Richard Nanes, Sim Phonyist

I was listening to Richard Nanes the other day. What brought on this fit of masochism is unclear. I had picked up the 4 symphonies at a used CD shop in NYC late in 1996. I was only going to buy 1 CD worth, but the other was $0.99, and Jeff Harrington who was with me appealed to my librarian's sense of completeness (only I wasn't yet a librarian then.) Anyway, I'd sort of forgotten what they were about, so I loaded #3 and 4 into the car changer; I figured he'd had 1 & 2 for practice.

Well...

It takes a special (in the short bus sense) talent to write music that inept. A high school kid would imitate the music he knows and loves. He might imitate it badly, but some of the virtues of his models would surely rub off. There's very little virtue here. Maybe that makes him original, in the sense that PDQ Bach was a true original.

Let's break this down analytically. Let's look at rhythm. This music has no sense of rhythm as a propulsive element. There are long stretches of the same note value: quarter-quarter-quarter-quarter, with maybe a string of eights at the end of 30" of this, to break it up. It's as if Nanes had never heard Beethoven or Brahms, or even any pop music. Many passages succeed in being totally ametric.

How about melody? Let's ignore for a moment the fact that good melody requires good rhythm, and just focus on horizontal pitch. Much of the melodic content of these works consists of seemingly random strings of 6ths and 7ths, with no overall shape. Occasionally there will be an attempt at diatonic melody, feeble and badly developed.

Harmony? Not a means of local motion nor of large scale organization. Harmony in Nanes is the application of color to a particular area, for symbolic purposes. If the forces of evil are being portrayed, the harmony is dissonant; if good, then consonant. A given line will be harmonized in parellel chords.

Counterpoint? To have counterpoint, you need a point to begin with. There is no counterpoint, because it would require rhythmic differentiation, non-parellel harmony, and some kind of recognizable line.

So how does this music work at all, if it does? Nanes' orchestration is somewhat effective. He has register to work with, though if he were to use that skillfully, he might accidentally write melody. There's dynamics; we speak more loudly when we're angry. There's gesture, though the faults previously enumerated preclude the creation of vigorous gesture.

So what's the deal? How did this guy rack up such enviable fame? On ask.com, I had to go through 15 pages before finding anything that wasn't puffery and merchandising. On Amazon, there was fulsome praise (possibly from a Nanes sock puppet) next to fierce flames. Star ratings were all over the map, and meant nothing; one critic gave a work a 5-star rating because it was "so bad it was good." It's well-known that Nanes financed his rise to infamy through a personal fortune. Is he just the composers' equivalent of Florence Foster Jenkins?

Sadly, there may be more to it than that. Nanes' music "means" something. There are titles, and descriptions, and the word "spiritual" set around like greenery at a Christmas party. It's ugly, because it's contemporary music, but it's supposed to be ugly, because it's about the Holocaust (and a master craftsman like D'Indy is unworthy of notice because he was an anti-Semite). People have no musical knowledge on which to base an aesthetic opinion, so they swallow the hype. Well, this particular emperor needs to get back to the nudist colony where he belongs.

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Comments

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Posted by: robert
Posted on: July 1, 2007 03:44 PM

to the writer of this article - is there a way to get the ENTIRE world to see the magnificent piece you have created? this is by far the most realistic commentary i have ever read. i just happened to be flipping the TV channels and a concert, i believe in russia, was underway - playing mr. inanes 'third symphony' - DREADFUL - ALL the things you talked about in your summation. then he walks out on a different stage on a different day, puts his left hand on the piano, bows, sits down and starts playing the most vapid piano writing i have ever heard - a nocturne in C minor - yeah right. like you said - he has never heard a great work of Chopin or Brahms. but this is the type of crap that is proliferating these days in all corners of the earth. in the 1780's, e.g., there survived only two great masters - Mozart and Haydn, or in the 1840's, there were at most a dozen. now we see every harry and judy masquerading as 'composer', and fooling a LOT of ignoramuses along the way. apparently they are completely clueless about what makes the masters masterful. i'd love to hear back from you.

robert fertitta
professor emeritus
suny purchase

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Posted by: Jeffrey Quick
Posted on: July 2, 2007 01:37 PM

Thanks, Robert.

I've got this out here for the whole world to read, so I'm not sure how much more I could do...I mean, if I had the wherewithal to produce infomercials against Nanes' music, I'd spend it promoting my own. (See the "podcast" category of this blog.) On one hand, it galls me to see him have more success at that than I do; on the other, it's not good for his career to have more people know his music.

