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Saturday, April 9, 2005 - 4:53pmSanction this postReply
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On another thread Chris wrote: “The reason I say this is because too many people who claim to love "higher" music like to dismiss "popular music" as primitive; but in some respects, "popular" music has encapsulated a Romanticism that is absent from the works of "serious" 20th century composers. Those 20th century composers dismissed the achievements of, say, a Miklos Rozsa, who made "movie music," while they were embracing long periods of silence or traffic horns as "serious music."  (Some of these same people might also dismiss Mario Lanza for the reasons that he was a popular screen and recording artist, rather than a bona fide star of the opera stage.)”

 

I am in fact one of those “people”.

 

In your articles on Rozsa and Lanza you are ethically playing with fire; fire is a dangerous thing to play with.

 

I am going to take a little artistic license and write down my thoughts on this but I am preparing for my first major United States exhibition in many years, coming up soon, so apologize for my gruffness ahead of time but not for the content.

 

For an artist to have the guts to follow their vision without compromise is called artistic integrity. It is like a rule of nature that will exalt the pure and will condemn every single act of compromise that an artist accepts, it will follow them or accelerate their path to grave as it did with Lanza or get them to rationalize that composing for a film is no different than composing an opera or their 9th. (Rand is right on the money when she observes that opera is primarily musically driven, as film is not.) That point here is that a composer can be true to his artistic integrity in composing an opera which is driven by the music but a film is driven by the script and the director, the film composer must serve non-musical directions. Rozsa claimed this was a feat but he released the reins, for the time working on the film music, that would have driven a composition that would be his100%. Of course no one has to be a pure artist but it is an elite group of people that should be honored accordingly.

 

I would love to write a piece on Leontyne Price with a focus on her unsurpassed artistic integrity. Her career as an opera diva is one of the most outstanding and heroic feats in modern times; and she knows it. Not in any pompous way but in a brilliant person’s way who knows they made the right decisions. She has stated that if you want to sing in the greatest opera houses in the world then you must devote all your soul to it. A very simple lesson that Lanza would not or could not do. She also commented that being alone on the stage is the moment of truth. A special type of self-esteemed is gained by being true to your talent. For Mario Lanza the only place he would find that is in the opera house.

 

Think for a moment how monumental a feat it is to nail a performance in a great Opera house:

  1. You are singing work from the greatest music composers of the western world: Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi, Puccini.
  2. These composers have written at the limits of what the human voice is capable of and as the singer you have no room for error. At all costs you must do justice to the music as written.
  3. As the singer you have to rise up and match the world class conductors and musicians in the pit along with matching the other great singers.
  4. And you are facing one of the most passionate and knowledgeable audiences that exist in any public event.
  5. Also you are being judge by comparison to the greatest interrupters of the music.
  6. And, lastly, this is live…no retakes, no rewriting the arias, no stalling, no charm can help you if you mess up.

 

Lanza was cursed with one of the greatest spirits and instruments in opera and without the guts to be true to his genius. On this point Lanza is deserving of our pity. He didn’t deliver the goods when it counted; he knew it, discussed it, and was haunted by it.

 

On solo I find it sad that Lanza’s tragic life is brushed aside as insignificant. In an ethical sense but more than that in the sense of living a great life on earth it is context dropping; dropping the very real very significant concept of artistic integrity.

 

I do not have the patience nor can master enough goodwill to discuss Rozsa in depth or Chris’ idea that he is some kind of artist hero.

 

The problem that I see is that Chris doesn’t know about artistic integrity and he insists to call people with an understanding of it or people that have it snobs. That is unjust.

 

Michael




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Post 1

Saturday, April 9, 2005 - 6:10pmSanction this postReply
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You must not think much of Leonardo, since he did so little as a painter...... no 'integrity'...



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Saturday, April 9, 2005 - 9:33pmSanction this postReply
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I am not familiar with the film music of Rosza, so I will refrain from commenting on that per se.  However, to denounce film scoring as categorically inferior to operas and symphonies is wrong.  Film is one of the most emotionally powerful mediums in existence.  It combines literature, narative, music and imagery in a way that recreates reality more effectively than any other artform.  Devising an effective score for a film can be a tremendous creative challenge.  It is unfortunate that so many films are horse shit, but that should not demean the accomplishments of those who posess a serious gift for the craft.     



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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 1:38amSanction this postReply
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Michael,

I think you are wrong to suggest that Lanza fans brush aside the tragedy of his never singing in opera houses  (many of us dearly wish he had gone on to do so after his pop career) but I also don't agree that he breeched artistic integrity by taking the more "popular" route - for good or ill he bypassed the cultural "elite" and opened classical music up to the masses, just as Rand herself bypassed the philosophical elite of academia. She succeeded among sections of the public long before the academics started to accept her, just as Lanza was a popular success decades ago while many of the present day big hitters of classical music (Carreras, Pavorotti, Domingo et al) cite him as a crucial influence.

