Kapustin's piano concerti are not as well-represented in commercially available recordings as his piano sonatas, his etudes, or even his gigantic cycle of preludes and fugues for solo piano have been in the last twenty years. So this may, for the time being, be your only shot at hearing this work, the online video.
The work is broken up into fast, slow, fast, cadenza, fast but at a macro-structural level you can think of it as a single-movement 22 minute sonata allegro form. There's a lot of Gershwin, Tatum and Peterson you can hear in this. It's jazzy, flashy, and fizzy. I know for folks who lean more Beethoven and Brahms and Wagner this is going to be soda pop music. Okay, so it's soda pop music but I enjoy myself a Mountain Dew throwback every so often and if you're going to drink soda drinking one with cane sugar is a pleasant experience if you don't overdo it. Stretching a metaphor a bit, I suppose ...
The year 1989 is of interest because I have not, so far, seen what I consider a persuasive case that the end of the Cold War really ushered in any meaningful shift in music in the East or West. It "could" have but not to the point where I'd feel in a rush to buy a book premised on the idea that a tectonic/seismic shift happened (which is why I'm not in a rush to get Rutherford-Johnson's Music After the Fall.
If anything I'm more inclined to consider an observation Jacques Ellul made in The Empire of Non-Sense. In that 1980 work Ellul noted that Soviet art managed to go through parallel revolutions in avant garde terms to what happened in the West in the 19th century. After 1960 there were shifts happening in Soviet art that were not all that different from what was going on in the West. As a musician and a composer several examples have sprung to mind. Kapustin distills one of the shifts. There were serious and energetic efforts to develop a fusion of classical forms and traditions with jazz as the definitive American popular music going on as far back as the 1950s. The 1950s ... in the Soviet Union. In the book Composing the Party Line we can read about how Polish intellectuals urged that Soviet musicians be open to jazz within a mere year or so of Stalin's death. Kapustin himself has given interviews to Western scholars and doctoral candidates in which he explained that within the confines of Soviet ideological reactions to jazz the main prohibition was not against melody or harmony or even rhythm, it was against improvisation. So long as you meticulously notated everything in the score that was to be played without leaving room for improvisational episodes you were fine. The Soviet authorities might always like what you did but you officially kept the rules, so to speak, and so you were good to go.
This seems to have been true even before 1989.
While in Western musical history the emergence of eclecticism or polystylism in classical music could be traced to someone like, maybe, Luciano Berio, and definitely in American contexts to George Rochberg, stylistic mash-ups and juxtapositions were happening in the Soviet bloc. Penderecki's work shows some eclecticist tendencies and he's arguably the more staid and conservative sort than, say, Lutoslawski. Alfred Schnittke's not really my thing but he introduced polystylism within the Soviet bloc in the later 1960s. Someone whose work I enjoy a bit more is Rodion Shchedrin, who wrote a cycle of preludes and fugues in the 1960s and has said that in the wake of Stalin's death the Thaw really opened up the possibilities musicians could explore and he thought it would be fun to explore what he could.
All of which is to suggest, in a deliberately polemical way, that the idea that artists could try out anything because we have the freedom to do so here in the West is a self-deceiving canard. It doesn't mean I want to live somewhere besides the United States, it means I'm suggesting that there are mythologies that artists and art historians and art critics like to run with, such as that "real freedom" exists for artists in the West in a way that isn't the case for composers and artists who have been in the Soviet bloc countries. Perhaps a better way to recalibrate or reformulate the intended idea is that artists who make a living as artists are ... theoretically ... allowed to monetize and become famous for a wider variety of arts in the West than the Soviet system or some other form of totalitarian/authoritarian system might provide.
Except ... notice Kapustin's Piano Concerto No. 4 in the video.
