Jim Lange Published

Scared to Write a Note


Thumbing through a copy of Opera News, an article on opera composer Ricky Ian Gordon revealed some very provocative words:

“The twentieth century is littered with a lot of composers who were terrorized out of writing what they heard-out of writing in …their authentic voice. There was such a critical backlash against…tonal music. I mean you could write…you were just laughed off the map.”

What is music? Such a simple question. Such complication behind the answers.

The early 2oth century composers were in a real bind. Were they going to be followers of Serialism, Indeterminacy or Neoclassicism? Tonality, for all intents and purposes, was an anachronism-something so quaint that only the inferior or less serious composers would chose as a musical language.

(Think this attitude is gone? A few years ago, one of my colleagues made an off-hand remark about the 12 Tone System and a listener wrote that anyone with any knowledge knew that the last serious (read important) works were written in this style. So, we must remain in a prison based on a system that began in the 1920’s?)

Or worst choice of all: write the music they heard in their own minds?

We all talk about the arts in terms of freedom, but there’s always a quid pro quo. The questions become: why are we writing? Who are we writing for?

If there’s a shadow hanging over your shoulder of what you “should” be writing or a host of critical voices in your mind, you’re never going to write the music that is your true voice.

Mr. Gordon is writing no less than three operas. 

I doubt he has much time to listen to the voice of doubt or to the ghosts of musical eras past.