Archive for the “Composers” Category
From an interview with German composer Volker David Kirchner, reprinted at the Sign and Sight website:
In the late 1960s, I was still labelled an avant-gardist – a genuinely unpleasant, military term, which refers to the vanguard, so that I always ask myself: When is the real thing supposed to come along?
[Interviewer:] The pianist Susanne Duch has said that the most intense moments for her are the pauses between the tones. What does the composer have to say about this, having, ultimately, composed the tones themselves?
[Kirchner:] It’s true, the silences between the tones are quite decisive. And if I hadn’t composed those tones, there would be no silence, but instead only pauses. That’s the difference.
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A while back on NPR, I heard Scott Simon interview Marin Alsop about Mahler’s Fifth. Simon kicked it off with a nice quote from Mahler about how a symphony should be like a whole world, then there was this exchange:
SS: …but when Mahler introduced [his Fifth] to the world in 1904, conducting the symphony himself, he apparently was disappointed with its reception. He’s reported to have said, “nobody understood it. I wish I could conduct the first performance fifty years after my death.”… [the music swells, then he introduces Marin Alsop]… Thanks very much for being back with us.
MA: Great to be here, Scott.
SS: And were those words born of great self-knowledge, did it take fifty years for audiences to appreciate this?
MA: Well, that’s tremendously insightful. A good friend of mine, John Corigliano, always says a composer’s work really can’t be judged while he’s still alive, and I think there’s a lot of truth to that.
Though it could be that Alsop was misrepresenting him, the implication is that, by “judged,” Corigliano meant “understood”–composers aren’t understood until they’re dead. And you can’t be appreciated if you aren’t understood. So there it is–death as the ultimate career move.
OK, there was a pattern in the 19th century of the major figures being maybe a generation ahead of their audience–I can see how Mahler might have expected the same thing, and it’s fun to think about how that fifty-year-late premier would have actually gone over. But it’s really just a matter of time. The dying part is a romance that comes from the ones who were tragically cut short in their prime. Van Gogh is the ne plus ultra, but there’s also poor Schubert, and Mozart, sort of, and a few others. It’s great 19th-century mythification, but these day? Are we still expecting big collective ah-ha moments in the 21st century, when audiences finally really get Ligeti, or Reich, or Babbitt, or Corigliano?
I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse, so I’m wondering. Does anyone else find it, let’s say, over-dramatic for a living composer to be thinking in terms like this? And bizarre for a sophisticated classical music person to take it seriously? Even in a general-public discussion of Mahler it seems like a very tired cliche, doesn’t it? I have a few more thoughts about it on my blog, but I’m still curious to hear other reactions.
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…or effect that you ever asked for from a player in a score of yours, that surprised you by how well it worked? (Bonus points for telling us what made it so musically essential for you to ask for it.)
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In the January 6th Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout raised a couple interesting points about “intellectual property”. One point especially has some direct bearing on composers and performances of their work:
Last month a London judge awarded 40% of the copyright of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” to Matthew Fisher, the group’s ex-organist. Mr. Fisher, who had asked for 50%, doesn’t claim to have written the song, but he did write the Bach-like organ countermelody heard on the group’s 1967 recording of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” which sold 10 million copies. Judge William Blackburne called the countermelody “a distinctive and significant contribution to the overall composition and, quite obviously, the product of skill and labor on the part of the person who created it.”
…anyone familiar with Procol Harum’s recording would be likely to agree that Mr. Fisher’s countermelody is an integral part of the song.
Here’s the problem: Where do you draw the line separating creative performance from actual authorship? Yes, Phil Woods’s coruscating alto saxophone solo on Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are” is one of that song’s most memorable features — but does that fact entitle Mr. Woods to a share of the royalties that are paid to Mr. Joel for having written the song?
And, a few more questions:
1) In works with indeterminate or improvisatory elements, could the performer begin to claim some share of actual authorship royalties for their realization of your piece?
2) Could another performer be found guilty of infringement, if their own performance was deemed somehow too similar to a previous performer’s realization of your piece?
3) If yes, and taking the issue to its logical extreme, might the interpretation of even a “fully-notated” (bearing in mind that there’s in reality no such thing) piece of yours be deemed the performers “property”? That they could end up “owning” that little attack, portamento or ritard?
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Reading Mai-Mai Sze’s Tao of Painting, I couldn’t help but be struck by this; it’s from the first part of the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, written by Wang Kai in 1679:
Among those who study painting some strive for an elaborate effect and others prefer the simple. Neither complexity in itself nor simplicity is enough. Some aim to be deft, others to be laboriously careful. Neither dexterity nor conscientiousness is enough. Some set great value on method; others pride themselves on dispensing with method. To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse.
You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method. …If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.
Now, I’m no “observe, Grasshopper…” kind of guy; but 325 years later, in a very different culture and artistic discipline, it still seems to me perfect advice to young composers.
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Dear Jerry ,
I want to bring your attention the documentary on Beethoven’s Ninth that I am working on (called Following The Ninth: In The Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony, and ask for your suggestions. I’ve shot close to 50 hours of tape, but the film is really just beginning, thus I am looking for more stories about the Ninth. You can read about the project at http://www.followingtheninth.com/. What I’m hoping to find here in this discussion forum are new stories that I might follow, develop, as the film proceeds. As of today, I will be filming in Japan, where the Ninth (Daiku) is performed by hundreds of variously sized orchestras, sometimes with choruses of 5000 people or more. I will also be going to Chile and other countries in South America, where a version of the “Ode to Joy” was sung as a song of resistance and hope by those living under military dictatorships.
I would also like to have some of your filmed stories and reflections on the Ninth on my website. That could be arranged in various ways, to be determined if you have an interest. I’m trying to bring the power and passion of one of the greatest works of art ever done to a broader public, and the best way to do that, I think, is through people’s stories, stories from those who are deeply in love with Beethoven’s music. Please write if you have any questions.
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Few composers make the editorial page of the New York Times and Steve Reich is one of them. Among other nice things, the Times said this:
Ascribing the universal appeal of Mr. Reich’s music only to its driving rhythms is simplistic. Deep knowledge of counterpoint, harmony, history, narrative drama and an unerring instinct for beauty are everywhere in his work. But most of us are not musical experts. And rhythm is a language humans grasp from birth.
For those of us raised on beat-heavy pop, rhythm and blues, and rock, Mr. Reich’s infectiously rhythmic music was a path into “serious music,” a realm that might have once felt closed. Among Mr. Reich’s legions of fans must be many a rock, funk or hard-core devotee who came upon works like “Drumming,” or “Music for 18 Musicians” “” two of his best known and most hypnotic percussion epics “” and found themselves somehow changed.
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Check out the a really thought-provoking article on composer work habits at the New Music Box:
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