Had both of them followed your interpretation of artistic integrity, we might have neither accessible classical music nor Objectivism.

MH




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 2:35amSanction this postReply
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Michael,

I understand where you're coming from, even if I disagree, but you're suggesting that the difference between popular artists and elite artists is solely a matter of artistic integrity -- and that is snobbish. I certainly agree with the concept of artistic integrity, but it must be assessed on a case by case basis and not in some general pop-versus-elite way.

I don't see any intrinsic reason why music in a "music-directed sphere" is of higher integrity than music in a non-music-directed sphere, such as film. I'm sure there are several opera composers who would never be able to compose a score to a film. Why is one type of composition ipso facto more valuable than the other -- when they are unique? To live in your own artistic world is one thing. But to combine your artistic world harmoniously with other worlds -- such as combining music with image and story -- is not necessarily any easier. Political writing is directed by politics, but that doesn't make great political writing any less-great than other kinds of nonfiction.

And being able manipulate your artform so as to appeal to the masses is no easy task, either. Again, why is that intrinsically of lesser integrity? 

Alec




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 3:39amSanction this postReply
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Michael wrote,
"5. Also you are being judge by comparison to the greatest interrupters of the music."

Interrupters indeed.

Michael wrote,
"The problem that I see is that Chris doesn’t know about artistic integrity and he insists to call people with an understanding of it or people that have it snobs. That is unjust."

Michael,
Do you play any musical instruments? Have you ever written and/or performed music professionally? Ever been part of a collaborative work, like a jam session with seasoned pros?

Best,
J





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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 6:04amSanction this postReply
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Michael wrote:

Lanza was cursed with one of the greatest spirits and instruments in opera and without the guts to be true to his genius. On this point Lanza is deserving of our pity. He didn¡¯t deliver the goods when it counted; he knew it, discussed it, and was haunted by it.

I don't think many of Lanza's admirers here would deny that, in many respects, his life was tragic. Yes, he was haunted by his failure to return to the operatic stage after 1948, and it's a huge shame that he never recorded a complete opera. Had he lived, however, he might well have gone on to achieve both feats. At the time of his death, plans were afoot for him to record a number of complete operas, and he'd also agreed to appear as Canio in Pagliacci at the Rome Opera in 1960. Had the latter actually happened, then Lanza might today have been celebrated as the opera singer who triumphantly returned to the stage after a 12-year hiatus.

 

But OK - so it didn't happen. But in assessing Lanza's legacy, does it really matter that he didn't return to the stage after those two acclaimed performances as Pinkerton in 1948? 

 

Of course it doesn't. For in those remaining 11 years of his life, Lanza achieved the near-impossible. Almost singlehandedly, he brought opera to the masses, not just via his films, but through his concerts and recordings. He made people want to sing, and in the process he inspired some of the greatest artists of the last few decades to become opera singers themselves.

 

Let's not continue to lambaste the man for what he didn't achieve, but focus instead on the recordings he left behind. These include a handful of operatic performances that surpass the efforts of even the most celebrated of full-time operatic practitioners. For wildly uneven though Lanza's recorded legacy is - when he was on fire, by Christ he was extraordinary!  

 

(Edited by Derek McGovern on 4/10, 7:15am)




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 6:21amSanction this postReply
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Playing with fire, eh?

The thing I find most objectionable in your post, Michael, is this assertion:  "The problem that I see is that Chris doesn't know about artistic integrity and he insists to call people with an understanding of it or people that have it snobs. That is unjust."

I will admit to not knowing enough about the technical aspects of painting and sculpture, for example, in order to make an informed judgment about an artist's integrity or technical brilliance.  I can only tell you what I like in these arts, and my tastes vary from Michelangelo to Monet.

But in music:  I'll gladly play with fire.  I've studied music, played an awful violin, taught a course on the history of jazz, and have been surrounded by musicians my whole life (including a virtuoso jazz guitarist brother, a terrific jazz vocalist sister-in-law, and a couple of professional opera-singing cousins).  I spend every day of my life listening to music.  I have eclectic tastes that range from the great classical compositions to contemporary R&B; I have a musical palette that makes room for Beethoven, the Blues, and the Beatles. Even among My Favorite Songs, one will find composers and artists from Puccini, Haydn, and Bach to Sarah Vaughan, Stevie Wonder, and Led Zeppelin.

So, let us begin. 

