Posts Tagged ‘Classics Today’

“Counterproductive” (ie creative) titles

Friday, December 14th, 2001

Here’s something weird: in Classics Today’s review of Kaija Saariaho’s Sony release of “Amers”, “Graal Théâtre”, and “Château de l’Âme”, this is the first paragraph:

I do wish modern composers could write music without giving their pieces, shall we say, counterproductive titles. Graal Théâtre (Grail Theater, as if this translation clarifies any questions you might have) is simply a violin concerto. Amers (which means “sea-marks”) is a cello concerto. I suspect that the two works sound more like each other–that is to say, like Saariaho–than the former sounds like the Jacques Roubaud book that donated the title, or the latter sounds like a sea-mark, whatever that is. I don’t plan to read Jacques Roubaud in order to see in exactly what context these words appear, nor do I expect anyone else will either (assuming you read French); and even if I did, I doubt the experience would shed any special light on Saariaho’s violin concerto purely as music, which is of course the only thing that should concern us here. In the final analysis, such conceits (for that is what they are) accomplish nothing but to further alienate potential listeners, distancing them from the music before they’ve even heard a note, and sending them on a frustrating, irrelevant quest for some extra-musical answer to the question of what the music “means”. It’s a pseudo-intellectual indulgence we could well do without, although it’s only fair to note that Saariaho certainly isn’t in any way unique in this respect in the field of contemporary music.

This seems to imply that the reviewer wants all classical pieces to be named after what they are. As in, any variation from “Symphony #14″ or “Cello concerto #2″ is bad, and having any sort of creative title is a “pseudo-intellectual indulgence”. What really bewilders me, though, is the idea that creative titles will “alienate potential listeners”. Maybe me popular-music background leads me to believe strange things, but I’d think that boring old descriptive titles would do more to scare off potential listeners than a title like, say, “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima”.

The choice of that example is not fortuitous, incidentally; I’m listening to that Penderecki CD now, much to the distress of my roommate.