Instead of running with a dubious mythology that claims the democratic West and the authoritarian East had different options for vocational artists in which the East was more confining, we could do something more fun and potentially interesting by exploring efforts toward fusions of high and low arts in the last century over against the stratifying preferences and tendencies of partisans for high and low in both the West and the East. This is not to say that we have any reason to be sure the music of Nikolai Kapustin will "stand the test of time". The point I've been making over and over again here is that if experiments in a high-low fusion of classical and jazz was going on for generations inside the Soviet bloc then we might want to consider this fusionist quest to be something that can be looked at as a historical pattern in the art of the East as well as the West. Whether it's Nikolai Kapustin from within the East or Claude Bolling in the West I'm not suggesting anybody has to like this probably not-quite Third Stream current of music (I'm not sure these composers would even think of themselves as "Third Stream")--it seems that what can be said is the existence of a push to develop jazz/classical fusions across the Iron Curtain even during what were high points of tension during the Cold War should invite us to reconsider whether the political mythologies of the Cold War and of "liberla democracy" or "authoritarian state" are necessarily reliable or accurate indicators of what was going on in the arts of the East and West.
Especially after binge-reading almost half a dozen Adorno books I wonder if a more fruitful avenue of historical or musicological exploration could be to bracket out the last century and a quarter as one of ... because we have master narratives we end up using across the board in spite of ourselves ... a battle between stratifiers and fusionists. The stratifiers are committed to their favor "high" or "low" music that embodies the "authenticity" of whatever real music is supposed to be. While for a poptimist or a fan of popular music the primary perpetrators of stratifying would be classical music teachers and critics that would be to misunderstand the full nature of the problem. Raymond Knapp wrote in his book Making Light on Haydn and camp that in rock and jazz criticism what we can see in the work done on African American popular music and rock is that its advocates essentially replicated the criteria of authenticity using race and musical style as indicators, thereby reproducing a kind of photo negative of teh German idealist sacralization of art and artist and "the folk". The musical styles that were lionized by white establishment rock and jazz criticism was music that fit a range of "authenticity" criteria based on race (black or at least not-white) and class (working class black music rather than music that aspired to respectability and prestige)
Knapp doesn't devle into this at all but it might be instructive to consider that Scott Joplin aspired to be taken seriously as a composer in a way that would not have fit the authenticity criteria of standard issue rock criticism. As it is, ragtime is now thoroughly canonical in classical music but is probably considered in many quarters to be the lightest and most trivial piano repertoire compared to sonatas and concerti. A large chunk of ragtime would be considered novelty piano music from the early 20th century, for instance.
Since the evolution of ragtime involved ragging the classics, playfully transforming warhorses from the classical piano canon into new popular-level works to amuse players and listeners ragtime might be a useful genre of piano literature to keep in mind for its blurring of boundaries even if Joplin, in particular, aspired for ragtime to be taken seriously as art music.
But the rockist and poptimist delineations of the battle lines in musicology and historiography don't strike me as being interested in fusion so much as turf wars about what stuff should be regarded as fit for study. It's a critical and academic debate that risks sidestepping the interests of musicians, whether performers or composers. I don't see that there's any reason I can't adore the music of Haydn and Stevie Wonder in essentially equal measures.
Of course I realize there's an irony in coining terms like "fusionist" and "stratifier" because that invites academic taxonomy (not that I'm actually an academic myself), but I do think it's a potentially more useful direction for nomenclature than the "poptimist" and "rockist" jargon. Why? Because as Michael Markham managed to show so well at the LA Review of Books a few years back, you can have rockists and poptimists within the "classical" musical world and you can have rockist and poptimists within the realm of popular music criticism, journalism and historiography. So it seems that these terms rockist and poptimist are not all that helpful at delineating the real attitudes and agendas at stake if you can have a rockist/poptimist divide within the classical music scenes and also have a rockist/poptimist divide within the strictly popular music scene at the same time! Raymond Knapp has some ideas that move toward a potentially useful alternative when he suggested there's a kind of German idealism/seriousness vs a knowing camp aesthetic in both classical music and popular music but I think that's a partial aid.
I've settled on the idea that there are stratifiers and fusionists to suggest that the battle lines within the "high" and "low" musical traditions, between the rockists and poptimists within classical and popular musicology, are reflections of a more basic disposition that seeks to defend the purity codes and authenticity signals of styles A and B and those who are interested in demonstrating through both practice and theory (composition and analysis) all of the ways in which the boundaries that ostensibly separate musics in critical, journalistic and historiographical taxonomies are far more permeable than stratifiers can successfully defend. I admire the music of J. S. Bach and Haydn and a lot of Beethoven and while I appreciate the beauty of that musical canon and want it and the traditions it distills to continue; and while I also love pre-World War II blues and mid-20th century jazz and regard those as the most appealing distillations of blues and jazz of the last century; though in a phrase I appreciate a lot of music in the canons of high and low that have been praised by classicists of blues, jazz, rock, country and classical music ... my compositional analytic disposition is what I would call fusionist.
I think it's possible to respect the historic boundaries and conventions that define a style in a way that allows it to be synthesized with other styles or idioms on a basis of working toward points in common.
After a century and a half of revolutions I think there's more work and harder work to be done in consolidating the revolutions of the last century and a half than trying to consolidate and stratify those revolutions in ostensibly "new" directions. For this reason the New Complexity seems like a semi-admirable but ultimately boring dead end. I didn't hear anything in the Lachenmann guitar duet that I hadn't heard in more enjoyable forms in early blues recordings. It's not that I don't want Lachenmann to have a career, that's fine that he's got one, it's that I consider that continental European avant garde a dead end.
I could make this point in a more pointed and vitriolic way. Stratifiers are segregationists of style and form. They an be set on a criterion of authenticity in which "real" and "pure" music can be whit or black but its the purity code they are working by that defines what is in or out. In that sense someone committed to a narrative of whites stealing music from blacks is just as racist in the end as a white who insists that black musical styles are not competent or not "real" music. The racism is in the purity code that establishes authenticity on the basis of extra-musical cultural narratives and norms. The irony that I'm seeing in the polemics of stratifiers is that whether it's in advocacy for the purity of the black or white musical art the narrative that posits a polarity ends up being just as racist and employing more or less comparable standards of purity that Knapp described as reflecting a kind of German idealism--thus within the rockist canon.
To keep putting this in a polemical way, a stratifier could insist that "real" music is either John Lee Hooker playing the blues or Haydn's string quartets and that the other music is excluded from being "real" music. A stratifier within Anglo-American popular music might insist that The Beatles are "real" rock and roll or really legitimate pop music as art and that Kylie Minogue isn't. A stratifier within classical music might say that Beethoven is serious while Offenbach is not. Knapp's proposal that Haydn is less "serious" to musicologists than Mozart or Beethoven because Haydn's knowing manipulation of conventions to entertain audiences who are always kept in on the joke is explicable as "camp" might be a useful way to get at this point, partly.
But to try to put this in a way that is more respectful to what I think the stratifiers are trying to do, the battle lines in musicology across the popular and art music divide seems to be a battle between purists and fusionists, those who want to defend, uphold and continue the purity of the styles they regard as serious art on the one hand and, on the other hand, those who may be okay with all sorts of standards of purity and canons in respective musical styles but who, ultimately, believe the present and future of music depends upon restoring and retaining a synergistic relationship between the high and low art forms to keep them from calcifying into the spent-force genres the purists so often make them to be in terms of scholarship, advocacy and historiography. I am unapologetically a fusionist rather than a purist in my temperament and sympathies, despite the realization that I arrived at my fusionist convictions out of steeping myself in the canons of the various musical styles I love as taught by a panoply of purist. I believe we need the purists to establish the canons that the fusionists then play with fusing. I'm not attempting to set up a binary so much as attempting to take seriously what the purists and fusionists want to preserve and conserve and promote and yet to do so in a way where I put my cards on the table.
Much that has been written about rockism and poptimism, or about pop music versus art music, has tended to focus on defenses or attacks on the canons and conventions of the one compared to the other. I'm not really interested in that and I find it frustrating that turf wars within academia or surrounding academia seem to keep gravitating toward that kind of nonsense. What i am more interested in, by far, is scholarship that could open up pathways for what I regard as a fusionist direction. So I don't really have any longterm use for Susan McClary not because I think she's wrong to point out that the European avant garde traditions have rendered themselves moot consolidating directions in music that render them irrelevant to ever being connected to a pop music saturated culture. I think she made a good point in saying that music is full of conventions and that without conventions our capacity to understand music is limited. But Leonard Meyer and others made that point earlier and McClary's legacy in musicology seems mixed in as much as it traffics too much, for my interests and sympathies, in the us vs them turf wars about high and low. I grew up with a musical life where there didn't have to be any battle lines drawn or trenches dug as to whether Bach's cantatas or Michael Jackson's Thriller had to be on one side of art and the other cast out.
My dissent from a more Roger Kimball/Roger Scruton position is my belief that they are so set on defending art music canons that they, ironically like an Adorno, close off the possibility of fusion and they can end up seeming to defend the ars perfecta of a Renaissance peak that has given way to a new chaotic array of early Baroque styles. If we're going to discovered what some so-called style of the future of music is going to be, whether high or low, it seems more fun if we don't consolidate the checklist too soon.
One of Adorno's more memorable assertions in Philosophy of New Music was to declare that there was a polarity of listening/cognitive approaches to music. Stravinsky's crime, if you will, was to land entirely on the side of spatial-rhythmic music. Stravinsky's work abandoned the high German "argument" of presentation, continuation, development, recapitulation and so on in favor of a mind-numbing mass guiding "groove". Not that Adorno cast his argument in terms of "argument" and "groove". No, he put it in a more ... Adornian way. Italics are original, bold emphases are added:
PHILOSOPHY OF NEW MUSIC
Copyright (c)2006 by the Regents of the Univesrity of Minnesota
translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor
... Spatialization becomes absolute. ...
... in Stravnisky--music casts itself as the arbiter temporis and prompts listeners to forget the experience of time and deliver themselves over to its spatialiazation. Music glories in the disappearance of life as if its objectivation were the music's achievement. In return it reaps revenge immediately. One trick defines every manipulation of form in Stravinsky and is soon used to exhaustion. Time is suspended, as if in a circus scene, and complexes of time are presented as if they were spatial. ...
By renouncing what temporal relations might achieve--transition; crescendo; the distinction between spheres of tension and resolution, of exposition and sequel, of question and answer--all artistic means are condemned except for his one clever trick. The result is a retrograde development that is legitimated by the literary-regressive intention but turns fatal the moment the absolute claim to music is raised. The weakness of Stravinsky's work, gradually recognized over the past twenty-five years and remarked by even the most obtuse ears, is not compositional exhaustion on the composer's part but the result of the compositional approach itself, which degrades music to a parasite of painting. This weakness, this nonintrinsic aspect of Stravinsky's musical complexion, is the price that he must pay for the limitation of music to dance, which once seemed to him to be a guarantee of order and objectivity. From the beginning, it demanded the servitude of the composition, demanded that it renounce autonomy. Real dance, in contradistinction to mature music, is a temporally static art, a turning in circles, movement without progression. It was in consciousness of this that the sonata form transcended the dance form, at once conserving and abolishing it; throughout the entire history of modern music, with the exception of Beethoven, the minuets and scherzos were almost always more modest and of a secondary rank in relation to the first movement of the sonata and the adagio. Dance falls this side of the subjective dynamic, not beyond it.
Just as his music appeals to all those who would like to be free of their own egos--because in the total system of the regimented collectivity their egos stand in the way of their own self-interest--so this music is intended for a spatial-regressive listener. Two types can be discerned, not as given by nature but rather as historical constitutions with which prevailing character syndromes can respectively be associated. They are the expressive-dynamic and the rhythmical-spatial listening types. The former has its source in singing; it aims at surmounting time through its fulfillment and, in its supreme manifestations, inverts the heterogenous movement of time as a force of the musical process. The other type obeys the beat of the drum, intent on the articulation of time through its division into equal quantities that virtually abrogate and spatialize time. ... The idea of great music consisted in a reciprocal interpenetration of these two types of listening and the compositional categories that conformed to them. The unity of rigor and freedom was conceived in the sonata. From dance it received a patterned unity, the intention of achieving the whole; from song it received the opposing, negative impulse, in turn producing the whole by its own rigor. ...
These two ways of experiencing music have today separated from each other entirely and, torn from the other, have become untruth. This untruth, prettified in art music, becomes apparent in light music; its shameless inconsistency disavows what in higher music occurs under the mask of taste, routine, and surprise. Light music is polarized into schmaltz--expression that is both arbitrary and standardized, torn away from any objective temporal organization--and the mechanical, that tootling whose ironic imitation schooled Stravinsky's style. The new that he introduced into music is not the spatial-mathematical type of music as such but its apotheosis, a parody of Beethoven's apotheosis of the dance. ...
Adorno may well have been right to say that the two ways of experiencing music separated completely from each other and, torn from the other, became untruth. The problem is that, if Adorno was right, the last century of musicology devolved into turf wars in which advocates of the "argument" and "groove" camps were busy fighting over the criteria of legitimacy for "argument" and "groove" based musical canons that had developed apart from the other. To press Adorno's polemic further, the once the expressive-dynamic and spatial-rhythmic paradigms fractured the resultant music fractured in two different trajectories. Think of "expressive-dynamic" as linear-dynamic and it becomes simple enough to conceive of Adorno as trying to describe how music in the 20th century stopped being three-dimensional and stratified into two separate realms of two-dimensional musicality--the first was the exhausted "high" traditions of Western art music and the second was the exhausted "low" paradigm of spatial-rhythmic music distilled by Stravinsky but also observable in the mass-produced musical opiate that Adorno took popular music to be.
Adorno might have been proposing that in the fusion of the expressive-dynamic and the spatial-rhythmic that great music in the Western tradition was three-dimensional but that as the rupture between the expressive-dynamic and spatial-rhythmic approaches to music began (and for Adorno one of the key perpetrators of this crime was Stravinsky, who shoved music altogether into the realm of mind-blunting "groove") the resultant canons became two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional. Attempts to continue the "argument" tradition within the context of traditional tonality that had been "exploded" were doomed to dishonesty because with only "height" and "length" there was no third dimension for the subject to express or to know. Attempts to treat the newly separated spatial-rhythmic paradigm were doomed to dishonesty because, as Adorno kept putting it so vitriolically, pop music was doomed to working with predigested materials that hear "for" the listener and are endless variations of what is always the same. The proliferation of I-V-vi-IV ballad choruses didn't exactly prove Adorno wrong there.
Now I think that Adorno's mistake was to, perhaps, assume that a fusion of these two paradigms of listening (which are, by extension, paradigms of compositional theory and practice as well as performance traditions) could not be restored. What has proliferated in musicology and debates about canons in the last century seems, and I admit I'm writing as someone who is not a formal academic, to have been an absurd trench war between advocates of this or that style of music and a lot of ink has been spilled praising or damning music from a "groove" aesthetic on the basis of an "argument" aesthetic that is largely irrelevant to the concerns of musicians and fans who like groove-based music. I say let them formulate a theory that explains what makes for a good groove.
I understand that those who swear by musical "argument" don't think good music can be written without a good "argument". I get that, I really do. But surely if the Baroque era had first and second practice then music pedagogy could develop a "groove" pedagogical canon as well as an "argument' pedagogical canon. If the fusionist goals that I personally have in mind are ever to be successfully attained at a larger level I think the groove fans should have a chance to formulate a theoretical set of foundations for how their works "work". If a restoration of a balance of argument and groove is going to happen in what's conventionally known as Western art music then there needs to be at least "some" theorizing that can account for that. By now I suspect that there's no shortage of "argument" pedagogy and theory thanks to German musicology as a legacy in the Western world. We don't need to get rid of any of that.
I think Adorno was, on the whole, wrong if he thought that these paradigms of listening could never be brought back into some kind of interactive balance. The last century and a half was tumultuous enough that fracturing was just part of what happened. I can take Adorno's arguments and assertions seriously and still propose that if he was right to claim that the two paradigms of listening had completely separated that what musicians can work toward doing is restoring an interplay and synergy between those two paradigms of listening through the work of composition and historiography and theoretical analysis. One of the modest goals of a fusionist approach could be to re-establish an interplay between Adorno's two paradigms of listening, assuming Adorno was right to say the two paradigms had completely separated. If they didn't or haven't then, well, a whole lot of time could be wasted. But I'm inclined to guess from the polemics of poptimists and rockists on either side of the "high" and "low" divide that Adorno was probably right, for the most part, in diagnosing the nature of the problem even if he went in a counterproductive direction with respect to what real-world solutions ought to be implemented. The answer wouldn't necessarily be twelve-tone as a self-contained system ... I think it would be more likely to take the linear-dynamic possibilities of twelve-tone and refract them through blues.