ken Merckx, Fight Choreographer
    Rebecca Baillie, Production Manager
    Susan Coulter, Stage Manager
    Adam Lillibridge, Technical Director
    Jennifer Inglis, Scenic Artist
    Ronnie Clark, Master Electrician

  • Oliver Twist is one of the many classics of English literature this English Lit major has managed to avoid; the only Dickens I've read is A Tale of Two Cities, and that nearly sixty years ago. If only the novel were like the Noise Within production I'd run out and buy a copy. (Well, maybe not.) This version, adapted from the novel by Neil Bartlett, was funny and schematic, with production values recalling Brecht and Weill, sets and situations recalling Hogarth, and spoof-the-classics irony out of Mad Magazine.
    Brian Dare debuted with Noise Within in the title role, playing it straight and sympathetically. Tom Fitzpatrick was a reedy, sinister, creepy Fagan; Apollo Dukakis brought real presence to the role of Bumble; Geoff Elliott had fun with that of Sikes; Shaun Anthony fleshed out the warm minor role of the Artful Dodger. Jessica Berman and Jill Hill had fun as Rose and Nancy, individuating them nicely; Julia Rodriguez-Elliott directed.
    The more I think about it, the more I like it. It was a good half-season; I'm sorry it's over, and you can't see it too. (But do consider Noise Within's Waiting for Godot, running January 15-25; we saw it last season, and the production deserves this special revival.)
  • Wednesday, December 10, 2008

    New Music in Los Angeles

    Colorado St., Glendale, December 10—

    HERE WE ARE IN Glendale, on one of our semi-annual visits for theatergoing. We usually arrive the first weekend of December and another weekend in mid- or late April: in that way we can see all but one of the (usually) seven productions given each year by A Noise Within, a professional repertory company that's rewarded us more often than not.

    This time we're staying a week, the only way to see three plays. Scheduling these things must be tough, and my hat's off to whoever does it, but I do rather wish we didn't have to spend quite so many days here. Still, it gives us a chance to catch up on other things: gardens, restaurants, museums, and, this time, concerts.

    Except to mention that this fall's Hamlet was a wonderful production, I'll hold off on comments on the plays. We still have one to see tomorrow night — an adaptation of Oliver Twist — and the other two have closed by the time you read this. Instead, let me report on a couple of concerts of new music.

    We'd hoped to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic under its newly announced next music director, Gustavo Dudamel; there was an afternoon performance on Sunday, with György Kurtág's Stélé, Mozart's A Major piano concerto K. 488, and Strauss's Alpine Symphony. I didn't want to hear the Strauss; I heard Herbert Blomstedt conduct this orchestra in it years ago, and having walked across a small part of the mountains myself last summer I knew Strauss's view of the terrain was not mine. In any case the concert had sold out long since: Dudamel is a big draw.

    We did however go to a Monday Evening Concert, on Monday naturally, down the street at the Colburn School. On paper it was a fascinating survey of "new music through the ages," juxtaposing 15th-c. music and a Tombeau sur la mort de M. Blancheroche by the 17th-c. Johann Jacob Froberger with new and recent work. In the end the entire concert seemed dead to me, partly because of the relatively unvaried response of its audiencee, enthusiastic about everything it heard, partly because of the monotonous effect if the performances of the 15th-c. selections (which were probably, in fact, the most interesting pieces on the program); mostly because to the ear, if not the eye, the concert program simply didn't make sense — it was a survey, not a composition.

  • Sugar 1, by Michael Maierhof, was a beautifully structured sound-piece for piano trio, the three instruments widely separated, Eric km Clark's violin and Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick's cello primarily playing at the extremities of their dynamic and pitch ranges, the gifted percussionist Amy Knoles using various methods to find similar scraping, white-noise sounds on the exposed strings of the piano. Sustained sounds, or sounds marked by slow, softly-articulated repetitions, alternated with general pauses whose durations were obviously carefully determined. I thought of Scelsi, occasionally of Xenakis, rarely of John Cage. I would like to hear the piece again.
  • Dialog Ûber Luft, by Vinko Globokar, struck me as a silly piece, played by accordionist Teodoro Anszellotti (for whom it was composed) with conviction and fluency but ultimately little more than a divertissement.
  • Bone #, by Keiko Harada, was an enchanting piece for kalimba (the African "thumb piano" also known as mbira) and violin, seemed longer than necessary, or not long enough; it ranged discursively through a number of fascinating techniques and ultimately went away without really leaving a memorable effect. Movses Pogossian played sweetly, scaling the violin toward an accompanying role; Kuniko Kato brought a percussionist's dexterity and precision to the many ways Harada stipulated the kalimba be sounded. I'd hear this piece again, too.
  • Anzellotti returned to the stage for his own arrangement of the Froberger — not entirely successful, I thought, the accordion lacking the crispness Froberger's music seems to call for — and Sequenza XIII (chanson), by Luciano Berio. Berio's music is stonger than Globokar's: both more expressive and structurally more persuasive. But Anzelotti minimized the distinction, repeating in small the problem that seemed to characterize the evening in large.

