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And The Winner Is…

Posted by acdtest on October 20, 2003

And The Winner Is…

seemingly ineluctable feature of the regular gathering of a group of fans of whatever, online or in real life, is the periodic call for nominations for a Top Ten List. The underlying rationale for the list varies, the most common and most tiresome being that oldie but goodie, the Desert Island Top Ten List. As common and tiresome as it is, however, this list and its variations never fail to engage the participation of almost the entire group. Enumerating for all to see what one would choose to have with him were he to be abandoned forever on a desert island gives one the chance (excuse is perhaps the more apt term) to display for all and sundry the breadth of one’s knowledge of whatever, as well as one’s depth of general intellect and refinement of taste.

As I said, tiresome.

Recently on a largely knowledgeable-persons-populated online classical music forum in which I participate on a regular basis (the population including a fair number of professionals), the periodic eruption of a call for another run at a desert island list surfaced, and was greeted with predictable enthusiasm cum the de rigueur demur of “I hate lists, but….” Finding myself in a particularly pissy mood that day, I determined this time to put a stop to it aborning rather than just ignore it as is my ordinary M.O.

Listen up!, y’all [I trumpeted]. Let’s deep-six this wussy silliness right now, and get down to the nitty-gritty. No more of this sissy stuff. Here’s how Real Men sort things out.

It’s the Apocalypse, and you’ve been chosen by the Dark Horseman to save for surviving humanity but a single work of all that’s known today as “serious” music and opera, the rest to be consumed by the conflagration forever, and forgotten as if none of it had ever existed, and none of it ever again to be re-created.

What’s the one work you choose to save for all humanity, and why? (N.B., Wagner’s Ring, for instance, counts as four works, not one.)

The howls of protest at the challenge could, I imagined, be heard throughout the length and breadth of the Web. I mean, how can one display the depth of one’s knowledge, intellect, and refinement of taste by choosing but a single work, especially since the way the challenge was posed the choice would not be a measure of one’s own taste, but a measure of one’s judgment on behalf of all humanity?

The bargaining for a change in the rules began at once. One work is impossible. Make it five. OK, three works, at least three! Two? Please, you must make it at least two works! How can one choose, say, a symphony of Beethoven’s, but consign, say, Le Sacre to oblivion, or vice versa? Be reasonable!

Oh, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth! A truly pitiable sight.

But I remained obdurate. The rules of the challenge, I declared, were nonnegotiable. And spying a loophole that would be seen by all sooner or later, I further stipulated that but a single work could even be mentioned. No “I choose X but it was a close call between it and Y, not to speak of Z” permitted (I told you I was in a particularly pissy mood that day).

Their last hope dashed against my iron will, everyone (everyone who chose to play by the rules, that is — about 75% of normal participation in a desert island list game) settled in to make his choice for eternity.

And a few amazing things were to be observed.

First, and above all, was the utmost seriousness with which everyone took the challenge, all almost palpably feeling the immensity and oppressiveness of the weight of responsibility that had been fictionally thrust upon them. Totally absent was the blithe self-aggrandizement and -promotion that’s the sine qua non feature of the creation of all desert island type lists. This response was perhaps the most surprising — and gratifying — of all.

Second, was that all choices put forward were, without exception, of pre-20th-century works; this from a group notorious for being cheerleaders for contemporary music (that is, notorious to me who has declared, to fusillades of jeers and brickbats, that all so-called “serious” music written by composers who first began writing after 1950 is total trash, none of it even deserving to be called music). That was another surprising response (i.e., surprising coming from this group).

And finally, but perhaps less surprising, all choices (including this writer’s — and, no, it was not a work by Wagner) were of works where the human voice, solo and in chorus, played a prominent part. A curiously comforting and reassuring if consummately human response.

Made my week it did, those choices so earnestly made. All of them. Took the pissy right out of my mood P.D.Q. Problem is, the game is pretty much one-time-only. Once played, it can never again be played by the same participants except at very widely spaced intervals of time, the intervals reckoned in years.

Hmmm. Fancy that.


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