First, Michael, look carefully at the paragraph you quoted.  When I spoke of snobs, I was speaking primarily of the "avant-garde" of the 20th century who embraced "silence" and "traffic horns" as music, and who then condemned people like Miklos Rozsa because his music was too "melodic" and of another era.  They were right.  It is melodic, and it is of another era, and like many who still captured Romanticism in their music, Rozsa spent a lot of time composing for film (and this was not his only sphere of composition).

I am astonished to read that you have neither the patience nor the goodwill to discuss Rozsa in-depth, but to assert, as you do, that he lacked artistic integrity, is simply that:  an assertion.  Plenty of people work for hire and take direction:  If an architect is hired to build a gas station, he builds a gas station---not a gymnasium---according to his own vision; and if the vision of the architect matches the needs of the customer who pays for it, a gas station is built.  If a painter is hired to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, his artistic integrity is not being violated because he has a limited canvas and must adhere to a religious theme.  Rozsa matched the needs of the director who paid for his compositions, but he had mega-guts in never sacrificing his artistic integrity, his vision, in composing the pieces for the screen that remain among the most formidable achievements in film scoring ever written.  And his wonderful concert works were composed for some of the finest instrumentalists of the 20th century, including Jascha Heifetz and Pinchas Zukerman, who both celebrated the Rozsa legacy.

You can say you don't care for Rozsa's work.  You can even tell me that you don't like my artistic tastes.   C'est la vie.  But to tell me that I have no understanding of artistic integrity is remarkable on the face of it.  We have different tastes, Michael.  But the chief difference is:  I don't belittle the achievements of a Leontyne Price (whom I love), or many of the great classical composers (whom I also love) as a means of celebrating the achievements of people in jazz, R&B, or film scoring. 

And many classical musicians don't feel the necessity to belittle the achievements of, say, their brothers and sisters in jazz either.  Violinist Yehudi Menuhin played a magnificent classical piece; but he bowed before the improvisational genius of violinist Stephane Grappelli, and in all the albums they recorded together, Menuhin (who played transcriptions) couldn't say enough about the artistic integrity of Grappelli.  Violinist Itzhak Perlman said the same about jazz guitarist Jim Hall.  Classical pianist Jean Yves-Thibaudet said the same about jazz pianist Bill Evans.  He even recorded a tribute album to Evans, based on transcriptions of Evans' solos, which Thibaudet himself likened to Ravel, Debussy, Chopin, and Rachmaninov.  And many classical opera stars stood in awe of the vocal genius of Sarah Vaughan, who was often called the jazz world's "Leontyne Price."  These classical artists, and many others, celebrate the deep rhythmic and harmonic complexity of jazz (and jazz-influenced composition too:  in the works of George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Eddie Sauter, and Michel Legrand, to name a few).  And such classicists, more often than not, cannot duplicate the improvisational genius they see at work within that genre.  And, as an aside, that improvisational genius is on display in most cases, in concert halls and clubs, where the same formula as the opera house applies:  "no retakes, ... no stalling, no charm can help you if you mess up."

As for Lanza:  My original article on Mario Lanza clearly and unequivocally dealt with the tragedy of his life.  In fact, the whole Cesari book that I reviewed is subtitled "An American Tragedy."  That book and my review most certainly did not brush aside the tragedy: it was the whole point of the project. 

But for what he did achieve, I can only say: Bravo, Derek McGovern.




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 1:36pmSanction this postReply
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I may be misreading Michael, but I do not believe that Michael's argument is an "either-or" argument (Lanza is either great or lousy), but rather an argument on: 1. the degree/proportion of "greatness" that separates one man from another or defines one of them as an "almost or could have been great", and 2. the extent to which personal/artistic integrity is the determining factor of the first. I believe he trying to make a qualitative distinction between the lousy and the average - the good and great; based on integrity as the primary determining factor.
 
If one works from this standard, a jazz artist does not necessarily have less artistic integrity than classical music artist, he may in fact have more. Within the limits of his skills, knowledge and personal mastery of music; he may in fact be far truer at his level than men in a far more demanding genre. This may explain why a pianist like Jean Yves-Thibaudet responds in such a kindred-spirit fashion to Jazz pianist Bill Evans. I suspect that Newberry's problem with Lanza is that he feels that he was not a Bill Evans in Jazz, but an artist in a genre where his level of mastery was within reach of something much more. I suspect that he may have a greater respect for the artistic integrity of Bill Evans, than Mario Lanza. 
 

On the other hand, this dilettante of the arts may not even be close to understanding what Newberry is trying to say?   ; ( 

 
George

(Edited by George W. Cordero on 4/10, 7:03pm)




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 2:09pmSanction this postReply
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Michael seems to have a rather Platonic view of art - that he & a rarefied few occupy the dimension of the perfect elite, of whom the rest, in this lowly dimension called earth, give us imperfect intimations. He also seems to think that art cannot be great, or true, if it has a sponsor or a context (or at least, a context of which Michael approves). The irony of this position is that one of Michael's fellow-snobs, Rudolf Bing, wouldn't allow Lanza to perform at the Met because he'd "cheapened" opera by performing it in "crass" movies. Then the snobs turn around & damn Lanza for not appearing at the Met!

