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November 8, 2006

Victory at Sea

Film music has, for the most part, replaced formal classical music as the classical music of our time.

I'm presently listening to Victory at Sea and More Victory at Sea which had their origins as soundtracks to documentary films about WW II produced (I think) for television in the late 50s early 60s. What I think occurred is that Richard Rodgers composed some new material and reworked materials from his musicals into the soundtracks as appropriate. For example, "Beneath the Southern Cross" has a motif that is very familiar but which I am not able to place immediately, not being terribly conversant in musical theatre.

Whatever may be the case, there is some interesting music here that has stronger classcial music leanings than the music of most contemporary composers. Dissonance serves a real purpose in the course of the music rather than the ritual extolling of disorder commanded of the high priests of modern anarachy. There is form and function here, and while it doesn't have the strict structural elements of prolonged classical music, it does within each short piece contain both thematic and musical elements that hearken back to musical predecessors in ways that might be called "musical quotation."

Posted by Steven Riddle at November 8, 2006 2:33 PM

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When I was around 10 or so -- quite a few years ago now (ahem) -- I remember watching Victory at Sea with great fascination, and thereby developed a life-long love and respect for the US Navy. (I'm Canadian -- go figure!) Anyway, I think the tune you refer to is "No Other Love Have I" -- I don't know if it's from a musical, or if it's a stand-alone song, but it is quite beautiful and perfectly expressed the longing for home that all military personnel have when they're away. Richard Rodgers also wrote a memorable score for the later series, "Winston Churchill: the Valiant Years." I didn't know that the VAS score is on CD; I'll be looking for a copy on my next visit to the record store.

Posted by: Patricia Gonzalez at November 9, 2006 12:34 PM

Dear Patricia,

Thank you. I shall look that up. It's nice to know that others are familiar with the series/music.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at November 9, 2006 1:42 PM

Dear Patricia,

Internet sources confirm it and variously list it, but it is from the 1953 musical _Juliet and Me_. I actually found the lyrics on a Brazilian site of all places!



Posted by: Steven Riddle at November 9, 2006 1:47 PM

Thank you for reminding me of some music that I should probably revisit as an adult. I remember Victory at Sea being a prominent album in my dad's music collection, but as a flighty girl growing up in the 1960's I didn't pay much attention to what it meant...and most likely passed up any opportunity to view the documentary as being way to "heavy." (It is sad to admit that I didn't appreciate the sacrifice that my father made to drop out of high school at seventeen to join the U.S. Marines during WWII...the whole impact has only recently hit me since my oldest boy turned seventeen this year.)

Posted by: Ellyn at November 9, 2006 8:58 PM

Eyebrow raised.

Posted by: Erik Keilholtz at November 14, 2006 4:14 AM

Dear Eric,

Unfortunately, the arched brow coming from one who truly apreciates the discord of Karlheinz Stockhausen strikes me rather as approbation than having its expected effect.

I had, of couse, assumed that this would be your view of the matter. But as with certain realms of Jazz and Folk music, film music has more than its share of interest and delight amidst the plenty of vacuous nonsense. I think this particular piece, much of the work of Miklos Rosza and Bernard Hermann, and that of a few other composers--Maurice Jarre, for example, worth greater attention than say John Cage or his cronies.

This particular one may teeter on the edge--but there's some solid and interesting stuff going on throughout and in some places simply gorgeous music.

But then I also like Brigadoon a great deal more than Pierrot Lunaire.

Oh well, for some there truly is no hope.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at November 14, 2006 7:53 AM

Do you know the Knieper score for Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire? That and Louis and Bebe Barron's Forbidden Planet are about the best of film music that I can think of. All of that imitation Romantic stuff will fade, either on its own or as a central part of a decadent and fading civilization.

In the end it is the school of Stockhausen and Boulez (and even Feldman) that reclaim order. Disorder comes from music that is so focused on emotion that it is ends up being a cold, dead parody of itself.

Posted by: Erik Keilholtz at November 14, 2006 2:12 PM

Dear Eric,

The second I am familiar with, if only for its use of the thuriman. The first I am familiar with only through the movie.

But, I will respectfully disagree. Bernard Hermann is hardly neo-romantic--though I might grant that label for Rosza and certainly for the soundtrack mentioned here.

