Myths About Modern Composers | Letters | Chicago Reader

Myths About Modern Composers 

Dear Reader:

Some fine points were made by writer Lee Sandlin in his review of film composer Bernard Herrmann's three recent CDs (September 20).

Herrmann did indeed seem to take special care in the creation of his life's work. Each film offered a custom interpretation of what the film had to offer. As we move toward the end of the 20th century, the music of Bernard Herrmann grows in stature. It is in many ways what jazz has become, a true blend of all musical forms with the raw essence of a new form.

Mr. Sandlin also has some sensitive comments on the problems with 20th-century music (or so-called classical). After the work of Bartok, Schoenberg, and Stravinsky, "classical" music made the shift to academia and hyperintellectual modes of expression. It seems that if a composer did have his or her own PhD, work in a tree-lined university setting, and did not take a bath, they could not be called or considered "serious" creators of music.

Composers were isolated from the social-musical culture. Their music became very ugly, void of melody or life's reason, flowers without bloom. Classical music had the tired "smell" of a used bookstore. The modern "art audience" moved on (or died). Attending classical concerts became formal, like a duck hunt or PTA meeting.

Bernard Herrmann possessed the ability to work within life, art, society, and music. His music pulls from many forms of expression, some romantic, some modern, and some that use the dreaded "jazz" word. Likewise the children of Bernard Herrmann see that a modern composer must work with a "full palette," and may use the systems of Brahms or Rick James. Sound is sound. Sound is not words, or books about music. Sound is sound.

The only problem with Lee Sandlin's otherwise informative and positive review of Bernard Herrmann is that he implies that Herrmann's music is a bit less than Ives, Debussy, or Sibelius. A statement like this means that Sandlin has fallen victim to the "classical music mind-set," or that he wants to make more out of the awe and wonder of that "classical thing."

I suggest looking at some of the mature Herrmann works that don't make Sandlin's hit list, or the three CDs mentioned in the Reader review. Check out: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Jane Eyre, The Magnificent Ambersons, Marnie, and Torn Curtain.

I hope that the Reader has more film-music reviews instead of the standard, endless rock and performance-art and theater reviews it seems to dwell on.

Sparrow, "non-classical" composer


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