    I write the above after having read the review, by Mark Swed, in the Los Angeles Times. I know and like Mark and was saddened by his comments, which seemed to skim the surface of the concert. It's worth noting that the online version of his review is followed by a very thoughtful response by Barbara Moroncini. The Times is in trouble, as are most daily newspapers, and I hope whatever emerges to replace it and them as public media will continue to make such exchanges accessible.

    LAST NIGHT WE RETURNED to downtown Los Angeles, this time to the new Frank Gehry Disney Hall, to hear a "Green Umbrella" concert, produced by the new-music wing of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. This was a complete success: solid and attractive pieces chosen to illustrate a theme — and, like the Monday Evening Concert, serving to initiate a season. Again, the audience was large and enthusiastic: but in the larger, acoustically persuasive but visually distracting Disney Hall they seemed somehow less automatic, more discerning than they had Monday night. (There was probably considerable overlap.)
  • Sequenza V, again by Luciano Berio but this time for solo trombone, was fluently and efficiently performed by James Miller, who wore a Grock-style outfit (odd hat, big shoes) to emphasize the score's pathos.
  • Joanne Martin's performance of excerpts of John Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for prepared piano struck me as a bit mannered — unnecessarily "expressive," like Mitsuko Uchida's Mozart, counting too much on hushed dynamics and legato touch, rather than letting the notes make their own point. But the music was played accurately and the piano sounded effectively, though I'm not sure it was accurately prepared according to Cage's instructions.
  • Kontra-Punkte, by Karlheinz Stockhausen, was played with extraordinary beauty and accuracy, as I recall the score (I'd stupidly forgotten to bring it along). Pablo Heras-Casado conducted the ten instrumentalists in a supple, expressive, beautifully contoured and paced performance; the instrumentalists, all from the L.A. Philharmonic, brought attentiveness and true ensemble musicianship to the job. This was the piece that had attracted us to the evening in the first place: it's a real masterpiece, in Stockhausen's view in the root sense of the word, and should join the standard repertory. Only one cavil: I'm not sure the instrumentalists should be encouraged to leave the stage one by one, as their contributions to the score finish their courses; some events can be left to subtlety.
  • Gyôrgy Ligeti's Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures took up the second half of the evening, again in a perfectly proportioned realization. Heras-Casado conducted; the vocalists were Kiera Duffy, Marry Nessinger, and Eugene Chan; the seven instrumentalists (flute, horn, percussion, harpsichord, piano, cello, contrabass) were again from the LA Phil's New Music Group. As in the Berio, pathos, humor, and drama all emerged recognizably without ever falling into sentimentality; the final significance of the music was its clarity and limpid beauty. It'll be interesting to read Swed's review tomorrow.
  • Tuesday, December 02, 2008

    Le Marteau sans maître


    I'VE BEEN MULLING OVER this music for a couple of months now, Pierre Boulez's cycle Le Marteau sans maître; I write about it today quite unprepared — for one thing I can't recall where I put the score — but under some urgency, as a performance is scheduled next Monday in San Francisco, and it doesn't hurt to call some attention to it.

    (Alas I won't be able to hear it: I'll be in Los Angeles.)

    I've been thinking about the piece because of a strange string of coincidences. Six or seven weeks ago, just before we left on a longish trip to Italy, we had dinner with a couple of friends in Healdsburg. Richard gave me a little bundle wrapped in paper, a cube whose proportions looked oddly familiar. At the bottom, tied to the package but not within its wrapping paper, was a booklet. The package turned out to be a stack of identically proportioned miniature scores in the familiar Eulenberg yellow covers, mostly standard-rep pieces. The "booklet," however, was the first edition of the miniature score to Le Marteau sans maître.