But we will disagree on the effect and meaning of music. It was never meant to be a mere intellectual exercise, and so long as that is all it is, it fails. Now were you to pick the line of Gorecki, and Penderecki, and Lygeti, and I might find some ground for discourse, but mere intellectual brute strength does not necessarily make for accessible art. The great music of the past was not sheer intellect, but the interplay of reason and emotion--with the dominant hand of reason controlling and moving the emotional tenor of the work. The same is true in the Romantic period and even among the neo-romantics.

True, some of this stuff stumbles over into maudlin and so much the same. But we are poor predictors of what the future will hold. Salieri was much preferred in his time over Mozart and ultimately, it will not be the "informed" or "professional" purveyors of music who will decide what lasts and what does not. It will be what appeals to the ear, the mind, and most of all the heart.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at November 14, 2006 2:45 PM

OK, I'll take your Penderecki and Lygeti, but let's substitute Messaien for Gorecki.

Music is partly about expression, but the mistake, which comes into the equation in a big way during my favorite period: the baroque, is to see expression of human emotion as the important thing. It is AN important thing in some musics, but to see it as always having a place at the table is error.

Something the expression is of phenomenon, allowing subjective resonances to be brought in by the listener, a much less coercive manner than the Romantic-head-thumping-let's-get-a-consensus-as-to-how-we-all-feel thing. For instance, Alvin Lucier's Music on a Long Thin Wire or even Morton Feldman's String Quartet and Piano.

Frankly, I am surprised that this sort of music doesn't appeal to you more, with your interest in patterns like the lovely one that you use as a background on your blog. Listening to these post-Cagean sorts of musics is much like appreciating that sort of natural world patterning. Just as the photographer decides what to shoot, how to frame the shot, what f-stop, etc., the composer frames the acoustic phenomena and allows the phenomena to function within the music without too much manipulation.

Even with the swelling strings and blaring neo-Wagnerian horns, that sort of film music has never moved me, nor excited me, nearly as much as Xennakis, Stockhausen, or Berio (who actualyl preserved an Italianate consideration of lyrical emotionalism within the framework of high modernism).

Posted by: Erik Keilholtz at November 15, 2006 1:34 PM

Dear Erik,

And I can accept Messaien, Xenakis, and would add the natural follow-ups to my favorite of the 20th Century (Debussy)--Honneger and Varese.

But my objection would be that if patterning is all that there is, I can experience that directly sonically and don't need the intermediary of a interpretation that is also an interpolation.

Moreover, my overriding objection/concern is more analogical than it is directly related to the Music, as I've no real expertise to argue the matter, and that is, in poetry with the advent of T.S. Eliot, and to an even greater extent Hans Arp and Andre Breton, poetry was freed from any need to mean and became a sort of free floating, whatever I think it is form. Largely this has resulted in the diminution and complete destruction of poetry. (It's wrong to Saddle Eliot with the blame, but with his pretentious and precious little posings in The Waste Land we end up with the modernist aesthetic and focus on self that came to dominate forms such as the poeme concrete and the vast majority of what the "beat poets" offered us. (And exception here to be made for the Early Ginsburg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.)

When the practice is purely theoretical, it passes out of the realm of art and into the realm of a scientce. Of some minor interest perhaps, but not particularly engaging. It think here particularly of the Charles Dodge "Soundtrack of the Sun" that uses minute oscillations in the solar particle emission to "code" music. Precious, yes, pretentious, mostly, experimental in the scientific sense, definitely, engaging--not.

My experience with Stockhausen has been similar. He may produce the most amazing music in theory that has ever been written. However, to the majority of audiences that really want to like it because there's a eclat to the avant garde, it is impenetrable and indecipherable.

I'm not arguing against new compositional methods, but Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima carries far more appeal to these ears than anything I've tried to listen to by Stockhausen. Now, I must also grant that I've tried to listen to precious little because I don't find anything of interest there whatsoever--whereas all of the other composers we've mentioned offer at least a modicum of interest either rhythmically (I think here of Xenakis) or tonally, with Varese, Penderecki, and Ligeti.)

But you know, I'm talking way outside my realm of expertise--I can only say what a person who honestly is trying to find something to like in what is listened to has discovered in listening to these various composers. And I haven't the breadth of exposure to things that you have, so I'm not familiar with some of your references.

Nevertheless, pure theory divorced from engagement may make for an interesting study in a music class, but it doesn't make for music to help me write poetry. In other words, it doesn't tend to foster the other arts, and that is also a quality I look to in the great artists of any field.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at November 15, 2006 2:32 PM

Ah hah! I am going to (for now) ignore the poetry, because that will take us into entirely new territory.

