The music makers; Irving Kolodin
This is Irving Colo. I think of a remark that Michelle Nunn once made. And he's been on the scene a good nearly 60 years now. In any case somebody asked him within the last decade about comparative standards of quality performers today and when he was growing up and he said in a few short words the standard in media pretty is higher today. Michigan State University radio presents the music makers. There. Today Irving collodion is our destiny. A series of conversations with prominent Americans whose art and business is music. Mr. Cole Lowden is one of the most widely respected music critics in America. He studied at the Institute of Musical Arts in New York has lectured on music criticism at the Juilliard School and it's been a program annotator for the New York
Philharmonic. He began writing critical columns for the Saturday Review in 1947 and became an associate editor of that periodical in 1952. In addition he's been widely read as author of the recent books the composer as a listener and the musical life as a contributor to music encyclopedias and dictionaries and numerous magazines with Mr. Cole Lowden is host for these conversations. Pat Forde a mystical Oden a favorite pastime now is rattling off the number of orchestras in the United States. The big courting industry's output in serious music and in general a proliferation of culture in our society. From your standpoint as critic does they say impressive numerical output have a relationship to our actual cultural growth. Well it has a relationship certainly but I think it's somewhat overstressed simply as a percentage consideration which is to say that.
When I was growing up the numbers of New Yorkers were not so widely distributed as they are now but the population was a good deal smaller and consequently easy. Relationship forecasters and numbers of the existing population was certainly as representative as is today and perhaps even a little more so alive. I wouldn't have to figures quickly at hand but I don't consider that a infallible index to a great cultural proliferation records or something else because they penetrate far more deeply out of any context of concert halls and municipal centers. Soul records may reach an infinitely larger number of people than merely the numbers themselves
indicate through circulating collection libraries through radio broadcasts and various other kinds of multiple usage. I would say on the whole that within my experience that growth not only of quantity of records and just distribution of them but the enormous penetration of every kind of form of music imaginable onto records. There's been no satisfactory indication that music means more to people now than it did say 30 years ago. Some artists have maintained that the exposure given a performer through especially through records and international concertizing will be another factor that it's created a higher standard of artistic excellence today in other words what what might have passed for acceptable repertory and performance. Thirty or forty years ago or so wouldn't even pass for beginner today.
Well that's the leading question to me because I almost think that subject or anything relevant relative to it is raise of a remark. Michel man once made. And he's been on the scene a good nearly 60 years now. In any case somebody asked him within the last decade about. Comparative standards of quality performers today and when he was growing up and he said in a few short words the standard to mediocrity is higher today by which he meant of course. Through education and mass production plenty of students that the bottom capacities are probably higher than ever before but I think the top level is still as exacting and hard to attain as it was true at any time in the past and consequently it may be more difficult to send from them
from the lower level to the higher but I don't think that there are any greater criteria for the top performers than there were say when Joseph Hofmann was playing or rough money or when Chrysler was in its best form and so on that the top echelon is still a very high pinnacle to achieve and it has been that way for for a very long time. It is quite possible that the standards are better disseminated and was true again reverting to what I said before that the distribution of records and the availability of performances has affected the. Mass. Conscience is the music I would say perhaps that. The standards have been raised in the middle area that people would
accept as readily something that was inferior as they might have 30 years ago. Are there ways in which we can bring the performance and the artists of a great deal of promising talent to younger people before the public. Well date. I wouldn't say that the trouble is so much in the means of promotion that is to say that there are any number of avenues through which talented people proceed to some degree of prominence competitions and grants and foundations and so forth. What is unfortunate however is that when they have had this first exposure that the public tends not to elect him to positions of prominence through their own perceptions and discrimination but to wait until some other circumstance
which is a. Spotlight on them where they then are willing to accept him into in the same terms as a European celebrity. A dual question. A. The press being sufficiently perceptive to recognize quality were ever to me exist whether it's homegrown or not. And second that the listening public should exercise more discrimination and receiving equal warms and appreciation a performance of similar caliber whether it's produced by American or in Afghanistan. I think we still tend to respect the foreign label a little more than we ought to. Perhaps Is this a commercialization or cultural hero worship.
Do you think it is a good thing or a bad thing for the Arts. How do you reflect on. Well I would say that it's one form or another. It's a normal thing which is to say that it takes a different form at the present time than the did in the 20s perhaps. But you could cite parallels that would. Indicate that the need for such a object of affection so to speak is chronic and perpetual amongst people and it wanted to chose itself as it does almost inevitably from time to time. There is a great attraction and a great concentration of attention upon an individual who thereupon stands in the view of the general public as a personification of some major value. Recollect the Van Cliburn. I happened here just about 10 years ago when he played New York for the first time of the film Monaco orchestra as a prize winner for the competition.
