Death of a New York opera composer, 91

Death of a New York opera composer, 91


norman lebrecht

December 02, 2017

The tonal composer William Mayer, best known for a prize-winning opera A Death in the Family, died at home in Manhattan on November 17.


  • John Borstlap says:

    ” ‘To be a tonal composer in the sixties and seventies was a deeply dispiriting experience,’ Mayer was quoted as saying to New York Times essayist, Robert Schwarz. ‘One was shunned as the last teen-aged virgin.’ But as the eighties came in Mayer found he had new company: both minimalism and a new eclecticism incorporated tonality. ”

    As if musicality were something to be excused.

    It is really good music, sounding like something from the twenties:

  • Bruce says:

    Article by Mayer referenced in the 2nd link above, entitled: “Live composers, dead audiences; Why do people stay away from contemporary music? Because they don’t hear right, or because there’s so little worth hearing?”

    • John Borstlap says:

      An interesting period piece which shows that the ‘iron grip’ of modernism had, in the US, already dissolved decennia ago, but still: without very much effect of restoring audience’s and performer’s trust in new music. Surely the problems of musical language is one cause, but there have been so many others which have nothing to do with new music and everything with developments in modern society in general.

      In Europe however, ideologies have become part of a specific establishment, due to new music’s state funding, with its bureaucracy and vested interests of small groups dedicated to musical ‘progress’.

      Courageous of Mayer to spot so many cracks in the profession. George Rochberg, one of the early American modernists (and successful in academia), experienced a full u-turn towards very oldfashioned tonal traditions when his teenage son died. So, the causes of new music’s problems may lay deeper than the surface of language itself.

  • Berliner Musiker says:

    There is no question than “tonal” music was and remains a pejorative for the academic and media critic enforcers of whatever it is to be modern, and specifically postmodern. Given the largest and most prosperous stream of music today is “popular” music while the so-called classical domain is miniscule by comparison, the end game of the cultural elite attempting to dictate taste withers.

    A parallel article about Claus Guth’s — not Giacosa’s and Illica’s, and certainly not Murger’s — La Bohème in Paris testifies to the current reality of “being modern.” Whether in music or the performances of musical works, what Bortslap states above as “new music’s problems” comes down to the same enforcement as one saw with Soviet Socialist Realism or the horrid pejorative of “Entartete Kunst” albeit clothed in modern costume so as not to show itself so clearly.

    Quietly in the background — as one sees in the assembling of a massive library as is Canada’s Petrucci — music is being preserved, and future generations will more clearly value what they will then value, without today’s high priests of whatever the heck is modernity when it is no longer modern, and clarity will be had.

    I wager classical “tonal music” of our time will come out atop a pile of eventually ignored pile of publishers’ avant-garde leftovers at the cut price table, dust-covered yet still “new” and unwrapped.

    Lest this seem an exaggeration, I was offered some free copies of Stockhausen scores after a number of people turned down the offer. I too said thanks but no thanks.