I don't know if we're really in an age of mediocrity. There have never been more than a handful of greats, and a couple handfuls of passable, in any age. Mozart knew the local scibblers well enough to parody them. The mechanics of writing music are easier than ever before. But lightning doesn't strike through a DAW (at least, not without burning it up).

I loved reading your article and Robert's comments...

Your article is right on target and a lot of fun to read--particularly because you bolster each of your criticisms with obectively based on your musical knowledge.

Years ago, my husband and I were watching TV when a "special" (no doubt funded by Nanes himself) came on featuring Nanes' music. As the orchestra assembled itself prior to the concert, we noticed that there were three or four times the usual number of instruments such as harps and percussion. Right then and there, we knew we were in for something pretty bad, but we were astounded at how terrible the music was, and then we noticed how even the members of the orchestra seemed to dislike it. It turned out to be an Eastern European orchestra that he must have paid fairly well.

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Posted by: jamie
Posted on: March 27, 2009 01:11 AM

Perhaps the music is more sadistic than masochistic. The man certainly is- does anyone know him? quite a tale to tell. There is no love in this mans heart. He is very cruel. He can't progress musically because he can't get past himself.

I was thrilled to read Jeffrey's piece on R.Nanes, who I think may be the worst composer ever made. Once upon a time, at Dayton Records in the Village, I saw in the $1 bin Nanes's Piano concerto no. 2 for solo piano. I thought: "U-huh. Interesting." and bought it, immediately becoming his greatest fan. I have turned quite a number of wellknown composers on to his music. I tried to get hold of scores, but found Delfon strangely evasive about letting them out.
I find the Symphonies etc. totally un-listenable, but am in love (?) with the solo piano music.
Incidentally the father of a very distinguished jazz pianist friend of mine uses the same handyman as R. Nanes. This gentleman says that R.N. made his money building the housings (if that's the word) for computers.

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Posted by: Jack Wish
Posted on: August 14, 2009 02:01 AM

I had seen the same 'infomercial'. I do believe the man to be - an I am not a psychiatrist - completely delusional, perhaps a total narcissist -but crazy no less. His music is not music at all. I think his mind is cracked.

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Posted by: DN
Posted on: October 13, 2009 04:56 PM

Richard died of cancer on October 8th, 2009. I would appreciate it if you could stop this hatefulness.

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Posted by: Larry
Posted on: October 21, 2009 11:46 AM

I just pulled out my two Nanes CDs the other day and listened to them again. Aargh. So I started hunting online to try to find this guy's story. All the talk of his awards and being a "leading composer" just seemed to be personal PR. I also found your blog, which was entertaining.

But I also found an obituary dated October 11, 2009 (your site won't let me post the link). How strange that I should pull his music out of the cobwebs just ten days after his passing?

I have Richard Nanes' CD, Nocturnes of The Celestial Seas. I bought it after I heard the "D Major track." I really like that piece. I also like the "C Minor" track, but I don't care for the rest.

I believe the reason why my impression contrasts so with others here is I am not a musician nor am I a classical music enthusiast. I like some things but not a lot.

I once had access to a big beautiful grand piano. I would touch the keys sometimes and wish I could play something that sounds like Nanes' "D Major" nocturne. And if my lack of musical sophistication is what accounts for so simplistic an appraisal of Nanes playing I think he deserves to be appreciated by someone.

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Posted by: henk Stoop
Posted on: May 21, 2010 03:16 PM

I only want to know how to pronounce the name Nanes. Where lies the accent? Is the a spoken like ay in lay and eight or like a in brass?
Thank you for your answer.
Henk Stoop, secretary of the Hans Kox Foundation
(H.K being the most important dutch composer of our days)

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Posted by: Roy
Posted on: June 15, 2010 08:23 PM

Who are you Jeffery Quick, and why should I care what you think?
I've heard recordings of most of Nanes' works and have enjoyed them. I've listened to lots of classical music the past 50 years and have been to the symphony many times, and am currently enjoying
listening to living and recently passed-on composers. Bottom line: if you don't have anything good to say, why say anything at all? Your motive is in question.

Who are you, Roy? And you cared enough to post your opinion, so maybe you should ask yourself that question.

My credentials, such as they are, are here. Why am I badmouthing? Because with thousands of unheard composers, life's too short to listen to bad music.

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Posted by: Roy
Posted on: June 21, 2010 07:37 PM

I particularly enjoy Nanes Rhapsody Pathetique for Violin and Orchestra. If his music is so bad, as you say, how do you explain the LSO recording it? One might wonder were you personally acquainted with him and have an axe to grind?

