Edward T. Cone: Not Theory, Practice…

Is Analysis and Criticism Always Necessary?

FRANK J. OTERI: This leads us to another area. Is there music that needs analysis in order to be appreciated? You said that you don’t like the 3rd piece of the Opus 11 of Schoenberg because you were not able to analyze it.

EDWARD T. CONE: Well, no. I wouldn’t say I don’t like it because I couldn’t analyze it. I tried to analyze it because I didn’t like it. And I failed. [laughs] I wouldn’t say that my disliking it is the result of not being able to analyze it, I’d say my not being able to analyze it is a result of my not liking it. My attempt to analyze it was because I didn’t like it and felt I didn’t understand it.

FRANK J. OTERI: Is there music that you treasure and love but have absolutely no interest in analyzing?

EDWARD T. CONE: It depends on what you mean by analyze. Obviously, I can’t take the time to analyze every piece that I listen to and like. Let’s put it this way. Most of the music I like, I wouldn’t say all, I know when I hear it that if I tried to analyze it that it would be something I could successfully do. For example, I’ve recently been looking at some piece by Debussy, which rather baffled me for a long time. These pieces baffled me simply because I did not know why they went tonally where they did. So, on the other hand, I liked them enough to want to approach them and find out why they worked. There are a number of pieces like that that I just don’t have the time to look into that would be rewarding if I did take the time as I found out in the case of the Debussy pieces. It’s very rare that I find pieces like the third Schoenberg piece. I tried and I failed and I’m sure the failure is mine. Well, actually, I’m not sure the failure is mine [laughs], but I’m willing to accept the possibility that the failure is mine.

FRANK J. OTERI: When I have a negative initial reaction to a piece, my first assumption is that I somehow didn’t get it because, after all, someone brought this forth into the world. The composer made a series of choices that he or she believed in, and who am I to say this is wrong? Which reminds me of something else you wrote in your essay “Schubert’s Unfinished Business:” the essential act of criticism is appreciation not judgment.

EDWARD T. CONE: Right.

FRANK J. OTERI: It’s an attempt to figure out why something’s good, not why something’s bad or to cast dispersions. But the perception of what constitutes criticism seems to have changed in our lifetime.

EDWARD T. CONE: Well, that’s too bad.

FRANK J. OTERI: Do you read newspaper reviews of concerts?

EDWARD T. CONE: Oh, yes.

FRANK J. OTERI: What are your thoughts about the writing?

EDWARD T. CONE: In general, it seems to me that first of all the emphasis is usually on the performance rather than the composition. In either case, it’s always based on generalizations or on specific points with a remarkable lack of evidence. For example, you’ll read that a performance lacked energy. How do you specify that? What does it mean that it lacked energy? Does it mean that it wasn’t fast enough? Does it mean that it didn’t have enough rhythmic precision? It doesn’t mean a thing to say that the performance lacks energy!

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s interesting. I was at a performance recently and all the people I spoke with in the audience agreed that it lacked energy. How else could it be said? Everybody on stage seemed to be just going through the motions. They didn’t seem to believe in the music. Now that’s a very subjective reaction but it was one that everyone I spoke to shared. How could any of us know what was inside the minds of these players? Maybe they did believe in the music, but for some reason they were not making me or anyone else believe in it. And the same is true for writing about music. If you’re bringing that enthusiasm, there’s something missing.