George Rochberg (b. 1918):
Symphony No. 5 Black Sounds Transcendental Variations
The key that will open George Rochberg's music to thewilling, the curious, but especially to the \innocent" ear lies not in the conventional wisdom that declares him thefirst "post-modernist" for his openness to a complex mix of musical languages,but rather in seeking to enter the composer's extraordinary understanding of the nature of time.
Aslong ago as 1963, Rochberg, in The New Image of Music, wrote that thesuccessive revolutions of twelve-tone composition and of the post-war avant-garde had brought about a liberation that "permits sounds to create their own context". This liberation of sound from tonal harmonic functions, led to "the overthrowof a long-dominant temporal structure"; to a world in which conglomerates ofpure sound are able to interact in ways that are not necessarily hidebound by structural considerations.
"Subjectiveman," writes Rochberg, "views existence as change; himself and his history at the center of a process ofbecoming... Subjective man cannottranscend time; he is trapped in it. However, when man seizes on the presentmoment of existence as the only 'real' time, he spatializes his existence; thatis, he fills his present with objects that take on ... a state of permanence."Thus did the composer allow broader means of expression to be added to hisvocabulary, constantly enlarging it, making possible what he later came to callan "all-at-once world".
By1959, Rochberg was lionized as America's first and greatest Master ofcomposition in a serial language. His 1955-56 Second Symphony, taken up and enthusiastically premi?¿red byGeorge Szell, seemed to lay out a path for him as one of the leaders of theAmerican avant-garde. And yet, not even three years after its premi?¿re, he wasrethinking his language, already dissatisfied with the limitations of expressivity ofthe strict twelve-tone environment. Having mastered the idiom, he was far ahead of his time in seeking to gobeyond it.
Theoft-repeated assertion that it was predominantly personal tragedy that led Rochberg to abandon dodecaphonyand embrace tonality, is not entirely borne out by the facts. His evolutiontowards a multiplicity of simultaneous languages was already well in train fromhis earliest compositions. Rochberg speaks of his use of twelve-tone techniquesas engenderinga "hard" Romanticism - one has only to look at the slow movement of the SecondSymphony, Rochberg's "serial" work par excellence, to see that the tone rowyields music that alternates between melting, elegiac beauty and desperateexplosions of anguish; ebullient self-confidence and profound tragedy.
GeorgeRochberg's relationship with the past is not one of nostalgia; it is one ofintimate, living familiarity.Indeed, he has said, in Reflections on the Renewal of Music, "History will nothelp us; but the past, which is ever-present, can".
Rochbergis never about regret, borrowing or quotation (even if onlyquotation "in kind"). The Universal Mind, which is there to be embraced by acomposer humble enough to deny ego and the flawed search for "originality" atall costs, transcends Time and Space. Denying individualism, seeing the creative artist as a representative ofthe endless procession of the human condition, the purveyor of our collectivememory, allows the composer to gather the entirety of experience into a single,integrated language.
Atthe heart of Rochberg's music are an acceptance of the past as an integral ingredient of a rich present; anunderstanding that an art which insists on "originality" in its every utterancecan have no context and no hope of communication. His music liberates thecontemporary musician fearlessly to draw upon, and develop in his own voice,the inheritance of his artistic forbears without being derivative, in theknowledge that there is a language, that the many-hued palette of the greatmasters has not been darkened forever by the cultural pathologies of thetwentieth century.
"Thehope of contemporary music", writes Rochberg, "lies in learning how toreconcile all manner of opposites, contradictions, paradoxes; the past with thepresent, tonality with atonality. That is why, in my most recent music, I havetried to utilize these in combinations which reassert the primal values ofmusic."
GeorgeRochberg was born in Paterson, New Jersey on 5th July, 1918. An accomplishedpianist who worked his way through college playing in jazz bands in New YorkCity, he began formal studies of composition in 1939 at the Mannes School of Music, under Hans Weisse,George Szell and Leopold Mannes. He was seriously wounded during wartimeservice in Europe, subsequently resuming his studies at the Curtis Institute ofMusic in Philadelphia in 1945 with Rosario Scalero. From 1951, he was Directorof Publications for the music publishing house Theodore Presser, in 1960becoming Chairman of the Music Department at the University of Pennsylvania. In1979 he was designated Annenberg Professor of the Humanities,retiring from the University in 1983.
Rochberg'smusic has been honoured since his earliest substantialcompositions, his Night Music receiving the George Gershwin Memorial Award in 1953. Since then,Naumberg Recording Awards, Guggenheim Fellowships, Honorary Doctorates, a Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, and Fulbright Scholarship in1950-51 (the year in which he met and befriended Luigi Dallapiccola), theASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000; and countless other honours haveaccumulated in ever greater profusion. In 1996, his manuscripts and papers were acquired for the archives at the Paul Sacher Foundation in Basel,Switzerland.
Inthe words of the Washington Post, "Rochberg presents the rarespectacle of a composer who has made his peace with tradition while maintaininga strikingly individual profile... he succeeds in transforming the sublime concepts of traditional music into contemporary language."
In1983 John Edwards, manager of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, sounded outRochberg about the possibility of writing a substantial work to mark the city's forthcoming sesquicentennial in 1986. An anonymous patron had specifically indicated a "Concerto for Brass andOrchestra"; Rochberg replied, "When I write my new Symphony, I will not neglectthe brass!"
Somemonths later, Rochberg was meeting with Georg Solti, who had already conductedhis Violin Concerto and the symphonic poem Imago Mundi. The composer, hoping that he would beallowed a large orchestra, including fourth trumpet and extra percussion, related the "Concerto for Brass" story. Smiling broadly,Solti revealed, "that was me!", and of course readily agreed to a full-scalesymphony.
Conventionalassumptions about Rochberg's work are radical