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Posted by: Songman
Posted on: July 24, 2010 06:12 PM

I started in music at the ripe old age of 3 working in my mother's band as a "novelty" act. Even though we worked the lounges for several years I have an appreciation of all types of music.

I also have the CD "Nocturnes of The Celestial Seas" and have used it in my DJ business as background music depending on the event. I also concur with "DN" and let's not slam someone who can't defend themselves.

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Posted by: Terry
Posted on: July 25, 2010 01:28 AM

He is wonderful dont be so hateful.
not everyone is perfect.
Terry

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Posted by: Ron Worthy
Posted on: July 25, 2010 05:00 PM

I haven't listened to Richard Nane's works.

But after reviewing the comments, I'm curious to hear his music.

I'll try to keep an open mind...

Great post! Finally someone that agrees with me about this. At one point my piano lesson spent 15 minutes discussing Richard Nanes and how great he was. This was back when I hadn't heard him. Based on her recommendation, I listened to him. Big mistake!

I agree with you Jeffrey. Life is way too short to listen to bad music! Critics might often get a bad rap, but they have also saved me infinite amounts of frustration by helping me avoid bad music and films.

I love your dry sense of humor particularly the "Nanes sock puppet" comment. It had be literally LOL'ing. People in the internet cafe I'm in thought I was mad laughing at a pc monitor!

Here's more of my dry sense of humor:
Read the poem "The Owl Critic"?
I love the line: And the barber kept on shaving.

The Owl Critic

"WHO stuffed that white owl?" No one spoke in the shop:
The barber was busy, and he couldn't stop;
The customers, waiting their turns, were all reading
The "Daily," the "Herald," the "Post," little heeding
The young man who blurted out such a blunt question;
Not one raised a head, or even made a suggestion;
And the barber kept on shaving.
"Don't you see, Mister Brown,"
Cried the youth, with a frown,
"How wrong the whole thing is,
How preposterous each wing is,
How flattened the head is, how jammed down the neck is--
In short, the whole owl, what an ignorant wreck 't is!
I make no apology;
I've learned owl-eology.
I've passed days and nights in a hundred collections,
And cannot be blinded to any deflections
Arising from unskilful fingers that fail
To stuff a bird right, from his beak to his tail.
Mister Brown! Mister Brown!
Do take that bird down,
Or you'll soon be the laughing-stock all over town!"
And the barber kept on shaving.
"I've studied owls,
And other night fowls,
And I tell you
What I know to be true:
An owl cannot roost
With his limbs so unloosed;
No owl in this world
Ever had his claws curled,
Ever had his legs slanted,
Ever had his bill canted,
Ever had his neck screwed
Into that attitude.
He can't do it, because
'T is against all bird-laws.
Anatomy teaches,
Ornithology preaches
An owl has a toe
That can't turn out so!
I've made the white owl my study for years,
And to see such a job almost moves me to tears!
Mister Brown, I'm amazed
You should be so gone crazed
As to put up a bird
In that posture absurd!
To look at that owl really brings on a dizziness;
The man who stuffed him don't half know his business!"
And the barber kept on shaving.
"Examine those eyes.
I'm filled with surprise
Taxidermists should pass
Off on you such poor glass;
So unnatural they seem
They'd make Audubon scream,
And John Burroughs laugh
To encounter such chaff.
Do take that bird down;
Have him stuffed again, Brown!"
And the barber kept on shaving.
"With some sawdust and bark
I could stuff in the dark
An owl better than that.
I could make an old hat
Look more like an owl
Than that horrid fowl,
Stuck up there so stiff like a side of coarse leather.
In fact, about him there's not one natural feather."
Just then, with a wink and a sly normal lurch,
The owl, very gravely, got down from his perch,
Walked round, and regarded his fault-finding critic
(Who thought he was stuffed) with a glance analytic,
And then fairly hooted, as if he should say:
"Your learning's at fault this time, any way;
Don't waste it again on a live bird, I pray.
I'm an owl; you're another. Sir Critic, good-day!"
And the barber kept on shaving.
James T. Fields

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Posted by:
Posted on: October 28, 2010 05:34 PM

Interestingly, I cannot find out Richard Nanes's birthday. If anybody can, I sure would appreciate know that.

Tell me something,'DN' - what does dying of cancer have to do with the inanity of this man's 'music?'

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Posted by: Roy
Posted on: November 15, 2010 10:24 PM

Well, Jeffery, today I listened to Mr. Nanes' 4th Symphone and his Raphsody Pathetique for Violin and Orchestra, and enjoyed both emensely. Wow, caught myself humming one of the meloidies.

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