Roger Bissell

Allan and Joan Mitchell Blumenthal's lectures on music (1974)

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I didn't know where else to put this, so here it is. I am about 2/3 done with a transcription of the 12-lecture course given in 1974 by Allan and Joan Mitchell Blumenthal. It is really excellent material. The lectures were market as cassettes by Laissez Faire Books, but I don't know how to get them currently.

Thanks to Barbara's help, I was able to write Dr. Blumenthal and offer my transcription for possible publication. He replied that he has revised the lectures into 12 60-minute lectures, but that he does not currently have any plans to publish the lectures in print form. <sigh> <Here we go again, with the aural/oral tradition.>

I am pleased -- hell, I'm elated! -- to see how much agreement and common ground there is between my views going back to the early 1970s and those of the Blumenthals. I would give anything to have been there when they ran some of their stealth musical examples by Rand, who was in the audience. (Rand, and her "Mozart is pre-music" b.s. Just incredible.)

Once I'm finished, I will make one more effort to interest the Blumenthals in publishing their material. If that doesn't work, then I guess I'll just have to sit on my transcript and enjoy it privately. However, I do think that a review of the course for JARS is long overdue -- perhaps along with some quoted reminiscences by Ellen Stuttle, if I can even find her these days. What happened???

REB

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Roger; Thank you again. I want to be able to read this material. I have been unable to hear the lectures.

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Once I'm finished, I will make one more effort to interest the Blumenthals in publishing their material. If that doesn't work, then I guess I'll just have to sit on my transcript and enjoy it privately. However, I do think that a review of the course for JARS is long overdue -- perhaps along with some quoted reminiscences by Ellen Stuttle, if I can even find her these days. What happened???

REB

I think she still comes here to read some of this stuff, so try sending her a message through OL.

--Brant

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Something which I posted on SOLO should be repeated here as a reference source (SOLO post #64490; the direct link will no longer work if the post goes off the first page; in that event, you'll have to scroll down to find the post).

.

AR and Beethoven/ AB's music course

Sun, 2009-01-11 10:15

One point on which I agree with Linz, though from a different set of reasons, is his depiction of Ayn Rand as "a musical ignoramus." She knew what she liked and not much else and was uneducable on the subject (despite Allan Blumenthal's multiple efforts to educate her).

Yesterday, because of a comment which Roger Bissell made on OL, I went searching through my own OL posts for things I'd written about Allan Blumenthal's 1974 music course.  Here is a link to a 39-post thread in which I talked about that course, and also about Ayn Rand and Beethoven. (Although the title of the thread is "Ayn Rand Answers on Sale at LFB," almost the whole thread pertains to Ayn Rand and music.)

The music course was also discussed in a number of posts on the l-o-n-g "Art as Microcosm" thread, starting about here. Here and here are direct links to a couple more of my posts.

Ellen

.

The Laissez-Faire taped version which Roger is transcribing was redone in a studio setting, not taped live at the original course. One of the changes from the original course is that Joan does part of the talking. Judging from Roger's descriptions -- see links in my SOLO post -- the taped version also includes material which was added to or altered from the original and hence wasn't run past Rand as "stealth" material (although I don't know if they added any musical examples or if they only changed some of what was said about the examples used).

-

Roger,

A question about something Linz reports (post #64502) on the SOLO thread, viz:

[Allan Blumenthal] also said Gershwin's music was too "ethereal" and would not be long remembered.

DID Allan say that? I'm not remembering any such comment if he made it.

-

And, a couple other points...

Recently, on Ted Keer's "Radicals for Happiness" thread (see), the question arose, as it keeps re-arising, why Rand considered Beethoven "malevolent." "Why?!" has been a mystery to many people. You can find speculation but no firm answers on several old threads.

Here is a link to a search screen which lists all my posts in which "Beethoven" is mentioned. Scroll down and start with posts from the thread appropriately titled "Beethoven" to find some speculating.

