The Tyranny of Lists

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Anyone charged with teaching the history of classical music, especially in the one semester “intro” model, knows what a thankless reductio ad absurdum it can be, a rectilinear gutting of the Great Western Tradition, beauty reduced to a series of “progressive” victories. In the interest of cramming a vast amount of information into a tight space—canvassing 1000 years in the confines of a single term—much is jettisoned in favor of a linear argument, exhausting but unavoidable. Chant begat polyphony which begat fugue which begat sonata which begat symphony which begat bigger symphony and really long opera which begat atonality which begat our current mess today. We learn of famous schisms, of Brahms (retrogressive) contra Wagner (pro- and/or transgressive), Stravinsky contra Schoenberg, of the old-and-now-painful saw of up-, mid-, and downtown, of history with its attendant right and wrong sides where progress is less about achievement and more about a sequence of erasures. We learn that composers travel in packs, and that eras are divisible by the turning of centuries. A toe gets dipped, an historic trajectory (under the best of circumstances) is at the fingertips, and the great whos and whens and wheres are all rolled into a tidy line suitable for framing. This brooks little argument, and is a solid and digestible introduction to the notion of a musico-historical continuum (meaning it is truly meant, with best intentions, as a place to start, a leaping point into something more complicated, more beautiful). It is how the learning commences rather than anyone’s completion, but it does music a grave disservice, this line, this list. This concatenation of mere facts, birthdates and deathdates, while in and of itself not objectionable because it is the only practical and effective approach, nevertheless skips blithely toward the dangerous notion of the Grand Metanarrative, that “next” supercedes “previous,” that culture proceeds apace, and that the progress comes in the form of a long series of solved problems.

Never mind that this whole history is predicated on a lie because Pope Gregory was an amazing and learned man but by many accounts music was hardly an arrow in his quiver, unless you honestly buy the singing bird myth. Never mind that the realities are always more complex than the story (Brahms admired Wagner a great deal, despite the us-and-them-ness of their storied rift, for example), or that the convenience of named movements (“modernism” or “impressionism” to name two) is, like most conveniences, an oversimplification. But like George Washington and his fabled cherry tree, the concretized tale is simpler than the misty truth, and these handily compressed notions string together digestibly, reduced to a timeline, a sequencing of events, a list.

I’m not suggesting the big story be ditched; its value as a placeholder outline is obvious. But for those of us who work or seek to work in the “profession” this kind of thinking—call it “listy” thinking, this notion that anything as elemental and sloppily chaotic as music (or any art, for that matter) can withstand this sort of ordering, this-or-that-ing—can be, at best, problematic. Failing the much-needed later investigations, this listy notion becomes not just emblematic of the tradition; it becomes the tradition. The list can take the place of the work, much like ideas of the people involved—the workings of the collective life of the people involved is called history, but history is not populated with people but is in fact made exclusively by people—can be easily replaced by received notions. And that represents a danger because when something complicated is easily and quickly understood, the chances are that you are doing something wrong.

Do not be too quick to understand me: not every list is a bad idea. Even the lists I will go on to gently excoriate—those whose sole benefit is marketing, those capitaLIST lists—are not in and of themselves disastrous, dangerous, or even, if there’s a use for them, annoying. They can create light in the stochastic darkness or (if you want to get really academic) can lay out the signs and signifiers in the long semiotic discussion of art, history, and thought. Not a bad deal, in certain instances, and crucial in others. However, the sort of thinking that helps to ferry these lists into print—mostly mainstream or “commercial” print—and therefore into the at-large consciousness, that endows them with any cultural meaning beyond their immediate use, leads to nodal thinking. These lists, not ending where they begin, can become a kind of reward unto themselves, a stand-in for what they enumerate, and that kind of oversimplifying can lead to false constructions, to barriers, to ideas of genre and style that do more harm than good.

1. Beautiful Lists

In his masterful book The Infinity of Lists, (from whence my own title was obviously cribbed) novelist-semiotician Umberto Eco makes glorious hay of the notion of the list as a work of art. He found quite a few, “from Homer to Joyce to the present day,” enough, he wrote, “to make your head spin.” And in true Eco double act fashion, by simply listing the lists, he in fact creates the exact thing he is expressing: his book about lists is, in fact, one giant list. But as gorgeous as these lists are, the project, Eco admits, is flawed, because he in fact is just one man and no doubt several excellent examples eluded him, making the book both personal and incomplete, which is not a harsh criticism but in fact the reality of the project itself. “The fact is,” he says, “that not only am I not omniscient and do not know a multitude of texts in which lists appear, but even if I had wished to include all the lists I gradually encountered in the course of my exploration, this book would be a thousand pages long, and maybe even more.”