As Derek notes, Mario was scheduled to appear at La Scala in 1960. Naturally we all regret, hugely, that he died before that could happen, but to say he lacked artistic integrity on that count simply doesn't make sense.

And to say Chris doesn't understand artistic integrity because he lauds Lanza & Rosza is a non-sequitur & ad hominem rolled into one. Good for one's Latin practise, but not mush use apart from that.

There are genres & there are greats within them. The fact that Mario was great in the pop of his time as well as opera, while not truly fulfilling his potential in the latter, is to his credit, rather than shame. He could do a mean Sinatra; Sinatra could never have done a Lanza. (This is not just a metaphor. Sinatra himself once said, "They say I make women swoon; this guy makes *me* swoon.")

Linz



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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 2:42pmSanction this postReply
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Let me add one more thing. There's a problem that surfaces in almost all elitist artistic standard-setting and it surfaces just as well in this example.

Essentially, the logical conclusion of Michael's doctrine, in practice, would be this: if every artist maintained his integrity, there would be *no* pop music, no original film scores, no cover art, none of whatever Michael considers the "lesser forms." Such can only exist in the absence of integrity; in the ideal world, we would have none of it. And it's not enough to say, "well, those who are less talented could do that stuff." If I'm to understand Michael's concept of artistic integrity correctly, someone who can do excellent film scores but not-so-good operas, should still strive for the highest form and stick to operas. Anything less is a "compromise."

Alec   




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 2:52pmSanction this postReply
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Alec said: If I'm to understand Michael's concept of artistic integrity correctly, someone who can do excellent film scores but not-so-good operas, should still strive for the highest form and stick to operas. Anything less is a "compromise."

Alec, I get the exact opposite impression. My impression is that he is saying 'hurrah' to the guy that does great films scores, but "shame on you" to the man that could do great opera, but does great film scores. After Michael Jordan (arguably the greatest basketball player that ever lived) left the University of North Carolina, lets assume he had avoided the NBA, and gone on to become a 'great' high school basketball coach; Newberry would have shook his head and said: "what a waste, so much talent and he is *in* a position to act on it - but he has no courage". Perhaps a poor analogy, but I think one that applies.

George

(Edited by George W. Cordero on 4/10, 3:24pm)




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 4:13pmSanction this postReply
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Even if you are right, George, that Michael is saying that a guy like Rozsa should not have done film scores because film scores per se are an inferior art form, as compared to, say, classical composition, that still operates on the assumption that there is nothing greater than classical composition.  But even that judgment is one that must be justified by reference to a standard.  There is melodic complexity, harmonic complexity, rhythmic complexity, and so forth.  And then, there is performance:  I'm sorry, but I don't accept the belief that classical musicians are at a "higher" level than, say, jazz musicians.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that the best in each genre have comparable skills, but they use their skills in ways that are different, and not really comparable.  As Linz says:  "There are genres & there are greats within them." 

In any event, Rozsa lived a self-admitted "double life" as the title of his autobiography suggests, and there was something in film scores, something about the dramatization of action through music (through the equivalent of instrumental "operas," if you will ... a descendant of Wagnerian composition) that spoke to Rozsa's talent.  And in so many of the films that his music touched, the quality of the film is augmented because of it.  Moreover, he composed "pure" music as well, that is, material not meant to accompany film, and critics such as Terry Teachout are correct, in my view, to characterize that music as among the most important contributions to 20th century composition.  And to a certain extent, his achievements in each sphere reciprocally influenced the other.

Perhaps, on a gut level, I have an appreciation for "crossover" artists (a category that includes people like Lanza, Rozsa, and even trumpeter Wynton Marsalis---who has performed and recorded in both the classical and jazz fields) because, to a certain extent, it mirrors the fact that I am a bit of a "crossover" writer, one who has written for the technical academic market, as well as the more popular market.  And I'm not prepared to denigrate either market because each has its place.  As was suggested in another thread, it is possible, admirable even, to understand the context of your audience, and do the best you possibly can to frame your writing accordingly. 




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 5:01pmSanction this postReply
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Lest not forget, too, that a number of classical composers, - Mozart, Beethoven, Bach esp. for examples - worked under commission in much the same restricted way as do film composers of today..... and others - like Schubert, for instance - wrote what were pop tunes of their day...  what, then would that be considered of them, 'integrity'wise...... 



