Musicking While Old - 3. Old Composers - Joseph Straus
Episode 83rd March 2022 • SMT-Pod • Society for Music Theory
00:00:00 00:50:10

Share Episode

Shownotes

In the third episode of Joe Straus's series on old age and music, he turns his attention to some old composers, including Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Copland, and Carter. Joe shows that the critical reception of these old composers often follows ageist cultural scripts as described in the previous episodes. 

This episode was produced by Katrina Roush.

SMT-Pod Theme music by Zhangcheng Lu; Closing music "hnna" by David Voss. "Night Thoughts" by Aaron Copland was performed by Han Chen. For supplementary materials on this episode and more information on our authors and composers, check out our website: https://smt-pod.org/episodes/season01/.

Transcripts

SMT:

[SMT-Pod theme music playing]

SMT:

Welcome to SMT-Pod, the premiere audio publication of the Society for Music Theory. In this episode, Joe turns his attention to some old composers, including Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Copland, and Carter. He shows that the critical reception of these old composers often follows ageist cultural scripts as described in the previous episodes.

Joe:

In the previous two episodes, I described a network of interconnected stories about old age and old people. These are the stories we are told and the stories we tell about others and about ourselves. Some of the stories are told informally, in private conversation or self-talk; others are told more formally, in books, movies, mass media, and the staged dramatic works discussed in the second episode. Together, they constitute cultural scripts for the performance of old age. In this episode, I’m going to use these as the basis for my assessment of composing while old and especially the critical reception of old composers. Observers align their understanding of composing in old age with the cultural scripts for old age: old-age musical compositions are understood as performances of old age.

Joe:

In the first episode, I described six prevalent stories about old age: the story of old age as decline, as dependency, as unproductivity, as an impediment to progress, as a second childhood, and as accumulated wisdom. In the second episode, I identified six prevalent dramatic roles for the performance of old age on the operatic stage: the Old Fool, the Saintly Sage, the Aged Avenger, the Witch, the LEAVE-TAKER, and the Benevolent Caregiver. Now I would like to braid these stories and scripts together and begin to think about how they constrain the lives, work, and reception of old composers, especially the mid-twentieth-century modernist composers I have been studying and writing about throughout my scholarly career.

Joe:

The first of our stories about old age is the story of decline. Decline is the master narrative of old age, that it’s a time when everything gets worse. The story of decline shapes negative assessments of the late work of composers—its faults are now attributed to their declining creativity, a seemingly inevitable consequence of aging. Like all old people, composers may choose either to age gracefully (accept their decline and go away peacefully) or to fight and struggle against old age, and suffer inevitable and ignominious defeat. In the decline story, old composers often become OLD FOOLS. Their skills deteriorate, their creativity and originality wane, the quality of their music degenerates. They may try to do what the young people are doing, or the things they did when they were young, and the result is embarrassing. We pity their loss of competence and mock their futile attempts to act young.

Joe:

The second story of old age is the story of dependency. Old age is commonly understood to entail a loss of autonomy and independence. Like people with disabilities, old people come to depend on others to do their work and get through their days. In a culture that prizes independence, autonomy, and self-reliance, depending on others is seen as problematic not only logistically but ethically: the work you do with the assistance of others is seen as not authentically yours. Some old composers have relied heavily on the collaboration of others. I am thinking especially of Stravinsky’s reliance on Robert Craft (which I will discuss shortly). In such cases, the reception of the music often has a strain of moral condemnation, as though someone is trying to pass off someone else’s work as their own. Composers who appear to be overly dependent on outside assistance may be cast as Old Fools, susceptible to being conned, no longer able to fend for themselves.