Incidentally, to Bob K, who described Beethoven's nephew as "a no-good bum": That's a far-from-fair portrayal which was given currency in Romantic Era depictions of Beethoven's life. The nephew was an average kid who was subjected to a custody battle -- he wanted to be with his mother -- and whom Beethoven tried to push into being a musician (the boy had no musical aptitude). Here is a brief account of Karl's (the nephew's) story.

Ellen

PS EDIT: I wonder if Anne Heller has made any attempt to verify the story I heard of Rand's writing a scathing letter about Beethoven's music to "Julie" (assuming I'm correctly remembering the name of the delightful young questioner who offered to send Rand some records of Beethoven compositions).

If the story is true, and if the letter was saved, having something in Rand's own pen on the subject would be of historic interest, considering all the O'ist angst which has been expended wondering why Rand thought of Beethoven as "malevolent."

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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Something which I posted on SOLO should be repeated here as a reference source (SOLO post #64490; the direct link will no longer work if the post goes off the first page; in that event, you'll have to scroll down to find the post).
.

AR and Beethoven/ AB's music course

Sun, 2009-01-11 10:15

One point on which I agree with Linz, though from a different set of reasons, is his depiction of Ayn Rand as "a musical ignoramus." She knew what she liked and not much else and was uneducable on the subject (despite Allan Blumenthal's multiple efforts to educate her).

Yesterday, because of a comment which Roger Bissell made on OL, I went searching through my own OL posts for things I'd written about Allan Blumenthal's 1974 music course.  Here is a link to a 39-post thread in which I talked about that course, and also about Ayn Rand and Beethoven. (Although the title of the thread is "Ayn Rand Answers on Sale at LFB," almost the whole thread pertains to Ayn Rand and music.)

The music course was also discussed in a number of posts on the l-o-n-g "Art as Microcosm" thread, starting about here. Here and here are direct links to a couple more of my posts.

Ellen

.

The Laissez-Faire taped version which Roger is transcribing was redone in a studio setting, not taped live at the original course. One of the changes from the original course is that Joan does part of the talking. Judging from Roger's descriptions -- see links in my SOLO post -- the taped version also includes material which was added to or altered from the original and hence wasn't run past Rand as "stealth" material (although I don't know if they added any musical examples or if they only changed some of what was said about the examples used).

-

Roger,

A question about something Linz reports (post #64502) on the SOLO thread, viz:

[Allan Blumenthal] also said Gershwin's music was too "ethereal" and would not be long remembered.

DID Allan say that? I'm not remembering any such comment if he made it.

-

And, a couple other points...

Recently, on Ted Keer's "Radicals for Happiness" thread (see), the question arose, as it keeps re-arising, why Rand considered Beethoven "malevolent." "Why?!" has been a mystery to many people. You can find speculation but no firm answers on several old threads.

Here is a link to a search screen which lists all my posts in which "Beethoven" is mentioned. Scroll down and start with posts from the thread appropriately titled "Beethoven" to find some speculating.

Incidentally, to Bob K, who described Beethoven's nephew as "a no-good bum": That's a far-from-fair portrayal which was given currency in Romantic Era depictions of Beethoven's life. The nephew was an average kid who was subjected to a custody battle -- he wanted to be with his mother -- and whom Beethoven tried to push into being a musician (the boy had no musical aptitude). Here is a brief account of Karl's (the nephew's) story.

Ellen

PS EDIT: I wonder if Anne Heller has made any attempt to verify the story I heard of Rand's writing a scathing letter about Beethoven's music to "Julie" (assuming I'm correctly remembering the name of the delightful young questioner who offered to send Rand some records of Beethoven compositions).

If the story is true, and if the letter was saved, having something in Rand's own pen on the subject would be of historic interest, considering all the O'ist angst which has been expended wondering why Rand thought of Beethoven as "malevolent."

