The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California on April 9, 1961 · 616
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California · 616

Los Angeles, California
Issue Date:
Sunday, April 9, 1961
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Noisemakers! No, Not That, Too, Mr. Critic! BY ALBERT GOLDBERG The reviewing of new music has always been one of the hazards of criticism. Critics are seldom remembered for their right guesses, although they may far exceed their wrong ones. It is their so-called mistakes that usually create a niche for them in history; it is easier to forget the times they have been "right." The reputation of Eduard Han-slick, the great Viennese critic, is popularly based on his opposition to the music of Richard Wagner, though most of the exceptions he took are still repeated by critics as if they were new discoveries. George Bernard Shaw is constantly cited for his failure to appreciate Brahms, which was an error, but still does not radically alter the status of his critical writings. Similar examples are legion. Nicolas Slonimsky even compiled a book called "Lexicon of Musical Invective" that gave great joy to critic haters by assembling some of the abuse heaped upon composers who later came to be universally accepted. But no one has yet bothered to collect or even to emphasize the critics who agreed with the eventual verdicts of history. There are two sides to every question of course. When Karl-heinz Stockhausen's "Zyk-lus" was recently heard here for the first time this reviewer was unimpressed. But the performer, William Kraft of the percussion section of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, takes exception to our review, and to what he considers a reflection upon the percussion instruments for which the work was written and on which he is a recognized authority. His points are well taken, and we turn the rest of the space over to his comments: "First, let me remind you of my respect for your criticism; as I have said before, Jl3 I have found it perceptive and knowledgeable. But do allow me to take exception to elements of your criticism of Karlheinz Stockhausen's 'Zylkus,' which I performed Feb. 20 for the Monday Evening Concerts. "Compositional style and idiomatic writing, while ideally being wedded, should not be confused with one another. There are innumerable examples of those musicians with unequal talent as composers and orchestrators. "In a work as original and so difficult to assimilate as the 'Zyklus' and where judgment so largely depends on acceptance or rejection of a frame of reference it is necessary, in order to judge a performance, to separate style and idiom. Therefore, I am not concerned here with your opinion of the work as a piece of music, but with the idea that your dislike' for the style has prompted you to insult something very dear to my heart the world of percussion. You have called my beloved friends, 'noisemakers. "In their behalf, then, I will answer you in two sets of terms, mine and yours. My set has to do with the whole approach I have taken to percussion in my profession, both as a composer and as a percussionist. The basis of this approach is that the percussion instruments can be as functionally musical, albeit not as versatile, as other instruments. Any instrument played badly becomes non - musical and j therefore 'noisy.' 1 admit percussion Instruments are more prone to this hazard but more often than not it is because . players are inadequately trained andor do not realize: (1) their function in every (ideally) given moment of a piece; (2) that a sound must be in the ear before it can ba created A m ill William Kraft, prformer In percussion section of the LA. Philharmonic, takes pen in hand and Times music critic Albert Goldberg to task for his review of presentation of Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Zyklus," on a Monday Evening Concert presentation recently. (duplicated) by the hands; (3) that hitting is no problem (though at the right time can be) but touch is acquired only through study, practice. "Nos. 2 and 3 being self-explanatory I will briefly explain No. 1. Like all their musical brothers and sisters, the percussion instruments are either dominant or accompanimental the latter more often the case which involves chameleon-like characteristics I had better not go into, the point being that percussions also serve as vehicles of expression for composers. Why Noisemakers? "Thus the tinseled triangle of Ravel's 'Ma Mere L'Oye' is not the same as the militant triangle of Brahms' - Fourth Symphony. Nor even is the triangle played with an azure wand in Debussy's 'La Mer' the same as the one played w i t h a red sceptre in Stravinsky's 'Le Chant du Rossignol.' And any timpanist worthy of the name will tell better yet, show you that no stick actually speaks for itself, expressivity being determined by the pressures of fingers and the height and strength of the stroke as well as by the type of stick. "Now for your terms. How could the critic who has referred to the brilliant writing for percussion of Milhaud and Chavez refer to the mal- Mcable innocents the instruments as noisemakers? And if I may, let me, with all due appreciation, remind you of your favorable review of two of my pieces, Theme and Variations for percussion quartet and Nonet for brass and percussion. "Stockhausen writes similarly whether for electronic instruments, the usual instruments, or for percussion instruments. If we are to speak "idiomatically, and I think we should, Stockhausen Is unparalleled in several respects. First of all, the notation i3 born of the idiom. Furthermore, the percussion is recreated in the kaleidoscopic world to which it so largely belongs. He does this by using an infinite variety of common and uncommon sounds on common and uncommon instruments. , "On the other hand, the Milhaud, charming as it is, is hardly more a concerto for percussion than is 'Pe-trouchka' a concerto for piano; too much of the time, especially in the second movement, the percussion merely adds color to the other instruments in the style of Rimsky-Korsa-koff and seldom carries the motivic and thematic ball. Duplicating the rhythm of the oboe only gives the oboe all the advantages; the tambourine points up the oboe's rhythm but the oboe doesn't reciprocate by giving the tambourine pitch. Sound Organized "The provocative element that comes into focus in the Stockhausen is the organization of sound. Varese raised the question with 'Ionisation, claiming musically that music is organized sound (a dictum subscribed to by many) ; the sounds being what has been, are, or can be. So, again, the question is not all limited to percussion writing, but is a matter of compositional style the conclusion being that although (1) definition I of Batterie (the French designation for the percussion instruments) in my French'dictionary is 'Fight, scuffle, rough and tumble'; (2) Wallen-stein says 'Kitchenware'; (3) Van Beinum said 'Pots and pans' please, Mr. Goldberg, don't add to the abuse by calling my Income-makers noise-makers." II

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