Joe:

Our third story of old age identifies it as a period of relative unproductivity, especially as people retire from paid employment. For old composers, any slowing in the rate at which new works are composed is taken as a sign of the inevitable decline of old age, which is seen to entail a waning of creativity. When relatively sparse periods occur earlier in life, they are usually attributed to artistic causes, like a difficulty in working out a technical problem or assimilating a change of style. When a similar sparse period occurs later in life, it is often attributed to the decline of old age. Because old people are seen as relatively unproductive, they are often expected to play the role of BENEVOLENT CAREGIVERS in relation to younger family members and others. In the musical world, a BENEVOLENT CAREGIVER might be a teacher or mentor, helping young people to do things they can no longer do themselves.

Joe:

Our fourth story of old age says that old people try to impede progress; they cling to the old ways, and prevent young people from exploring what is new and better. In literature and opera, old characters commonly either attempt to block the progress of the young hero or to block the union of the young lovers. They may cling to power or insist on acting as though they were eligible romantic partners. In both cases, the narrative requires them to yield. They may step aside gracefully and permit a happy, comic resolution (this is what OLD FOOLS and LEAVE-TAKERS generally do). Or they may fight to hold onto power or romance, and be forcefully, even violently, pushed aside (that is the usual fate of AGED AVENGERS and WITCHES). Composers who persist in writing the same sort of music they have previously written are often understood to defy contemporary trends and the progressive historical evolution of musical style. Elliott Carter’s late music has often been described in that way: as an intransigent clinging to his old modernist ways and a refusal to move with the times.

Joe:

Our fifth story of old age envisions it as a second childhood—a return to innocence, weakness, dependency, and relative mental incapacity. For old composers, this story may play out as a return to an apparently simpler style, like the white-note music Ligeti composed late in his life. Or it may play out as the nostalgia of the LEAVE-TAKER—one critic says that Stravinsky last composition “reeks of nostalgia.” In our sixth and final story, old age is a story of accumulated knowledge and old people are celebrated for their wisdom. In this story, old people are SAINTLY SAGES, WISE WIZARDS, and VENERATED ELDERS. More darkly, if their wisdom has the taint of evil, they may be WITCHES. In writing about the music of old composers, critics frequently draw on these tropes, imagining an accumulated wisdom that may be preternatural, especially in its profound understanding of the mystery of death. In this mystified, romanticized view, old people, including old composers, have access to superhuman knowledge.

Joe:

Let’s talk first about Stravinsky. In 1951, the year Stravinsky turned 70 years old, his Mozartean opera, The Rake’s Progress, had its premiere. It marked the culmination of Stravinsky’s brand of musical neoclassicism, and despite its critical and popular success, Stravinsky came to consider it an artistic dead end. Indeed, it marked what Stravinsky considered a crisis, one that led him to a dramatic change of musical orientation. He started to engage the music of Schoenberg and Webern in a serious way, and started writing his own brand of serial and twelve-tone music. For the remainder of his compositional life, he produced works in his evolving new serial and twelve-tone idiom. I want to give you an idea of just how radical Stravinsky’s change of style was. Here’s a passage from near the beginning of The Rake’s Progress—we hear triads, we hear tonality (the passage is in a sort of A major), we hear the textures of classical, late-eighteenth-century music.

Music:

[from Stravinsky, Rake’s Progress]

Joe:

Just two years later, in 1953, Stravinsky wrote his Three Shakespeare Songs. Here’s an excerpt from Music to Hear, based on a chromatic, four-note series. The sound world now is more Webern than Mozart.

Music:

[from Stravinsky, Shakespeare Songs]

Joe:

And thirteen years after that, as Stravinsky was nearing the end of his creative life, he wrote Requiem Canticles, based entirely on his own distinctive brand of twelve-tone serialism. Here’s the opening of the Lacrimosa movement.

Music:

[from Stravinsky, Requiem Canticles]

Joe:

Given the vast stylistic gulf between the neoclassical Stravinsky and the serial Stravinsky, it is no surprise that Stravinsky’s serial turn was a huge event in the history of classical music, and pretty much everyone had an opinion about. Virtually all of these opinions related Stravinsky’s change of style to his old age—the composer’s age seemed centrally relevant to everyone. And the opinions tended to congeal within just the stories and roles we have been discussing.

