Just before attending the Sondheim interview conducted by Ned Rorem (as I described in the previous post) back in March of 2000, I sent a note to the Sondheim mailing list to let others know a bit more about Rorem.
There had just been an interesting interview with Rorem (conducted by Bernard Jacobson) in the March/April issue of Fanfare magazine, and I forwarded these excerpts:
But as to God, per se—I am an atheist, I’m not an agnostic. I don’t believe in God, and I don’t see any evidence of God, and I feel that God is an invention by both intelligent and stupid people to give a reason for living, and I don’t think there is a reason for living. We invent reasons. Art is one of them. But there is no reason. Or so I am convinced, but I don’t try to force that on other people. I can be very moved by religious texts, and moved by the fact that people can believe in them. But if I were in a concentration camp, where religion is supposed to have been helpful to certain people, I would have nothing to fall back on. And the Christian martyrs in the arenas: I can’t believe once they’re being torn apart by the lions, that God is foremost in their minds.
“Art song” isn’t a phrase I use. It’s sort of an apologetic term that Americans use to distinguish concert songs from pop music, I think. But for lack of a better term one says art songs. There are a lot of art songs that are not very artistic—there’s an awful lot of pop songs that aren’t very popular, and that are very good. I’ve been writing songs all my life, and I think that the reason I started writing songs had nothing to do with love for the human voice, which never particularly interested me–still doesn’t, for that matter. I don’t go to the opera to hear the human voice for its own sake. I’m only interested in the human voice for what it can impart of words.
I first became aware of Rorem back in 1967 when he wrote an article praising the music of The Beatles, pointing out how often their music surprised him. Surprise seems to be one element that musicians prize very highly, as I’ve also heard Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein comment admiringly on music that surprised them. Hence the phrase “surprising but inevitable” or “fresh but inevitable”.
And while I’m talking about Sondheim and music, there is a podcast called The Classical Gabfest which is a discussion of classical music (what Sondheim called concert music), and they devoted one episode shortly after his death to an evaluation of Sondheim as a composer. I found that so refreshing. That podcast is available as an audio podcast and also on YouTube (but no real video on the YouTube channel).
Here is that episode: