The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Kevin Puts answers on NPR the question: “Why write symphonies today?”

August 10, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Is the novel dead yet?

Well, some say yes and some say no. I suppose it depends on what you are looking for.

Lots and lots of novels continue to be written and published, and to sell big.

But then again, one can argue, the novel just doesn’t seem to have the cultural power or sway, or the same serious reader appeal, that it once held in the 19th and 20th centuries.

So can one ask the same thing about the symphony?

Why should one compose today in a musical form or genre that can seem so outdated, according to some who critics who point out that it dates back to at least Franz Joseph Haydn in the 18th century with roots going back even further back than that.

The American composer Kevin Puts (below, in a photo by Andrew Shapter), defends writing symphonies, even as he is doing so. Puts, you may recall, won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his opera “Silent Night,” about the Christmas Truce on the front lines and in the trenches during World War I.

puts

By the way, Kevin Puts’ own 2001 postmodern orchestral piece “Inspiring Beethoven,” which is based on the famous Allegretto movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 (below, in a YouTube video with intriguing schematic graphics and over 5 million hits)  was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra two seasons ago. (You can hear “Inspiring Beethoven” performed in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Beethoven big

Anyway, Kevin Puts tackles the question of the relevance of the symphony – and the concerto, for that matter — head on in an essay he did for NPR’s terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

The Ear finds his case compelling and shares his defense of the symphony. Maybe you will too.

Here is a link to Puts’ essay, which has a lot of specific modern composer names and examples of modern symphonies as well as links:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/08/05/208280751/a-pulitzer-winner-asks-why-write-symphonies

What do you think? Is the symphony or concerto outdated or dead?

Do you have a favorite modern or contemporary symphony?

What is your favorite symphony of all time?

The Ear  wants to hear.

But in the mean time, please excuse me.

I have to get back to working on the pre-deceased novel I am writing.

Maybe I’ll listen to a symphony while I am writing it.


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