Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Knowing when to start

Somewhere along the line I got hold of American composer Ned Rorem's autobiographical book, "Knowing When to Stop," which covers his life to age 28 (in 1951), and essentially chronicles a life that was the opposite of the title. He knew he was gay early on and apparently was quite a flamer, living it up to sometimes amusing, sometimes appalling excess in Paris, Morocco, and London, as well as going to Julliard and Tanglewood. I read parts of it and found him rather compelling as a writer of prose. Until recently, however, when I went through the bonanza of CDs made available to me by Tim Mangan, the Register's classical music critic, I hadn't listened to very much of his music. It was time to start.

Well, at least I can now recommend his Piano Concerto #2 and his Cello Concerto. He was/is familiar with most of the twists and turns of "serious" music through the 20th century -- atonal, 12-tone, neoclassical, minimalist -- and you can hear influences from time to time, but the music I've listened to has been tonal and harmonic. You wouldn't mistake it for 19th-century music -- too creative use of rhythms and percussion, occasional mildly jarring harmony, odd transitions and juxtapositions -- but he writes melodies recognizable as melodies you might want to hum on the way out of a concert, and uses mosty traditional harmonies. Not sure to whom I might compare him -- maybe Ravel in some moods, a touch of Prokofiev, a little Copland flavor now and then, but I find the music stimulating and enjoyable and not really quite like anybody else. The Cello Concerto is particularly imaginative -- not the traditional three movements but 7 or 8 shorter movements that evoke a wide variety of emotions.

He is noted as a writer of songs, but I haven't yet listened to the CD I have consisting solely of songs. More later.

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