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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 5:33pmSanction this postReply
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Chris says: Even if you are right, George, that Michael is saying that a guy like Rozsa should not have done film scores because film scores per se are an inferior art form, as compared to, say, classical composition, that still operates on the assumption that there is nothing greater than classical composition. 

 

Chris, am I to understand that you believe that within the arts, there do not exist any qualitative standards that can be applied that separate the genres hierarchically; from the more primitive to the more exalted, from the easiest to the more demanding, from the simplest to the more complex? Are all ‘genres’ equivalent?

 

Chris says: I'm sorry, but I don't accept the belief that classical musicians are at a "higher" level than, say, jazz musicians. 

 

Is minor league baseball no different than the majors? Are comics simply another form (genre) of writing, neither better nor inferior to Shakespeare? Is pissing in a jar and adding a crucifix, the aesthetic equivalent of Michael’s paintings? Is it all just a matter of subjective perception? Am I a sports “elitist” when I declare Michael Jordan to be greater, better, superior and more to be exalted than the greatest arm wrestler in the world?
 

I admit that I have neither the knowledge nor understanding of the arts to be able to define what those standards are or should be. My only ability in this area is my reliance on how I respond to them. But I simply cannot accept that the “arts” are somehow the exception to all other fields of human endeavor, when it comes to being able to define and apply objective standards for hierarchal evaluations.  I almost believe that you are suggesting that it is the general ‘public taste or likes’ that is the standard?

 

"There are genres & there are greats within them" - agreed. But a 'genre' is a subcatagory of a specific overall discipline. But, are all the subcatagories equal? They all fill a niche, but equal? If you tell me that Led Zep was among the greatest 'Hard Rock music artists' of all time, I will agree. But what happens when I take away the adjectives 'Hard Rock' from in front of he words 'music artist' ?  

 

By the way, the overwhelming majority of Michaels post was not concerned with any of this. Its central thrust was the question of artistic integrity, the possible ability to perform on one level – but the choice not to act on that ability. We have deviated from his main argument, although I do realize the connection between the two subjects.

 

Perhaps I am too much of an artistic philistine to understand the nuances of all this, but:

 

“There is something rotten in the state of Denmark.” – a quote from Shakespeare or Homer Simpson – what the hell, what difference does it make!

 

George

(Edited by George W. Cordero on 4/11, 5:25am)




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 7:04pmSanction this postReply
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Assuming, for the moment, George, you are correct - who is or has decided that opera is the highest in the hierarchy, other than those elitists who favor it?

And, as I pointed out, who is to determine these levels within the classical/jazz/etc. - much of what today is classical was originally  the equivalent of 'pop' music in their times.....




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Sunday, April 10, 2005 - 8:28pmSanction this postReply
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Let me take you back a few hundred years to the birth of the High Renaissance. There is a true story told by Vasari about a patroness who gave two commissions one to a master of the time, I don’t recall his name, and the other to da Vinci. She was adamant about the subject, the colors, the schedule with Mr. X. But when it came to da Vinci she merely offered money and suggested that he paint anything he choose. Da Vinci marks one of the greatest turning points humankind’s history and justly so. Through his works and his manner he elevated the artist to a supreme creator. Before that time an artist was merely a craftsperson a servant to religion and patrons’ orders. Michelangelo, he overlapped da Vinci’s time but the younger, carried on the new founded tradition that a great artist dictated the work.

 

There is a documented a response letter from Michelangelo to the Pope. The pope had requested that Michelangelo sculpt a huge sculpture for a square. The sculpture would need to be made up of several blocks of marble. Those who know their art history and Michelangelo in particular know that he was adamant that the human form was locked inside the single block of marble. It is out of the scope of this post to go into beauty of this concept. Michelangelo suggested to the Pope that the sculpture could be two or three stories high, with several blocks of marble, that it could be a seated figure, that the church could have revenues if Michelangelo insert a room for a smoke shop at the base of the sculpture, and he could even funnel a hole through the many blocks of marble and that it could go through the sculpture’s arm, where it could end in a  smoking pipe, in which the shop keeper could lit a fire and smoke could flow out of the pipe and be a great advertisement for the shop.

 

The concept of that a  great artist is true 100% to their values was born in the Renaissance and a very important and significant point about that is that it is the sublime expression of individuality.

 

Chris wrote: “Plenty of people work for hire and take direction.” Chris is there any way that you can help me explain to you that high art is not a service industry? and that that is a good thing? Or do you like the idea that artists should go back to pre-renaissance times, back to the middle ages?

 

 

----

 

George’s article “No” states beautifully the spirit of what it means for an artist to follow their artistic integrity. I appreciate his generosity in understanding my perspective.