Joe:

For one group of critics on the cultural right, Stravinsky’s style change was evidence of the age-related decline of his powers, as well as his susceptibility to malign influence—his age-related dependency left him vulnerable to being conned by people who wanted to sell him the serial snake-oil. He was trying to act young and hip—to do the things the young folk were doing, even though he was really too old to do them effectively. For these critics, Stravinsky was an Old Fool.

Joe:

Here is Stephen Walsh’s summary of critical response to the new, serial works: “They were an odd bunch of works, dislikable to many, to others evidence of failing powers and technical epigonism.” In a somewhat more pungent way, Poulenc complained that Stravinsky was “too old for the new hats he tries on,” and Poulenc blamed everything on “the bad influence of Robert Craft.” In a similar vein Darius Milhaud referred to “the coquetry of great men wanting to show that they’re on the latest boat,” and, like Poulenc, Milhaud blamed it all on Robert Craft: “That’s what happens when you invite the Devil (Robert Craft) into your home.”

Joe:

Ned Rorem lumps Stravinsky and Copland together in their unseemly desire to do what the young folks like Boulez were doing: “In the 60s, Copland had the world at his feet except for that small portion older composers most crave: young composers. The young at that moment were immersed in Bouleziana, a mode quite foreign to Copland’s very nature (as to the nature of Stravinsky, who also sold out to the system)….It was poignant to see Copland and Stravinsky trying to please Boulez.” For Richard Taruskin, Stravinsky wrote his serial music, in part, “to impress his friends at Princeton,” by which he refers mostly to Milton Babbitt. So in these tellings, Stravinsky has declined as a composer, has been conned by Craft, Boulez, and Babbitt, has pathetically tried to write the sorts of music that would please these conniving young folk, and has thus made himself an Old Fool.

Joe:

Sadly, the view from the cultural left was much the same: while serial music was considered good on the left and bad on the right, there were young serial composers whose comments on the old Stravinsky ooze with condescension: for them, too, Stravinsky was an Old Fool. Here is Boulez: “I conducted [Stravinsky’s] Variations with the Berlin Philharmonic. It is admirable what Stravinsky has managed to achieve in his old age, although the quality of this work is questionable. There is nothing new there that Webern had not already done.”

Joe:

On both the left and the right, Stravinsky was seen as tearing down the neoclassical edifice he had done so much to create and sustain. On the left, that destructiveness was applauded; on the right, it made Stravinsky into an Aged Avenger. Many composers felt bitterly betrayed: they felt that this old composer was deliberately blocking their own progress in order to cling to power. Here is a comment from Emile Vuillermoz (an old friend): The “adolescent hotheads who regard Agon as a masterpiece and despise Firebird and Petrushka will not prevent me from representing the feelings of Stravinsky’s first friends, the faithful comrades-in-arms of the heroic time of his Paris débuts, all those who have been pushed out of the “serial” gala and who are grief-stricken at the latest evolution in taste and technique of a genius who, at the end of his marvelous career, wastes him time on crazy undertakings and pointless challenges and seems to make it a point of honor to deny his past every time he writes a new score.” As with all the other critical judgments, this one understands Stravinsky’s music in relation to his old age, and makes it conform to the usual, ageist cultural scripts.

Joe:

In Stravinsky’s last compositions, including especially the Requiem Canticles, written when Stravinsky was 85 years old, critics have seen the composer as a Saintly Sage, conveying preternatural knowledge of death. The critics have also noted the appearance of in these final works of references to Stravinsky’s own distant compositional past—Taruskin says that the Requiem Canticles “reeks of nostalgia.” In that sense, the old Stravinsky is a LEAVE-TAKER, an old codger who wants to tell stories from his youth, a doddering Old Fool living out a second childhood.

