This dreary story of the nihilistic revolution in music—as well as in culture generally—is somewhat well known, but Reilly lets us in on the little secret that this revolt in music has spent its course. How does he know? He interviewed the counterrevolutionaries, starting with the most important, University of Pennsylvania composer George Rochberg, who was a leading 12-toner when in 1964 his son died. Rochberg became frustrated that he could not express his deep emotions in the new orthodoxy and dramatically turned back to tonal passages. Reilly’s interview with him must be read in full, but let me note two things. Here is Rochberg on his feeling at the time:

I couldn’t breathe any more. I needed air. I was tired of the same round of manipulating the pitches, vertically and horizontally … What I finally realized was that there were no cadences, that you can’t come to a natural pause, that you can’t write a musical comma, colon, semicolon, dash for dramatic, expressive purposes or to enclose a thought.

Asked about Schoenberg’s remark that artists must be “cured of the delusion that the aim of art is beauty,” Rochberg replied: “I have re-embraced the art of beauty but with a madness, absolutely. That is the only reason to want to write music.” He ends with the ultimate praise for Reilly, “I have to say you really understand my music.” One must read the full discussion to comprehend similarly.


Written by D. Devine, published in the The American Conservative May 13th, 2014. Read complete article here.