Leo Ornstein to many represents an evil musical genius wandering without the utmost pale of tonal orthodoxy, in a weird No-Man's Land haunted with tortuous sound, with wails of futuristic despair, with cubist shrieks and post-impressionistic cries and crashes. He is the great anarch, the iconoclast, the destructive genius who would root out what little remains of the law and the prophets since Scriabin, Stravinsky and Schonberg have trampled them underfoot. His earlier compositions which, with happy fancy and considerable skill, exploit the possibilities of the diatonic system he has since abandoned, are regarded much as would be the Sunday-school certificates of an apostate to Satanism, the lisped prayers of one who has forgotten them to celebrate a Devil's mass. His gospel is black heresy, his dispensation a delusion.and a snare! It is thus that the more rigid upholders of tradition, those who scorn taking the pains to master the idiom which serves to express his ideas, see him.
The attitude of the more formalistic musician and music-lover toward Omstein's music, however, is largely a matter of aesthetic point of view, and aesthetic points of view are not built upon the rock of infallibility, but on the shifting sands of contemporary disquisition. Those who understand Ornstein's tonal language - and their number is increasing - are as enthusiastic in their admiration of his accomplishment as his detractors are scornful of its value and significance.