Joe:

A more balanced and realistic, and less stereotypical view of the old Stravinsky was offered by Stravinsky himself. In his own telling, old age does not engulf his music; rather, old age is a period of continued growth and exploration and learning, including learning from younger people: “I have all around me the spectacle of composers who, after their generation has had its decade of influence and fashion, seal themselves off from further development and from the next generation. Of course, it requires greater effort to learn from one’s juniors, and their manners are not invariably good. But when you are 75 and your generation has overlapped with four younger ones, it behooves you not to decide in advance how far composers can go, but to try to discover whatever new thing it is makes the new generation new.”

Joe:

As Stravinsky suggests, it would be better to talk about his late music, the music he wrote as an old man, without falling into ageist stereotypes about decline and dependency, and without labeling him an Old Fool, and Aged Avenger, or a Saintly Sage. Better to talk about Stravinsky’s late music not in denial of his old age, but through his old age, because of his old age, as a distinctively rich way of composing oldly.

Joe:

Aaron Copland took the same serial turn as Stravinsky, at about the same time, and with the same sort of critical response. Leonard Bernstein, for example, thought of Copland as an Old Fool, whose desire to impress the young folks by trying to act all young and hip was pathetic. Bernstein diagnosed Copland as suffering from “Schoenberg syndrome,” and says “the effect on him—and therefore on American music—was heartbreaking…The truth is that when the musical winds blew past him, he tried to catch up—with 12-tone music—just as it was becoming old fashioned to the young.” And, again like Stravinsky, some critics positioned Copland as an Aged Avenger, laying waste to the popular Americana of his earlier music, trying to cling to power by blocking his younger colleagues who would have preferred to continue writing neo-tonal music.

Joe:

Many people wanted and expected Copland to produce more neoclassical Americana, like Appalachian Spring. Instead, they got music that had some twelve-tone features, including persistent chromaticism. Music like the opening of the Piano Quartet from 1950. Here’s the slow introduction to the first movement, which starts with a twelve-note melody in the violin.

Music:

[from Copland, Piano Quartet]

Joe:

Maybe it’s hard to understand why such gorgeous music seemed upsetting to many people, but they were upset, and they related this music to the perceived deficiencies and declines of Copland’s old age. As for the music Copland wrote in his late 60s and early 70s, critics have related it to his growing experience of memory loss. Copland stopped composing in 1972 at the age of 72. He was already in the early stages of dementia, probably Alzheimer’s Disease, which took his life some 18 years later. The question for critics has been: to what extent and in what way does his memory loss bear on his last compositions?

Joe:

The story of Copland’s final works has been told in conformity with the standard stories about old age: the story of decline, the story of dependency, the story of unproductivity. Within these stories, the old composer, if he tries to continue composing, or if he tries to compose the way the young folk compose, is an Old Fool. To some extent, the story of accumulated wisdom comes into play, and the old composer can be portrayed as a Saintly Sage, whose proximity to death grants him a special sort of knowledge.

Joe:

One of Copland’s very last compositions is a short, enigmatic piano piece called Night Thoughts—its very title is suggestive of a dark night of the soul and of death. Some critics have found in this piece signs of Copland’s decline in old age—for them, the work is a distinct falling off from his earlier music—the composer is an Old Fool in a state of terminal decline. Judith Tick argues that Night Thoughts reflects “Copland’s own inner preoccupations, perhaps with decline and death. Thus the piece projects a haunting atmosphere of private contemplative candor, as if clues to the beyond could be found in overtones…It is an old man’s work.” In this view, the composer is a Saintly Sage, writing music in contemplation of his own looming death, offering clues to the beyond.

Joe:

I have a somewhat different view. From an actuarial point of view, Copland was not notably near death when he wrote his late music—a 72-year-old white man in the United States in 1972 could expect to live another decade, and Copland actually lived another eighteen years. His music does not tell us about death, or the contemplation of death; rather it tells us about old age, about composing as an old person, and as an old person beginning to experience memory loss. Copland’s eclecticism is not a sign of weakness or decline, but of the wide range and extent of life experience and musical experience available to someone who is old.