Let's take Dodge into account and:

But my objection would be that if patterning is all that there is, I can experience that directly sonically and don't need the intermediary of a interpretation that is also an interpolation.

And we are in absolute agreement. A sonic rendering of a semi-scientific experiment is not art, rarely interesting in its entirety, and should be seen as raw material for the composer to use.

Where Dodge (and in moments of weakness, Lucier) go wrong is that assuming that the work of the composer is setting up the situation and then stepping out of the picture. This only works if the situation has structural integrity, and the "found object" sound was explored in order to make its character fit into that structure (see Stockhausen's Four Criteria of Electronic Music).

I am all in favor of experimental music, but if the experiment fails, for the love of God, don't perform it in public, and if you are going to test the results in public, do it at cut rate.

By the way, I don't think that a music without theory is even possible. Even at the most banal level, we engage music in a theoretical context (which could range from the reptile brain to extremes of subtlety). Likewise, due to the nature of music, any theory has a concrete music to go with it, even if it has yet to be realized. So I tend to view statements of "over-intellectualized music" and such as nothing more than rhetorical flourish.

Posted by: Erik Keilholtz at November 17, 2006 7:49 PM

Dear Erik,

As to your last paragraph. I don't think it is in response to anything I wrote or implied because I would have to agree with you entirely. The same is true for any art worthy of the name--there is some theory, even if it is only aesthetic, that gives the otherwise formless and simply mimetic the substance of art.

My contention would be that the theory in and of itself is not the whole content of the art and that the purest expression of that theory is the furthest thing from the art. I think of André Breton's Manifeste Surrealiste and other documents of the ilk in which the essential principles are laid out.

I don't see "over-intellectualized" as a rhetorical flourish, but rather as an end of the spectrum akin to "over-sentimentalized." I think that there are points in both where one leaves the realm of art and wanders through the suburbs or even the deep country surrounding art without ever seeing it.

Experiments are fine. Without experimentation and new thinking a field ceases to grow and as the alternatives are to grow or die, you need experimentation to expand the horizons. But experiments themselves are not necessarily art per se but essays at art. Sometimes, as in the poème concrete they are utter failures--adding nothing lasting to the domain and generally serving only to reduce accessibility to the "chosen few." And that is when Art does a disservice to all.

I tend to think this is the alley into which Stockhausen, for all his interest in and promotion of music has wandered. As to Boulez and others, I don't so much see this self-immolation in theory. I do not enjoy Boulez's music, and I certainly don't understand either the theory or the practice of serialism, post-serialism, or the multiplicity of dead-end isms that litters the highway of modern music, and I think it does a disservice to the main core of development. My impression of classical music post 1950 is that it has tended to mill about itself in the center of the room throwing its dwindling audience to the periphery.

I think you made an excellent point regarding the over-sentimentalization of music producing mawkish and flabby material. But the intellectualization of music has reduced it to a shadow of its former self. Art does have intellectual content, but ideally it also has some sort of emotional content as well--a dual hook that entangles and teaches. It is one of the reasons that music, particularly with the primality of the appeal is so dangerous an art in comparison to many of the visual arts and literary arts. Sound is energy. Long exposure to loud sound, for example, has been shown to permanently restrict the diameter of circulatory vessels, particularly in the peripheral circulatory system. We all know how a tune can get into your head and not come out. I tend to think that if that tune is from Rob Zombie, or others of his ilk, there is often a detrimental effect of such exposure--if only in one's ability to communicate and associate with fellow human beings.

But I have already gone on far too long, and I really don't know enough to say much of anything at all. I'm not educated in music theory, and am only an auto-didact in most aesthetic theory--but I do find the intense intellectual approach to any art as detrimental to that art as the abandonment of any thought or consideration. One way lies the ultimate minimalization of art (it's complete non-existence as the ultimate intellectual statement of itself) the other lay Thomas Kinkade and his myriad of imitators and followers. Neither extreme, it seems to me is healthy for the art. And both extremes, untempered by the center tend to lead to extemes in personality--from the "Precious Moments" syndrome (I've got to collect them all), to the "I'm an Artist and therefore above it all and certainly above you syndrome." Neither is an attractive prospect to deal with in real life. (I know, I used to be the latter and was utterly miserable and tended to share--that is, make everyone around me miserable.)



Posted by: Steven Riddle at November 18, 2006 9:14 AM

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