Eco’s preternatural capacity for scholarship is in full evidence here: the book includes everything from the famous “Catalogue Aria” from Don Giovanni to huge swathes of Rabelais and Shakespeare; long listing passages from Homer, Joyce, Prevert, Cendars, Borges, the King James Bible; pieces by Joseph Cornell, paintings by Bosch, Damien Hirst, New Yorker covers by Saul Steinberg, Andy Warhol’s soup cans. One of the principal things that separates us from the animals is our capacity to organize—lists are vital enough to be worthy of themselves becoming works of art. Eco includes Roland Barthes’ “J’aime, je n’ aime pas” where the French semiotician makes a long, lovely list of what he likes (“Glenn Gould” and “having change”) and does not like (“telephoning,” “the harpsichord,” and “women in slacks”) after which he lays out a truly salient point: “this is of no importance to anyone; this, apparently, has no meaning.” Yes, these lists are useful for him (on this, more in a moment) but like any true postmodernist, and there is none truer than Barthes, the whole exercise becomes in and of itself something beautiful to consider—in other words, a work of art, a thing of difficult beauty, a challenge because one is moved but one does not know why. Not far off from that famous apotheotic moment in Woody Allen’s Manhattan where our hero realizes he is in love with his impossibly young paramour in the middle of dictating himself a list of what he does, in fact, love.

And, as Eco promised, he does make omissions; we could all add to his list of lists. I Remember by Joe Brainard, is a long poem (or poetic meditation) comprised of single notions commencing with the plangent words “I remember”: (i.e. “I remember the old man who lived next door to me on Avenue B. He is most surely dead by now”). Allen Ginsberg’s Howl is just one long sequence of lists—the first section follows what happened to the “best minds of my generation,” the second a dire set of variations on “Moloch” (read: capitalism), and the last section a long, exhausting rumination on being in a madhouse (“I’m with you in Rockland”)—whose power is in its repetition. Carole Maso interrupts her gorgeous novel The Art Lover with the occasional stand-alone list, and the later work of David Markson is little more than chunks of prose ably strung together to create a huge accruing of small detail. In his novel House of Leaves (itself a wild set trick of narrative on narrative), author Mark Z. Danielewski offers, as evidence of someone’s waning grasp on sanity, a list of literally hundreds of famous photographers in alphabetical order—and the past-present-future list of historical events that serves as the spine for his masterpiece Only Revolutions defies my listy description. Rick Moody, in his short story “The Preliminary Notes,” numerically itemizes a sad tale of a husband determined to eavesdrop—and later in that same collection (The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven) in a devastating story called “Primary Sources,” a whole narrative comes from a standard format bibliography and footnotes. Peter Greenaway, in his film Drowning by Numbers, draws a visible line through the narrative about three murderous sisters by visually adding the numbers 1-100, a participatory postmodern game as well as a statement on the whole order-of-things thing. And then there’s the so-called “list songs” of Stephen Sondheim—“I’m Still Here,” “I Remember,” and “I Never Do Anything Twice,” to name merely three.

All of the above are my contributions to what I might call “Lists I Like.” I have more, many more; if you want, I can make you a list. These lists are beautiful, and they are not designed to be functional, do not seek to distract from or distill art down to a collection of vague essences because they are themselves art. These poetic lists are more about accumulation than the simplification. They don’t strive to reduce; they are something that might, at some point, require their unpacking.

Lists rendered in music are harder to come by because music fails to represent directly: watch Leonard Bernstein’s Harvard lectures The Unanswered Question for an hours-long teasing out on whether or not music can resort to the quotidian enough to leave the realm of poetry. (Spoiler alert, he tries to make a case for Hanon as being the only example of dull musical “prose,” and even then…) A case could be made for any theme with variations as an equivalent to all the glorious enumerated chaos Eco unveils or, say, Bach’s Art of the Fugue. The “Farben” movement of Schoenberg’s Five Pieces for Orchestra, where a single chord (with derivatives) is put through dozens of orchestrational changes is, in essence, a list of timbral possibilities. But these are reaches: to get artistically listy, references are of necessity: Eco could easily have made mention of the final movement of his friend Luciano Berio’s Sinfonia or of Mr. Bernstein’s Jubilee Games, both of which are unknowable tangles of layered musical quotations. And of course, there’s always Wagner’s Ring

