Thursday, September 28, 2006

Elvis Costello's 'Il Sogno', redux

Okay, full disclosure:

My last post was an extended commentary on the percussion parts in Elvis Costello's 'Il Sogno', much of which was pretty unflattering. I wrote it after a long, hot, bad rehearsal, and I was feeling angry at the piece- the parts have some technical problems that made the first read-through very difficult.

So, what did I do?

Why, the cleverest thing possible! I wrote a long, incoherent assemblage of nasty comments about the layout of the parts, and the bile seeped through into other considerations as well, such as:

(a) whether I'd like the piece if I weren't counting measures and worrying about putting down the tambourine without making a lot of noise and

(b) whether Elvis Costello ought to ask fo an alto bass drum.

In other words, in the course of venting my frustration over a bad rehearsal I managed to badmouth the composition based purely on my personal inconvenience. Classy!

Anyway, tonight a guy at orchestra mentioned that he'd read it, and immediately I had that unhappy flash of realization that, gosh, that essay was undoubtedly a lot nastier than it had any right to be...

And then things got worse: he said Elvis Costello's manager had read it. And mentioned it. And commented that maybe Mr. Costello wouldn't be terribly interested in attending the performance if he saw it.

This, of course, made me feel like a thousand kinds of bastard, so the least I can do -- if I could, I'd take a time machine and tell my past self to wait a couple days before sitting down to the keyboard -- is offer a more considered appraisal of the piece, having had several more rehearsals to get used to EC's notation style. At the end of the last post I said "Still, I resolve to give it more chances." So, here it is, after a few more chances.

In my last post I mentioned (coming to my senses for a moment): "I am very sympathetic to Elvis Costello's ambitions in the ballet because he does make an effort to incorporate popular music material in a way that treats the conventions in that music seriously." Over the last few rehearsals, that opinion has solidified. EC's approach to 'popular music', I think, is the thing the thing I like best about the ballet. The intrusions of slinky vibraphone-and-sizzle-cymbal jazz and Nino Rota-style marches are something almost unknown in 'serious' concert music today, but (I think) extremely important if 'classical' music has any hope of extricating itself from its current snob ghetto. What's good is that the jazz and bouncy marches aren't presented in quotation marks- the music is allowed its full status as something just as viable as the more traditional Prokofiev-esque passages it abuts.

I do, however, still think that it's got all the earmarks of an early piece. It's like a puppy- the paws are a little too big, the ears aren't standing up yet, but, hey, its got charm. It's not Prokofiev's 'Cinderella', but Mr. Prokofiev wrote seven ballets before he got around to that one.

The parts... are still a pain. Most of the sheet music we play from in orchestras has been revised for a hundred years or so by publishing houses with professional engraving staffs- someone's usually taken the time to work out an efficient distribution of material. Il Sogno is, by comparison, what- a year old? Like I said, these are still basically draft copies, so I was undoubtedly kind of a dick in my assessment.

So, that's that, for what it's worth. I'll post something about how the piece goes in concert.


Addendum: there was also some irritation that I'd referred to an ensemble as a 'dorkestra' but, c'mon- we're all people who were inside worrying about F-sharp major while the other kids were out learning to French kiss.


Blogger sfmike said...

The phrase in your earlier, intemperate post, "Instead he alternates between bland faux-Prokofiev and the sort of artificial big band music that you might find in an episode of 'Matlock' in which a big band conductor is found murdered." had me laughing for hours. And "dorkestra" is a great neologism.

As for Mr. Costello being offended by your quite brilliant analysis, and his manager threatening his non-attendance, oh puhlease. Don't apologize, Mr. Murphy, your writing speaks for itself.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Trevor Murphy said...

Thanks, Mike. It burns me a little that people could get so worked up over (what I thought was) mostly justified criticism, and, after all, this isn't exactly the Village Voice.

12:48 PM  

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