Saturday, February 08, 2003

Maybe I should be thankful anyone still writes about classical music

The New Republic's spider-in-residence Leon Wieseltier accurately describes Terry Teachout as a "freelance philistine." Teachout demonstrates why he deserves the label in his Commentary magazine encomium to Beethoven.

Teachout bungles from blurb to finish. Is it really true "that no other composer has won, or is ever likely to win, such universal affection and respect"? Quoting Grove, Teachout tells us Beethoven "will remain 'the most admired composer in the history of Western music' — past, present and future."  What Teachout means is that he enjoys Beethoven more than other composers.  Since he lacks the courage of his convictions, he has to drag in the mantle of universal and supreme "affection," "admiration," "respect," etc...

By that metric, Teachout is "wrong."  Wagner*, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Chopin, and Schubert all praised Mozart above Beethoven. I believe the same is true of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Prokofiev. Teachout mentions that Stravinsky preferred Beethoven. Are there any other great composers who shared that opinion?

Mozart also appears currently to be the more popular of the two, if the number of CDs in print is proportional to overall sales (Tower Records: Mozart - 4860 titles, Beethoven - 3578; Mozart - 9184, Beethoven - 6997).

Finally, it's surprising that Teachout pours almost four thousand words of praise on Beethoven, while saying nothing about his greatest work, the Missa Solemnis, other than that it's an "atypical masterpiece" because of its vocal elements. But Teachout does spend some time explaining his high regard for the Third and Ninth symphonies. This is the music writer's equivalent of a novice recitalist hammering out "Für Elise" because he isn't up to playing the sonatas. Teachout only superficially understands his topic.

In a previous Commentary, Teachout admitted that he could hear nothing in Glenn Gould's second studio recording of the Goldberg Variations that was superior to his first version. Now we know that Teachout's lack of discernment extends beyond Bach and Gould.

* "The most tremendous genius raised Mozart above all masters, in all centuries and in all the arts." - Richard Wagner

Thursday, February 06, 2003

And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen...

Penny Arcade has posted scans of some hysterically funny instructions in the Electronic Boutique employee handbook. The suggested employee-customer conversational icebreakers redefine "ludicrous." Check out the posts entitled "Expose!" and "Retales."

The post title is a line from "Broadcast News."  Albert Brooks' character, Aaron, speaks the righteous truth:

"What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing...he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen."

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Timothy Noah cares deeply about intellectual honesty

Slate's Timothy Noah asks if John Lott is "the Bellesiles of the Right." But Slate readers may be puzzled about what this means given that the magazine published no articles about Bellesiles' notorious academic fraud and disgrace until ... Timothy Noah decided to mention it in today's attack on Lott.

Bellesiles distorts and invents historical records like he's bucking for Ministry of Truth employee of the year and Slate has no comment. Emory forces him to resign and Slate shrugs. Columbia yanks the Bancroft prize and Slate looks the other way. But John Lott is suspected of making up a single survey and Slate's editors instantly decide the Bellesiles case deserves mention, if only as a hammer to apply to Lott's reputation.

Couldn't Slate run a single article where, say, Bellesiles gets to be the "Bellesiles of the Left" before they slime someone else with his name?

Noah's new-found interest in academic honesty would be easier to take seriously if he'd shown the slightest interest in Bellesiles before this. I suppose Noah deserves some credit for not actually blaming Bellesiles' mistakes on Lott.

Read Clayton Cramer for details on Bellesiles' career as a fabulist.