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2. Useful Lists

I am something of a manic list maker, an alphabetizer. I keep meticulous track of a lot of things: from the books I read to the food I eat, from the goals I have to the pieces I’ve written and their performances, from the hours I work to the movies I watch in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep. I don’t know why I do it, but I always have—perhaps the very act of making the list calcifies whatever fleeting thought I have, reminds me, when looking back, how deeply I read or hard I worked, and does the disservice of dipping in amber the things I have not done. This is not poetry; this is a compulsion. I cannot shop without a list. I often have trouble conceiving of a full passing day—how I will fit in all the different and difficult tasks before me—without having made a list. Often I feel I need to organize my lists—to list my lists, as it were—and have sunk a small fortune into new blank notebooks, legal pads, and loose-leaf paper unblemished by lists yet to come. I make these lists to better understand myself, to help with the complicated task of simply carrying on, and to make the charting of my own personal patterns that much easier, to help me see through the darkness of what T.S. Eliot calls “this twittering world.” A shopping list helps us remember what to get at the store, a to-do list enables the checking off of daily tasks, a date book lists our appointments, a phone book lists our contacts, and iTunes handily lists our music and movies in orders of our own devising. Have you, like I’ve recently done, ordered and catalogued your books? These lists help the center hold; nobody is suggesting these are anything but helpful. But then again, nobody is suggesting they be published, presented, or performed. These lists are strictly inside jobs. Like Mr. Barthes’s funny little meta-list, they’re meant to explain us but never to be cared about by anyone else.

When Elvis Costello published his own list of top 100 records in Vanity Fair, I found it useful and excellent not only because he has the proverbial skin in the even more proverbial game, throwing down readily with his own work which one can take or leave, but also because I am what one might call a rabid fan. From the depths of his own learnedness he allows us to avail ourselves of it in this take-or-leave setup, but his credulity is unimpeachable because he offers, as a list-making avatar, his body of work by way of consubstantiation. If you like Elvis Costello, you might like what he likes, and so on. The flawed nature of the exercise—or rather, the impossibility of the task—is admitted because his list aims to be his list. He’s not a gatekeeper or a kind of cultural definer (as is the ostensible job of the critic) so his recommendations are not supposed to carry weight beyond themselves—they do not serve the future as part of an historical nexus as criticism, in its best intentional formulations, ought to do. They just help you find some nice records you might not have otherwise known. His list is not poetry, but—like the “if-you-like-this-you-might-like-this” data mining marketing notion—it can efficiently point the way to new listening.

3. Problematic Lists (or What They Fail to Mean)

It is the kind of list whose sole aim is to sell something, to make a commercial case, that is the list that can do the damage. We all know these lists—lists that define the “best” or “top” of something where there is no best or top. How, for example, can you be one of the “top” of anything when it comes to the ineffable, the immeasurable, the innumerable? These are notions lifted from history, from military campaigns and athletic competitions. You can, in fact, win a war (though there’s room for debate there), you can run a certain distance in a shorter time, you can hit more balls with a stick in the midst of an ordered, socially contracted “game.” These things can be tallied, or at least the tallying is expected. Athletes want to win gold medals, to be the best. And yes, the best swimmer in the world is an approximation—not everyone in the world can obviously swim the same race in the interest of comprehensive proof—but it is, at least, one on which enough people are in agreement to make the designation mostly relevant.

The same is true of marketing concerns: you can sell more of a certain book than another, more people can in fact go to see your movie than go to see mine. These are not vague statistics, nor are they invalid. They stand as facts, though facts under agreed-upon terms of measurement. However, when this kind of tallying comes to equal or even to mean more than the work itself, where there can in fact be an “A” list, then things are being run by marketing concerns exclusively, which lie in the interest of selling products rather than advancing quality.

We can go on—add to the list, if you like—mentioning the “Top” anything lists. Award winners, anything ever given the neo-, new-, or next prefixes, which, like calling anything “modern” or “contemporary” means not that it is up to the minute but that, to revivify our unfortunate parlance of bloodshed, there is a victor and a victim. I once read an article about a very successful composer—and with no disrespect to him or his work, none at all—that said he “may be the best composer in the world,” a title I hope to which even this person might object, flattering as it is. It is a ludicrous claim to make because it implies that 1) you know all the composers in the world well enough to establish that he is, in fact, the best, and that 2) you have a handle on the Pritchard-Scale level of criteria to make such claims. It is a bit of humbug, like claiming somewhere has the World’s Best Coffee.