___

I agree with Ellen (and with Linz, though for different reasons) that Rand was a musical ignoramus. Any musically educated person who would say:

1. Mozart was pre-music.

2. Beethoven (or his music) was malevolent.

2. "Here's That Rainy Day" has no melody.

would deserve to be laughed out of the room. The musically ignorant should be cut a little more slack and simply pitied and informed that they do not know what they are talking about, and that they should do others the courtesy of studying the subject and acquiring some musical vocabulary and analytical understanding before making such pronouncements.

To me, the problem of understanding how even ~some~ of Beethoven's music is "malevolent" is not that difficult, given certain fairly simple premises about melody and harmony. I've written about it elsewhere, so I won't rehash that here, except to say (as somewhat of an oversimplification) that upward melody = striving, and minor key = pessimistic, so combining the two produces a "Byronic striving in a malevolent universe" kind of mood or meaning. This fits the main theme of the 5th Symphony and the last movement of the Moonlight Sonata (as well as Chopin's Scherzo in B minor, which is a worthy successor to the Moonlight last movement), but does ~not~ fit so many, many more of his enduringly famous works. The important point is thus that even if Rand was on the right track about ~some~ of Beethoven's music, she was also grossly over-generalizing.

Unless, that is, Rand could somehow convincingly argue that the examples she hears as being "malevolent" were representative of Beethoven's essence, while others weren't. Or she could somehow convincingly argue that most or all of Beethoven's most significant works were "malevolent." And I don't see how she could establish either of these points. On what basis? All the study of music she didn't bother to do?

It's a shame that there has been so much angst and vitriol about this topic. It seems so straightforwardly clear to me what she meant, but also that she greatly exceeded either logic or her own experience (or both) in making her statement about Beethoven.

As for Linz's comment about what Allan Blumenthal said about Gershwin being "ephemeral" or "ethereal" (?), I cannot swear that he doesn't say it ~somewhere~ in the lectures, because I haven't listened to and transcribed all of them yet. However, I just perused Lecture 10 about 20th century composers, and found just one brief paragraph by AB about Gershwin before playing an excerpt from "Rhapsody in Blue," and there was nothing about either lack of substance or staying-power mentioned there. If I find something addition about Gershwin that substantiates Linz's comment, I'll post it here right away.

One final comment: I really like comparative studies, and one of the studies I aim to do before my brain fades away is to do a thorough analytic and sense-of-life comparison of "Warsaw Concerto" and Grieg's Piano Concerto. They are very similar pieces, both much loved Romantic piano/orchestra pieces, though they also have distinctive ways in which they vary, and relatively sophisticated listeners tend to prefer the Grieg over the Warsaw. There is nothing wrong with this, any more than there is with preferring Victor Hugo to Mickey Spillane, or vice versa, or liking both, or neither. The point I would argue, but can't support here, is that the Grieg is much more complex in its structure and its "plot," and that it tells much more of a dramatic "story" than the Warsaw. I think that the Warsaw ~could~ be drastically improved (in that direction) by a skilled and sympathetic composer, and I think it's an overstatement to call it a "concerto." There ~are~ one-movement concerti, I suppose, but to me, it just seems like the composer quit too soon! (Or ran out of ideas.) As a movie theme, it works fine. As a concert piece, it seems more like a hit-and-run commando raid! :)

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Thanks, Ellen, for your references to pasts posts between Roger and yourself - I was unaware of them and enjoyed reading them. -Dennis

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Well... I think that Rand's aversion to Beethoven was more general than a reaction to the obvious suspects. Despite her not knowing by name if she'd heard any of the compositions Julie mentioned in the FHF autograph line, she came from a cultured family where there was an attempt to interest her in classical music, one of her sisters was studying to be a concert pianist and probably played more of Beethoven's piano music than the last movement of the Moonlight, and, over the years he'd known her, Allan had tried to broaden her musical familiarity and tastes and had played various Beethoven selections for her. I think there was something "fundamental" in Beethoven's style which she didn't like.

