Some Clarifications and Amplifications: Barber, Taruskin, and Snobbery

[Barber’s Violin Concerto attempts, and magnificently succeeds in, creating obviously beautiful and appealing melodies. Make no mistake, Violin Concerto though it may be called, the first two movements are luscious songs.]

Didn’t I just say that in my last post? 

Am I permitted to say that my comment on listeners “being free to luxuriate in the beautiful melodies” of the Barber concerto is an observation, not a condemnation? At least I didn’t consciously try to put down Barber’s audience; and if I put down Barber’s audience subconsciously, it is probably due to my own insecurities, and not to a rational evaluation of the nature of his audience. Snobs are insecure people, let’s face it. For convenience, and because I’m heartily sick of semi-colons and other connective gammatical devices, I’ve arranged these in the form of a list:

1. The Barber Violin Concerto is a great work.  I know that.  And ironically, from my point of view, it would continue to be a great work even if only the size of Webern’s public liked it. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. And you know, I’m not persuaded that it is always out of bounds to criticize public taste. Standards of discrimination has its value…I would hate to have classical music concerts become pops concerts. My problem is that I’m frustrated that what I value isn’t valued more generally, which I guess is a kind of immaturity. Don’t I get credit for defending the popular rep in my student days, at least? And I’m not always a snob. Didn’t I just run a class on Sibelius, for instance? And haven’t I praised Leonard Bernstein’s music at every opportunity?

2. Taruskin is a great writer and thinker. I know that. And ironically, he would still be a great writer even  if he preferred Webern to Barber and if only a public the size of Webern’s liked his work.

3. I imagine it was some jackanapes and not The Great Man who claims I’m a snob who needs to be rebuked. But let me respond, as to being a snob: It’s a fair cop, Guv’nor, you got me bang to rights.  As for a rebuke? Well, I deserve all sorts of rebukes for all sorts of transgressions.  …ah, if you only knew!

4. For better or worse, a blog is the sort of forum where in order to generate interest, it appears that controversial or provocative claims get more readership and generate more interest than careful, sober posts. And I try to do my posts with humor, which is some defense. That’s why posts on Taruskin and even one on Alex Ross’s fine new book took issue with some of their views. The “off the cuff” nature of a blog reveals things about the writer that he would not perhaps want to reveal intentionally. Regular contributors to the comments, such as Ry and David,  who happen to be friends of mine, are most often moved to comment when they disagree with something. I imagine it is easier to take shots from the sidelines than to create an interesting post a priori, which is fair, but I ask for some indulgence. I like to stir things up, it’s in my nature.

I’ve decided to turn over a new leaf. Who needs a snob? Here’s a new list of points that will indicate my new, reformed direction.

1. Aren’t puppies cute? I saw one crawl in a sock drawer once, just a-snoozin’ away! And kittens are cute, as well.

2. And so are composers. Especially ones who write nice music. Only meanies think that it’s appropriate to criticize each other’s taste. And I think you’re cute, too. Can’t we all get along? 

3. Boy, those concert grand pianos sure are big!

4. Goshers, isn’t it amazing how the Chicago Symphony got through the whole 80 minutes of Mahler 6 without stopping or breaking down even once. They’re like super-men!

Oh no! I’m doing it again! These “reformed” comments smack of sarcasm! Oh, well, a chameleon may change his colors, but never his nature.