Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation

A Roman group, the Dèdalo Ensemble put on a concert over the weekend in homage to Elliott Carter (who, incidentally, was a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome in 1954, and his first string quartet was played here). The concert was held at the “simplified classicist” (read: fascist architecture) Magna Aula at La Sapienza, the biggest university in Europe. Alda Caiello—who this spring will sing a new piece that I am trying to write—sang two of Carter’s song cycles, written at different times in his life. Also on the program was music by Italian composers who were friends and influences—namely Luigi Dallapiccola and Gofreddo Petrassi.

While reading the program notes, I was reminded that Carter received a letter of recommendation from Charles Ives to get into Harvard. To my friends who are not so in-the-know when it comes to modern American music, I suggested that this is analogous to having a living painter get a recommendation letter from Matisse—which, I imagine, might also get you into Harvard.

Speaking of letters of recommendation, I heard a story about a composer who did not receive tenure at a major university, despite having excellent letters of recommendation from peers. After having a nervous breakdown, a friend came to visit her at the hospital. She was sitting up in bed, with five or six of her scores strewn about. When her friend asked what she was doing, she answered that she was looking for which notes caused her to lose tenure. Sounds like a short story by Thomas Bernhard, but unfortunately, it’s true.

I went to another Pollini Prospectives concert today—compared to the Nono concert, it was a piece of cake. Stockhausen, Klavierstücke VII and VIII, followed by Kreuzpiel, Zeitmasse, and Kontrapunkte, performed by Klangforum Wien and Peter Eötvos. The second half of the program was Schoenberg Op. 11 followed by the Schumann Kreisleriana, and finishing with an encore of Schoenberg Op. 19. It was a typical Roman concert—beginning at 9 p.m., ending at midnight. I can’t say I recommend three-hour new music concerts—it’s mentally exhausting for me—but by the looks of it, Roman audiences can’t get enough. After a fifth curtain call, Pollini had to throw up his hands in mock exasperation and send everyone home.

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One thought on “Letters of Recommendation

  1. Kyle Gann

    I hope she was looking for the notes that made her lose tenure so she could use them again and base a new style on them. That might have been something to hear.


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