Composers: The Need to Compost.

This blog tends to oscillate flippantly between absurdism (joy) and aesthetical rants (rage). Apologies in advance, but it is the latter’s turn. Joy and rage are my two emotions. Florestan and Eusebius, but it is ambiguous as to exactly which is which, who is who and who is which. I can’t believe Eusebius is a real name…

...Eusebius Mandyczewski. Ironically almost came close to editing Schumann's music. He did Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert though. I pimped up this photo a little, being the first in its history, I can safely say, to do so. (*)

(*) Likewise. I could go on. And almost did. You're lucky.

Anyway. I digress. I will endeavour to let the pictures and the quotes (to make this statement less profoundly cliche) do the talking.

The following quote by Ives struck me as interesting. Despite the fact a lot of them do.

“We might offer the suggestion that Debussy’s content would have been worthier his manner, if he had hoed corn or sold newspapers for a living, for in this way he might have gained a deeper vitality and truer theme to sing at night and of a Sunday … It is rare to find a farmer or peasant whose enthusiasm for the beauty in Nature finds outward expression to compare with that of the city-man who comes out for a Sunday in the country, but Thoreau is that rare country-man and Debussy the city-man with his weekend flights into country aesthetics. We would be inclined to say that Thoreau leaned towards substance and Debussy towards manner.” – From the Epilogue of Essays Before a Sonata.

Considering that one of these delightful characters is Claude-Achille Debussy (the larger one), I could not wish for a better picture at this point. Although I do later on.

I think my opinion here is obvious in relation to Debussy’s musical style and its emasculate parallels with French 1900’s high society so touchingly illustrated above… Or often high society anywhere and whenever…

Yet I was snooping around the library throughout the last week when I came across a book on John Cage. It was in French, so I understood nothing about it (birds may have been mentioned) but it did have this as it’s cover:

Just look how happy he is! This is what music should be about!

When asked if he would be a composer all over again Cage said no – he would much rather be a botanist as he was sick of all the competition and jealousies in music. His mycologist friend replied “Well that shows just how little you know about botany!” (Cue audience laughter)

Some further reading in other books revealed Cage’s great interest in mushrooms and cultivating them. I wonder whether you can tell a lot about a composer’s music by how they lived, and that was something Ives was perhaps getting at. Cage was a tremendous innovative force, much like Ives (and Cowell and Satie for that matter) and his music doesn’t conform, restrain, remain static or apologise…

I laughed audibly when I found this on the cover of a library copy of Debussy Preludes. This was my principle motivation for this article. It would make a good T-shirt, no?

…But what of Ives’ himself? I recall reading of his own wood-chopping exploits possibly in a diary of his somewhere, but I did tangibly find the following account:

Umpawaug Road in those days was just a dirt country road… It wasn’t paved until 1928, and when it was, Ives got quite upset. He was also outraged when the first airplanes began flying over, and whenever he heard one he would come out and shake his fist at it and shout ‘Get off my property!'”

Ostensibly Ives doing just that. You could say that the others were just trying to do the Wright thing.

In conclusion. The spectrum between manner (how) and substance (what) in music is, according to Ives, influenced by their dynamic and complex relationship with vitamin D, hand calluses, accidental scarring, arachnophobia… the list goes on. The topic deserves a more thorough looking into but it’s considerably past midnight.

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