I blame it on this guy:
Roger Sessions (1896 – 1985) was the most prolific and illustrious 20th century composer I had never heard of. That is, until I entered the continuing education seminar I’m taking now, Music for Mourning. It covers requiems of all kinds from 15th century Ockeghem to 21st century Rutter, and is a much more cheerful class than you’d think, since Mozart and Verdi, among other tunesmiths, weighed in with their glorious examples.
Sessions, despite that smile, is most frequently associated with the adjective “difficult,” and that’s no lie. In the course of a long and distinguished career, Sessions moved from modern to atonal to 12-tone, and — so far as my uneducated ear is concerned — to total unintelligibility, musically speaking. For the past several weeks, and intensively over this coming weekend, I am listening again and again to Sessions’ version of Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, the long (LONG LONG) poem lamenting the death of Abraham Lincoln.
Conceptually I kind of “get it,” dissonance certainly being one way to represent grief, brokenness, and mourning. But I confess, I like melody, and have a very difficult time with atonal music. My presentation is on Tuesday morning, and between now and then, I have to boil down masses of biographical and academic material into a short snappy interesting summary. Well, that’s not TOO bad. But it should be animated by a love of the music itself, and I’m having trouble whipping up even a luke-warm response.
So that’s where all my time, energy, and attention has been going, away from blogging and to difficult music and those poetic lilacs, and the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, which are the losses informing Sessions’ requiem. For anyone wanting to be in solidarity, or just plain curious, here’s the Youtube of a performance of Sessions’ Lilacs:
You can test drive it for a couple of minutes, more if you love modern music, and then — if you’re so inclined — help me out and tell me what you love and why! Maybe then I can move beyond the facts into some real learning —-