On form.

jelloI once asked James Tate what he thought of writing in form. He replied that one can’t write like a romantic anymore because it’s inapplicable. I think Paul Verlaine and Leonard Bernstein would disagree. Says Bernstein:

“Form is not a mold for Jello, into which we pour notes and expect the result automatically to be a rondo, or a minuet, or a sonata. The real function of form is to take us on a half-hour journey of continuous symphonic progress. To do this, the composer must have his inner road map. He must have the ability to know what the next destination will be–in other words, what the next note has to be to convey a sense of rightness, a sense that whatever note succeeds the last is the only possible note that can happen at that precise instant.”

Lately it’s occurred to me that there is only one aspect of Bernstein’s five (melody, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, arrangement) credited by most of these hipster fucks who look at me in disbelief when I mention enjoying Emma “Baby Spice” Bunton’s music (and having absolutely no tolerance for the band Television). Arrangement. And, to make matters worse, it’s only accidental arrangement as a byproduct of instrumentation. My roommate and my sister are the two highest authorities on music, as far as I’m concerned. My roommate declares, “I like this because there is a good rhythm, you have to dance, and a nice melody.” My sister declares, “my friends and I can sing along to this one.” One could say the same about even the early Gershwin. One who writes in form is considered immature, and one who plays out of form is considered immature. If art as education, I mean in a Brechtian sense, is in any way still our only hope, god save us all.

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