Joe:

Copland hints at this when he speaks in the same breath of his studies with Nadia Boulanger in the 1920s and his late interest in twelve-tone serialism: “Order, unity, and discipline were the principles Nadia Boulanger talked to me about so long ago. I set out to find a different way of expressing these principles….New things arrived to be ingested and digested….We composers have access to each new development, and I, for one, never wanted to be limited to one kind of musical language.” With his wide range of life experience, Copland finds a way of composing oldly, including the possibility of thematizing memory and memory loss within his music. Copland’s late music is indeed an old man’s work, but not because it gives evidence of decline or because it provides knowledge of death, but because it suggests the special, distinctive beauty and power of musicking while old.

Joe:

Here is the opening of Copland’s Night Thoughts. You may recognize it as the theme music for this podcast. It begins in a state of diatonic simplicity, which is soon occluded and overwhelmed by dissonance and chromaticism. The rest of the piece can be understood as an effort to recall this opening state, to remember it musically.

Music:

[from Copland, Night Thoughts]

Joe:

When we talk about Arnold Schoenberg, we have the mirror image of the Stravinsky and Copland situations. Stravinsky and Copland took critical heat for becoming twelve-tone composers after a long period of writing tonal, neoclassical music. For Schoenberg, the situation was the opposite: late in his life, after he had emigrated to the U.S., he took critical heat for writing music that had strong elements of traditional tonality. Stravinsky and Copland took a serial turn, from tonal to twelve-tone; Schoenberg took a tonal turn, from twelve-tone to tonal.

Joe:

What all three composers have in common is that their stylistic reorientations were understood in light of their old age, as signs of old age. The music they composed when they were old was thought of as exemplifying the stories of old age as decline, dependency, and unproductivity and of acting as Old Fools, Aged Avengers, or LEAVE-TAKERS. To some extent, they were also thought of as exemplifying the story of old age as accumulated wisdom, and of acting as otherworldly Saintly Sages.

Joe:

For critics on the Boulezian left, and for European critics more generally, Schoenberg’s new interest in traditional tonal harmonies, textures, and forms was a sign of weakness and decline—he was a doddering Old Fool, losing his grip and his ability. Here is the indictment of the old Schoenberg by the young Boulez: “What are we to think of Schoenberg’s American period, during which the greatest disarray and most deplorable demagnetization appeared? How could we judge such lack of comprehension and cohesion? Rigorous writing was abandoned in those works. In them we see appearing again the octave intervals, the false cadences, the exact canons at the octave. Such an attitude attests to maximum incoherence—a paroxysm in the absurdity of Schoenberg’s incompatibilities”.

Joe:

Here’s the sort of passage that Boulez didn’t like. It’s a moment in the String Trio, written in 1946, that basks momentarily in an A-major triad, with a hint of the key of A major. Programmatically, it represents a moment when the composer, who has been suffering the pain of a heart attack, falls blissfully unconscious. You can decide for yourself whether or not this moment is a paroxysm in the absurdity of Schoenberg’s incompatibilities.

Music:

[from Schoenberg, String Trio]

Joe:

Some of the European critics blame not only Schoenberg’s old age but America, the new world in which Schoenberg spent the last twenty years of his life. For them, America was a land of philistines, too boorish to recognize the genius in their midst. As a result, Schoenberg produced relatively little music (the story of unproductivity, again) and the music he did produce was tainted by a pathetic desire to please his new American neighbors by writing music that would appeal to them—popular, commercial, and tonal. For them, Schoenberg in America was a hapless Old Fool, fleeced by the locals. Recent scholarship—especially important work by Sabine Feisst—has shown this view to be largely false—in fact, Schoenberg’s time in America was quite successful, both personally and professionally—but stories about America, intertwined with stories about old age, have been hard to refute.

