I’m a quick learner when it comes to some things.
Then there are other topics I can’t seem to get the hang of, no matter how many times they bonk me in the noggin.
I spent a lot of time talking about my music these last few weeks. My favorite topic, musically speaking, is nobody else’s. I like to talk about form. Love to talk about form. Much more interesting topic than rhythm, timbre, harmony… you name it.
The problem isn’t simply that I like to talk about a subject that makes others swoon, I also like to talk about form in relation to the Classical tradition. Not cool. If I take a step back from my own interests for a moment, I can imagine rooms full of people falling asleep while I hold forth in rapturous discourse about formal principles from earlier centuries. I should learn, at some point, to keep my enthusiasm to myself.
And I know there are a lot of people out there who assume, from my words, that I’m filling old bottles with new wine, plugging my musical ideas into pre-made containers, rather than venturing off into uncharted territory.
So if you ever hear me talking about Classical form in relation to my work, before you hit the snooze button, please be aware of two things:
1. My approach to form is usually pretty innovative, regardless of how I make it sound when I talk about it.
2. What a composer does and what a composer likes to talk about are not necessarily the same things.
First, number two: my music makes use of all kinds of interesting coloristic devices, subtle harmonic schemes, captivating rhythms. Just because I don’t have much to say about that stuff doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It just means I don’t have much to say about it. Can’t tell you how often people come up to me after a performance asking how I created some unusual combination of timbres. Well, yes: it’s one of the things I do. Nuff said.
And number one: only a complete lack of imagination could assert that traditional forms like fugue or sonata have nothing to say to us in the early 21st century. Only a complete lack of imagination could maintain that everything that can be done with those forms has been done.
Regardless of their vitality, though, I seldom take these forms at face value. Instead, they point my imagination in specific directions: a network of associations, rather than an instruction manual for prefab furniture.
The form of Figments and Fragments is a case in point. It takes the sequential processes found in early Schumann – collections of character pieces – and gradually expands the cracks between the pieces into an increasingly hectic and disturbed narrative. In other words, the form of the piece is a strange synthesis of organic and sequential principles.
I know, I know: zzzzzzzzz. Have a nice nap.
And now here’s a bit of Boise boosterism. Before last week, the city was on my radar as the capitol of Idaho, and not much more. After a few days there, though, it captured my interest. A lot of effort has gone into building a thriving arts environment there over the last 20 years or so, and I’m guessing we will be hearing much more about it in the coming decades.