As an artist, lists are part of our “kit.” They come in the form of bios, resumes, curriculum vitae. All accomplishments are listed, stem to stern, or cobbled into an impressive prose representation of our careers. It is a necessary—and not wholly unproductive—means of “getting to know” someone at a glance. Salient details because you cannot know every work of every artist—teaser, taste, brief introduction. Obviously, as we all well know, this can take a darker turn in our minds, and the resume can become more important than the work, the career more important than anything. Listy thinking is also resume thinking, because obviously your bio or CV has to impress and impress quickly.

Eco’s eighteenth chapter of The Infinity of Lists is titled “Mass-Media Lists” and begins:

The poetics of the list also pervades many aspects of mass culture, but with intentions different to those of avant-garde art. We can only think of that model of the visual list which is the parade of girls adorned with ostrich feathers coming down the staircase in the Ziegfield Follies, or the renowned water ballet in Bathing Beauty, or the multiple parades in Footlight Parade, the models who file past in Roberta, or the modern fashion shows of the great designers.

What Eco is saying is that there is built into lists a certain homogeneity, an uncomfortable sameness, a single definition of an ideal, an adherence to a system, which in turn is even more problematic because it leads to in/out, top/bottom, inside/outside, good/bad thinking, new/old, today/yesterday, beautiful/ugly, adventurous/conservative, garde/avant—to best-and-slightly-less-so thinking, which stems from the notion that there is the lone top to which one can aspire (“I’m sitting here talking to the best composer in the world”). The challenge is to either get there or risk becoming cultural dross. Nobody says this directly, but it is built in to listy thinking, its principal defect. It implies, simply, that creation is a zero-sum game that one can win, when it simply cannot be. This leads to asking absurd and deeply unnecessary questions: Is Shakespeare a better poet than Milton? Is Beethoven a better composer than Bach or Mozart? Is Rembrandt a better painter than Leonardo Da Vinci? Not even asking if one prefers Finnegans Wake to Ulysses, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock to The Waste Land, or even modernism to postmodernism. These overgeneralized questions are unnecessary, and actually do more harm than good, and the fact that we’re asking them at all is the sad by-product of listy thinking because their concern is for marketing rather than exploration. Even the best intentioned listy-ness is eventually subsumed into the very task of making the list, which is impossible. If you’ve ever served on a panel whose aim is to distribute prizes for creative endeavors, you get this: the fact that the list of winners is near impossible to determine with any “accuracy” makes the whole process a kind of exercise in despair because you are being asked to measure the unmeasurable. It hurts a little, as it should.


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The new Sight and Sound critics’ poll, wherein many a British film expert now cede that Hitchcock’s Vertigo has in fact replaced Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane atop the Greatest of All Time list, was a masterpiece of listiness and got a lot of media attention. I wondered, as I read that, how Messrs. Hitchcock and Welles would have felt on hearing that—after all, is it actually possible to make the Greatest Movie of All Time? Is that a height to which any filmmaker can—and should—aspire? What would those admittedly brilliant filmmakers have to say on the subject? And while we’re at it, why should anyone care? Sight and Sound no doubt has very strict criteria by which it has elected to judge the pictures it judges—but the very existence and use of their rubric epitomizes listy thinking. Because by even engaging in the making of this list—which is, I guess, intended to be a document of critical consensus; can critics arrive at consensus? One is in fact creating the standards-of-no-standards impossibilities. And are we to think that, after all these years, something has finally been found wrong (or at least not perfect) with Citizen Kane? Or has it been suddenly revealed that Vertigo, languishing shamefully at the #2 Spot, has hidden virtues, enough to cause its sudden ascendance? Or did enough Citizen Kane people die or retire to allow enough Vertigo people to weigh in and tip the scale? Are we to now believe that the time of Citizen Kane has come and gone and that we are now living in the more up-to-the-minute Vertigo era?

This or that, us or them, in or out, these can be a powerful tools in selling something—one wants to be part of the solution, on the winning team, the next wave, the new thing, the right side of history. It is an obvious part of human (especially American human) nature to want to be part of the absolute best, to be, in essence, right—be it a cultural innovation, an election, or a war. But at root this kind of non-critical binary thinking can become, easily, bandwagoneering, which means we’re not discussing art or even artists anymore; it is, when put so bluntly, a discussion not of the multifarious depth of art but the handier (because it can be listed down) notion of style. And not only do most artists dislike being lumped together in a de facto School of Thought—ask any member of Les Six, of the Second Viennese School, any twelve-tone or atonal composer, any minimalist, post-minimalist, neo-romantic, or alt-classical composer what they think of these labels—even if they enjoyed the sense of community and shared purpose, can they actually be taken effectively as a set? Ever heard someone say, “I don’t like classical music,” or maybe something a little deeper like “I don’t like minimalism”?