Joe:

In the music of his old age, Schoenberg has also been understood, in a somewhat contradictory way, as an Aged Avenger and as a LEAVE-TAKER. The dissonant modernist music he composed throughout his life makes him an Avenger—punishing the audience by forcing them to experience unpleasant things. Not just turning away from the audience but turning on them, humiliating them, making them feel stupid, making them feel unwelcome, punishing them, shocking them. Even Schoenberg’s defenders acknowledge the music’s “challenges to easy comprehensibility”—that phrase is from Schoenberg scholar Ethan Haimo.

Joe:

If the thorny, difficult passages position Schoenberg as an Aged Avenger, the tonal reminiscences position him as a LEAVE-TAKER. To some extent, his late music, at least some of the time, is anachronistic, retrospective, and nostalgic, as though Schoenberg were living through a second childhood. To adapt Taruskin’s comment about the old Stravinsky, the music of the old Schoenberg sometimes seems to “reek of nostalgia.” As an Old Fool, as an Aged Avenger, and as a LEAVE-TAKER, Schoenberg is made to enact the familiar cultural scripts for old age.

Joe:

Elliott Carter, who died in 2012 at the age of 103, had a very long old age. People started talking about his late compositional style back in the 1980s, so in terms of our discussion here, he was an old composer for more than thirty years. Critics have been unable to pin the stories of decline, dependency, and unproductivity onto Carter. There is a general consensus that the quality of his music remained high, and universal acknowledgment that there was lots and lots of late music—a steady outpouring throughout the period of his old age.

Joe:

The critical consensus has been that Carter was a sort of Aged Avenger—clinging to his spiky, dissonant brand of modernism despite audience resistance and changes in musical fashion. But critics have disagreed about whether that apparent intransigence is a good thing or a bad thing. For Charles Rosen, for example, it’s a good thing: “Carter is as intransigent as Wagner or Beethoven. Not only has he refused ever to write a piece of twelve-tone music, but he has never succumbed to the neotonal fashion, a style that annoys today’s audience somewhat less than the modernist style because it has familiar-sounding triads” [Rosen 2009].

Joe:

For Richard Taruskin, Carter’s intransigence is a very bad thing. His music is antisocial and hermetic. Carter writes nasty, dissonant music that no one likes, and he persists in doing so because he’s old-fashioned and clinging to the past. He’s both an Aged Avenger and a bit of a LEAVE-TAKER, nostalgic for a lost past, refusing to change with the times or to grow old gracefully.

Joe:

Carter scholar John Link has articulated a more realistic and nuanced position, free of ageist stereotypes: “Yet as the battle has raged in the press and in academic journals, Carter himself has moved on, achieving an unprecedented degree of popular success that his champions sometimes attribute to his sticking to his guns and his critics generally ignore. He has not turned away from his earlier style, but neither has he held fast to an unchanging aesthetic, waiting for the rest of the world to see the light. On the contrary, his recent music is the result of an ongoing reevalution of the expressive potential of post-war Modernism in a decidedly post-Modern age…. In the popular mythology, Carter ignores [contemporary trends] and continues to compose “without compromise”; in fact, contemporary trends prompted him to carefully rethink his work, and to simplify nearly every aspect of his style.”

Joe:

Let’s listen to a bit of Carter’s Instances, for Chamber Orchestra, composed in 2012, when the composer was 103 years old—it was his last work. I think you’ll agree with Link about the simplification of Carter’s style, but without compromising his distinctive, energetic, engaging compositional voice.

Music:

[from Carter, Instances]]

Joe:

So far, we have talked about four modernist composers: Stravinsky, Copland, Schoenberg, and Carter. Apart from their old age, what do they have in common? First, they are canonic figures who have attracted a vast secondary literature of reviews, essays, criticism, historical inquiry, and analysis. Second, they are white men, and their whiteness and maleness are intertwined with their canonicity—the canon of music that is studied, performed, and written about has long been an exclusive club to which women and composers of color have not been admitted.

