[Part I of my Greenberg Review may be found here.]
The question will always arise: how normal is a talented young’un like Jay Greenberg? I’ve no idea, nor am I completely clear what is so valuable about all aspects of “normal” that one might aspire to it. I suspect there’s a lot of normality lurking at the fringes here. My suspicion is that an adolescent joke or two at the expense of family members (who else?) may be found in the composer’s notes; among those acknowledged are “my brother, who taught me the true value of silence,” and “my parents, who encouraged me to do my homework.” Having 1) a brother, and 2) parents, I sense the tiniest little needle (I foresee that he and the brother will end up either best friends or both missing teeth—or both). So it goes.
As for the crack about the homework, I wonder what connection it has with his description of the symphony itself: “My Fifth Symphony is a counter-stereotypical work combining a Romantic melodic sweep with the methodical mathematical thinking of the serialists. This is manifested in the third movement, which is based upon an exponential function, y=1/x2; the function describes an upward arc mirrored across the y-axis, never quite touching or reaching either zero or infinity, and then descending back down. In a similar manner, the music climbs up to a climax it never quite reaches, before descending to a resolution that doesn’t occur.”
Now, I am a long way from my second-year algebra (I LIE—it was never in any sense mine), which I completed with a C and then ran for my life. I could ask my son what this means, but 1) I don’t think it’s that important for the symphony, and 2) he has not distinguished himself by missing opportunities to mock me, so the last thing I need to do is provide more ammo. My suspicion is that Greenberg is tweaking brother, parents, and strict serialists, and perhaps he really did get a germ of an idea from a mathematical concept. To my claylike, nonmathematical mind, though, this does not seem anything like “methodical mathematical thinking.” Conductor Serebrier perhaps pushes the point a bit too far when he says (again, he is quoted in the CD notes): “What jumps out at once is the coherent form of each movement—the logic behind every choice the composer makes.” I wonder about this “logic”; it sounds like Cold War-era sciencization of music for purposes of respect and funding. See? We’re a science too! Very logical! To my mind, there is no logic that would dictate an equali-chorale in the finale of Brahms’s First Symphony, nor a verbunkos tune in the finale of Beethoven’s Third, or a zillion other such compositional choices. Yet they are are deeply persuasive, and have a kind of intuitive coherence that brings us back again and again. Something of this kind of compositional intuition seems to be present in Greenberg’s work; there are too many possible choices for a “logic” to apply, really, but some very, very RIGHT choices are being made.
As for the expected Quid nunc?/Whither? question, I hope Greenberg lives happily and enjoys the full range of human experiences; this will give him a wealth of stuff outside composition lessons to write about. I look forward with real impatience to hearing much more from him, because this recording has a lot to say to me and gives me real pleasure. For him, I use my favorite word for instrumentalists, arrangers, and composers: he has real COMMAND. More, please!