Printer-friendly version
Emily Hogstad

I Hate...er, Strongly Dislike...Bruckner, Part II

April 25, 2012 at 10:45 PM

So! What were you guys up to this weekend?

I didn’t do much. I practiced. Wasted time on Facebook. I didn’t feel well, so I napped. Played with my dog and my cat. Thought about taking a bike ride, but I have allergies, so I decided to postpone that. I also sat on my bed and pondered my closet for a while, trying to figure out if I should put my winter clothes in storage. You know, normal low-key stuff.

Oh, yeah, and I also caused a major bleepstorm on violinist.com.

So…whoops? I guess? I’m a ninety-pound size-two girl with a soft voice and a sweet smile who last caused a ruckus eighteen years ago when I was put on the only time-out of my childhood because I wouldn’t stop flicking the kitchen lights on and off. Seriously. For anyone who I offended, I do feel (sort of) bad (although not so bad that I’m retracting any of what I wrote). I never meant to imply that it’s a good thing I hate Bruckner, or that you should hate Bruckner, or that anyone should hate Bruckner, or that I’ll always hate Bruckner. To be honest, “I Hate Bruckner” was written more to let off snarky steam than to make an intellectually cogent case for anything. I wasn’t expecting having to write Part II with hundreds of raised virtual eyebrows waiting for me to continue my heretical argument. Naïve? Probably. At least I admit it.

Part II was originally going to be a liveblog of me wading through Bruckner 8 for a third time, trying to pinpoint what exactly about it is so repellent to me. I may do such a thing in future, but it didn’t take long to decide that reliving the comment section in all its glory would be much more exciting and educational.

So. To get everyone up to speed… In “I Hate Bruckner, Part I” I wrote:

"In the Adagio we behold nothing less than ‘the all-loving Father of mankind in all his infinite mercy!’ Since this Adagio lasts exactly twenty-eight minutes or about as long as an entire Beethoven symphony, we cannot complain of being denied ample time for the contemplating of the rare vision. At long last, the Finale – which, with its baroque themes, its confused structure and inhuman din, strikes us only as a model of tastelessness – represents, according to the programme, ‘Heroism in the Service of the Divine!’ The blaring trumpet figures are ‘heralds of the gospel truth and the conception of God.’ The childish, hymnal character of this programme characterizes our Bruckner community, which consists of Wagnerites and some added starters for whom Wagner is already too simple and intelligent."

Oh, wait – that’s actually not me; that’s brutally sarcastic music critic Eduard Hanslick writing in 1892. Sorry, I get us mixed up sometimes. (As soon as I found that quote, I knew I had to shoehorn it into this blog somehow. Can you believe we’ve been having this debate for over a century? We’re treading the same ground that Brahms and Wagner et al. did. Ecclesiastes 1:9, y’all.)

Anyway. Actually, what I really said in “I Hate Bruckner” was that 1) I hate Bruckner and 2) I’m frustrated that I can’t explain why. I also compared him to a creeper who hangs out at a gas station, and then made a short amateurish video that Hanslick might have made if only he’d had access to Windows Movie Maker. Okay, you should be up to speed now.

I wish I had the skill to weave in summaries of all the responses I got into some kind of cohesive narrative summary, but I don’t, so I’m going the list route. Below are summaries of the most common types of comments I got, along with some musings on the (fascinating) questions they raised.

1) Hate is a terrible word to use in the context of talking about great composers. It puts readers off, undermines your argument, and reeks of sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake.

I respect that. I discussed a bit about what the word “hate” means to me in the Part I comment section. Which was an interesting thing to verbalize, as I hadn’t really thought much about it since ninth grade, when I started using the word “hate” in earnest. I won’t repeat myself here, but if you’re interested, head on back for a fuller discussion.

That being said, I do think there is something to be said for engaging with a piece, having a strong negative reaction, and then expressing it in direct, honest language. In this particular context, I don’t regret my word choice. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

2) Yeah, I definitely agree; Bruckner was a major creeper. It doesn’t help when one knows he was one of Hitler’s favorites. / How dare you call Bruckner creepy? Bruckner’s personal life is no business of ours. He had nothing to do with the Nazis!

