Friday, March 11, 2016

Emerson, Lake, and Palmer

This is sad news: Keith Emerson, keyboardist extraordinaire, has died at the age of 71.

EMERSON, LAKE, & PALMER's work was uneven: like many other experimental musicians. At their worst they slipped over into the self-indulgent. But at their best they were unmatched: no one's ever done this kind of music better.

Especially Emerson, who explored the range of what you cd do with a Moog synthesizer (the answer is: quite a lot, creating all kinds of interesting musical soundscapes).

TARKUS, their second record, remains my favorite album.* Bar none. I have no idea how many thousands of times I've listened to it, and I still love it. I still have the somewhat-worse-for-wear record I bought from my cousin Sam decades ago, though these days I listen to it on cd or via iTune; just a few days ago I pulled the cd out to listen to it yet again.

Emerson was also responsible for my second-favorite piece from the group: Emerson's Piano Concerto #1, which remains my favorite piece of modern classical music (that is, new music written in the classical orchestral  idiom).

It was a long time ago, and his triumphs were in the past, but I remain grateful and am sorry to see him go.

--John R.

*side A that is, the twenty-plus minute 'Tarkus' itself, as opposed to the grab-bag of unrelated bits that make up side B.

1 comment:

N.E. Brigand said...


Because I know pop/rock music mostly from radio hearings, and ELP's heyday had passed by the time I was listening much to the radio, I know their name but not much of their repertoire ("oldies" radio mostly plays singles, of which ELP charted very few). But scanning their discography on Wikipedia, I recognize and fondly remember "Lucky Man" and the part of "Karn Evil 9" that is most frequently played ("Welcome back my friend . . .").

ELP songs and Emerson's piano concerto have been adapted surprisingly often for drum and bugle corps, dozens of times in fact, starting in 1972 and continuing this year. Here is a 90-second snippet of the 1985 DCI bronze medalist, the Blue Devils, playing what I believe is another section of "Karn Evil 9":

Concerning your last comment, I would love to see the results of a poll on people's favorite modern classical music. I wonder, what would the cut-off be? Since your choice dates to 1977, perhaps it should go back 40 years?

I think I'd pick John Adams's "Short Ride in a Fast Machine" (1986). David Bratman has identified Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten" as a favorite among works written in his lifetime; like Emerson's piece, it debuted in 1977.

(Serious music critics seem to dismiss Emerson's concerto as lightweight, which presumably make them seem to you like Edmund Wilson on The Lord of the Rings.)