"Christus Apollo" and "Music for Orchestra"
date, respectively, from 1969 and 1970 and use dodecaphonic techniques.
"Fireworks" is from 1999 and a breezily tonal piece of writing
intended for performance at the Hollywood Bowl.
Before considering the principal work, "Christus
Apollo", I should like to make a few reflections about tonal and
dodecaphonic music, provoked by these two short (8’ 16" and 8’
52") orchestral pieces. "Fireworks", as I said, starts
off exuberantly and that’s how it goes on. To begin with you think that
this is a jolly good romp, no great substance but nice. The trouble
is, the tunes turn out to be not so much tunes as rather banal little
motives tossed around the orchestra and the sheer lack of anything to
say or any personal way of saying it makes it all seem pointless. I
realise that composers of film music probably go apoplectic every time
they read that their concert works would be effective as accompaniment
for a film, but that’s exactly what I did think, so what else can I
The earlier dodecaphonic piece is obviously very different.
Dodecaphonic techniques, as has often been pointed out, are ideal for
writing music that reflects the nightmare of living under the Third
Reich. For all Schoenberg’s protestations to the contrary, it is difficult
to find music written in this manner which expresses anything other
than tortured angst. So if you took "Fireworks" and
revamped it dodecaphonically, you would end up with something like "Music
Now it has to be said that serial techniques are not
entirely useless. If the music has nothing to say, dodecaphony can provide
it with a semblance of substance, even discipline. A fellow student
in my university days, a girl with absolutely no ambitions to become
a composer and who hated the weekly composition classes, once dashed
off a twelve-tone string quartet while listening to other music on the
radio, and the composition tutor, himself a composer of serial inclinations,
said it was good. There’s nothing like an inverted tone-row for pulling
the wool over gullible eyes.
I feel absolutely beastly to say all this, the more
so when I read that "Music for Orchestra" was written at a
time of great personal difficulty, while Goldsmith was going through
a divorce and his mother was seriously ill with cancer. I believe his
sincerity when he says that the dodecaphonic style was "a liberating
way to express my deepest feelings"; nor do I think he intends
to be pretentious when he says that "Fireworks" is "a
grand celebration of my childhood, growing years, my years of maturity,
and all the events that climaxed with my first appearance at the Hollywood
Bowl". I just wish I could feel that this music conveys at least
a part of these emotions to the listener.
"Christus Apollo" has a text by the noted
science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury. Its curious mixture of philosophy,
mysticism and wind-baggery is not wholly without poetic glow. The following
is typical: three lines obscure, three mystical and the last two plain
He walks upon the molecules of seas
All boiling stews of beast
All maddened broth and brew and rising up of yeast.
There Christ by many names is known.
We call him thus.
They call him otherwise.
His name on any mouth would be a sweet surprise.
He comes with gifts for all.
The poetry does, however, seem to envisage a certain
joyfulness, together with its more mystical aspects, which most people
will find central to the Christmas theme. Joyfulness does not appear
to be part of Goldsmith’s agenda, however. But then, I have some difficulty
in finding words to describe this music at all. Adjectives, by their
nature, imply a response on the part of those who use them. This music
is, for me, emotionally and artistically a void. Hard words and I recognise
that the void may be in my mind rather than the composer’s but I can
find no reason why one note should follow another in the way it does
rather than in another way.
If I responded to anything at all on this disc, it
was to Sir Anthony Hopkins’s narrations, which amount to a substantial
part of the work. The musicality of his Welsh vowels and his feeling
for poetic rhythm are a pleasure in themselves. However, I have a few
queries even here. The narrations were recorded separately, as you can
see from the location details above. I realise that the logistics of
getting famous people together means that this sort of thing is often
unavoidable but I wonder if Sir Anthony, on stage with an orchestra
and chorus behind him, would have adopted this same low-key approach.
He makes no attempt at theatrical projection but rather croons, even
whispers, into the microphone. As I say, it has its own beauty but there
is an obvious artificiality deriving from the fact that the spoken word
and the musical performance are on completely different scales.
Sorry to be so negative. If others respond differently
I shall be very glad for them, but I can only advise you to hear some
of the music before purchasing. Incidentally, after writing this I did
a little surfing on the Net and, while I am happy for Goldsmith that
some people have waxed lyrical about this music, I am also comforted
by the discovery that several others have reacted just as negatively
as I did.
See also review by Gary