Okay, so…wow. What a huge topic. And the more I think about it, the more surprised I am that we don’t talk about it more. How *does* a composer’s life influence our understanding of his work, and how *should* a composer’s life influence our understanding of his work? Is there an established field of study that attempts to answer these questions? Because I really think one could spend an entire musicology career on them.

Here’s a pattern I’ve come to spot in my own thoughts… If I like a composer’s music, I will be much more inclined to be forgiving of their personal shortcomings. (Beethoven was a terrible father figure to his nephew? But…the seventh symphony!) If I don’t like a composer’s music, but have sympathy for his personal suffering, it will enhance my appreciation of his work. (Shostakovich was fighting for his life with his art? Okay, now this angst becomes appealing.) If I don’t like a composer’s music, and then I find out things that bother me about his biography, that puts up an additional barrier to me liking his music. (Ninety minutes of bombast and lists of hot students? Yeah, no wonder I don’t like him.) Is this logical? Um, no. But it’s a consistent pattern, and I’m aware of it now. So hopefully in future I can keep this in mind and better pinpoint why I feel the way I do about certain composers’ work.

I am, however, still wondering how the life and deeds of an artist should tie into how we approach their output. (Even subconsciously.) I write stories instead of symphonies. Let’s say, just for argument’s sake, that I someday have the honor of writing a novel that is studied after my death. How would I want my biography tied up with my book? I don’t know. However, I do know that readers would be able to draw a heck of a lot richer conclusions about what I created by knowing about who I was. Because, like any artist, I hide in my work. My work and I have a symbiotic relationship, and often it’s impossible to see the dividing line between the two. Surely Bruckner operated in the same way – don’t all artists? I feel like it should be the right of the people of the future to dig through any facts they may possess about me and make judgments – positive or negative – on me *and* my work. And if what they find makes them more or less likely to like me or my work, then that’s their business. But everyone obviously feels differently. What would Bruckner have wanted? Does it matter? I don’t know.

That’s a long way of saying, I’m still formulating thoughts on the subject. Which is good. This is such a huge meaty question, with so many broad implications, it would be a shame to be able to chew it all over with conviction by one’s early twenties. However, I do confess that nobody has convinced me one way (music should be heard independently of a composer’s biography) or the other (the biography of a composer should be kept in mind as we engage with his music). Which leads me to believe the real answer is somewhere in the foggy complicated middle.

One thing I’ve decided for sure, though: the Bruckner Nazi charge is irrelevant. Anything that happens to a composer’s work after he’s dead? Off-limits. For instance, Perry using Copland-esque music in this ad doesn’t make Copland a Republican. (Permit me a moment to giggle at the thought of Copland endorsing Rick Perry.) (And just in case anyone jumps on me, I’m not implying that conservatives are Nazis; Copland/Perry was just the first classical-music-in-politics comparison to come to mind, as it was prominent in the news not many months ago.) (Okay, moving on quickly before another flame war erupts…*dashes off*)

3) Aside from the issue of whether it should have any bearing on how we listen to Bruckner… Keeping lists of names of much younger students who you find physically attractive isn’t necessarily a creepy thing to do. People do a lot worse.

This was a recurring theme that, to be honest, shocked the socks off me. I’m not arguing that people don’t do worse, but…still. Wow. I’m not sure if this chasm in perception is due to a difference in age, gender, sexuality, or something else entirely, but it certainly is a tremendous tremendous chasm. I’m not gearing up for an argument; I don’t want to rehash what’s already been thoroughly hashed; I think either you find the fact The Lists existed disturbing, or you don’t, and I’m not going to waste breath attempting to convince anyone of anything. I just want to note for future reference that behaviors I take for granted as [insert adjective here] may not be viewed as such by large swatches of the population. And just as I expect other people to keep in mind where I’m coming from, I need to keep in mind where other people are coming from. Of course this is Empathy 101, but still, we can never be reminded too often.

This point also has made me think about how I, a young non-heterosexual female, engage with a history written largely by older heterosexual men. That’s quite a lot of bias on both sides to contemplate, and I have a feeling it will take a lifetime to sort it all out.

4) You should write an essay about what you love about Fauré.

YES. I’m totally crazy over this idea. Praising a composer whose work I love is much more my style; trust me. I’m not sure when I’ll get to this, but consider it to be on the docket. My passion for Fauré is so much stronger than any hate I might have for Bruckner. Prepare for a rhapsody of praise!

