Suffragette City

All right, I think it’s time to get organized. One of our local classical stations, WCRB, is having an online poll to find Boston’s “Top 100 Classical Pieces of all time.” If you aren’t familiar with WCRB’s programming, I can sum it up by saying that the overwhelming favorites are probably “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” and something by Albinoni. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but said poll might be a way to get some more interesting fare in through the back door—they’re going to broadcast the 100 top vote-getters next weekend. Time for some ballot-stuffing! In the interests of efficiency and not diluting the electoral voice of a generation, I propose drawing selections from the following list (which, apart from being limited to living American composers, has no real rhyme or reason, just stuff I would be tickled to hear as “Classics for Relaxation” programming):

  • Robert Ashley: In Sara Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women
  • Milton Babbitt: Philomel
  • Anthony Braxton: Composition #82 (For Four Orchestras)
  • Elliott Carter: String Quartet no. 3
  • George Crumb: Black Angels
  • Lukas Foss: Baroque Variations
  • Philip Glass: Music in Twelve Parts
  • Alvin Lucier: I Am Sitting In a Room
  • Meredith Monk: Atlas
  • Steve Reich: Four Organs
  • Frederic Rzewski: The People United Will Never Be Defeated
  • Charles Wuorinen: Third Piano Concerto

  • You’ll need to enter a name, e-mail, and phone number, but considering how many actual dead people have cast ballots over the years in my home town of Chicago, that hardly seems an impediment to, well, gaming the system. Vote early, vote often!


    1. How about focusing on music with some sort of history in Boston? Philomel is a good one, having had its first live performance in Amherst. Four Organs had a notorious performance here. A (partial) list of American composers with BSO commissions:Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Howard Hanson, Roy Harris, Roger Sessions, Edward Burlingame Hill, Walter Piston, William Schuman, Eliot Carter, Andre Previn, John Corigliano, Yehudi Wyner, Jonathan Dawe, Tan Dun, Charles Wourinen, John Harbison, Peter Lieberson(Ok, ok, I know — they play Copland, so I guess that should do it…)

    2. Actually, they don’t play that much Copland, but I figured he and Bernstein probably didn’t need much help. Carter and Rzewski both have Massachusetts connections, though. And if, like Robert, you’re inclined to a write-in vote, Glenn Branca did his undergrad at Emerson.A lot of the recent BSO commissions haven’t gotten recordings yet, and just to be safe, I was only going with commercially available stuff. (Too bad—that Babbitt “Concertos for Orchestra” would have been a fun choice.) I think there’s a secret new-music loving cabal at WCRB, actually—they’ve been playing bits of the Lieberson <>Neruda Songs<> almost every week lately during the intermissions of their BSO concert simulcasts.

    3. Interesting question — have any composers actively enjoyed the scandal caused by their works? Stravinsky was on some level traumatized by the Rite of Spring business — you can tell from the inscription he wrote on the manscript decades later. Schoenberg, it would seem, was enraged by the Viennese response, to the point where he turned his back on the audience when they applauded him at Gurre-Lieder. Perhaps some of the postwar people cultivated scandal. And George Antheil delighted in it. But he was anything but a major figure.

    4. WCRB is really playing a piece written in the past couple of years on purpose? I’m stunned. I think I need to hear it with my own ears.That said, Neruda Songs seem like a slam-dunk piece for CRB to play. Only the strongest partisan of the 1700-1900 “box” mentality would exclude it.

    5. In Reich’s own <>Writings On Music<> (the one from 2000), he only mentions the riot twice. The first is in an magzine article he published in 1974 titled “The End of Electronics” about how the spectacular failure of his Phase Shifting Pulse Gate led to the production of Four Organs. He’s very matter of fact about the whole thing, “Michael Tilson Thomas invited me to perform it with him […] at Carnegie Hall in 1973, where it provoked a riot.”The second mention comes in a interview with Paul Hillier around 2000, I don’t have the exact quotation but it basically sounds like Reich wasn’t expecting any other outcome. Playing it down? Honest apathy? Again I don’t actually have <>Writings on Music<> within reach, just a very convienent paper I wrote on Four Organs. I suppose I could get my lazy ass down to the BPL and factcheck.

    6. Oh, and I keep forgetting to ask: Robert, what was your write-in choice? I’m always open to expanding the ballot. (You know those wacky one-off political parties that get a couple thousand votes every four years? Yeah, that’s me.)

    7. Re: that <>Four Organs<> riot: here’s < HREF="" REL="nofollow">the interview<> I was thinking of. Reich, MTT, says, turned “ashen.” MTT, on the other hand, loved it.

    8. I voted for Prokofiev’s 2nd Symphony. Very powerful piece of music and my favorite classical piece. I also voted for the Braxton and Glass pieces.

    9. I believe this “online poll” is a fraud and WCRB will play what the previous “management” would have played without such a “poll”. That having been said, I voted for three Stravinsky pieces: the “Symphony of Psalms”; “Symphony in Three Movements”; and the “Symphony in C.”

    10. I was refered to your blog through Universal Hub, and I think that this is a great idea. I listened to WCRB all afternoon Saturday and I think that I heard Fur Elise and the Moonlight Sonata at least three times. Gag. Classical music isn’t dead, it is still alive and living, if you take the time to look around. I used your Philip Glass suggestion and added one by John Corigliano (that I first heard played by the BSO) and one by Alan Hovaness.

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