That included a performance was a film like orchestra as one of its awards. Then you played very well that anybody could tell that he was far above the average. Even the average Prize winner and he had a attractive manner on platforms outgoing horses height and use were factors of. People and he played very well and he was well reviewed for this accomplishment and he played in a dozen other New York's American cities that is as a consequence of winning the same award but after that you couldn't give away your services and maybe putting a too heavy stress on the word giveaway but the fact is that at the time he went to Moscow and his great triumph
he had pending one engagement for which the fee was two hundred fifty dollars. And never was out of Grant Park in Chicago if I'm not mistaken. And. Well he went and played just when he came back out of sheer loyalty to the man who engaged him for it. But. He was no different than the artist he had been before. He was the same quality of musician but there just hadn't been a forum in which his talents were projected to the extent that they had been under the circumstances of his winning in Russia. So I don't begrudge him the success he's had he's entitled to it but I think it's rather dismal however is that there are probably a dozen other American pianists who are every bit as good and who will never make it.
In that sense and you have every reason to feel aggrieved because Cliburn is not being rewarded entirely for musical abilities but in large part because of the circumstances in which he was cast by fate and the net of it all is that rather than concentrating our attention on one symbol of ability that we ought to do. Spread this around a little more and recognize that we do produce talents of considerable quality and their ability should be reckoned in those terms rather than as a result of something extraneous. Do you think the music how programmed that the United States now become a part of. Do you think this kind of international exchange program will be is the right direction to take in exposing new talent.
Well I think it's all to the good. I think any mechanism that puts in motion the somewhat static arrangement of concert careers especially performing careers where you have to have the outside agency of a manager or sponsor of some sort anything that facilitates this kind of promotional effort is all to the good. And I would say that. As much as I know about it which isn't everything by any means. It's just beginning to become a factor in New York here at Carnegie Hall. But everything I know about it indicates that this is related to musical ability on the part of the people who are selected and promoted and that's of course the best part of it rather than having it be a product of some kind of managerial commercial sponsorship
which fastens on the salability of the performer involved in musical qualifications of being stressed. Turning from the performer to the composer How successful do you think our major orchestras in this country have been in bringing the works of new composers before the public. Well that's a question invites a bit of reflection for the reason that the pattern varies from city to city and it depends in some degree on the. Character the conductor and the right recipe devotee just build up in the audience. I think perhaps the outstanding instance of good work and to happen in contemporary composers was that of a search to save his King in Boston when he arrived in this country back in
the mid twenties. He said to the reporters who interviewed him and we boarded a ship. Who are your important American composers and nobody amongst them could give him any names which he thought was so much surprising and disheartening. But in the period in which he was he became a national figure in Boston and he singlehanded almost promoted the. Performance of a composer such as Aaron Copeland and Roy Harris and also piston and perhaps when I'm sure I'm in in the next decade. But this was part of a persistent programme on his part and he went looking for composers and
he was pretty discriminating about whose music he played and and it didn't have too much to do with styles. I mean he was pretty eclectic in his choice of composers. But the result of it became a set pattern in Boston for new music to be heard and listened to receptively And I think that persisted with. Charles mentioned is also true as Erich Leinsdorf course every man will play somewhat different kinds of contemporary music according to his own preferences and tastes but it has become an accepted part of the program in Boston. Now the same thing became true in New York with Dmitri might drop less and has remained so with Leonard Bernstein. Some other cities which needed been identified by name are rather more
static and less encouraging to the composer who was looking for performances because the criteria are different and the opportunities are not so great. But let it be said that on the whole in this period of time that American music enjoys a parity in prominence. New American music was better most of the other countries that where news of their existence and the possibility of them being heard is considerably more acute than it was before the last war say so that on the whole the picture's encouraging I'd say I would not say it's by any means universally equal and bright but. I would say that the public at least will listen to contemporary music whereas it might not have been
so disposed 25 years ago. If for the most part and public concerts the works of new composers are sandwiched in. But there is also quite a bit of work being done on a much smaller scale and a number of smaller organizations put on concerts of contemporary music. And there's been concern by some people who have written about this and talked about this that there tends to be an inbreeding process in these organizations in the small concerts that are given from time to time experimental music and what have you. Well I think a lot of the smaller groups. Performing for each other so to speak in which composers hear their own music and in the music of the other composers but not many other people or become involved in this interchange what the net result
of it is it's very hard to stay for the simple reason that. I think the performances is necessary to come composer as publication Mr. Nasr And it doesn't much matter whether it's published in a small obscure journal or a large prominent magazine. So far as his own development is concerned it's one is when his work has been. Brought out of its obscurity so to speak and put in some form appropriate to it he has a chance to evaluate what he's done and there by go on to the next step is available to him through his own talents and capacity for self-criticism. So in many ways a performance in a small group is as much important to a composer as it is as a performance in other circumstances. As far as the audience is concerned whoever that is is different
because as I said before an audience can only become as responsive to an experience as is the nature of the experience that is provided to it. And if it doesn't hear contemporary music or not enough of it it. Will either lose contact or lose it's messed up to me. So I think that while both are desirable I think that it's more important to insinuate the contemporary music into the bloodstream of the repertory that's been performed widely so that it can become more a part of the general experience. For this of course does not allow for a very large body of work in a given period to be assimilated into the repertory and it's been said that for this reason there are a great many of our contemporary
composers who are unwilling to write large orchestral works in that within a period of time there may be a real Darth of this kind of music and I've heard people wonder out loud about this I think Stern is has mentioned this and it is there any validity to that. Well there were some I suppose but I don't. I think it tends to become rather for appeal that is to say it's out of self interest that these views become disseminated. I always think of the fact that Schubert never had a Guggenheim. There was no Ford Foundation when Wagner was alive. And somehow these men should be. Compulsion to express themselves which existed was in and endured rather formidable handicaps and I don't want to leverage the fact that genius is rarer than it should be but I still think that if you think of fundamental importance as the
impulse that dominates the individual self that it he only creates when the opportunity seems to be at hand for his expression to flourish. Maybe the expression isn't very powerful. The composer to whom almost all American composers pay a willing tribute of gratitude and admiration was Charles Ives and practically nothing of Ives is large works were performed during his lifetime. I don't say this is good I'm simply saying that it didn't prevent him from from going on and doing the best of which he was capable. Now this takes a lot of perseverance but out of all the composers are living in Ives time and who were being performed and have an advantage of hearing their work and so on all the supposedly meritorious things.
