(Readers may remember Scruton from “Roger Scruton helps Richard Dawkins’ “meme” find its way to the wastebasket”)
Interesting here is the case of George Rochberg, the American composer who joined the post-war cult of serialism and made his own highly competent contributions to the genre, before admitting to himself, following the tragic death of his teenage son, that serialism is empty of expressive content, and could not be a vehicle for his grief. It took courage for Rochberg then to do what his artistic conscience told him to do, and to return to the classical tradition. “There is no greater provincialism,” he wrote in 1969, “than that special form of sophistication and arrogance which denies the past.” Thereafter Rochberg allowed his music to be guided by his ear, not by fashionable theories, and produced three or four of the most beautiful string quartets of the 20th century. The third quartet was dismissed by Andrew Porter as ‘almost irrelevant’ and became the target of relentless abuse and scorn from the academic critics, the more so in that it was openly popular. And in due course it had a real influence on such composers as David Del Tredici and John Corigliano. Despite being dismissed as pastiche, Rochberg’s quartets are, it seems to me, genuinely original – and their originality consists in their studious respect for the principles of voice leading and romantic harmony, even while expressing the composers very real desolation at his loss.
You are right to think they are just awful, but now you have a literary champion.
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