    Even more exciting, it had Gerhard Samuel's signature on the cover; and inside its pages I found the program to the performance he conducted in Berkeley, at the University of California, in 1962. I had heard that performance: the exotic sounds and elusive construction of the piece had been an epochal moment in my awakening to music. Without exaggeration I would have to say that that concert, with two others — an all-Webern concert, also at UC, a few years earlier, and a Cage-Tudor concert in San Francisco a couple of years later — was what led me to music.

    Not having a recording of Le Marteau sans maître on hand I turned to the Internet, downloading the Lorelt re-release, with mezzosoprano Linda Hirst and the Lontano ensemble conducted by Odaline de la Martinez. I listened to it casually two or three times before leaving for Italy in late October.

    I just listened to it again, this time in a different context: a letter arrived today from another friend who writes about Debussy and Berlioz and the impact on their music — as he suspects — of their language, whose supple scansion imparts a completely different sound, or aural mentality, I might say, than that of Germanic composers of their time. Douglas is particularly keen on this subject: he's spent a number of years investigating the metrics (and melodics) of classical Greek poetry; his Latin is also up to subtle investigations; and he loves the free expressivity of the poets of those languages, so unlike the dum-de-dum (as he puts it) of poets working in English and, especially, German.

    I think, but have no reason to — undoubtedly this is sheer projection — I suspect that Boulez composed this music poised between contemplation and invention, but always with the sounds of his ensemble and the sounds of Char's poems at the front of his mind. Since we're overstating cases, let's not be afraid of bold generalizations: the Germanic mentality is fond of measuring things, and drawn to substances; the Gallic mentality is more likely to contemplate things, without touching or manipulating them you might say, and is drawn to surfaces.

    (I suspect there's a lot to be discovered in considering the intersections of the Greek-Roman and German-French dualities, two scales whose opposite ends declare changing allegiances to those of their counterparts. But I'm not going further with that at the moment.)

    If you don't know Le Marteau sans maître, you're not going to hear it, or for that matter learn much about it, here. You have to hear it. The nine sections, totalling a little over half an hour, set for various combinations an ensemble of only six musicians (voice, alto flute, viola, guitar, vibraphone-xylorimba, percussion), has a supple, lyrical, sinuous, glittering appeal; the composer György Ligeti called it "feline."

    The music is relentlessly complex on the page. I telephoned Anna Carol Dudley, who sang it in that 1962 performance, and she confirmed there'd been at least fifty rehearsals. She spoke of the music as being unnecessarily difficult on the page: it goes by so fast, and has so many notes and such complex rhythms, that in the end an audience can hardly know whether a performance is accurate or not.

    But that has nothing to do with listening to the music. It is, instead, a testament to the composer's attitude toward craft, to his procedure, and his awareness of his historical moment as it intersects with his own individual responses to the material he's working with — those six musicians and René Char's Surreal poems.

    Le Marteau sans maître is the subject of an unusually intelligent and attractive discussion on Wikipedia. (Wikipedia's entry on Boulez is equally intelligent.) Tony Haywood contributes a thoughtful review of the Lontano recording on the Internet, too, geared more to the layman; Wikipedia's extensive source citations will lead the really curious researcher much further.

    Le Marteau sans maître was influential in its day, half a century ago; more so in Europe, of course, than in the United States, where "difficulty" is quickly evaded. One of the ironies of the world of concert music is that the standard repertory of Beethoven and Brahms has been hammered into popularity by the music press; the same forces have sneered at the complexities of Modernist music from Schoenberg to Stockhausen, and recoiled from what it sees as the eccentricities of "mavericks" from Satie to Scelsi.

    A gullible public has been trained to mistrust and dislike the music it rarely has a chance to hear. A week of Le Marteau sans maître, the Modern Jazz Quartet, a little bit of Gerry Mulligan and even Chet Baker, early Stockhausen pieces like Kontra-Punkte (which I'll hear next Tuesday in Los Angeles) and Refrain, and Cage's music from the mid-1940s through the 1950s, and anyone with an open mind and a receptive ear would be persuaded that this music is, in fact, the Debussy and Satie of our own time (or a decade or two ago). We've been deprived of a great deal.