I agree that the Grieg piano concerto -- the first movement -- is an interesting comparison to the Warsaw. Indeed, I think that the Grieg might have been a strong, or even the prime source of which the latter was imitative. The film makers, according to Wikipedia (see), "wanted something in the style of Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini and Second and Third Piano Concertos, but were unable to persuade Rachmaninoff himself to write a new piece or to afford to use any of these existing pieces." And the piece does echo Rachmaninoff. However, I find it even more an echo of the Grieg. I started hearing the first movement of the Grieg in my mind as soon as I read Linz's Warsaw Concerto "challenge." I'm not keen on that movement either -- I like the rest of the composition more -- and often, if the Grieg is played on the overnight classical program to which I sometimes listen, I'll go busy myself with some household task or other during the ten or so minutes the first movement takes so as to avoid hearing it. Despite my not much liking it (and my not considering the composition "great"), I rank the first movement of the Grieg several cuts above the Warsaw in compositional skill.

Thanks, Roger, for the information re AB on Gershwin. I copied that paragraph on the SOLO thread.

Dennis, I'm glad you enjoyed the material I linked. Likewise, Ted -- who commented on the "Ayn Rand Answers" thread.

Ellen

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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Grieg, not Greig!!!

Oh, shit. Weird that I kept mistyping it (though not weird that I didn't see I was doing so, since it's harder and harder for me to see if I'm typing "ei" or "ie").

E-

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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In its turn the Grieg concerto seems to be inspired by the Schumann piano concerto (both in the key a minor!), at least there are obvious parallels in the first movements:

schumann1a.jpggrieg1a.jpg

Both concertos begin with a single note in the orchestra, followed by a short cadenza of descending chords. Then follows a short introduction in the orchestra of the main theme. In both concertos the first phrase of the theme begins and ends with an a minor chord, the rhythm is almost the same, if you compare Schumann's quarter notes with Grieg's eighth notes. In both concertos the solo piano then repeats the main theme.

Then both concertos continue with a melody with the accompaniment of rolling broken chords, quintuplets in Schumann and quintuplets and sextuplets in Grieg. In both concertos the melody begins with two quarter notes and a half note, e-f-e in Schumann and e-f-b in Grieg:

schumann2a.jpggrieg2a.jpg

After that passage the concertos diverge, but I think there is no doubt that Grieg was inspired for his concerto by the Schumann concerto, the similarities in the first part are too close to be a coincidence.

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In its turn the Grieg concerto seems to be inspired by the Schumann piano concerto (both in the key a minor!), at least there are obvious parallels in the first movements:

[....]

After that passage the concertos diverge, but I think there is no doubt that Grieg was inspired for his concerto by the Schumann concerto, the similarities in the first part are too close to be a coincidence.

I agree. I think the Schumann is significantly better than the Grieg.

The Schumann of course was originally not a concerto but a one-movement show piece, called "Fantasie," for Clara to perform. I've always thought that the rest of it, though I like the rest of it, sounds a bit awkwardly added on and that the first movement sounds complete onto itself. (Actually, I thought this, that it seemed odd that it was continuing after the opening movement, even before I learned that originally it had stopped there.)

Thanks for posting the musical comparisons!

Ellen

___

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The Schumann of course was originally not a concerto but a one-movement show piece, called "Fantasie," for Clara to perform. I've always thought that the rest of it, though I like the rest of it, sounds a bit awkwardly added on and that the first movement sounds complete onto itself.

I agree, although I must say that I find the last movement in itself the best one.

There is also a nice story about Grieg showing the manuscript of his concerto to Liszt. To Grieg's astonishment Liszt played the concerto effortlessly from the then new score, including the orchestral parts.

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Ah, well, Liszt was Liszt.

I think you're right about the last movement of the Schumann in itself being the best compositionally. But I do like the first movement a lot. Occasionally I listen to that movement several times consecutively while pacing and having some beer -- energizing for both flesh and spirits. ;-)

E-

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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I didn't know where else to put this, so here it is. I am about 2/3 done with a transcription of the 12-lecture course given in 1974 by Allan and Joan Mitchell Blumenthal. It is really excellent material. The lectures were market as cassettes by Laissez Faire Books, but I don't know how to get them currently.

