Christopher Miller's deft satirical novel Sudden Noises (see below) sent me back to the grand original, Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution. Here is an immortal paragraph in which Jarrell describes the music of Gottfried Rosenbaum, a would-be lion of Vienna who ends up teaching music at an American women's college:
He loved hitherto-unthought-of, thereafter unthinkable combinations of instruments. When some extraordinary array of players filed half-proudly, half-sheepishly on to the stage, looking like the Bremen Town Musicians — if those were, as I think they were, a rooster, a cat, a dog, and a donkey — you could guess beforehand that it was to be one of Gottfried's compositions. His Joyous Celebration of the Memory of the Master Johann Sebastian Bach had a tone-row composed of the notes B, A, C, and H (in the German notation), of these inverted, and of these transposed; and there were four movements, the first played on instruments beginning with the letter b, the second on instruments beginning with the letter a, and so on. After the magnificent group that ushered in the piece (bugle, bass-viol, bassoon, basset-horn, bombardon, bass-drum, bagpipe, baritone, and a violinist with only his bow) it was sad to see an Alp horn and an accordion come in to play the second movement. Gottfried himself said about the first group: "Vot a bunch!" When I asked him how he thought of it, he said placidly: "De devil soldt me his soul."
The words "half-proudly, half-sheepishly" pop into my head at almost every contemporary music concert I attend. One day, perhaps, a composer will see fit to realize Rosenbaum's grand conception: if composers from Peter Maxwell Davies to Alfred Schnittke can take inspiration from the fictional music in Mann's Doctor Faustus (the target of that last dig) there might as well be a school of Rosenbaum. I'll always be grateful to Prof. John Plotz for introducing me to the joy of Jarrell.