Commenter Wrongshore asks my opinion of Alan Rich’s opinion of Jay Greenberg, which I had not read. So I found Rich’s Greenberg piece from the L.A. Weekly of August 23, 2006.
I don’t read Rich regularly or know anything about him. A quick scan around the net tells me that he’s a dyspeptic 82-year-old critic—former music director of Pacifica station KPFA, music editor at New York Magazine, etc.—who writes in the tone of Pergolesi’s Uberto, in a snit because the maid’s kept him waiting for his hot chocolate. In this piece, Rich holds Greenberg responsible for the critical hype about him, both the predictable morning-show, personality-cult fawning and the awed statements from composition teachers who might better have refrained.
Here is an example of what I mean:
“For [Greenberg] it is 1904,” marvels one interviewer, “and anything is possible.”
Yes, 1904. Let’s see: The young Rachmaninoff pokes around in the trash bins for discarded melodic gambits. His countryman Rimsky-Korsakov collects bits of tinsel for his hootchy-kootch Oriental numbers. Jolly old Sir Edward Elgar and his dour colleague Jean Sibelius busily stir in the musical equivalent of cornstarch to darken and thicken the orchestration of their sonic landscapes; on the Continent, Max Reger’s fugues and canons accomplish the same. Little do any of these believe that, a century later, an earnest young New York schoolboy will still be constructing overtures and symphonies with the same melodic turgidity, building the same tottering musical structures out of counterpoints that ultimately self-strangle on their own complexity and collapse under the weight of their own fragility. [End of quote]
The aesthete is displeased! Fetch the masseur and pastry-chef!
Rich also quotes writer Matthew Gurewitsch’s comment (in a piece for the Times) that Greenberg’s allegros “have the swashbuckling appeal of movie music,” adding, “The best movie music these days has moved far ahead of the swashbuckling glop that fills out most of this symphony.” Zing! Swashbuckling glop! Quelle riposte! He then tells us two films whose soundtracks he likes, though his short comments on each impart no information whatever. I remember reading someone’s review of Gorecki’s famous Third Symphony that called it “a load of gloomy piffle”; “swashbuckling glop” seems to be the same kind of comment. People might remember the comment, but not the narcissistic critic. This kind of writing is like a Kick Me sign, or poison post-it: cheap, trivial, and for all that still potentially damaging, if readers get a label they can hang on.
So this is Rich on Greenberg. He has no interest, here, beyond his own cleverness, and at 82 years of age he ought to be a hell of a lot more clever than he is. For all his glibness about Greenberg’s putative lack of originality, Rich’s statements about Rachmaninov, Rimsky, Elgar et al. are no more than the snide and superficial repetitions of the critical commonplaces of fifty years ago. The remark about Rimsky seems borrowed, at least in tone, from Joseph Kerman (whose 1956 Opera as Drama is one of the loci classici of critical self-indulgence, whatever else it offers), and the rest sounds like the jealous ranting of a neglected fourth-string academic serialist.
Ultimately we learn nothing about the music under discussion beyond that the author considers it beneath him—and he seems happy to project an image of himself as the worst pop-culture satire of The Critic: a preening, malignant scribbler who has never produced anything other than bilious insults. Whether this is truly Rich or not I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t intend to read anything else of his. It is unworthy, and makes no contribution.
Best to avoid both Heipmeister and hit men and listen to Greenberg’s music yourself. For Alan Rich, some Metamucil and a one-way trip out to pasture. Or the knacker’s.