"Composer's Datebook," a daily feature on classical radio station KCSC-FM, ends each broadcast with a reminder that all music was once new.
Compositions that are accepted today as unqualified masterworks weren't always considered as such. To underscore the full impact of such a statement, one need only read a few passages from Nicolas Slonimsky's "Lexicon of Musical Invective," first published in 1953.
The book is a collection of reviews written following the premieres of works by well-known composers, from Beethoven and Brahms to Verdi and Varese. As the book's title suggests, the comments range from mildly negative to venomous.
The Oklahoma City Philharmonic continues its 2002-03 classics season this week with a program subtitled "A Hero's Life." The concert combines two late 19th century works that weren't so kindly received following their premieres.
Music director Joel Levine has programmed Richard Strauss' symphonic poem "Ein Heldenleben" and Tchaikovsky's "Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra." Soloist in the latter will be Itzhak Perlman. The Israeli-born violinist turned down a request for an interview.
"Ein Heldenleben," which translates as "A Hero's Life," is a musical autobiography of Strauss. Critics of the late 19th century deplored self-glorification and generally had harsh words to say about this work.
Writing in New York's Musical Courier, Otto Floersheim called Strauss' work "revolutionary in every sense of the word. The climax of everything that is ugly, cacophonous, blatant and erratic, the most perverse music I ever heard in all my life, is reached in the chapter 'The Hero's Battlefield.' The man who wrote this outrageously hideous noise, no longer deserving of the word music, is either a lunatic, or he is rapidly approaching idiocy."
Arthur Bird of Boston's Musical Record was equally caustic: "For every second of really beautiful music, there are minutes which often seem hours of the most unheard-of discord, which some people call 'clever counterpoint.' But what is the use of counterpoint when, if played, one imagines that four different orchestras are playing at the same time four different tunes in four different keys and measures? A veritable nightmare!"
An unnamed critic writing for the Boston Herald said that "at the end of the forty minutes exacted by the performance of Richard Strauss' latest tone poem, one is inclined to pull himself together and be thankful to the friend who will assure him of his continued sanity."
Despite such remarks, "Ein Heldenleben" became a repertory classic whose popularity remains undimmed today.
Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto is perhaps even more beloved, yet it, too, suffered initially at the hands of the critics.
Eduard Hanslick, writing in Vienna's Neue Freie Presse, called the Russian composer "not an ordinary talent, but rather an inflated one, with a genius-obsession without discrimination or taste.
"Such is also his latest, long and pretentious Violin Concerto. For a while it moves soberly, musically, and not without spirit. But soon vulgarity gains upper hand and asserts itself to the end of the first movement.
"The violin is no longer played; it is pulled, torn, drubbed. The adagio is again on its best behavior, to pacify and to win us. But it soon breaks off to make way for a finale that transfers us to a brutal and wretched jollity of a Russian holiday. We see plainly the savage vulgar faces, we hear curses, we smell vodka.
"Friedrich Vischer once observed, speaking of obscene pictures, that they stink to the eye. Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto gives us for the first time the hideous notion that there can be music that stinks to the ear."
Theodore Helm wrote in the Wiener Signale in 1881 that "Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto is an accumulation of discords, confused climaxes and dressed-up trivialities, covered by the national flag of the most barbarous sort of Russian nihilism."
His counterpart at the Wiener Sonn- und Montags-zeitung had similar negative comments: "Such a piece of music, made up of motley bits of phrases stitched together, might be neo-German, but it is under any circumstances repulsive and barbaric, and we cannot understand how the Vienna Philharmonic which accepts praise as defender of classicism suddenly gives place in its concerts to such tasteless charivari.
"It is a pity that Brodsky had to waste his virtuosity on this affront against the artistic tastes of the Viennese public. And it does not do honor to Tchaikovsky's name to have debased the lofty muse of tonal art to the cultural level of a gypsy band."
Despite the initial condemnation of these works, music directors persisted in their efforts to perform them, which in turn, led to acceptance among audiences worldwide. How considerably less rich the repertoire would be today had these remarks been accepted as truth.
The philharmonic concert comes two days after Daniel Pearl Music Day, a worldwide event designed to honor the life of the slain Wall Street Journal reporter. Pearl, who would have celebrated his 39th birthday Oct. 10, was a talented violinist, fiddler and mandolin player.
The Daniel Pearl Foundation was created to carry on Pearl's legacy of promoting understanding among people of different cultures through journalism, music and innovative communications. Perlman is one of many musicians worldwide who will be extending a message of tolerance and global unity.
Who: Itzhak Perlman with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
Information: 842-5387. BIOG: NAME: UPD:Archive ID: 1049116