Update: I have finished transcribing 10 of the 12 lectures. Really good stuff, even the material on early (pre-Baroque) music. The 10th lecture, dealing with style and how to identify a composer, was quite amusing. I can just imagine Rand gleefully clapping her hands when AB played a piece that she had in her collection and grimacing when he played Stockhausen, Cage, Shoenberg, et al. :)

REB

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In my Next Life I am going to learn how to read music.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Why not now? You are retired, no? Surely you have the time. Buy a cheap electronic organ, they are quite fun to play with. It's very fun to fool aronud with thirds and fifths and to write an actual melody.

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Ted:

Great advice and he can get around the tone deafness correct? That was Ba'al I think.

Adam

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[....] The 10th lecture, dealing with style and how to identify a composer, was quite amusing. I can just imagine Rand gleefully clapping her hands when AB played a piece that she had in her collection and grimacing when he played Stockhausen, Cage, Shoenberg, et al. :)

Are you meaning the imagining loosely and metaphorically?

She didn't gleefully clap her hands when AB played a piece that she had in her collection. The closest she came to an audible expression of glee was her cheerful exclamation when he played the "mystery composer" piece. See below.

She might have grimaced at times. I couldn't say for sure, since she was sitting behind me. With Cage, however...

I think the only piece by Cage which Allan "played" was 4'33'' -- see.

Allan went to the piano, elaborately adjusted his sleeves, sat down, adjusted the seat -- all the while with an earnest expression -- set a stopwatch in front of the music rack, put his hands together along his knees, leaning forward -- and stared fixedly at the stopwatch for the requisite time, somehow managing to maintain a completely deadpan countenance.

Ayn Rand laughed during the "performance," along with the rest of us. (I still laugh, remembering it.)

Re the "mystery composer" incident, quoting from a post -- here -- in which I told the whole story:

[....]

A year or so later, come the music course...

[....] [AR's] reaction when the "mystery composer" recording started to play I heard distinctly. "I know who it is!" she said, in her "youthful pleased delight" variety of voice tones; "I have the record."

[....]

Ellen

PS. Correction: On further recollecting, I think Allan did play a recording of one of Cage's "prepared piano" pieces.

I would like to have a comparison listing of the selections he used in the revised course versus those he used in the original.

___

Edited by Ellen Stuttle

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Ellen, I believe that the Cage piece ~was~ one of his audible...um...compositions. It sounded like some guy (Cage?) reciting or declaiming something sounding vaguely like modernist poetry with nondescript sounds in the background.

I think the revised lectures were put together about 1987, if I remember correctly. While transcribing lecture 9, I did hear Allan say that there was tonal, beautiful music still being written in the latter 20th century, and he played an Andrew Lloyd Webber "serious" vocal piece (which he said was composed in the late 1980s) as an example.

In our recent email correspondence, Allan told me that he has rewritten the lectures again, and that they are now in 60-minute form. Also, sadly, he said that he has no plans to publish them in written form. Next time I write him (when I finish the transcription), I'll ask him what plans he ~does~ have for the lectures--re-recording and marketing, I mean.

REB

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I just finished transcribing lectures 11 and 12 of the Blumenthals' music lectures. Very good stuff. I recommend it highly.

I'm now transcribing Peikoff's 1976 course, "The Philosophy of Objectivism." I plan to use MS Word's "comment" function -- or maybe a two-column format -- to do a side-by-side comparison of these lectures with the actual text of OPAR (1991), which was based on these lectures, but with quite a bit of re-writing and re-organizing. Also, I will do footnote critiques of the passages where I think Peikoff went off course, or is simply wrong in both 1976 and 1991. His book has been out for nearly 20 years, and there still isn't a decent, in-depth critique of it. In my spare time, I will gradually try to remedy that lack. Also, if anyone knows of a review of OPAR that they think does justice to it, without swallowing it whole, I'd like to read it.

REB

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Roger,

David Kelley's review of OPAR, in the old IOS Newsletter, is understated in its criticisms but makes some good points.

Robert Campbell

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