I’ve been involved at the deepest personal and professional level of “classical music” for over two decades, and I’m unable to answer the simple question of the–isms because they often have as many exceptions to the rule as they do rules. Fine, maybe you didn’t like that Philip Glass piece you heard; you are more than entitled to think that, but no one composer or work can stand for the style and/or genre that is minimalism. In fact, find yourself some recordings of the hundred or so famous composers who are considered to be toiling in that particular garden, and I suspect you will find more differences than similarities, save for a few basic shared notions. Once you do that, once you’ve spent time with the music, the work of these very different men and women, go ahead and admit to anyone who will listen that minimalism is not your especial jam. Like it or not, you are now possessed of knowledge enough to discern and make such a statement, and from your experience with the work itself and not simply the idea or representative sample, you know what a vast category it is and have not yet found something that moves you.

The most convenient terms for the listiest list are unfortunately martial—is progress a series of overturned rulers who are to then be overturned, one “Darwinian” banjaxing after another? Fine—or at least reasonable—for athletics and for wars, but an unnecessarily violent way in which to look at the great vivid wheel of the genuine span of music history, for example. No blood was shed in the development of the symphony; no sonata ever did grievous bodily harm to a sonatina. Evolving thought—the product of many amazing minds and daring souls—bears little resemblance to Iron Chef. In this rectilinear estimation, Beethoven remains present in our concert halls because Beethoven won; he bested not only all his contemporaries but also those who predate him—his structural innovations bested the structural innovations of all who came before him. By placing him atop this particular “A” list, we move further away from Beethoven the man (or even Beethoven the artist), his personhood replaced by an easily repeatable set of progressive ideals. This replaces the modest service of seeing to it that his work is reexamined over the years all with the disservice of removing his humanity—in place of the actual flesh-and-blood person who wrote astonishing music (“groundbreaking” if you like) stands his whitewashed portrait, a bust on our piano, our received notion of the man, “Beethoven” (or worse, “Beethovenian”) rather than Beethoven. It might be absurd to refer to him in the plural, to Beethovens, but it might also be a little closer to the truth. He was many things; he wrote many moving pieces within a vast multiplicity of moods, emotional conceits, intentions, and yes his music changed things, but that is hardly the only reason we still listen to him. As Cesar Franck’s biographer and advocate R.J. Stove says, “Sibelius took satisfaction from realizing that nobody ever put up a statue to a critic. He could equally well have said that nobody ever put up a statue to a structural innovator. One does not (however the more simple-minded historian would have the world believe) leap into music’s pantheon by virtue of bringing back, at a piece’s conclusion, the theme one has periodically used from the beginning.” There are no easy answers to the questions of durability, but “victory” because you changed an extant form is not one of them.

4. Not a Solution, Exactly


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To paraphrase author Martin Amis, there’s only one list about any writer that’s important, and that is the frontispiece list of books they’ve written. That ought to stand as their only resume—and not just the accumulation of titles, but the work contained within. That’s how you separate an artist from their avatar, the raw data of the work itself. One’s list of works speaks greater volumes than any pithily worded bio, CV, or resume, their awards, and certainly how many critical lists on which they’ve managed to land. Promotion is promotion, and there are people who are in the business of doing just that—and I am by no means saying it is a bad thing because it is not; it’s necessary. I’m not suggesting that these lists are in and of themselves bad. But I do believe they need to be placed in proper perspective.

I am not suggesting an evisceration of the idea of personal preference, of taste. Nor am I suggesting we remove order from the chaos by mandating a lack of bullet pointing as a means of conveying information. I’m not even suggesting we remove the consumerist lists from the places where consumers go to buy things. To the contrary, I suggest it be embraced, to have your strong opinions and stand by them. Prefer Rachmaninoff to Beethoven, De Chirico to Bosch, Sibelius to Bruckner, Wallace Stevens to Emily Dickinson, Stones to Beatles, Scarface to Citizen Kane, by all means love what you love because that kind of love is pure love, especially if your involvement with the arts is that of an enthusiast, a listener / reader/ watcher / eater / drinker &c.