 

-----

 

 

Linz, you amuse me. Me platonic? Did writing that feel awkward off your pen? And you miss the point of idealism and artistic integrity…it is not about being superior or snotty or anything like that it is fucking practical man! Knowing who you are and being true to your talent and dreams and doing that 100% is the only way anyone is going to feel exhilaration, to feel totally free, and, with full knowledge, elation.

 

Lastly, the reason why I posted this thread is because it is my belief that a cultural new renaissance cannot come about by anything less than the examples of brilliant artists that have the artistic integrity of a Roark.  

(Edited by Newberry on 4/10, 8:34pm)




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Monday, April 11, 2005 - 1:31amSanction this postReply
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Da Vinci marks one of the greatest turning points humankind’s history and justly so. Through his works and his manner he elevated the artist to a supreme creator.
Michael,

One detail about da Vinci is that most of his art works were left unfinished. Does that not in your opinion put him in the same category as Lanza?




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Monday, April 11, 2005 - 5:17amSanction this postReply
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Alec,

 

I enjoyed reading your comments though I don’t always enjoy being at the end point of your polemical stick…mostly because the style sets up a pissing contest.

 

Your asked: “And being able manipulate your artform so as to appeal to the masses is no easy task, either. Again, why is that intrinsically of lesser integrity?”

 

This is a very good question that goes into a gray area and yet a important philosophical/aesthetic area and one where Rand and Kant face off. Kant talks about the importance of mass acceptance and Rand talks about the universality of humans. At a glance it would seem that they are the same concepts.

 

Christo is a great Kantian artist for many many reasons, one is that all his projects work with mass acceptance. For a project he will work tirelessly to get approval from the city, state and local authorities, legislators; he will raise millions of dollars by convincing people of his projects, an usually has thousands of volunteers who wish to be part of his projects; and has a great track with the media. Also hundreds of thousands of people visit his projects and many of them view it as a major event in their lives. He is the postmodern artist that did the Gates in N.Y.C. Acceptance is a key word here. Christo as stated that what he is doing is totally irrational, and has no point, etc.

 

Universality on the other hand is about such things as balance or harmony or form or themes—by empirical observation we can see that, for example many people respond to and can retain melody. So when an artist works with say form/shape it doesn’t mean that they will mass communicate but there is a chance that they can touch a cord that is in all humans.

 

Many artists deal with both these things and they have to navigate their souls accordingly…selling, marketing, getting approval, and positive feedback is a realistic part of being an artist…but it can be awfully painful to rearrange your art to please people and at the most extreme end you become a whore without an identity. I believe that is an inherent danger in working to appeal to the masses—and  I think that it is important to be certain that the primary guide is to create the work from the inside out and if it can also appeal to the masses than you have hit a home run.

 

Michael




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Post 19

Monday, April 11, 2005 - 5:46amSanction this postReply
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This is going to be a long post.  I apologize in advance for its length. But there is no way to discuss these complex issues without opening up a few worm-cans.  So, here goes:

George, I am certainly not suggesting that there are no qualitative standards by which to evaluate the complexity of different genres of music. And I certainly recognize that there are primitive and more complex forms of any art.  What I was questioning was your own implicit view that jazz is inferior to classical music, at least insofar as we consider performance. 

Since most jazz features improvisation based on less complex "popular tunes" or standards, a legitimate argument can be made that most classical composition is superior to jazz "composition."  (This sets aside, for the moment, the fact that most classical composers simply wrote down their improvised variations on a theme, while in jazz, that improvisation is spontaneous within a structure; as Louis Armstrong once said, and I'm paraphrasing:  "Asking a jazz musician to play the song in exactly the same way every time, is like going over to a bird and asking: 'How's that again?'")

Of course, the argument for "complexity" breaks down somewhat when we start to compare advanced jazz-influenced composition by people like Gershwin, Bernstein, Legrand, Sauter, and others---who explore complexity in rhythm and harmony on a par with classicists (and why wouldn't they?  Most of these composers studied the classics, after all.)

Some of this is discussed in a superb work entitled Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy:  How Music Captures Our Imagination, by Robert Jourdain (a hat tip to Joe Maurone, who gave me the book some years ago).  I strongly recommend Jourdain's book for those who wish to understand more fully the nature of complexity in music.  For example, though Western music has enormous melodic and harmonic complexity, it does not (typically) have the rhythmic complexity that is found in the Middle East, Asia, and especially Africa.  Jourdain writes:

Most Westerners have so much trouble with extended meters that even some musicologists have declared them incomprehensible.  But much of the world revels in metrical complexity. In fact, it is the absence of complex meter in the West that is anomalous.  Wherever music emphasizes complex meter, ordinary people learn to perceive it ... An even greater perceptual challenge is posed by polyrhythm.  Polyrhythm might more accurately be called "polymeter", since it's made by playing more than one meter at a time. ... Polyrhythm makes your brain work overtime by demanding more attention than the simple meters found in most music, where sixteenth notes fit evenly into eights, eighths into quarters, quarters into halves, everything nicely aligned.  This orderly arrangement lets the brain anticipate coming notes easily as halvings or doublings of the underlying beat.  But when three notes overlay four in a polyrhythm, irregular distances fall between the notes of the two meters.  The result is a sort of temporal texture that requires close listening to grasp analytically.

