Top Ear

Recompositions Get on the Nerves of Jeremy

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Introduction by Leonard Ip

The DG “Recomposed Series” madness doesn’t seem to be ceasing. At any rate, some of these cheap, censurable commercial attempts have seriously irritated our Jeremy, who then thought it is best to write on why and how these “recompositions” are, perhaps, one of the worst things to have happened in the recent classical music scene – make sure you sample them before you decide to buy these CDs!

Jeremy Lee writes

I am not the sort of person who likes being offensive.  When faced with negative feelings of any sort, I will vent them out sensibly without resorting to insults.  And as you’ve probably noticed from my reviews, my criticisms are rather mild.  But this time I will hold no mercy for what is possibly the worst insult to music that has ever “graced” this planet.

You may have seen Deutsche Grammophon albums titled “Recomposed”, sporting the most classical DG cover for some time (the yellow-banner design) and to date there has been a Vivaldi, Mahler and Ravel/Mussorgsky recomposition in DG’s catalog (along with some others which may have escaped my mind).  Basically, what a “recomposition” does is subject the work in question to an indefinite number of modifications, including superimposition, adding different effects and all sorts of noises.  Spurred by David Hurwitz’s unfavorable review on ClassicsToday of the most recent Vivaldi recomposition, Leonard sent me a link to an excerpt of the piece on YouTube, and I won’t beat around the bush:  it’s ridiculous.

In the Spring movement, what recomposer Max Richter did was loop the violin bird theme forever and superimpose it above some pop-sounding chords.  It’s repetitive, tedious, and frankly, terribly annoying.  Autumn makes a bit more musical sense, in which you can hear an ensemble and a fairly reasonable sense of progress (though it’s still terribly repetitive).  However, the most annoying thing with these two excerpts is that it ends completely abruptly, without any resolve whatsoever, as though the recomposer died in the middle of the piece.  For all its repetitiveness, however, it is not musically null (though it does come close), as it could probably make glorious Muzak.  I’d be pleased to hear some Muzak of this kind being played in elevators and shops.  However, having a whole album of this kind of tosh being made and expected to be played on stereo systems and iPods and listened to seriously is utter silliness.

That, however, just opened the Pandora’s Box.  I was asinine enough to find an excerpt of the recomposition of the adagio of Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 10, a piece that conveys a sense of otherworldliness and anguish in a truly unique way.  This recomposition does nothing in itself other than… smearing the original with intellectual feces.

What this recomposer Matthew Herbert has done is annihilate poor Sinopoli’s recording of the Adagio by adding pointless acoustic effects, such as the clicks and hisses, which makes it sound like a never-maintained LP of a prehistoric wax recording.  Herbert also tried to experiment with the “death-laden” vision of Mahler in this work by re-recording the recording (by way of car stereo and microphone) in a coffin (actually a long cardboard box) and a crematorium. Maybe it doesn’t need pointing out that this deluded notion of re-creation results in something not only contemptible but also exceedingly meaningless: what’s the point recording a music in another place while you know the listener will never be able to know where it is recorded by ear?

And at last comes the great climax, certainly one of the most terrifying moments in music in the original piece.  I will go straight to the point.  I stopped the clip after only 3 seconds of listening to Herbert’s treatment due to its giving me extreme trauma.  I have NEVER felt so insulted.

Herbert’s way with this passage is subject it to a series of the most hideous pitch warps I have ever heard.  Anyone who thinks for a thousandth of a second that this makes any sense whatsoever has to be taken out and shot, or sent to a mental asylum, let alone think that it would be enjoyable to hear.  It’s maybe my love of Mahler’s music, or my view that Mahler 10 is of such great poignancy it is almost untouchable, or maybe both, that made me feel so offended.  But what I can say here, with absolute certainty, is that any idiot can see the abhorrence of such a treatment on such a great climax.  It is akin to placing random pieces of rotten cowpat on Melencolia I.  It is an offense, a liability, and a complete disgrace.

Now normally I can take most types of insults and shocks and shrug it off immediately as though nothing happened.  But after this passage, I felt so shocked, and so offended, it took me more than a while to recover.  And I’d certainly sue DG and Herbert for allowing my ears to be polluted by this sort of hazardous trash.  I’d imagine both Sinopoli and Mahler shaking in their graves.

At this point I should point out that I am by no means a neo-Luddite of music.  I am perfectly fine with modern music and its dissonant or minimalistic qualities–I listen to a fair amount of Varese, Boulez, Messiaen, Sorabji, Finnissy, Ferneyhough, Cage, Rzewski and so on.  I am also fine with transcriptions or arrangements for the sake of humor, such as Medek’s Battaglia alla Turca or Doucet’s Chopinata and Isoldina.  I am fine with them because they make good musical sense.  There is a tangible, intelligible purpose for their existence:  to amuse, to innovate, to pay homage, or, if I may use so widely misused a term, to provoke. These recompositions, as I hear them, serve no reasonable purpose.  If you would hear Herbert’s excuse for destroying Mahler’s 10th, you will realise that Herbert’s utterances are as unintelligible as they are revolting. Clearly, these recomposers have no idea that there actually is difference between a homage and an insult (if their intention was to pay any homage to the respective works or composers whatsoever, which is what it seems to be judging from their interviews).

I haven’t finished thrashing yet.  Should I mention that having 37 minutes of playing time in the case of the Mahler 10 decomposition makes it terrible value for money?  (Not that you would want to hear more of Herbert raping the rest of the piece.)  Should I mention that it’s a fair bet you’ll never hear it again after listening to it once, therefore rendering the need to place it on disc for posterity completely pointless?  Should I also mention that the Mahler 10 decomposition is now long out of the catalog?  Well, thank God it is!  Now people will have one less reason to hate music, and music lovers will only have to avoid the marginally more pleasant (though still pretty horrid) Vivaldi.

Go home, Max Richter and Matthew Herbert.  Go home, all the performers and producers willing to take part in this scheme of musical terrorism (that means all involved except Sinopoli and his forces) who sacrificed their musical dignity to record this loathsome tosh.  And most of all, go home, DG, for even thinking of saying yes to these abominable rubbish, and for shoving a dirty middle finger up the bottom of its glorious musical tradition.  All of you are terribly, hopelessly drunk.


Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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