01 February 2018

Grit and Leningrad

It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music.
- Vaughan Williams

Quite regularly, the need for, or the non-'needy' application of, extramusical ideas upon music, without an overt textual component, and with no reliable guidance from the composer (sometimes, in ways that do not necessarily reflect discredit upon the composer, there exists disinformation) — quite regularly the topic arises for discussion among passionate music-lovers (and aren't we most).

Thinking this morning about the Leningrad Symphony, and the march interlude which "invades" the sonata-allegro design of the first movement, I consider the argument (in principle) between those who say that the feet on the march in that interlude are Russian (heroic defenders), or are German (implacable barbarian invaders). But what if it is just a march? ("just a march") Concede that, yes, obviously, the march is a reflection of the struggle of the City of Leningrad—but propose that there is no literal depiction of whose army is marching.

That it is music, not a "docusymphony."

One story about Stravinsky which I may have read in either the Eric Walter White or Roman Vlad books, but which I cannot find in a cursory search in volume II of the Stephen Walsh bio, tells of a Hollywood producer who talked to Stravinsky about a film score, and when the question of the composer's fee rose, the composer took thought for about how long it took him to write The Firebird, and quoted a figure which would have made it worth his time. Which the producer declined with a polite, "Thank you all the same, Mr Stravinsky."

For the moment, I am not interested in whether it is purely anecdotal, or whether it is anecdote but true in essence. I am instead thinking of the 1969 film True Grit (which had nothing to do with Stravinsky).

I first saw (I forget just when) the Coen Bros.' remake of True Grit, and liked it thoroughly and immediately; it is only last night that I watched the original. While it did strike me as somewhat dated (as what movie with John Wayne could not? Though he is not uniquely responsible for all the dated elements) I found it magnificently enjoyable. The score by Elmer Bernstein-without suggesting that it is ever otherwise than very good-at times struck me as "a poor man's Aaron Copland."

So I had a fantastic image of (as with the Stravinsky story, above) a producer approaching Copland, and being put off by the price tag, when in pops Elmer Bernstein saying, "I can get it for you wholesale!"

No comments: