John Adams Blogs.


No, not that John Adams, this John Adams:

Plato & Socrates: the musical mind police

Preparing Louis Andriessen’s“De Staat” for a performance next week in Zankel Hall, I got to thinking about Plato and his strange comments about music.

“De Staat,” which is Dutch for “The Republic,” is a 35-minute setting of several of Plato’s texts about music and politics for a quartet of amplified female voices and an industrial-strength ensemble of brass, electric guitars, winds and pianos. Composed between 1972-76, it is a fabulously high energy meeting of Stravinskian primitivism, funky American bebop and ritualistic Indonesian modalities. It is a masterpiece, emphatically one of the best works of the early era of Minimalism.

Plato’s writings about music go with Adorno’s about jazz. You read them and seriously wonder how a great analytic mind could make such bizarre evaluations and see such subversive evils lying hidden behind the tones.

5 thoughts on “John Adams Blogs.

  1. And what about Aristotle’s Poetics? All sorts of things were not tolerated even though so incipient at the time they were barely to be seen, unless you wish to include the bloodshed practised routinely by Aristotle’s most famous student and who is considered a great man (and probably is, because we don’t know, they know about their own time and their own time’s people.) Of course, this was then followed by all sorts of brilliant Roman versions of bloodshed, culminating in Caligula and Nero (it does seem rather impossible that Nero even found enough order within which to be a horrible tyrant, given that I need to research what organized structures were even left intact after Caligula.) Just thinking about these excessive types (and Aristotle was not crazy about these excesses, as I remember, which comes across a bit hypocritical when you take Alexander into consideration, but that’s pretty obnoxious juxtaposition on my part, and may well be considered bratty…nevertheless…artistic production eventually didn’t heed (if it ever did that much) Aristotle’s injunctions against too much of the elaborate, for one thing. All you have to do is look at all the great Catholic churches of Rome and France. People are not going to ever stay with simplicity, because it is not the only good thing there is.

    Did you put up a clip of the John Adams? I saw nothing like a clip among your links. I’ll look for it myself if you think it’s such a masterpiece.

  2. IN case you didn’t, this is the first of the four parts, and the remaining three are immediately available. I heard only a snippet, so I will have to listen to all of it, since convincing me of that late 60s, early 70s minimalist music has not usually worked with me.

  3. Just skipped through the 4 parts, maybe it’s a masterpiece, I wouldn’t know. This sort of thing makes sure you don’t miss any structure even if you’ve got ADD, one refined migraine after the other. Would one know without program notes this had a thing to do with Plato? I expected more than just a solid Octave (for ‘stabiity’, I guess) at the end, maybe more of a Fanfare on the order of Stravinsky’s Happy Birthday, which I indubitably prefer.

    Definitely sounds expensive, but I have yet to hear any that really convinces me that anything new is going on; it’s always the same idea, with a little development from figure to figure. There was one in the 4th clip that reminded me of a Leonard Bernstein Mambo in the ‘Dance at the Gym’ music of West Side Story, but that was arresting only because that sounded like a rebellion against the Republic, which I’ve always had a hard time cherishing as much as I should. But I never thought any form of the Plato would have any jazzy place in it–supposed to have the sound of the chaperone, I always think. Probably good for acid trippers, I can’t see much difference from early Steve Reich except the timbres are skinnier, more like sukiyaki noodles than rigatoni. Maybe you can enlighten me, I feel like a fucking curmudgeon when I run into this stuff, it seems static even when it tries to develop.

    • I’m not really that informed about this sort of music – I do like some of John Adams’ stuff (like Nixon in China) – but generally this sort of “soundscape” type of music leaves me cold (or slightly warm, depending on the circumstances). I mentioned Adams’ blog primarily for his reference to Plato.

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