Even considering the source, there are parts of Mark Swed’s “A Continental Divide” (July 25) that are absolutely unfathomable. Regarding Helmut Lachenmann’s opera “The Little Match Girl,” he states with a straight face: “This is an opera in which we only vaguely know where we are dramatically or musically ...,” as if this were an asset. And again in reference to the same composer: “Sometimes it feels as though the music itself draws blood as it enters the ear.” I can’t imagine why such a description would fail to convert hordes to his cause. As for the recent American operas cited, he actually bemoans that the “music serves not to obscure narrative but to underscore it.” If I need to rebut this one then all is truly lost.
Implicit in Swed’s reviews is the notion that the audience that rejects this noise and his fatuous advocacy thereof is hopelessly naive and “conservative.” Ironically, it is his insistence that new music follow the failed experiments of 50 to 100 years past that is truly conservative. He manages to confuse complexity (or intricacy) with “complicated-ness.” Bach is complex. Elliott Carter is complicated. Bach is beautiful to virtually everyone who listens to his work. Elliott Carter is hideously ugly to all but a few. Aestheticism is a quality that is completely lost to Swed.
Perhaps, by provoking the sort of response he’s received here, Swed is attempting to determine if -- unlike the music he so religiously advocates -- anyone is paying any attention at all.