Keith Noel Emerson (2 November 1944 – 10 March 2016)
Anyone who has had the misfortune to sit through a spin of the record Switched on Bach by Walter – er, sorry, Wendy, Carlos, as well as a slew of other Moog travesties (from Moog Beatles tunes to Moog country and western) will know that the harmonic effect of this diabolical machine is as weird as some of its leading practitioners.
Keith Emerson, who died last Thursday, was a leading exponent of prog rock, as exemplified by the synthesizer. In particular, via Emerson, Lake and Palmer, which in its first incarnation (1970-1979), had substantial success ‘popifying’ classical works and adding tone poems of its own composition. Despite the tendency to be wan, flatulent and self-indulgent, these and his non-ELP pieces did at least pay homage to the work of Bach, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Janáček, Bartok, and Copland…indeed, their pop version of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man gave the venerable composer an unlikely hit.
ELP indirectly paved the way for punk as well. Rejecting the lush production, instrument-heavy and waterlogged excesses of prog, the new waves pared back over-production, emphasized passion over structure and kept the songs to roughly two and half minutes. But Emerson and Co. maintained the pursuit of perfection and it is sad to hear that a degenerative nerve condition affecting his ability to play on a forthcoming concert tour may have prompted Keith Emerson to take his own life.