Musical Advice

Letter transcription:

1962-02-26-jfy-p-1February 26, 1962

Dear David:

I’ll try to answer some of your questions, but you must understand that I am not the ultimate authority in matters of this sort. (1) I remember reading some reviews of Walter’s last recordings of the Beethoven symphonies (two or three years ago) to the effect that the interpretations were rather too mellow and leisurely for Beethoven. Walter, who died recently, was of course a very old man when he made these recordings and that, it was implied in the review, had something to do with it. I’m sure Toscanini’s recordings have more snap and vigor. He seemed to be able to extract everything there was in a piece of music and get it out where people could hear it, and his sense of what you might call dramatic pacing was wonderful. The trouble with the Toscanini recordings is of course that because of their dates they are acoustically obsolete. But if you don’t have Hi-fi equipment anyway I suppose that doesn’t make too much difference. If you are really interested in records, you can often read reviews of recent recordings in such magazines as the New Yorker, the Sat. Review, The Atlantic, Harper’s, etc. (I wouldn’t trust the recording reviews in Time and Newsweek.) Of course reviewers often don’t agree among themselves not only when it’s a matter of records, but in all other fields of the arts as well. So it comes down to the fact that you have to choose what you like. (2) I’ve noticed a tendency on the part of the RCA Victor people to spread the music as thin as possible. Whereas some other recording company may put a symphony or a concerto on one side of a record, for some reason it takes RCA two sides. (It’s not because the other companies are cutting the music or playing it faster or anything like that). (3) Aaron Copland is O.K. You may find some of his things pretty rough going if you’re not accustomed to modern music, but I think you would like some of his ballet music: Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Billy the Kid, El Salon Mexico. As far as modern music is concerned, I think you should try to get used to it; it is immensely enjoyable after you get to know it. The trick is just to listen to a piece of music enough times so that it begins to sound familiar. This may take 10 or 15 times, but in the end it will be worth it. Start with the Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) by Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky has probably conducted it himself on records (I forget whether RCA or Columbia). Le Sacre incidentally is hardly “modern” music, since it was composed about 50 years ago, but to many people it would still sound rather queer. If you will pardon my putting it this way, I think Orff is orfull – boring, trivial, and repetitions. As for Saint-Saens: if all of his music just vanished from the world tomorrow, I don’t think anybody would notice much, and even fewer people would care.

The Tewa and Hopi still live close together. That’s a rather complicated situation, and I must say, the way your sociology book has of describing it sounds rather amateurish. If you have to take a social science, why mess around with sociology. Take anthropology.

If you have any further questions on music or records, I will try to answer them. For a start in “modern” music, try Stravinsky, Bartok, Hindemeth (sp?), Berg, Webbern, Schoenberg. You should actually work up to these with Ravel and Debussy.

John

©2016 copyright owned and transcribed by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found: https://genealogylady.net/2016/10/03/musical-advice/

3 thoughts on “Musical Advice

  1. davidmadison1942

    What a stunning surprise this letter is! It is a treasure. I’ll print a copy to frame.

    I was 19 at the time, and John was 31, and I considered his opinion the final word when it came to music. Of course, his standing as my idol prevented me from seeing his 31-year old arrogance on some matters. It’s hard for me to imagine that any classical music experts would agree with his harsh assessment of Saint-Seans. I guess I ignored him on this, since Saint-Seans now is one of my favorites. 🙂

    “The Tewa and Hopi still live close together” He told me about these Indian tribes at the time that he worked with them. He showed Hopi voice-prints that he studied as part of his PhD work in linguistics. For whatever reason, I remember those.

    “Bartok, Hindemeth (sp?), Berg, Webbern, Schoenberg.” I never have warmed up to these, but Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky…YES. 🙂

    Reply

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