Homo PoMo

Dan Albertson

[August 2017.]

[I thank Romeo Talento, even more than usual, for stepping with ease into roles far beyond what should be required or imagined, for which he underscores why he has my eternal affection. I also credit Wu Jingda, for making his presence known and welcomed, in equal parts warm and aloof.]

My return from the dead. What better way than to celebrate Valentin Silvestrov, a man whose music teeters between the past and the present while inhabiting neither?

His is a music of Greek myth-making, more siren than titan, a work both born of and standing apart from the extremes of the 20th century: seductive and decidedly non-lethal, music from a parallel dimension, perhaps.

Silvestrov will begin his ninth decade at the end of September. A thoroughly postmodern postmodernist yet not one at all, since he has no real analogue: He lacks the garishness of the well-worn lesser-rans commonly thought to exhibit such traits. He is no purveyor of sappy schlock; no prolix poetaster rifling through the centuries, hoping for some scrap to exploit; no dreamer tilting at the 20th century’s supposed serial wrongs; no disciple of a mawkish spiritual rebirth; no believer in accessibility.

No, he is Silvestrov, residing on Planet Silvestrov, utterly detached from the streams and vagaries around him and around us all. Whether I always enjoy what results is irrelevant; he is a constant challenge, and he fails better than most succeed. I can commend no artist in any medium with higher praise, not that he is the only one.

* * *

His trajectory is not unique, of course. Modernism gives way to simplicity gives way to nostalgia, but one must know how a Slavic speaker understands nostalgia so much differently than Germanic or Romantic speakers. He imparts a solitary view on the subject of reminiscence: Memory leaves recoils whose ramifications land far from the intended realm.

In many ways, the pre-nostalgia pieces are already drenched in longing; the passage of time merely allowed underlying tics to be brought more fully to the main discourse. One wonders what to make of the latest symphonies, now numbering 10.

* * *

Not by chance have I devoted my efforts in the past to Aldo Clementi, a more stubborn believer in the death of music, as I, too, believe that the art form is essentially dead, though once in a while the right concoction produces a satisfactory, or at least edifying, product. There is no sadness here; indeed, not enough.

Clementi and Silvestrov represent the late 20th century in its Janus-visaged splendor, two chiselers making the most of a ravaged and desolate toolkit – disparate fellow travelers. Taking another step; drawing another note, or breath; making the embers dance; defying the cessation of the creative conquest; carrying on, despite the avowed futility of every possible action. If this moral is not a life lesson, what is?

[We’ve covered Clementi and Silvestrov over the years. Some highlights: Grant looked at a release of Clementi’s string quartets and a trio of discs. Requiem for Larissa was a starting point for a Silvestrov appreciation. Walt covered Stufen, one of Silvestrov’s most important scores.]

[Image from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roman_Ruins_at_Schönbrunn.JPG]