Jourdain states additionally:


Polyrhythm is rare in Western music, yet it has been around for a long time.  You'll find instances in the experimental music of the early Baroque, in Mozart and Beethoven, and especially in the music of Romantic composers like Schumann and Brahms.  In classical music, polyrhythm often is employed ornamentally as a sort of rhythmic bump in the road.  But long polyrhythmic passages also appear.  There's a good deal of polyrhythm in jazz, but not much elsewhere in the West.

And that point is key: because jazz, as a uniquely American contribution to music, is at a cultural crossroads in its genealogy, integrating Western, African, and sometimes other world cultural idioms (Brazilian, etc.) in its various musical forms.  And these textures are not just found in the rhythm of a jazz arrangement; they are typically found in the phrasing of a jazz instrumentalist, who might play triple-notes over a single beat, along with many other complex permutations, integrating these with new, complex harmonies laid over a given melodic structure.

So, where does this leave us?

It tells us that "complexity" is something that needs to be evaluated according to a standard.  It is not a "given" that classical performers are "superior" to jazz performers.  The complexity is simply different in each genre.  (As for the other genres, it depends:  for example, there are classical and jazz forms to be found in progressive rock, hard rock, and so forth.  That's why a lot of this music is called "fusion," rather than simply "rock" or "jazz," and different forms of complexity will be found in each.)

I'm astounded, George, that a fan of John Coltrane, such as you, could possibly suggest, by implication, that Coltrane is in the Minor Leagues when compared to a classical player.  What these performers do is just... different.  It can be more or less complex depending on the nature of the piece being performed, and what it demands.  And it needs to be evaluated accordingly. 

I should note that there are few classical players who can do what a jazz player does, and vice versa... simply because, as I suggest above, the approach and complexity are different.  On this, by the way, I have a slight difference with Lindsay:  Lanza may have been able "to do a Sinatra," and Sinatra may have worshiped at the altar of Lanza... but Sinatra is Sinatra.  He learned from jazz artists the art of singing "behind the beat," which makes his phrasing much different from Lanza.  Is this "better" or "worse"?  Nonsensical question.  It's simply a different approach, based on a different idiom. (Ironic, isn't it, that Lanza, who is being criticized as not "pure" enough by classical standards, is actually much closer to the classical technique than he is to the jazz technique that inspired Sinatra.)

And, in the end, one could look at technique, mastery of rhythm, harmony, melody, and the integration of these, and so forth, and come up with a much more "complex" picture of what constitutes "complexity."  That's why I'm not willing to say that the classical performer is better than the jazz performer.

(Let's not confuse issues, however.  For the record, I don't consider "pissing in a jar and adding a crucifix" to be art, let alone a primitive form of "art" ... but that's a subject for another day.)

Now, let me turn to Michael's newest post.

You ask, Michael, "is there any way that you can help me explain to you that high art is not a service industry? and that that is a good thing? Or do you like the idea that artists should go back to pre-renaissance times, back to the middle ages?" 

The question implies a false dichotomy in my view; it suggests that an artist who is paid for his art is in a service industry necessarily.  Now, maybe in certain circumstances, that might be true, that some artists produce art the way Howard Roark's inferior competitors produced architectural designs:  they build in order to have clients, rather than needing clients in order to build in accordance with their own vision.  (I would, however, caution us in making blanket moral statements about artists across the board on this issue; we would need to know the very specific personal circumstances of any artist in order to make those kinds of judgments.) 

The genuine artist creates and is true to his vision---but this certainly does not mean that he must never seek out commissions for his creation or that it is never proper to be a part of a collaborative artistic endeavor (such as a film). 

You bring up Michelangelo.  Well, one of the best stories about Michelangelo and the Pope is depicted in the novel (and subsequent movie) "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (with a fine score, by the way, written by Alex North).  I am deeply aware of the issues that motivated each of these men in what became a titanic struggle for artistic integrity. But Michelangelo's integrity was not compromised because he accepted money or because he chose to perform a service by selling his artistic talent to depict specifically religious scenes in a specifically religious structure.

Even Howard Roark, who created the great, exalted Stoddard Temple, accepted commissions to design a gas station---done in his way.  And that is the key:  As long as one is not asked to create "in a certain way," contrary to one's artistic vision, I see no compromise of integrity.  And I see no difference here between Roark and Miklos Rozsa on this point:  Rozsa accepted commissions to do motion picture scores---his way.  He never compromised the integrity of his artistic vision in creating these scores.