Joe:

It is hard, even now, to talk about the critical reception of old composers who are women, or Black, or both. That’s for two reasons. First, there isn’t all that much critical reception to talk about. These composers have largely been ignored in the secondary literature. And the tendency to ignore them on the basis of gender or race is compounded by the prevalent tendency to ignore old people in general. In music, and not only in music, old people are usually assumed to be passé, out of touch, living in the past. Criticism values novelty, and it is generally understood that old people are not capable of doing anything new. The second difficulty in talking about the critical commentary around old composers who are women or Black or both is that this critical commentary tends to focus on gender and race, not on old age. One stigmatic category (femaleness or Blackness) tends to engulf the conversation, to the exclusion of another stigmatic category (old age).

Joe:

Let’s see how this dynamic of critical inattention and engulfment plays out for George Walker, a Black modernist composer. In 1996, when Walker was 74 years old, he became the first Black composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for music composition. During the remaining 22 years of his life (he died in 2018 at the age of 96) Walker continued to be active and produced a steady flow of new works. Even after the Pulitzer, however, the critical literature on Walker remained sparse, and what little there is is engulfed by his Blackness and hardly mentions his age. Apparently, you can’t be both Black and old—the hierarchy of Otherness forces you to choose, and the critics have chosen to focus on race at the expense of age.

Joe:

The contrast to Elliott Carter could hardly be more stark: the vast Carter literature talks about age a lot and race never; the sparse Walker literature talks about race a lot and age never, even when the composer was in his 80s and 90s. Here's the beginning of the finale of Walker’s Movements for Cello and Orchestra, composed in 2012, the year the composer turned 90. Music that deserves to be heard a studied a lot more than it has been.

Music:

[from Walker, Movements]

Joe:

Ellen Zwilich was also a Pulitzer first—she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for music composition. She won in 1983 when she was 44 years old. She is now 82, and still extremely active and productive, with a host of new works. But old composers, apart from a select, canonized few, tend to become invisible and inaudible—they get less air time and less attention than their younger achievements might have seemed to predict. Fashions change, and people become old-fashioned as they become old, and attention turns elsewhere. It’s different for performers, who attract a loyal following that ages along with them. And it’s also different for some composers (mostly men) who manage to achieve Saintly Sage status. But for most, being old means being old-fashioned (i.e. doing what you always did, even if you’re doing it really well). And being old-fashioned means you become invisible/inaudible. Let’s hear a bit of Zwilich’s recent piece Pas de Trois, a piano trio that dates from 2016, the year the composer turned 77.

Music:

[from Zwilich, Pas de Trois]

Joe:

For George Walker, race engulfed the critical conversation; for Zwilich, gender has similarly tended to engulf the critical conversation. So it becomes hard to talk about Walker and Zwilich in relation to the cultural stories and roles for old age, the same stories and roles that seem so thoroughly to constrain the critical conversation around canonic figures.

Joe:

In this third episode, I have continued to benefit from the wise counsel of Joy Calico, who is the peer reviewer for the episode. Joy has the rare and valuable gift of knowing how to offer pointed criticism in an encouraging way. As in previous episodes, the musical examples were prepared by Annie Beliveau, theme music, from Copland's "Night Thoughts," is played by Han Chen. Both Annie and Han are brilliant doctoral students at the CUNY Graduate Center. Finally, the editorial team at SMT-Pod, led by Jennifer Beavers, Megan Lyons, and Katrina Roush, has been an absolute joy to work with - they make it all look and sound easy.

SMT:

Visit our website for supplemental materials related to this episode at smt-pod.org. And join in the conversation by tweeting us your questions and comments @SMT_Pod. SMT Pod's theme music was written by Zhangcheng Lu with closing music by David Voss. Thanks for listening!

Follow

Links