Very very few of them measure up to that quality of. Output and difference only because there was something in him that was different than what was in the other people. An expression is being used a great deal now of course as an electronic music and perhaps it's because as a composer very little expense and I'm saying aside aside from all other factors. But he can create and have his music created directly on the tape and hear it perform so forth and the foundations have in the past and even to some extent of support of this kind of work. Do you think that the chances are possibly that because of the support that's available and because of the relative and expense of performance and creation and the possibilities of tape that this is given rise to proliferation in the media. Well I'm sure it has an influence I hate to think the idea of a master record being lost forever because somebody pushed the wrong button. But I am monster for letting people
express themselves and maybe something will come of it. I must say that I have yet to hear my first piece of electronic music which I can become absolutely devoted to or feel that it has. Achieve the result in a static result it couldn't be done in any other possible way at all. But I think the activities all to the good. There is perhaps a deeper correlation between techniques or mechanics or. Functional devices that typify an age then we commonly comprehend in other words maybe the kind of organ that was available to Bach was just right to his kind of expression. Stringed
instruments that were being built in Italy during the. Seventeenth and eighteenth century certainly had something to do with the kind of string music good and bad of Alte Correlli etc. so maybe out of the electronic developments of this era something will occur that makes a perfect corollary to the device that's suitable to it. Certainly as far as noise sources are concerned we have more than enough to provide any electronic or music concrete composer vist the raw materials. That's an interesting comment because I think of Stravinsky that said that electronic music in the use of cartridges or what have you has opened up the numerical possibilities for the creation of music but it's choice not possibilities that leads to artistic achievement.
Well it's really true and you know like handing in somebody's dictionary and saying here is everything you need to write a novel. Let's see the creative capacity that as you say it performs the act of selectivity your choice to make up a memorable result. Again I go back to the previous comment about impulse that. We think we have a lot of composers. I'm just putting this in parasitically it may be just it. We are giving more people the opportunity to think they're composers. Being able to put notes on paper or even to orchestrate them doesn't necessarily mean that somebody is a composer you may just be a very well qualified craftsman. Which I'm not denigrating I think it's a it's a desirable thing but composition is really
something that involves a nasty static as well as mechanical facility and it's rare and any time it but probably the more people that have the chance to do it the more likelihood there is of something worthwhile materializing pianist Glenn gold has commented that live music concerts as we have come to know them are on their way out and that they will soon have disappeared from the from the music scene. Do you share his opinion. I don't really think that there is much danger of the concert pattern changing in the discernable future for the simple reason that. With all the electronic resources that we have in the way of records tapes and broadcasts of music. Your life experience remains unique and always will be.
We all enjoy going to the theater nine that time in preference or even more than the motion pictures because it's something in the life theatre that no no mechanical reproduction of it can supplant May the mechanical reproduction May an occasion be more exact. But it still lacks action of happening at the time you're present. Which I think is a unique experience and benefit of a live performance and that in my opinion really retain its attraction as long as there are people around who can provide it. Nic I also think that man is naturally a gregarious animal and likes to gather in company with other people and share an experience and participate in a
event that hasn't happened before may never happen again. That was Irving kiloton today's guest on the music makers a series of conversations with prominent Americans whose art and business is music host for these conversations is part four. This is come beach later inviting you to be with us again next week for a conversation with Eugene Ormandy. These programs are produced by pop Ford at Michigan State University Radio under a grant from the national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
- The music makers
- Irving Kolodin
- Producing Organization
- Michigan State University
- WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program focuses on music critic and music historian Irving Kolodin.
- Series Description
- Distinguished Americans discuss their profession of music, from composition to criticism; the business of music and its current place in our national culture.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Interviewee: Kolodin, Irving, 1908-1988
Interviewer: Smyth, Henry De Wolf, 1898-1986
Producer: Ford, Pat
Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 66-6-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “The music makers; Irving Kolodin,” 1966-01-10, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 25, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q52fcv04.
- MLA: “The music makers; Irving Kolodin.” 1966-01-10. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 25, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q52fcv04>.
- APA: The music makers; Irving Kolodin. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-q52fcv04