I sometimes get the sense, however, that Michael is suggesting that anybody who does a film score is, per se, a compromiser, if they can also do concert works.  But that's not the case, in my view.  Rozsa learned the art of the score (and it is an art), and that art both informed his concert compositions, while also being informed by those concert compositions.  Over time, in fact, many of his scores were adopted for the concert stage and presented as the integrated works of art that they were, quite apart from the films in which they were featured.  And that is often the mark of a great film score and a great film score composer.

Ironically, tomorrow, at Lincoln Center, the incomparable classical violinist Itzhak Perlman will be performing an entire concert devoted to "Music from the Movies," with the New York Philharmonic.  It features selections from the works of Rozsa, North, Newman, Steiner, Korngold, Williams, and other great film score composers.  The program (which is available in PDF form  here) discusses the ongoing debate over "movie music," which is sometimes dismissed by "purists" who claim that "Movie music is to music as ad copy is to writing and laugh tracks are to dialogue. ...  In other words, it doesn't stand alone but is in service to something else.  It's certainly technically interesting, like lighting, but it's not really music."

Nonsense.

As James Keller writes, there is no "good reason to disdain music that stands 'in service to something else,' a characteristic that film music shares with operas, ballet scores (Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, for example), incidental music for theatrical productions (like Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream music), and any sacred music composed for liturgical use (say, Palestrina's Pope Marcellus Mass or J.S. Bach's Christmas Oratorio)."  Keller understands "that some of this attitude is derived from the notion that commercial success somehow taints a work of art, and so a film score is contaminated by its very genealogy." But he asks, "does anyone argue that opera companies should not produce Der Rosenkavalier on the grounds that Richard Strauss composed the work hoping it might be successful and, sure enough, ended up building his mountain retreat with its royalties?"  In any event, not all film scores enjoy commercial success, and not all film music is created equal.  The fine composer Bernard Herrmann wrote: 


Music on the screen can seek out and intensify the inner thoughts of the characters. It can invest a scene with terror, grandeur, gaiety, or misery. It often lifts a mere dialogue into the realm of poetry. It is the communicating link between screen and audience, reaching out and enveloping all into one single experience.

Keller continues:


From a technical point of view, composing film music makes specific demands. You've got to feel a measure of sympathy for the composer who, having composed a beautifully structured nugget of sound that perfectly reflects the details of a cinematic scene, receives a memo informing him that the director has decided to expand the scene by 30 seconds or cut it by 18. Yet composers in all fields are accustomed to accommodating limitations, whether in fulfilling a commission for an orchestral piece "not to exceed 12 minutes" or in writing a violin part that really wants to descend to F, even though that instrument is thoughtlessly built to go only as low as G.

And the thing to remember is this, and here I truly agree with Keller:  The finest film scores

are full participants in the success of a collaborative effort, but they also have complete musical integrity on their own. That's why it's possible, and not at all questionable, occasionally to unhook a score from the visuals and present it in a concert format. True, in doing so we lose the music's connection to the context for which it was conceived (except to the extent that our memory may supply it). However, concert audiences are used to that, since it happens every time a symphony concert opens with Wagner's Tannhauser Overture or ends with the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.  If a well-executed musical composition holds its own when transferred from a movie theater to a concert hall, we only impoverish ourselves if we don't sit back and enjoy it.

I'd maintain that Rozsa's scores---and those of any of the great film score composers---have an internal integrity; they constitute an organic whole, in which each part enriches the experience of the whole, not only serving (and strengthening) the purpose of the film, but standing on their own as integral creations.  Listen to his score from "Ben-Hur," or "El Cid," and see if you do not walk away with a sense of that integration, and a sense of Rozsa's artistic integrity, quite apart from whether you like it or not.

Michael brings up the Renaissance.  Well, let's not forget one historical curiosity, which is not a coincidence:  Just as the Renaissance gave birth to great humanist art, it also heralded the spread of capitalism.  And an artist such as Rand was able to articulate the principle that art and entertainment need not be in conflict, that there is no inherent conflict between art and business, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with being paid for one's art.  In the best of circumstances, the "service" being paid for is the creation of the sublime, in accordance with the artist's vision.

As a final point:  The good thing about artistic taste is that it is personal and that each of us can find the sublime in different forms.  We may be able to provide objective evaluations of an artist's technique and complexity.  But what each of us likes, we like.  C'est la vie, like I said.  If opera "speaks" to you, Michael, in a certain way, the way that jazz and film scores and other forms of music "speak" to me, great!  I celebrate the difference.

(Edited by sciabarra on 4/11, 6:40am)




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