Art is and has always been (and should be) an outsized, shaggy, throbbing, complicated mess, made by people who are attempting the impossible with a certain ferocity, dedication, and near-sexual drive. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, and ought to scare you into grabbing whatever lantern you can find—any port in a storm, right? But embracing the negative capability—in short, understanding that you will not understand—is where you will find all the beauty, and at the end of the day, the multifarious forms beauty takes is what this whole struggle is about, it’s broad cultural crux. It should never be about being a node on any given list, but about the list of accomplishments, of works, of thoughts. To return to Beethoven (the man who wrote music) versus “Beethoven” (the figure who triumphed against all odds), his oeuvre is so complex, so brimming with individual notions, with rash failures, with work that is profound and strange (not by any means exclusive), beautiful and exotic. We all contain multitudes, and should not that apply to a “genius” like Beethoven?

And then there’s the complicated notion of second place, the “lesser” that get left out of the equation, the raw shame we espouse at being anything other than the “best.” Because history is full of beauty, and beauty comes in many forms from many sources, isn’t it possible that there’s much to be loved from the silver medalist? Perhaps an out-and-out analysis of Beethoven’s entire canon does in fact net 1) more brilliant (read: still performed) pieces than, say, a similar examination of the canon of Sibelius, Vaughan-Williams, Anton Reicha, etc. and 2) a cozy place in the Metanarrative, but does that make him, in this sense, better? Or is the despair of that question enough to at least serve as a rallying cry to stop asking.

At the risk of repeating myself, there is nothing at all wrong with list-making because it can be a valuable at-a-glance tool in leading to a wealth of experience and deep knowledge. Listy thinking cannot be stopped, nor should it be; all I hope, in my own dream-the-impossible-dream way, is that it be minimized, put in perspective, and that we as artists at least try to rise above it. The simulacrum is not the experience, the map is not the territory, whichever postmodern buzz-phrase you want to admit. Careers are great, prizes and accolades impress and will always impress, and presence on a list, be it a year-end wrap up, a best-of, or a list of Pulitzer finalists, gives the occasional fillip in what can be a lonely pursuit. But credentials are just another list. We all know that awards beget awards, honors beget honors, lists, therefore, beget lists. And while it is almost impossible to put these matters from one’s mind, it is important, if nothing else, to try.

I could have replaced the word tyranny in this essay’s title with any number of words—ubiquity, dishonor, deception, despicability, dull thud, crappiness—and I instead, as I have admonished others for doing, resorted to military description. It was no accident—nor is the obvious meta-trope of this essay itself being put into list format. It is more intended as an illustration of what is, for me at least, a deeply held belief: Not in the ill effects of listy thinking so much as in great faith in the writing, playing, recording, distributing, listening to, and discussing of music. It made me reach for stronger parlance because it did echo how I felt as an artist—that we (those who are not only reading this but who have stayed with me this far) deserve better.

As a student, I heard a lecture by director Peter Sellars that changed my life, mostly because his principal part was that it was going to be to the benefit of culture to remove power from the critics and academics and return it to the artists because classically it was the artists who were the harbingers of social change. It mattered to me, and it still does, not out of any lust for “power” (none I will admit, at any rate) but because it seemed to be a way to make the thing I did, intended to do, still love, continue to matter. And in a world that places increasingly less emphasis and value on it, now more than ever I think the mess needs to be embraced, the tidiness abandoned, and these easy commercial conveniences put as far from our minds and hands as possible. Or, in the immortal words of Robert Altman who, when asked if he was disappointed not to have been nominated for an Academy Award, offered a Sellars-worthy clarion call: “We have to start concentrating on making better films.” Enough said.


Daniel Felsenfeld

Daniel Felsenfeld

Composer Daniel Felsenfeld has been commissioned and performed by Simone Dinnerstein, Two Sense, Metropolis Ensemble, American Opera Projects, Great Noise Ensemble Da Capo Chamber Players, ACME, Transit, REDSHIFT, Blair McMillen, Stephanie Mortimore, New Gallery Concert Series at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, BAM, Kennedy Center, Le Poisson Rouge, City Winery, Galapagos Art Space, The Stone, Jordan Hall, Duke University, Stanford University and Harvard University. He has also worked with Jay-Z, The Roots, Keren Ann, and is the court composer for John Wesley Harding’s Cabinet of Wonders. Raised in the outlying suburbs of Los Angeles, he lives in Brooklyn.

One thought on “The Tyranny of Lists

  1. lawrencedillon

    “Beethoven remains present in our concert halls because Beethoven won; he bested not only all his contemporaries but also those who predate him—his structural innovations bested the structural innovations of all who came before him.” And, the lists seem to imply, all who came — and will come — after him.


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