(The discussion continues in the next part…or two. I’m not sure yet how long to take. Because there were a lot of responses to sift through. Bear with me.)

(Also, I haven’t decided if I’m going to engage in the comment section this time around. As rewarding as it was, it did take a lot of intellectual energy out of me, and I’ve got stuff to do…like practice. So if I don’t get back to you, please don’t take it personally. However, if you really want to continue the discussion, as always, PM me, and I’ll get back to you privately.)


From Thomas Cooper
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 2:43 AM
I would prefer Bruckner to Faure, but that's probably just me. I guess I really am an orchestral fanatic.
From Becki Christopherson
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 5:16 AM
Regarding the composer/biography quandary: Humanities programs in private high schools (don't know about public) are integrating the entire landscape. Someone studying Frankenstein, for instance, would also be studying the world in which Mary Shelley lived. It would seem logical by extrapolation that Ms. Shelley's world view would be shaped by the world in which she lived, so therefore her art is the result of the world in which she lived. It is likely that if she had lived in a different time/place, she would have produce different artistic expressions.
From John Cadd
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 8:00 AM
Thanks for all your efforts to understand the topic you began. Don`t forget the Oliver Hardy line. "Well Stanley ,that`s another fine mess you`ve gotten me into !"
From Richard Watson
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 11:33 AM
In the 60s I had the pleasure of playing the Fifth Sym under Eugen Jochum who told us to play Bruckner as a Symphonic Organ work. The choirs, registrations, the archectecture so different from Brahms or Mahler. Somehow this image melted the wax in my ears and I was listening to Bruckner as if for the first time. It began to make a lot more sense to me. He is by no means my favorite composer but I can see why his music us so beloved by some, and I always found it satisfying to play.
From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 5:18 PM
Love your energy and thoughts and analyses here, and the summary style saves me from having to scroll through the bleepfest to find out what was going on (not enough time for that today).

Aren't blogs great? The perfect place to state your case (and that rhymed...).

From Maura Enright
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 5:30 PM
I loved your original blog. It was well-crafted with delightful play on words... an excellent written performance. Who you like or dislike takes no skin off my nose. I enjoyed being amused!
From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 5:31 PM
Ha ha, now I see the post you're talking about - your blog with 82 replies. Wow, I think you set a record for blog reply traffic! Now THAT'S a good blog. (Or certainly a passion-inducing one.)
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 26, 2012 at 7:03 PM
Greetings,
I hate Bruckner too.
Cheers,
buri
From Lawrence Franko
Posted on April 27, 2012 at 1:55 AM
Emily, As the (or one of the) original Hanslick(s) to you-as-Bruckner in your column, I salute you for being willing to review and thoughtfully consider our criticisms and comments. I would strongly second the suggestion that you write about composers you love. It is so much more cheerful to be debating why we love someone's work than why we hate it. On the other hand, I have my stong dislikes, too. (Hate is still too strong. Reminds me too, too much of 20th century history, not least Orwell's 1984 and Goldstein.) E.g., there are those who think that Frank Zappa ought to cross-over into the classical world. Definitely not my cuppa. PS The original discussion did cause me to listen again to several performances of the Bruckner 8th. The word the comes to mind is Awe, more than Love. Also, perhaps us older folks are more moved by piety...we are a little more conscious of the transitory nature of our earthly existence. PPS If one wants to understand Bruckner, I think that one has to invest time in the world of organ music. Marjorie & I did a tour (see organiste.com) of great churches and organs in Germany last year. Worth doing, and it broadens one's perspective on all music.
From Hartmut Lindemann
Posted on April 30, 2012 at 6:25 AM
A suggestion for all of you who intend to give Bruckner's music a fair chance:
Please listen to the opening of Symphony No.7. It's one of the best, and there he comes straight to the point.
Furtwängler's broadcast from Kairo, 23.4.1951 is quite wonderful.

This entry has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Our Kokopelli
Please support Violinist.com
through your
one-time donation or
sponsorship campaign.

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music

Yamaha V3 Series Violin

The Potter Violin Company

Coregami Performal

Metzler Violin Shop

Connolly Music

Corilon Violins

Anderson Musical Instrument Insurance

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

FlexTux

Heifetz International Music Institute

Long Island Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Pro-Am Strings

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop