A Reply to George Clinton

Published by Legacy of Matanya Ophee on

By Matanya Ophee

In SB IV/3, in the framework of a review of the 1987 Toronto Festival, I expressed some misgivings about the absence of Kazuhito Yamashita’s on the roster of performers. George Clinton had seized my review as an opportunity to recycle the strange “interview,” published in the November 1985 issue of Guitar International, which he conducted with Kazuhito Yamashita after the latter’s concert in London in September of that year. Unfortunately, he entirely ignored the issue I raised, electing instead to throw at me several scurrilous barbs, the kind which certainly do not fall within the Editor’s parameters of what is appropriate to be included in Letters to the Editor.

[Two years later], Clinton [is still distressed that a shy little Japanese boy can play circles around many of his Anglo-Iberian divinities] uses the occasion to repeat his accusation, [first advanced by Jack Duarte in March of 1983 and subsequently repeated] echoed numerous times in Guitar International by several writers, that Yamashita’s recording of the Musorgskii’s “Pictures” was made by double-tracking. The rationale for this charge, is that in one particular instance, the published arrangement is not entirely clear on how the passage is to be executed.

The import of this affair, in my opinion, transcends the limited interest the personal differences between George Clinton and me can possibly have for the readers of Soundboard. [Its significance is even wider than the provincial disputes Clinton constantly carries on the pages of his magazine with the “other” English guitar publication, Classical Guitar, which is published by a former major advertiser in GI, Maurice J. Summerfield, and edited by a former colleague of Clinton’s, Colin Cooper. These disputes are of little interest to non-English guitarists and the acrimonious charges in both directions are not even entertaining. What is of the outmost significance to us poor Colonials, is the inauspicious exhibit of one man’s love-hate relationships with his real and imagined enemies beginning to spill over the boundaries of the Wiltshire tomato patches which are their natural habitat. This poisonous bile is bad for our collective guitaristic health.]

It raises several moral issues which we must face squarely. The most important issue, one which I do not propose to exhaust here, is the question of our attitude towards transcriptions as a viable part of our repertoire, and how we go about establishing the criteria of what is and what is not an acceptable transcription. The other question we must face honestly, is whether we can allow any political, religious, gender or racial considerations to become part of our ongoing dialogue. I said this once before on these pages and I will say it again: some of my best friends are Christian, German, Japanese, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, Israeli, Argentinian, Brazilian, Republicans, right-wing conservatives, members of the S.P.B.S.Q.S.A., dealers in antique china, bus-drivers, and Doctors of Chiropractic. None of which has anything to do with my friendship or with my opinion about their musical qualities and attitudes. In my opinion, Kazuhito Yamashita is being singled out not because he plays faster than any living guitarist, but because he is Japanese. That is another issue which I do not propose to exhaust here.

[In examining the position of the guitar in the world of music, an ongoing exercise by many writers, we often arrive at the conclusion that we are living on top of a water-shed in the history of the instrument. We see many similarities between the situation today and the status of the guitar in earlier times in our history, when the instrument and its culture changed perspective in a way which appears to us today as a decline. The main difference is that today, the whole panoply of “classical music” is under attack from many quarters. Philharmonic orchestras are shutting their doors, sales of classical music records barely clear one half of one percent of the total sales of records, the pitiful sales of sheet music and musical instruments already convinced many of the major firms in the business to “diversify” away from music and into other fields, many professionally trained musicians are driving cabs for a living. As a minuscule segment of this dwindling sphere of human expression, classical guitarists the world over find themselves at a singular peril. We are still not “at the same level of the violin, cello or piano” as Segovia always told us we ought to be, and if we are to survive at all as a culture, we must decide if we want to be an integral part of the mainstream of classical music and share its fortunes and adversities or carve for ourselves a special niche in the available audience, one which has nothing to do with the qualifier “classical.” Some guitarists, perhaps in response to desperate economic situations, are trying to fuse themselves to popular music in all its variants. Thus we see an increasing trend towards the inclusion of pop arrangements in regular recitals, “how-to” articles on arranging the stuff for the guitar. A surprising number of well-meaning people have spoken out in favor of the trend. In recent times we even saw the emergence of interest in applying computer technology to classical guitar performance. I see all of these tendencies as harmless diversions which may eventually run their course and disappear. They are not, cannot be and never will be the deliverance we pray for.

In my lecture at the Tychy festival two years ago, as well as in the paper I presented at the Symposium organized in Esztergom, and in the GFA festival in Tempe last year, I advanced the notion that we must re-enter the general world of music through the open door of the chamber-music experience. As I see it, the problem is the question of the quality of life we can expect as practicing musicians. When we speak about the guitar in the abstract, we speak about people. You and me. We speak about a roof over our head, food on the table, education for our children, a new car, a vacation in the sun. We speak, in short, about economics. Professional guitarists must be able to live off their talent, and to support themselves and their families. Very few people in this country are able to do that. Those that actually earn a livelihood from the classical guitar, do so mostly by teaching. Many practicing performers are able to sustain a performing career on the guitar only with the help of rich parents or other benefactors. We are faced with a curious situation: indeed more and more people are playing the guitar today than ever before. The number of festivals and competitions is growing exponentially. Many new virtuoso performers are able to dazzle us with their guitaristic pyrotechnics. As performers, these guitar virtuosi are certainly “on the first rank.” As practicing musicians, they cannot compete in the market-place with their colleagues who play the violin, cello or piano. One hears guitarists speak about the current “Golden Age” the instrument enjoys. This is a senseless delusion which does not translate itself into concert bookings and recording contracts.

As we all know, only too sadly, few guitar concerts these days are able to attract more than half the capacity of the hall. Even some of our better known prima-donnas can count their good fortune if 80% of the seats were sold. The general audience, that vast multitude of music lovers who buy the tickets to the opera, to the symphony hall and to the chamber music concert, avoid solo guitar concerts altogether. Why this is so?

I would like to propose that we have been the victims of a gigantic misunderstanding. The guitar is not now, nor has it ever been at “the first rank, such as the violin, the cello or the piano.” According to Andrés Segovia, that “first rank” was defined by placing the guitar in front of the orchestra as a solo instrument. Other musicians play concertos no doubt, but their main activity is the performance of chamber music.]

As long as we play Bach and Dowland and Sor and Britten and Henze, as long as we expect the major “classical” composers to write for the guitar, as long as we so much as ask one classical music lover to listen to us, we cannot delay our re-entry into the general world of classical music, whatever its future may be. Therefore, it is necessary for us to examine how we go about developing the talents of the younger generation of performers, teachers, scholars, students and amateurs and how we go about selecting repertoire for performance. We will never reach full agreement among ourselves about everything and everybody, [I certainly hope that diversity of opinion will continue to recharge our energies and provide us with the means to] sort the wheat from the chaff.

[There were about 450 guitarists present in Kazuhito Yamashita’s 1984 concert in Toronto. Many reacted like myself in total rapture with tears streaming down our faces. Others, like my colleague Larry Snitzler, walked away in disgust. One of my friends, a fellow who ought to know better, even said to me that he could not understand what the performance had to do with music. I spoke to many people during the intermission, and into the wee hours of the night after the concert ended. Whatever opinions were expressed for or against Yamashita, no one among the admirers and detractors suggested that any fraud was perpetrated here by the performer. . .]

Clinton’s insinuations of fraud on the part of Yamashita cannot be passed over in silence. This is, for all practical purposes, a character assassination which seems to be motivated by rancor, sustained by gullibility and articulated with the venomous malevolence of illiteracy. Judging by his own writings on the subject, Clinton’s ideas about the æsthetics of Pictures at an Exhibition, like those of several other English writers, are based on a prettified notion of the work which is the brain child of Maurice Ravel. These are the æsthetics of Paris in the 1920s and they are driven by the absurdities of profligacy and not by an understanding of the music and its creator.

Here, in these [bilious] querulous writings of George Clinton’s, we are faced with [the prospect of] allowing a a writer [who holds a position of power as chief editor and publisher of a magazine,] who does not blink an eye when slinging mud at a young artist’s integrity on no further evidence than the occurrence of a printing ambiguity in a published edition. I think it is time to ask why. [We can no longer allow character assassinations to circulate in our midst falsely cloaked as a journalistic exposé. Yes indeed, it is irksome to me that not everybody shares my enthusiasm for one subject, or my distaste for another. This is not a perfect world and I have long accepted the premise that in the multifariousness of the human experience it is possible for two individuals to see the same attribute from two, diametrically opposed viewpoints. So what? The other fellow must be wrong, we all know that!

Mr. Clinton assures us that in his capacity as “an English writer in guitar circles,” he can attest that no “English writer on guitar matters” had written about Yamashita’s Pictures, as I claimed in my Soundboard review, “without having heard the recording of the performance.”

Before one attempts to take umbrage with another’s published ideas, one ought to take caution in quoting them correctly. I am sorry to say that Mr. Clinton did not. In my Soundboard review, SB XIV/3, page 208, center column, second paragraph from the top, I said: “Several writers, particularly in English guitar circles, have derided the idea of Pictures at an Exhibition on the guitar, without having heard the recording or the performance” [not italicized originally]. I did not speak about “English writers” and “Recording of the performance” is not what I said.

I am not sure I understand why it is necessary for one to be an “English writer” in order to know what other “English writers” write. I, for one, am not English but I certainly know what is published in English guitar magazines. (I no longer count Clinton’s own Guitar International among their numbers. I did not renew my subscription to it last year, on the estimation that little of what is published there these days is of any appreciable consequence). Moreover, I have published a great deal of material in English guitar magazines, beginning with Guitar News in 1965 and concluding with Classical Guitar. My concern is not with anyone’s Englishness, as it must be Clinton’s, but rather with the constitution of their ideas about the guitar, its history and aesthetics, without regard to the writer’s gender, religion, race or national origin. In any case, I have read several writings on the subject at hand, which, even if not specifically declared so by the writer, have certainly appeared to suggest that hearing the recording or, and if you insist, and/or the performance, is not a prime stipulation for passing holier-than-thou judgments on a young lad who happens to hail from Japan.

Let me offer Mr. Clinton a short lesson in Russian. The correct transliteration of the composer’s name, at least in English/American scholarly circles, is MUSORGSKY. It is spelled with one S in Russian and should be spelled so also in English. (The double SS is a remnant of German transliteration where a single S represent the soft-Z sound and the double SS represents the hard-S sound). Correct pronunciation is MOO-sorski. With hard-S and with accent on the first syllable please, and not on the second, as is common in English pronunciation. Like many Russian surnames, the name is based on a specific word which may be a noun, an adjective or a verb. In this case the word is, in Russian and in Cyrillic alphabet, “Mycop”, transliterated as MUSOR and pronounced MOO-sor, a noun which in Russian signifies garbage, litter, refuse, rubbish, trash, junk, waste. Needless to say, much of what I read in guitar magazines about Yamashita’s arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Petrovich Musorgsky, carries a qualitative correspondence with the substances which generated the etymology of the composer’s name.]

Let us examine the very passage in Yamashita’s arrangement which seems to have caused Jack Duarte’s remark that the bass trill D/E in the poco a poco accelerando section of the Gnomus episode is “. . . physically improbable if not impossible…”. Clinton himself does not beat around the bush and pointedly states that the impossibility of playing this trill while performing a series of three-note chords in the upper registers “. . . suggested double-tracking . . .” However, we must point out that his quotation of Duarte’s review is truncated so as to present a different idea than that originally proposed by Duarte. What Jack actually said is this: “. . . physically improbable if not impossible, and the illusion has to be created by ultra-rapid shifting . . .” That was an astute observation, made before Jack had an opportunity to observe this technique in concert. It clearly explained how the passage could be performed. Clinton chose to ignore the possibility of a rational explanation, and in quoting part of it out of context, was able to bolster his charge that the recording was made by double-tracking.

If one adheres to the notion that guitar technique reached its apex with the teachings of Tárrega/Segovia/Romero/Carlevaro et al, the passage is “improbable, if not physically impossible.” But if one accepts that guitar technique cannot remain static but must be a living discipline continuously open to change, then it behooves us to examine our own prejudices and find out what we can learn from a new and revolutionary approach to the guitar, and not try to smother it because we perceive it as alien.

I will assume, for the sake of argument, that indeed the passage is impossible to play as notated in the edition. What was it, then, that Yamashita actually played? In his letter to Soundboard, Clinton repeats the assertion that “. . . what is certain is that in his live performance (in this and in his famous Toronto concert) Yamashita appeared to muff phrases in precisely these ‘improbable’ places . . .”

[God only knows what it was Mr. Clinton heard in Yamashita’s concert in London. I was not there and I will not offer any guesses. Clinton for his part, is asking us to take him on faith and to believe him that he knows what was heard in Yamashita’s concert in Toronto, even though he was not there. How he managed that feat he does not say.

As a publisher himself, Mr. Clinton knows only too well that errors creep into published editions no matter how much problems of sound and its visual representation are considered by the editor, arranger or composer. And who is responsible for proof-reading errors?

In his 1934 famous Diccionario, Domingo Prat dedicated a lengthy entry to Andrés Segovia. In it, he also included a lengthy list of all the misprints he could find in the then available editions of guitar music prepared and edited by Segovia—original compositions by Ponce, Torroba, Castelnuovo-Tedesco etc, and many transcriptions. The adjectives used by Prat in regard to Segovia, make those enunciated by Duarte and Clinton in regard to Yamashita sound rather tame.]

He [Clinton] further suggests that although I have heard Yamashita’s performance, I did not listen to it. This may be so. In my review of Yamashita’s concert in the 1984 Toronto Festival, which was published in Gendai Guitar in Japan and in Gitarre & Laute in Germany, I freely admitted that the performance had a powerful effect on me. Perhaps it was so powerful that I had no surplus energy which I could devote to listening. It seems to me though, that even if Mr. Clinton may be a better listener than I, he cannot hear however hard he listens, since he must be functionally deaf when it comes to hearing the music made by people who are on his current [s***] target-list.

As far as I can recall, what I had heard in Toronto, was exactly the same as recorded which proves exactly nothing. However, the only thing we can debate with any degree of confidence, is the recording which is still available for inspection and can be compared to the edition. Carefully going through this exercise again, I must agree that the recording and the edition are not in agreement. The printed notation indeed does not give a precise picture of the sound. [Which can only mean that the edition is here at fault.] What actually happens on the record, is that the top chords are not given their full rhythmic values. Interpretatory modification of the duration of the chords, allows Yamashita to shift position, as suggested by Duarte in his 1983 review and as physically observed by Clinton in the 1985 London concert, in “Lightning-swift” fashion, and produce the aural illusion of a continuing bass trill against the chordal sequence in the treble. Yamashita’s modification of the note duration is a performer’s prerogative. You may classify it as “muffing of the phrases” if you wish, but such frivolous judgment does not absolve you from examining the effectiveness of the performance as a representation of the composer’s work.

We can all agree with the following ideas about transcriptions written by Andrés Segovia and published in Guitar Review No. 3 in 1947:

“. . . Transcribing is not merely passing literally from one instrument to another. It means to find equivalents which change neither the aesthetic spirit nor the harmonic structure of the work being transcribed . . . if the work transcribed gains in color and expression, and is not weakened, not only is it permissible, but mandatory that such transcription be made. It is particularly so if it enriches the instrument poor in its heritage of important literature . . .”

Does Yamashita’s arrangement, in this particular instance, answers the requirements laid by Segovia? I believe it does. Is it true to the æsthetic spirit of the work? I believe it is. Here is a copy of the particular segment in Musorgskii’s autograph:

As we can see, Yamashita’s transcription preserves the visual aspect of the original notation. His performance, on the other hand, is not a literal “passing . . . from one instrument to another” which Segovia told us is not entirely necessary, but rather one which “find[s] equivalents which change neither the aesthetic spirit nor the harmonic structure of the work being transcribed.”

What is the “æsthetic spirit” of this passage? In her notes to the Soviet edition of the facsimile of the autograph manuscript of the Pictures (Moscow, Muzyka, 1982) Emilia Fried quotes a letter by Vladimir Vasilievich Stasov (1824-1906), the well-known critic and the dedicatee of Musorgsky’s work in question, which describes the Hartmann picture of a Christmas-tree ornament depicting an ugly bow-legged dwarf which serves as the basis for this piece, as “a kind of nutcracker, a gnome into whose mouth you put a nut to crack.” Here is the Hartmann Gnomus:

Fried further elaborates:

“Mussorgsky’s piece is grotesque, with a touch of tragedy, a convincing example of the “humanization” of a ridiculous prototype. In the music portraying the dwarf’s awkward leaps and bizarre grimaces are heard cries of suffering, moans and entreaties. The gnome is related to other characters in Mussorgsky’s works where behind an ugly appearance one senses a living and suffering soul.”

The simpleton character in Musorgsky’s Boris Gudunov, for example. Clinton cannot hear in this performance the essence of Musorgsky as described above, because, like Yamashita’s national origin, it appears to him as an alien quality. At the same time, he is driven by a desire to find fault in the work of Yamashita at all costs, to the point of nit-picking a minor ambiguity to distraction. This is not only “grotesque with a touch of tragedy,” but also an ugly display of the workings of the mind of a journalistic dwarf whose critical faculties are in urgent need of humanization.

Is this the first time in our history that a printed edition did not give a precise representation of the editor’s performance of the same music? And is it the last? [In more recent times, much has been said in various quarters about the misprints in the 12 Villa-Lobos. What is certain, to repeat a shop-worn phrase]  Recordings by Segovia of many pieces which he published, clearly show differences in execution, tempo, note-duration, fingering, and even changes in the musical text. Compare, for example, Segovia’s recording of the third movement of Ponce’s Sonatina Meridional with his edition of it.

[These matters are very well known and were mentioned many times in print. There is an historical interest in unraveling the mysteries, particularly in regard to those pieces for which no original manuscript exists. We come again to the old question of authentic text. The same phenomena, it must be said, can be observed in the published works of most every other known guitarist. Yet, the editor-performer may not always be in total control of the published work and cannot be held responsible for its short-comings. This tenet holds true for Segovia as well as for Yamashita.

Prat’s article about Segovia was published twice by George Clinton in English translation. Once in his magazine, and a second time in his booklet about Segovia. Curiously, in both instances, the translation did not include Prat’s long list of misprints nor his inflammatory words in reference to Segovia. In both instances, the editor, Mr. George Clinton, failed to inform his readers that this is a partial translation, thus giving a false impression of Prat’s opinion of Segovia.

Besides inquiring about the propriety of manipulating Prat’s text to suit his own bias,] Aren’t we entitled to ask Mr. Clinton to explain the reasons for his double-standard in denouncing ambiguities in Yamashita’s edition and ignoring Segovia’s?

[Having thus successfully accuse Yamashita of the unforgivable sin of fraud, it was easy for Clinton to encourage his readers’ reactions in the same vein.] I would like now to substantiate my original claim that “Several writers, particularly in English guitar circles, have derided the idea of Pictures at an Exhibition without having heard the recording or the performance.” Take, for example, an LTTE published in the January 1986 issue of Guitar International by one Kim-Elizabeth Geldard. [Assuming there is indeed such a person and that the letter is not one written by Clinton himself,]

Surely [italicized in the original] this piece cannot possibly have any serious place in the repertoire of the guitar! . . . What next I wonder—Beethoven 9 for brass quintet?! . . .”

In the same issue, Catherine A. Dickinson and Andrew Liepins who have heard the recording but did not attend the concert, are convinced that Yamashita’s objective was “forceful velocity and nothing else.” These writers, one English and one Latvian, who run the Spanish Guitar Center in Nottingham, debase the discussion to the level of caricature by suggesting that Yamashita was trilling with his nose. Would they have placed the same ridiculing tone in their letter if their target was English, Latvian or Spanish?

In June 1986 issue of Classical Guitar, one Harold Dench published an article titled “Kimonos and Candelabra,” based on the curious notion that Maurice Ravel’s decision to arrange the work for the orchestra is the yard-stick by which we must measure Yamashita’s arrangement. Mr. Dench says:

“. . . To me, it appear that Ravel’s purpose in orchestrating Pictures at an Exhibition was that the musical thought of Mussorgsky was judged by him worthy of a wider expression that the piano can offer or, to put it another way, the composition was not, in his opinion, successful on the keyboard . . . If we concede that the piano was not an adequate medium for this composition, it is clear that the guitar is out of context and is just being abused. The instrument clearly [my italics!] cannot carry such a load . . .”

[One can easily see this as the sort of article which could have appeared in French musical papers in the 1920s deriding the idea of Bach’s Chaconne on the guitar. Same ideas, same arguments, same prejudices, and precisely the sort of thing which would have motivated Segovia to seek the help of an establishment critic like Mark Pincherle in his defense.] Accepting that anybody knew better than the composer himself whether the work was or was not suitable for the piano, and therefore it is not suitable for the guitar, must be the most ridiculous subterfuge I have had the misfortune to read in a long time. Mr. Dench’s estimation that Ravel’s orchestration is “. . . a great feat of orchestration, the example of which is hardly matched in Western musical thinking . . .” fails to notice that Ravel’s treatment of the original music is not too far from Busoni’s treatment of the Bach Chaconne. Übersetzt und verbessert, and when he was through with it, it turned out to be a nice piece by Ravel which had little to do with Musorgsky. Ravel’s orchestration was not the first, even though it was instrumental in popularizing the work. [Click here for an interesting article on the Pictures, in German, which gives a list of all known arrangements of the work. Most illuminating.] Clearly, Mr. Dench does not need to hear the record or the concert and as far as I can tell from reading his article, he did not. His mind was already made up so why confuse it with the facts? His racial bias is, clearly, sticking like a sour thumb by the inclusion of the reference to “Kimonos” in the title of his article. Would he speak about haggis, kilts and bagpipes in reviewing David Russell? would he mention paella, mantillas and bullfights in reviewing Segovia, Romero or Yepes?

Perhaps the most glaring example of English writing about a performance by Yamashita made without having heard it first, is one which George Clinton himself blessed us with. In the November 1984 issue of his magazine, page 9-10, in a preface to an interview he conducted with John Williams he said the following:

“. . . An important date will be 16 November when John performs the Bach E major violin concerto at the Barbican with The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. He has already recorded this together with an organ concerto by Handel . . . Although the guitar world, through the virtuosity of Yamashita has come to accept the novelty of the guitar’s ‘little orchestra’ accommodating a full symphony orchestra, and the persistent (jokey) rumour that Yamashita has ‘done’ the Beethoven violin concerto may be now a fact and that the horror [I didn’t make it up! that’s what it says.] is now released in Japan, we feel sure that John’s recording will cause as much controversy as did Segovia’s first performance of the Chaconne . . .”

Yes, this is not about the Pictures, but about Beethoven. If the idea of a guitar arrangement of the Pictures is laughable, Beethoven’s concerto must be downright sacrilegious. I happen to agree, after having heard it, that Yamashita’s Beethoven on record is not as successful as his Musorgsky on record. I’ll have to reserve final judgment until I hear it live. The problem with Clinton, particularly when he falls all over himself in trying to gain favor with Britain’s No. 1 guitar idol, is that he doesn’t blink an eye in denouncing as “horror” something he hadn’t heard, in the same breath he heaps laurels on another thing he hasn’t heard.

We can accept his declaration of support for one and disapproval for another, if they were made, after he had heard Williams’ Bach and Yamashita’s Beethoven. For some die-hard purists, the idea of the Chaconne on the guitar is as repugnant today as it was in 1923, Segovia and Pincherle notwithstanding. Record companies, on the other hand, pay little attention to anything except the bottom line. If it sells records, it will fly. Williams’ recording of the Bach E Major violin concerto did not produce the controversy Clinton predicted for it. It received some nice reviews when it appeared in 1985 and one can still find it in record bins in Peoria. Nobody is losing any sleep over it. It is a good, clean commercial venture and its sales in the USA probably continue to provide Williams with a nice paycheck. Good for him.

[I do not recall reading any such language in Clinton’s or Duarte’s or any other English writer’s reviews of John Williams’ arrangement and recording of the violin concerto in E Major by J.S. Bach, or Segovia’s edition and recording of the Gaspar Casado’s arrangement of the Boccherini cello concerto, (which, most probably is not by Boccherini at all but by one Segovia contemporary, a Russian-Jewish violinist named Dushkin).] But, surely, you would argue, everybody knows [that Boccherini played the guitar and] that Bach wrote for the lute so there is an historical justification. But Beethoven? how dare you?

[There is no proof that Boccherini ever played the guitar, and there is good reason to believe that his guitar quintets are arrangements by François de Fossa.] The question of Bach and the lute has been written about sufficiently by others. [There is no need for me at this time to repeat here what was said by Dr. James Bogle in his erudite Ph.d. dissertation on the subject. (Graham Wade’s book on the subject has to be ignored for now. In at least one instance, he plagiarized material I originally published in Soundboard, without so much as mentioning the source or giving credit. I have no desire to know what else has been plagiarized by him).] Beethoven certainly wrote for the mandolin, which is a small lute, and he may have approved the publication of hisSerenade op. 8 as a guitar arrangement by Matiegka. The pages of the Kinski catalogue are replete with listings of hundreds of arrangements of his music, made during his lifetime, for all sorts of bizarre combinations, including the 9th symphony for piano four-hands and the famous Septet op. 20 for brass sextet, an item which might be of interest to Kim-Elizabeth Geldard whoever he/she/it may be. Many of these arrangements were made by the composer himself, or tacitly and sometimes specifically authorized by him. A pianist of the stature of Alfred Brendel has no compunction to perform and record Franz Liszt’s piano arrangements of Beethoven’s symphonies. Not that the piano has any dearth of repertoire for him to seek and to foist on the public such oddities! Pianists do not apologize for their repertoire, however unconventional it may be. Guitarists do.

So what is all the hue and cry about? I would like to suggest that the problem is not the relative sanctity of [Boccherini], Bach or Beethoven, but the difference in [lingual unction] bootlick a bootless writer applies to powerful personalities like Segovia and Williams and the booting he visits on Yamashita: a plain double-standard which is not motivated by any historical, aesthetical or musical reasoning, but by intolerance against a young man who is not English nor Spanish, but Japanese. [However hard I try, I cannot avoid feeling that this bigotry is racially motivated.]

Clinton’s patronizing “advise” to Yamashita at the end of his letter, is a shameful attempt to disguise the prevarication of his continued preoccupation with the subject as disinterested journalism. He accuses me of idolatry and sycophancy when speaking out in support of Yamashita. I do not know why championing the cause of a beleaguered young man of Japanese ancestry is sycophancy, and the osculation Clinton habitually applies to the foundation of Anglo-Iberian power-brokers is not. It is even more amazing to me that Clinton can speak about “commercial interest” with a straight face as if this is something inherently evil which he, pure as he is, will not touch.

For example: Jack Duarte’s March 1983 review of Yamashita’s record, is accompanied by an editorial statement that:

The score to the above arrangement of the Pictures at an Exhibition is published by Gendai Guitar and distributed in the UK exclusively by Musical News Services Ltd.

This establishment, as it is well known, is the trade name under which George Clinton operates his magazine, publishing house and mail-order business of books and records. I do not recall off-hand seeing any advertisements in GI of the score for sale, but at least from June 1983 when I started subscribing to that magazine, Clinton advertised the RCA record of Yamashita for sale, using choice quotations from Duarte’s review as a sales tool. His own commercial interest in Yamashita, at least in 1983, can thus be established.

The score itself, began to be advertised in the May/June issue of 1984 of Classical Guitar by Ashley Marks Publishing Co., the company which operates CG and as his major competitor, an apparent thorn in Clinton’s side. That marks the time when Clinton’s change of sympathies in regard to Yamashita began to surface. Within six months, we read Clinton’s rabid attack on Yamashita’s recording of the Beethoven Concerto. These are the facts. A 21st century musicologist who examines the printed record will have a tough time deciding if Clinton’s motivation was the expression of sour grapes caused by a bad business deal, or an objective criticism by a knowledgeable and disinterested reviewer.

[You see, in my original review of the 1987 Toronto Festival, the question I wanted to place publicly in the lap of the Artistic Director of the Toronto Festival, a person who surely must not have forgotten the outrage of racial bias, was this: Who IS Afraid Of Kazuhito Yamashita?

That question became the title of my extended review which appeared in Gitarre & Laute magazine in Germany. In its shorter Soundboard version, the question somehow was altered to read “Why was Kazuhito Yamashita Not There?”

The alteration had weakened the force of my clearly insinuated suspicion that Yamashita’s invitation to Toronto was withdrawn a short time before the event because of someone’s fears that a star like John Williams cannot be made to appear in the same event with an entity such as young Kazuhito and that these fears were somehow associated to the prejudice against him expressed so often in George Clinton’s mag. These ideas do not originate with Yamashita. He is much too polite to cast aspersions on anyone’s motivations. These are my ideas and I am solely responsible for them. But the damage to his career was real (it was too late for him at this point to reschedule other concerts at the particular time slot), and he was obviously hurt by the rejection.

I may be entirely wrong. I have no idea what specific contractual provisions were at stake, and who was responsible for what. All I tried to say is that I was not happy with the main event, John Williams, and I wished they had not canceled Yamashita. I do not know why championing the cause of a beleaguered young man of Japanese ancestry is sycophancy, and administering one’s English tongue to the foundation of Anglo-Iberian power-brokers is not.]

Copyright © 2001 by Editions Orphée, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.